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Things you only know if you're a stage manager

Written by
Ben Neutze

... according to Alex Duffy, the stage manager behind Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

A stage manager is responsible for making sure everything you see and hear happens each night – and on time.

“We are the ones that deliver the production and help coordinate it for every performance. We’re a team of eight and we work with the resident creatives, the nine technical departments and the cast to keep the show looking really fresh. We schedule the company and we make sure that everyone works collaboratively together… A big part of the stage management role is to ‘call’ the production; we call all the cues that make things happen on stage so things look crisp and precise, like magic is happening before your eyes.”

A two-part show like Cursed Child has a lot of cues.

“The way the show has been programmed, there are 2,692 lighting changes, and we call 600 of those. There’s 15,221 sound cues, and 552 of those are called. For [scenery] automation, there are 237 moves.”

And it takes a lot of rehearsal to ensure Harry Potter-worthy magic happens.

“We rehearse as much as the cast do. They need to rehearse to get their performances well rounded, and we need to rehearse to finesse the cueing of the show to make sure it works really cleanly. We rehearsed for five months before we opened… Everything is called to within a millisecond so there’s consistency across the show. A lot of our cues for the magic are taken visually; so we can see when the sweet spot is, in that particular magic moment to cue the next part of that sequence. The second we start to forget how important that precision is, we run the risk of maybe a trick being revealed, and that’s against the show’s creed.”

Cursed Child is a well-oiled machine, but live theatre is always living.

“I think being a really effective stage manager for a show like this is being able to respond to the variables and slight changes every night, either in a piece of equipment responding differently, or a cast member giving us a slightly different version of what we rehearsed, and still trying to make that make sense in the world of Harry Potter. I’m most proud when things go slightly not to plan but we’re able to respond to that and still deliver the show.”

There’s always a plan B.

“For everything that happens on stage, and for every cue that happens, we’ve drawn up a set of contingency plans. It’s a 30-page document that I wrote with the involvement of our creative team and technical heads departments. So for every single moment, if something doesn’t work; if a piece of equipment fails on us, or there’s a delay of some kind, we have a plan in place.”

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, with bookings open until July 12. There are still tickets available throughout February, for those who can't wait too long.

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