by Terry Townsend
The Assistant Stage Manager’s primary role is to (wait for it!!!) assist the stage manager. Therefore, it works best when the Stage Manager (SM) and the Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) are compatible and can work well together as a team.
Depending on the production and the SM, the ASM may be involved from the start, helping with auditions, attending all rehearsals, and then overseeing the deck crew during tech week and performances. In some instances, the ASM may not become involved until the Director begins running full acts at rehearsals and some may not become involved until tech week; it depends on the show and the needs of the Director and the SM. No matter the timing of when an ASM becomes involved, once involved, the ASM carries out an active and physical role.
If recruited to assist from the start, the ASM usually assists in preparing the room for the auditions (placing tables, chairs, and a piano, if needed) and may be asked by the SM or Director to do such things as gather and organize the audition forms, call up the actors to perform, and assist by reading lines with an actor. At the end of auditions, the ASM assists in arranging the room back into its original condition.
During the rehearsal phase, the ASM does what is needed to assist so that the rehearsals run smoothly. The ASM, along with the SM, are the first in, last out for each rehearsal and performance. The ASM is usually responsible for ensuring that the sign-in sheet is placed in a convenient spot for the actors and that they all sign in. The ASM helps the SM prepare the room for the seating of the actors, the Director and the SM, and in gathering and placing any props and/or furniture for the scene(s) being rehearsed. If an actor is late, the SM may ask the ASM to contact the actor to determine his or her status. On occasion, the ASM may be called upon to read and/or become involved in the blocking of a part for an actor who is absent, or be asked to take notes for the Director and/or SM. When the actors are scheduled to be Off Book, the ASM may assist in following the script and calling out lines when requested. At the end of each rehearsal, the ASM assists the SM in rearranging the room back into its original condition and storing the props in their proper place.
Prior to tech week, the ASM usually attends the paper tech, along with the Director, SM, lighting designer, and sound designer. During the paper tech, the ASM is responsible for noting any and all cues pertaining to the deck (backstage). The SM will prepare a cue sheet for all technical aspects of the show, but it is a good practice for the ASM to prepare a cue sheet specifically designed for the deck crew.
During tech week and the performances, the ASM (backstage) is in direct communication with the SM (in the booth) via a headset. The SM gives the cues and the ASM ensures that the deck cues are carried out smoothly and timely when they are given. The ASM supervises and assists the deck crew who are responsible for the moving of set pieces, fly pieces, placing of props, arranging of the set for the top of show and for the beginning of each act, and keeping the stage clean of any debris that could cause problems for the actors and/or crew before and between acts. As the supervisor of the deck crew, the ASM needs to become acquainted with all of the crew members and each crew member’s skills and abilities. The ASM should then clearly define each crew member’s role for the production, based on the requisite needs for that production and the skill set of the crew member. The ASM is also responsible for ensuring that the actors and any other necessary persons (such as speakers or music directors) are in their places prior to entering the stage and advising the SM when everyone is in position.
Following each tech rehearsal and performance, the ASM assists the SM in ensuring that the stage is set for the next performance; that the props are securely placed where they belong; and that the dressing rooms and green room are clean and locked, when applicable. The longer tech rehearsals and the performances often dovetail with the closing time of the facility. The SM and ASM together work with the facility personnel to ensure that everything is where it should be and is secure, that the lights are off, the ghost light back in its place, the doors locked, and that everyone has vacated the premises before they leave the building.
During the strike of the set, the ASM assists the SM in ensuring that everyone, including the ASM, has a task to perform and that all of the tasks are being performed safely and correctly. The SM and ASM are the last to leave, after a thorough inspection to ensure that the facility is clean, orderly and secure before turning off the final lights and putting the production to bed.