Not all the magic of theatre happens on the stage. In fact, much of the creative work to make the story come alive happens on a very practical level behind the scenes. Fiona Jones is the Stage Manager for 4th Line this year, which means she acts like an orchestra leader making sure everyone knows exactly what to do and when. She likens her job to running a military operation: with up to 72 different people on stage during a single production, the challenges lie in the details. While the Director decides how the action flows onstage, it is the Stage Manager who acts as “secretary” to this creative lead, making meticulous notes so that every entrance, gesture and prop rings true to the artistic vision. This requires practical and organizational skills, as the Stage Manager provides support to the director, actors, designers, stage crew and technicians throughout the production process. Stage managers record every detail of the performance, including all light, sound and set change cues in a master copy of the script. They go through technical rehearsals, to establish specific cues to ensure timing is precise. This can be particularly challenging in outdoor theatre, where weather can throw a wrench in the best laid plans.
During the rehearsal period, the Stage Manager works closely with the Director, recording logistical and scheduling details and communicating them to all of the players. After the premiere performance, the Director is rarely at the performances, as their job is virtually complete. They leave the production details to the Stage Manager, who slugs it out every night during performances, overseeing each one to ensure it proceeds as planned.
Jones embraces this challenge, preferring to be outdoors during the summer months even when it means dealing with wind, heat and rain. It beats hanging out in a dark theatre day and night and missing the outdoors- she can do that during the rest of the year. She has worked 4th Line Theatre in a variety of productions, including The Bad Luck Bank Robbers, Wounded Soldiers, Queen Marie, assuming the Stage Management role for the 2013 production of the Winslows of Derryvore. She spends the rest of the year managing productions in theatres in Toronto including the Tarragon and Passe Muraille theatres.
Jones didn’t grow up dreaming of stage management- she began her career in the theatre on the stage, not behind it. A self-described control freak, Jones was drawn to the management side of the business for personal reasons as well: while the work is still project based, it is more consistent than acting and she found it paid better.
Another hands-on job behind the scenes is that of the Production Manager, a position held by Steve Ryan for the last few summers. Ryan’s job is dealing with the tangible, and balancing the demands of the creative side and the budget realities. He describes it as listening the creative side ask for the moon, and finding a way to satisfy them by delivering an affordable replica, referring to himself a referee between the creative and the financial sides of the business. Budgets are high on Ryan’s priority list. Some of the typical responsibilities of the Production Manager such as securing a the production rights, the venue and establishing the performance schedule are not required at the 4th Line, but the buck stops with Ryan, who is ultimately responsible for ensuring that each production is delivered on budget. He ensures the costumes and props can endure the exposure to the outdoor conditions, and making adjustments for prop size and placement to ensure they don’t fly away in the wind.
Like Jones, Ryan’s career began in acting. From September until June, while he’s not on Zion Lion, he works as the Sound Technician for the Stephenville Theatre in Newfoundland, which fortuitously does not operate during the summer (no air-conditioning). He has spent five of the past six summers at the 4th Line, and got his start with them through on on-line worksite called “Work in Culture”.
While the actors on stage bask in the glory (or ignominy) of their performances, it’s easy to forget there is a lot more happening that meets the eyes of the audience. This summer as you enjoy the sights, sounds and drama at the 4th Line, you might have a stronger appreciation for the efforts of those whose work can be taken for granted as another flawless performance fades into the dusk. KG