By Grace Korkunis
Life backstage is totally, completely, and absolutely random. You’d think with the title of “Assistant Stage Manager,” there’d be a whole lot of organized management of actors, props, set pieces, etc… My job has hardly been this. It’s messy, it’s unpredictable, it’s spontaneous.
I started the job of ASM during tech week (that crazy week when the actors move to the stage, and the designers implement their designs). I mostly just observed the process, but I was needed there for little tasks that had to get done quickly. So the first exciting job of mine was to be the spike tape handler. Yes, that just means I handled the spike tape. Marking chairs and beds, and other set pieces; and then inevitably, changing all of them in the next hour, because the staging had changed. And so, went tech week.
Then came previews. At this point, I had just solidified my backstage duties and had to use a list for myself so that I wouldn’t forget what to do. My duties ranged from dropping feathers from a catwalk to rolling a bed onto the stage without being seen by the audience (This made me feel like a ninja, not to mention my all black outfit). But, of course, mistakes were made. There is a scene that requires pots, pans, and Tupperware all wrapped in aluminum foil. I had to move them in place backstage for the actors to access during the scene, but one night of previews, while moving the table they were on, a tower of aluminum foil pans and bowls toppled over, creating an incredibly loud crash. Talk about a show stopper. After that incident, the dishes were always very carefully placed. Soon enough, the opening was upon us.
From opening on, I miraculously didn’t make any torrential mistakes! But, the job never fell into an expected organized mold. There were little problems that I encountered before shows, and even during show, which I had to think on my feet for! My quick thinking salvaged the grief buffet scene in one of the shows. They all bring out a wrapped pan or bowl and a tissue. One night, I saw an actor take the last tissue from the box, so I leaped backstage to the bathroom, and grabbed a giant handful of paper towels, because we didn’t have any more tissues. No, they weren’t terribly comfortable for the actors’ noses, but it looked the same from the audience. This is definitely a job where you must be paying 100% attention to the show. After the dish-crashing and missing-tissue happenstances, I had experienced enough to teach me the value of undivided focus.
Reading this post, you might think that it’s a pretty bad deal for me. I hope you’re not, because here’s the thing: it’s actually a wonderful job. I met some incredible people while working on “Alcestis,” and I’ll remember all of them with a note of positivity. I am actually a student studying acting at USC during the year, so being able to watch and know professional actors at work, and being able to help them tell their story was incredible in and of itself; even if I was just backstage. I know I’ll be a more well-rounded actor after this, since I’ve now experienced so many realms of the theatre.
And anyway, who wants some mundane job where you type in the same things everyday to your spread sheets and send out angry emails to your coworkers every week like clockwork? Not me. The whole point of working in a theatre is that it IS unpredictable. You’re always on your toes, ready to run. And specifically here at Boston Court, you’re leaning forward and listening and paying attention rather than sitting back and waiting for the day to be over. So who cares if the job is a bit messy? I’m happy being thrown into the chaos. It makes for a more interesting day.