Old Vic Backstage offers paid placements on an Old Vic production to six 18–25 year olds from backgrounds underrepresented in the arts.
Participants shadow an industry professional across 12 sessions and get hands-on experience across a range of disciplines. Lamesha focused on Stage Management during her placement and told us about the experience.
Author The Old Vic
I’m Lamesha and I’m a third-year history student with a passion for the performing arts, especially theatre. Ever since school, I have been interested in the backstage aspect of theatre. When I got to university, I was introduced to the role of stage manager and how integral they are to a production. Since then, I’ve been eager to look for experiences, especially in London, where I can learn more about the role and develop my skills. When I saw Old Vic Backstage advertised on Paapa Essiedu’s Instagram, it instantly caught my eye.
I was so glad to see that The Old Vic were taking the initiative to get people from under-represented backgrounds into backstage roles. Representation doesn’t stop on stage. It’s important that a plethora of voices are taking on creative backstage roles as it encourages a diversity of productions, content and creative outputs. Moreover, A Number is a superb play, beautifully written by Caryl Churchill. Whilst on the surface it appears to be a play about cloning, at its core it deals with trust and second chances which are themes we can all relate to.
During my placement, I focused on stage management. According to Wikipedia, stage management is ‘the practice of organisation and coordination of an event or theatrical production’. The stage management association put it more succinctly as ‘people management’. This includes thinking about contracts, organising external sessions, practical paperwork, maintaining props, sorting out rehearsal spaces etc.
For my placement, my mentor was Company Stage Manager Laura Draper. Shadowing Laura, I allocated dressing rooms; greeted external practitioners such as vocal coaches and photographers and got them to the right location at the right time; and sat in on rehearsals, noting down the blocking for the show including entrances, exits and strikes (clearing pieces of set or props between scenes).
As well as working with Laura, I also had the opportunity to learn and speak directly with Fran (Deputy Stage Manager) and Shakira (Assistant Stage Manager) to understand their roles and journeys into their careers. The DSM is the person who calls the show, delivering all the cues for the actors and technical operators, whilst the ASM is running the show backstage.
I was most struck by everyone’s enthusiasm. Everyone wanted to make the show the best it could be and from the first day, came into rehearsals brimming with ideas and ready to bring their expertise to the process. A pretty sweet gig, I must say.
When doing any show you need a lot of stamina and most definitely in ‘tech week’. Technical rehearsals, or ‘tech week’ is the week before a production starts, when everyone enters the auditorium for the first time to bring together all the elements of the production.
My favourite part of tech week was seeing the ‘blinder’ (someone who appears on stage momentarily as another character to allow for a seemingly immediate costume change) in person. Ever since our first chat with Lyndsey in December, I’d been excited about her idea to use a ‘blinder’ to help with transitions but I couldn’t really picture how it would work. It was only when I saw how effective the transition was that I realised how essential that seemingly small element was to bringing the production together.
It was interesting to see how the set came alive as the props team added all their details and how the beautiful lighting and sound design brought the show to life. I thought it was amazing watching the actors in the rehearsal room but with everything together, it just blew me away.
A part of the week I found challenging was the long hours. You can find yourself waiting around in tech week as the team work on an area of the production you’re not involved in, but I had the luxury of ‘comms’ (headphones that creatives use to keep in touch when they’re located in different parts of the auditorium), so I always knew what was going on; why we were stopping; what needed polishing. Being with everyone also gave me the opportunity to speak to the rest of the Old Vic Backstagers, find out their interests, why they applied for the programme and what they want to do in the future. It created a rare opportunity to speak with likeminded people with the same passion as me who come from similar backgrounds.
In a nutshell, tech week is putting together all the elements of a production. It’s the chance to see the potential of the show and how it could be pushed further. The week is carefully planned to allow work time for every department and it was fascinating to see how every second was used to further enhance the show. The team never took anything for granted and pushed themselves every day to make the show even better.
After Old Vic Backstage
And just like that my time as an Old Vic Backstager came to an end. It was an amazing experience that I am eternally grateful for. From our first Zoom meeting to my last Front of House call, I grew so much, having been given the space to develop the skills needed for stage management in ways I didn’t even realise.
Old Vic Backstage provides a space for those from the global majority who haven’t had access to traditional drama school paths to work on a professional show. Through the programme, I have discovered so much about myself, the theatre world and stage management.
I have gained a solid understanding of the expectations of the stage management team from the first day of rehearsals to the start of the show. Laura (Company Stage Manager) went through what is needed for the first day of rehearsals and provided me with a checklist. Fran (Deputy Stage Manager) went through the way she adds cues to a script and her sticky notes system is something I’ll certainly use in the future. Shakira (Assistant Stage Manager) demonstrated how alert you must be in rehearsals to reset props as they’re needed and that energy is just one of the many things I’ll take away from the programme.
The scheme has absolutely solidified my passion and interest in stage management and I certainly want to pursue a career in it after university. My dream is to work in London and especially to work with my fellow Old Vic Backstagers to produce new work that highlights our disciplines and what we learnt through the scheme. I met some amazing people who I would love to work with again.
In three words, Old Vic Backstage was motivating, energising and awe-inspiring. The scheme constantly pushed us to learn, develop and understand how we could use all these skills in the future. The energy from everyone involved in the production was electric and watching professionals deliver such stellar work was incredibly inspiring. It was a real privilege to be part of the process, helping take rehearsal room ideas to reality in the final production. I feel privileged to have played a role in that.
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