Have you been to the Dark Side, where the Magic Happens?


The dark side is the home of backstage magic. The universe of the Stage Manager, who leads the special, invisible people to make scene changes happen and allow the production to run smoothly. If all the world’s a Stage, then he/she is God!

While the actors are performing in front of the tabs, I’ve known Stage Managers and Deputy Stage Managers skilfully move large, noisy, un-wielding pieces of set behind the scenes by gently massaging them into place so as not to disturb the action for the audience.  Now that’s a real skill.

These masters of the dark with their unfailing stage crew put together a whole show at a technical rehearsal and yes it doesn’t always go exactly to plan but until you have crossed to the ‘dark side’ you have no idea of the stress and pressure they are under, because whether you like it or not they the unsung heroes to the audience…. unless it all goes pear-shaped and then it’s still probably not entirely their fault. They take the blame for many of the actors’ foibles and are so well disciplined they know the answer to everything is gaffer tape and a large hammer!

I’ve never heard an audience leaving a play or show, saying it was fantastic and weren’t the scene changes brilliant (those that do understand what is required, may make these comments from time to time) but you do hear people saying as they leave – if it didn’t go to plan – the scene changes were so slow it spoiled it for me etc, etc.

The actual role of a ‘Stage Manager’ seems to vary from society to society. Some call all the cues like a DSM, some run their brigade like a military operation and some have a much more laid back approach. Whichever one you have, they are still the boss when the show opens.

As a Director, I see the Stage Manager as vital in bringing the vision to the stage. I have been fortunate to work with some amazing Stage Managers who understand the weird requests put upon them, usually with late notice at a tech rehearsal and they always pull it out of the bag – what Magicians!

A good Stage Manager and stage crew need love, understanding (and usually feeding on beer after the show!). If you are an actor, next time you don’t get in a show or the part you want – why not sign up to work backstage – I guarantee if you haven’t done it before you will see a new side to the production. Personally, I think every actor should, on a regular basis, step out of the limelight and work backstage on crew, wardrobe or props but this sadly is not done as often as it should.

Next time you do a production, take a moment to appreciate you Stage Manager and his crew, think how you would perform on just one full rehearsal and whether you could pull it off!  Then remember if you don’t stay on the right side of him/her you will be performing in the dark, behind a piece of scenery or trapped in the wings!!

I love the Stage Managers prayer: “Lord Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to hide the bodies of those actors I had to kill because they pissed me off” …. So remember you have been warned!!

‘Bottoms up’ to all those Backstage on the dark side!

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