Caroline Lowe, a first year on LAMDA’s Foundation Degree in Stage Management & Technical Theatre tells us about her training to date and how’s she’s slowly learning to always expect the unexpected…
When did you first start to develop an interest in working backstage?
When I was at school, really. The school built a new assembly and performance space just before I started sixth form. They ordered a load of equipment to go into it but the person they had hired to install it all was looking to offload some of the work onto the students, so I got stuck in from there. From that moment on working backstage took over my life!
What experience did you have before starting at LAMDA?
All my experience was gained at school and touring with school companies. I did a bit of sound and lighting for our school productions from about the age of 14 ,and in Sixth Form took part in a musical which was completely run by the lower sixth. With the Head of Sixth Form as Company Manager, the teachers gave us scripts and a budget and left the year [of 97] to get the show on stage. It was totally manic and really threw us all in at the deep end, but was a great way of getting experience of teamwork as well as putting on a show with a limited budget.
The following year the school decided to do a whole school musical with a cast of 120 and an orchestra – that came with plenty of challenges for the crew too! As Deputy Stage Manager, I was springing up from the desk at the back of the theatre to run round and do the scene changes and then quickly back to the desk!
After I finished my A levels I went and worked for the Pleasance in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival. It was a great month, with great staff parties for both the crew and company.
Why did you choose LAMDA?
I was accepted by all three of the schools I applied for (RADA, Central and LAMDA), but as soon as I was accepted by LAMDA I knew that’s where I wanted to go. When I came to the open day in the February after I applied, I just loved the friendly atmosphere; I just felt automatically that I would be able to work well here with Rob and the team.
I was also drawn to LAMDA’s purely vocational course, where nothing was taught which wasn’t industry related and practical. The technical course at LAMDA didn’t feel like an add on, it’s a complete training in its own right.
What did you expect the course to be like and how has it been different from your expectations?
The course is as practical and hands on as I expected. However, I’ve learnt that the tutors here always go the extra mile with unexpected and often quite surprising extras. I really didn’t expect evening classes on AutoCAD software, first aid lessons or stage combat lessons with the Head of Drama School in my first year!
What’s been a highlight from the training so far?
In the last week at the end of the first term, the stage management and technical theatre students swap places with the actors for a week. We start by seeing what we each pick out of script; whilst the actors were picking out character traits and snippets of backstory, I’d be thinking about the light levels needed.
Over the course of the week, we then completed a whistle stop tour of all the work needed to get the show running. It gave us all such a good insight into the cast’s process and it also gave them an insight into just how complicated the backstage stuff can be – a lot of mutual respect was established during that week, I can tell you that!
What are the hardest aspects of the training?
Fitting it all in! I’ve just been working as an assistant stage manager for [LAMDA’s 2014 musical] Sweeney Todd and the long days were hard, sometimes working from 11am to 11pm. Having come out the other end, I think everyone was better for it.
At times there was a lot of pressure on your social and professional relationships; being with the same group of people through a very stressful and intense period is something you have to learn to get used to. We also got to know the actors (and them us) so well. The fact that the musical was double cast also came with its own challenges not only for costumes but also for props – the placing of a razor on a table is individual to each actor, so we had to adapt to that.
What do you think are the common misconceptions about being a stage manager or theatre technician?
It’s not so much a misconception, but just in general, people don’t know what it is we actually do. Especially the role of stage manager, people just don’t know what there is to do. They just think we fill out a few bits of health and safety paper work. Because people never see us, they have no idea what we do and until they come to an exhibition or an open day. I’d love to see people know more about what we’re being trained to do and just how many different jobs and pieces of equipment there are to get to know.
What do you hope to do once you graduate in July 2015?
I’d love to work as a deputy stage manager on a musical. They sit on the prompt desk and call the show – that’s the job I’d love to do. You get to sit in rehearsals and know the cast really well. The Deputy Stage Manager for Sweeney Todd had to miss one day, and I got to cover her which was fantastic. I went to sit in on rehearsals with the cast.
Interested in a career backstage? Visit www.lamda.org.uk for more information about its Foundation Degree in Stage Management & Technical Theatre. The application deadline is 1 April to join LAMDA in autumn 2014.