Staging Shaw – Using Shaw to Teach Stage Management
Sharon Klassen, Theatre Arts, Redeemer University College
I began using Shaw One Acts in a class in Stage and Production Management after getting the suggestion from a colleague who said she’d used them to teach about plots and prompt books. She’s a long-time professional stage manager, and likes the level of detail in Shaw’s stage directions. I also use Act 1 of Pygmalion for a class exercise.
Shaw is a good choice partly because of the level of detail, but also because he’s sneaky. If the students skim the play and rely solely on the stage directions, they miss what he hides in the dialogue. In “How He Lied…”, for example, a fan is listed in the stage directions as a prop, but much later in the action and dialogue of the play you discover that the fan needs to be ivory and broken. My students consistently miss those details, creating a great teaching moment.
The details about plots, etc. are taken from:
Stern, Lawrence. Stage Management. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. It seems to be reissued almost annually, but every edition I’ve seen deals with plots. These are charts where, before rehearsals begin, a stage manager lists from the play text what he or she thinks will be needed for the show. Directors and designers will make any number of changes to these plots, but they remain a great place to start. A scene breakdown is a chart that breaks a play down into rehearsable units or beats, and shows who is in each scene, to simplify rehearsal schedules.
For the remainder of this document, my comments will remain in Times New Roman, and the Assignment will be in Arial.
Prompt Book Assignment
Complete the following for your chosen Shaw play.
The last time the class was taught they chose from “How He Lied to Her Husband”, “The Inca of Perusalem”, “Annajanska, the Bolshevik Empress”, “Overruled” and “Augustus Does His Bit”. All but “Inca…” were chosen, and I may leave it off the list next time. The first time I taught the class, I just told them to find a Shaw one-act, underestimating the ability of students to find plays I hadn’t read or seen. It was too much work and some plays didn’t work well for the assignment (“…Blanco Posnet” has too many characters to dress, not enough happens in “Dark Lady…”, etc.).
Costume Plot (Basic)
Use the Pygmalion Act I plots and breakdown posted on the Discovery site and discussed in class as a guide.
Also, to show how you came to your conclusions, hand in your marked up script, copied as if it were to become a prompt book, showing all the entries on your plots and all entrances and exits.
For example, for Sound you would show, in your script, S1, S2, S3 etc., and then list them on the plot.
All prompt books are due either in class or by 4:00 p.m. at my office on Feb. 15th.
In general, the prompt books are completed with a certain amount of consistency, including consistency in what is missed. Shaw is a thorough playwright. Details are omitted or skipped over at your peril. When I show students what they’ve missed, and we discuss in class why some of these details are important for prop creation, costume design, making sure the props work the way you want them to in the play, etc., Shaw’s attention to detail becomes less pedantic and more practical.
A few examples:
With the broken ivory fan in Overruled, we discuss the idea that you would preset an artistically broken fan – you certainly wouldn’t preset a new fan each night and then rely on actors to break it – too costly and what would you do if one night they didn’t manage to damage it enough?
On the costume plot, you would need to indicate that Annajanska’s cloak is floor length, as indicated in the stage directions. If it’s shorter, it won’t hide what she has underneath, ruining the surprise of her transformation at the end. Because cloaks aren’t normally that long, it’s an important detail. These kinds of details are important for costumers.
Overruled has a moment when light spills from an open doorway into a dark room where one pair of lovers is hiding. That cue could affect both set and lighting design and should be part of a lighting plot.