DISTILLED TO THEIR CORE, technical rehearsals are just that: rehearsals in the performance space that incorporate technical elements, such as lighting, sound, costumes, and scenery. This is the time when all the show’s elements come together to create what will be the final product. It’s always busy. It’s often stressful. It’s usually fun. And, the stage manager is at the center of it all.

The move into the tech phase of rehearsal brings new challenges for the stage manager, whose primary function as the conduit of information remains the same. You’re still striving for efficient and effective communication, but the parameters shift. The medium changes from mostly written to mostly verbal communication, as you have personal conversations with a greatly expanded network of collaborators. You’re adding run crew, tech department heads, production managers, house staff, musicians, and designers to the mix with you, the cast, and director. Everyone is finally in the same place at the same time to make art. So, how do you facilitate that creation?

You prepare for it.


One way you can set up your team for success is by preparing the physical performance space. Much of this work will happen around regular rehearsals in the week before tech, but some of it will be the last-minute push once construction is complete, sawdust has stopped flying, and cast members are hours away from taking the stage for the first time.

Typically, your final week in the rehearsal space will coincide with the final load-in week in the performance space. This is a great time to build face-to-face communication paths through daily check-ins with your technical director, production manager, head carpenter, master electrician, lead sound engineer — or anyone else who has necessary information about the load-in progress. Are things still on schedule for the cast to be onstage at 6 p.m. on Friday as planned? Aren’t those speakers supposed to be hung overhead so they don’t block the travel path?

Once load-in is far enough along for you to safely explore the space, do a walk-through. Start by checking dressing rooms, actor and crew travel paths, backstage storage areas, orchestra pit or band platforms, any wing space and other stage entrances, and the stage itself. Identify potential safety hazards and touch base with proper tech departments to ensure they are dealt with in a timely manner (ideally, before the cast moves onstage).

If quick-change booths are not permanent structures, identify their locations. Relay the information to necessary departments and find time in the load-in schedule for their construction.

Work with your stage management team and run crew to determine storage areas for large scenic pieces, show furniture, and prop tables or shelves, keeping everything clear of travel paths and quick-change areas. Check run lights (or blue lights) to ensure they’re working, replace burnt-out bulbs, and add clip lights to alcoves or areas shadowed by the set.

Once the basics are accomplished (or delegated to crew and department heads), start cleaning. All travel paths, dressing rooms, quick-change areas, wings, backstage, and onstage spaces need to be thoroughly cleaned before safety taping. Go a step further with dressing rooms to make sure each has adequate lighting, chairs, and trashcans to accommodate the cast that will call the space their new home during tech and performances. Remember to work smarter, not harder. There’s no need to clean an area while carpenters are still sawing. Tackle the things you can tackle as they become available so you’re not frantically trying to clean and prep the entire space in the hour before the cast joins you onstage.

The next layer of physical prep is safety taping. Think like an actor trying to exit the stage in the dark after staring into a followspot. Do another walk-through, adding glow tape and white or bright tape to highlight areas of concern, any offstage stairs, and sightline issues. Don’t forget to transfer onstage spikes from the rehearsal hall to the stage floor.

A Thespian tapes spike marks on the International Thespian Festival main stage.
A Thespian tapes spike marks on the International Thespian Festival main stage. Photo by Don Corathers.


Sample props preset list

Download a sample props preset list from a professional production of A Christmas Carol.

Throughout rehearsals, you worked diligently to prepare the room, set up for run-throughs, execute scene shifts, and monitor problems. Now, as others join you in those efforts, your challenge will be to get all that knowledge out of your head and into their capable hands. Although the list of tech documents is long, three that stand out are the preset list, shift plot, and flowchart.

Preset list
The preset is an accounting of the starting position of every hand prop, furniture item, and set piece used during the show. Organized by area, this checklist allows the crew to accurately and efficiently place everything needed for a performance, provides them with pertinent details about items listed (for example, “handle should point SL” or “lid should be unlocked”), and serves as a tool for the stage manager to check their work before opening the house.

Shift plot
Also known as the run plot or running list, the shift plot is a concise accounting of every duty performed by the run crew before, during, and after the performance. It includes all moves within scene shifts, any costume changes that affect deck crew or traffic, end-of-night duties, and all prop handoffs. If a member of the crew provides an actor with a drink of water at a specific time during each show, it should be on this list. The shift plot should be logically organized with each duty broken down by who is doing it, what they’re doing, when they’re doing it, and other relevant details.

Like the entrance/exit plot, the flowchart accounts for all entrances and exits within the show, broken down by script page number and actor. Unlike the basic entrance/exit plot, the flowchart adds layers that indicate each costume/character change and how they overlap with other wardrobe needs at that time. It is an incredibly helpful tool in establishing where and when quick changes can happen, as well as identifying areas of concern regarding the number of actors changing versus number of dressers available.


Now that the space and crew are ready (or at least well on their way), it’s time to prepare your calling script. As was true with the blocking script, your calling script is a customized document. It needs to be clearly legible, accurate and consistent in its notations, and precise in its details. But, as far as formatting and layout, it should be what works best for you.

I use a “clean lines” formatting method for cues, with a few symbols thrown in for placement. I give myself a wide righthand margin to write. Each cue is written in by department/type and number on a different horizontal line, which is then connected to the corresponding placement for the “go” call in the script (whether on a specific word, at the end of a line of dialogue, or on a precise movement). If more than one cue is being called at the same time (for example, sound and light changes that happen simultaneously), those horizontal lines are connected vertically to indicate the need to call the cues together. I abbreviate the department/type to make writing cues quicker. Writing “SND” versus “sound” may not seem like much initially, but the omission of two letters from 600 cues adds up, especially when combined with electrics, rail, followspots, actor entrances, and deck cues. Because cues can change, I wait until I’m in tech to add standbys and set-ups.

In a perfect world, designers will provide you with cue lists before the start of tech, allowing you to get actual cues written in the calling script before people are waiting on you. If you have those lists, devote time to entering the information in your script before tech, preparing as many sequences as possible to mirror your understanding of the work that’s been done in the rehearsal hall and any conversations you’ve had with the director (for example, the fact that the director asked you to ring the phone after a specific line). Then you only need to have an eraser ready when things shift as you’re doing that sequence onstage with actors and all the real tech elements.

If you aren’t provided with advance cue lists, that’s OK. It might make tech go slower, but you’ll still get the information you need eventually. In the meantime, you can add indicators for sequencing you already know. Have you been saying “lights” at a certain point in every run-through? Have you been barking like a dog after Sarah’s last line? If so, then you know those will be cues eventually. Pencil in a placeholder, leaving room for the cue number.

Although a potentially daunting list for one stage manager, you’re not alone in this process. You have the rest of the stage management team to share the load, as well as an assortment of crew members. Delegate as much as practical. Free up the stage management team to focus on paperwork while allowing yourself time to concentrate on your calling script.

Finally, don’t forget to sleep, prep your snacks for the week, and drink lots of water. Happy teching!

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