Thoughts from a Deputy Stage Manager – Theatre, Podcasts and Surviving the Pandemic
When I stepped away from my last show at the end of January 2020, I was spent. I’d had a few shows in a row that I had found really tough and I had got to the point where I needed a break. To try something different. Little did I know, the universe had the same thing in mind.
It’s been A YEAR. Right?
As a Deputy Stage Manager, my world revolves around people. Anything from making sure that people are in the right place at the right time; to being a shoulder to cry on when someone’s having a tough day; to simply working in a room filled with inspiring people creating theatre magic. If there are no people, then my job doesn’t exist, it’s as straight forward as that. If there are no people then I am just someone with a script and a notebook sat in an empty room or in an empty theatre. It’s in people that I find my joy, my confidence, my inspiration.
The Connection of Theatre
Theatre is about connection. Connecting to the script, the character. Connecting to the company, the team. Connecting to the audience, and the audience connecting to an emotion, character or story. An infinite amount of connections really. People always talk about the magic of theatre and I think that deeply rooted in that magic is that sense of connection. Because if you think about it, if those connections are broken, or if they are not felt, then it somehow feels unauthentic or forced. Have you ever watched a play where you feel like the actors are just saying lines that they have learnt? I certainly have. But have you ever seen a play where you were so swept up in the story that you felt that surge of emotion when something great happened for a character, or a sense of fear and dread when that character is going through emotional turmoil? It’s magic, isn’t it? That is where the actor has connected to the character and to the true emotion of the text. In turn, you as the viewer have been able to connect to it too, through that actor. And do you know who helped the actor to unlock that connection to the true emotion of the text? The Director. Or perhaps someone else in the company, or team. It’s like a spider web, if you zoom out from there. Countless people involved in weaving together a world in which what you see on stage is something that you can deeply connect with. Every detail is discussed and every moment is dissected so that the story and the characters that you are making that connection with feel true, full and real.
When I first started working as a DSM I very quickly realised that I had found my place to be. I thrive on connecting with people. Creating an environment in which the company and the rest of the team feel supported, secure and uninhibited. A rehearsal room needs to be a playground. It’s my job to make sure that this playground is safe, structured and supported so that the actors can be free. It’s also my job to create connections, quickly but authentically. Everyone in that room needs to be able to come to me for information, support and to ask me the most ridiculous questions without fear of being made to feel silly. Yes, a good poker face is essential.
So if you peel away all of those people, those interactions, those connections, those relationships…you can see that my job is no longer there. This is what happened to our industry on 16th March 2020. It was ripped away in a flash and in amongst all of the fear, the death, the uncertainty, we were also left with no income and no connection, other than through a screen. The theatre industry is not alone in this, but it’s the only one that I can speak about from true experience. I cannot even begin to fully comprehend how deeply this has affected other industries too.
Starting a Theatre Podcast
It took me a little while to realise how deeply it was affecting me, not having people around me. I filled my lockdown days with endless craft projects, voice-notes, jigsaws and books but they didn’t quite scratch the itch. I’d love to say that I had a lightbulb moment, but I really didn’t. I was lost as to what to do and my partner suggested that I could look on LinkedIn Learning for a course to keep me occupied and perhaps to learn something new. I searched and searched but I couldn’t find anything that caught my eye, until I saw that there was a course about how to create a podcast. Now, I love a podcast. I love hearing about people’s memories, their stories, their opinions. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it enough, but I love people. So I thought hey, why not learn about podcasts? Around that time, a friend from drama school also launched a course on how to create a podcast, and I signed up for that too. Never thinking that I would actually do anything with it. To cut a long story short, I got swept along with it all and I found myself getting excited about what I could talk to people about. Before I knew it, I had a list of names as long as my arm of inspiring people that I had worked with during my career so far in theatre. Then, after many bolstering voice-notes from my best friend, and talks with my Mum and my partner…I bought a microphone. Which was expensive. I was in.
That’s Theatre Darling the podcast was born. I was nervous, in fact terrified. I didn’t think anyone would say yes to being a guest on it. But they did. Years of building those connections with people paid off. They were honoured, thrilled, excited to have the opportunity to talk about theatre. Everyone is missing theatre so deeply. They are all missing the feeling of being part of the magic.
When it came to releasing my very first episode I felt sick. What if I did it wrong? What if no one listened? What if no one cared? It turns out I didn’t need to worry about that. But I still do, naturally. It turns out that That’s Theatre Darling podcast has given non-theatre folk an opportunity to sneak a look behind the curtain, to learn about jobs that they didn’t even know existed. It’s given theatre people a chance to reminisce, to remember, to feel part of it all again even if they are not allowed to be there. And for me? It’s given me that priceless gift of connecting with people in a time of separation. Which is more than I could have ever hoped for.
This article was written by Amy Slater, creator of That’s Theatre Darling Podcast and a hard-working Deputy Stage Manager, who has had many memorable years working in the wonderful theatre industry.
If you fancy having a listen to the podcast, you can find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Acast, along with many other podcast players - simply search ‘That’s Theatre Darling’.