Tali Talk

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Smoothing the Way: Keeping the Show on an Even Keel

Continuing our look behind the scenes at the people responsible for bringing the Talisman’s Pride and Prejudice to the stage, we turn now to the work of the Stage Manager, who for this production is Wendy Elliott.

Wendy joined the Talisman Theatre in 2001 along with daughter Laura and husband Nigel. Pride and Prejudice will be her 15th production as Stage Manager (not to mention 18 in Props and three in Wardrobe, as well as many stints on Front of House). During this production Wendy has been joined by Emi Burrows who is an aspiring Stage Manager and has been by Wendy’s side “learning the ropes” throughout the process. 

Despite having been involved in many areas of the theatre, Wendy says it is the role of Stage Manager (SM) that she particularly enjoys and finds most fulfilling, as it is the SM who works most closely with the director and is responsible for helping them to realise their creative vision for the show. At all stages of the process, the director and SM follow guidelines prepared by the Talisman’s Artistic Directors to ensure a cohesive approach leading, hopefully, to a successful production!

When the SM has been appointed, usually many months before a production hits the stage, their first job will be to discuss the show with the director to ensure that they understand and support the director’s vision. They will agree upon key dates (for things like auditions, the pre-production meeting, the transfer of the show from rehearsal room to stage, technical and dress rehearsals), and decide what backstage personnel will be needed during the week of the show so that the SM can fill those roles as early as possible.

Once rehearsals get under way, the SM will normally be present at all rehearsal evenings, often the first to arrive and the last to leave! They will prepare the rehearsal space, making sure the positions of key items are marked out and that rehearsal props are available when needed. If there are items of furniture and props to be moved during scene changes, the SM will be responsible for this; and before leaving they will ensure that the rehearsal space is cleared and left in a suitable condition for anyone who may be using the space before the next rehearsal. During the rehearsal itself, the SM will support the director, making notes of key issues and helping to solve any problems that crop up – as they inevitably do!

The SM is also responsible for a number of administrative tasks that run in parallel with rehearsals. They will ensure all of the cast are members of the Talisman Theatre, and carry out risk assessments on every aspect of the production, informing all cast and crew of the outcome and making them aware of their responsibilities to ensure a safe and happy show. The SM will also hold an emergency fire evacuation to make sure everyone involved in the production knows what to do if the worst should happen.

As soon as our previous show Don’t Dress for Dinner finished its run, the stage crew moved in to dismantle the set and start constructing the set for Pride and Prejudice. Within a few days, the set (although not yet complete or painted) will have been ready for rehearsals to transfer from the studio to the stage; and this process is coordinated by the SM, making sure that all rehearsal furniture and props are moved downstairs and that the cast have an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the new space – which can often feel very different from what they’ve become used to up in the studio!

In parallel with all of this, the SM will prepare a version of the script marked up with all the technical cues needed during the show, ready to work with the lighting and sound designers during the technical and dress rehearsals. Wendy has been delighted to be joined by Emi Burrows who has recently returned to the theatre having previously been a youth theatre member. Emi has helped behind the scenes, shadowing Wendy throughout Pride and Prejudice rehearsals, and learning all about the role of an SM after recently working on props for Don’t Dress for Dinner as well.

At the final dress rehearsal, the SM takes over full responsibility for the show from the director. From that point on – they’re in charge! During show week, the SM ensures the smooth running of the show, solving problems as and when they arise. They will feed back notes from the director to the cast and crew, and also where necessary communicate to the director any concerns raised by the company. If any changes start to creep into the performance that have not been agreed with the director, the SM will remind everyone of the need to keep the show on track and consistent with what has been rehearsed.

After the final performance the SM will oversee the clearing up of the stage, dressing room and other backstage areas to make sure they are ready for preparations for the next production to begin.

As can be seen from the above, stage managing a Talisman show from first planning meeting to last night is a long process, one that – for this production in particular – involves overseeing a large company. Wendy tells us she finds it difficult to highlight any one part as being special, but that seeing the final product on stage is always a special thrill. Our big company productions always throw up something in the way of fun and in Pride and Prejudice some of the “period” terminology has caused mirth amongst our younger cast members!

“Being a part of the company for Pride and Prejudice is obviously an honour,” says Wendy. “The fact that we have a world premiere, written by Andrew Davies, has brought much focus on the Talisman Theatre and I am delighted to be part of bringing this to life for our audiences.”

After this show is over, Wendy is looking forward to a quick holiday before beginning preparations for her next project – our traditional pantomime for the festive season, Beauty and the Beast! Tickets are already on sale and full details of this and all of our productions for the second half of 2023 may be found right here on our website. Early booking for all of our productions is recommended (Pride and Prejudice is fully sold out before the run has even started), so don’t miss out – book today!

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