Prompt Book Assignments

Student directors need to document their process, including showing clearly the reasons for the directorial choices they have made.  Here’s is an outline for a Student Director’s Book. Along with the materials outlined below, it would also include:

  • A copy of the script
  • All blocking written into the script
  • Any research materials
  • Reactions to each rehearsal, including what the director has learned, how the show is progressing and frustrations/concerns

The book would be in a three-ring, hardcover binder.

Page One/Cover

This page would contain the following:

  • Title of play
  • Name of playwright
  • Name of director
  • Cast List with names of actors

Page Two: Rehearsal Schedule

Here’s an example of what a schedule would include.

Tuesday          July 22                       1 – 4 pm

Objectives:

  1. meet actors, finalize rehearsal schedule
  2. read through script
  3. discuss concept, characterization
  4. determine costumes

Wednesday     July 23                        1 – 4 pm

Objectives:

  1. work on blocking (gross movement)
  2. develop “business” (prop use)
  3. begin character development

 

Thursday        July 24                        1 – 4 pm

Objectives:

  1. fine-tune the blocking (stage pictures)
  2. complete character development
  3. work on tempo/pace

Friday             July 25                        9 – 10 am

Objectives:

  1. run through to fine-tune blocking
  2. “warm up” character
  3. work on temp/pace

10 am +           Presentation

Page Three: Properties List

As this is, due to time, more of a presentation than a performance, we have opted to mime many of the props.  If we were to perform this piece, I would have nothing mimed – all the props would be furnished.  To indicate this, props listed in Plain Text are those that we are using in our “performance,” while those listed in Italics are those that would be included in the actual performance of this piece. Below is the prop list for a play entitled Simply Selma.

Scene 1

2 plates

2 glasses

flatware

sandwich fixing;, fried green tomatoes with sweet potatoes, applesauce and cottage cheese; jar of pickles, table cloth and napkins; iced tea

Scene 2

deck of cards

coat on rack, money in coat pocket; fixings for a sandwich

Scene 3

3 plates

3 glasses

flatware

flowers and bottle of wine; entire meal consisting of chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, homemade bread and apple pie with vanilla ice cream; iced tea in pitcher; record for stereo

Scene 4

record for stereo

Page Four: Visual Images about “Simply Selma”

This page includes photos, artwork, sketches and other visual representations of the play’s themes, characters, emotions, tone, and atmosphere. By utilizing images a director may be able to better define what the play is about, refine his/her vision of the script and communicate ideas to actors and others in a clear, concise manner. (Note: this section may be more than one page long.)

Page Five: Script Analysis

Below are the basic elements of script analysis that every director needs to use.

Given circumstances

Time

  • Present day, perhaps up to a decade or so
  • Retains Southern charm and social manners

Place

  • Southern home, near Sedena and Route 60
  • Utilizes the kitchen and porch of a small home

–       Must have kitchen table and chairs, sink, stove, refrigerator, with two doors that lead to front porch and back bedrooms, television

  • Additional areas are mentioned – bedrooms, back porch
  • Michael’s home is nearby
  • Home is surrounded by a lawn that in the past has gone unattended
  • Mama has lived in the home for over two decades

Environmental facts

  • Small community where most people know each other

Society / Social Environment

  • Small community with closed mind-set, traditional stereotypes
  • Strip clubs are well-attended, so much so that girls are very well paid
  • Selma is earning degree at Tech school, Michael did as well
  • Selma cares for her ailing, widowed mother

Political environment

  • Nice girls don’t work at strip clubs
  • Nice guys can’t date strippers
  • Men are allowed to oggle women for the right price

Previous Action

Selma has returned home to care for her mother, after completing only a year of schooling (most likely a tech school rather than a college).  She has not dated in over a year, though she doesn’t at first think it’s been that long.  Each of her previous relationships have ended badly (though not in the cutting we’re doing) and she has been left questioning the value of such relationships.  She is totally devoted to her mother and her mother’s welfare.

Mama has a physical condition that keeps her from working and caring for herself.  She has been recently widowed and joined by her dutiful daughter.  She tries hard not to interfere with Selma’s work but feels very comfortable trying to manipulate her love life, which she sees as a way of helping.  She wishes that Selma could find as nice a man as her deceased husband was (indicated in portion that was cut).  She is obviously lonely and deeply desires company, from Selma cutting work to Michael staying for long visits.

Michael has been to the Tech and has developed his own business, which he takes great pride in.  He is one of the guys, but shies away from the more seemly activities of his male friends.  He admires Selma for her dedication to her mother, but at the same time, avoids visiting his own parents (hasn’t seen them in a couple months).  He is easily impressed by images (like Selma’s being in the “entertainment industry”) but remains very old-fashioned in his values (despite the fact that he doesn’t practice a faith).

Character Analysis

Character:  Selma

Objective

–       to help her mother as much as she can

–       to earn a living AND get ahead by going to school

–       to find someone to accept her for who she is

Dramatic Action

–       her devotion shows itself in physical actions (both affections and deeds)

–       not stubborn but very independent by necessity

Conflicts

–       struggles with her job versus her goals

–       struggles to be accepted by others (and even herself a bit)

Willpower

–       very strong and determined

–       would rather put her own reputation into question than have her mother struggle on her own

–       however, she does struggle with the choices she’s been forced to make which is clear shown in the final scene when she cries for the loss she feels (not just Michael, but her need to strip in ordre to survive)

Values

–       while not modest, she does not sell her virtue

–       compassionate to a fault

–       values family (which Michael doesn’t)

Personality traits

–       energetic, confident

–       compassionate

–       a little lonely? At least, seeking someone to love

–       a stripper for money but doesn’t have her heart in it

–       desires to finish school and have a better lifestyle

–       pretty, desirable

–       emotionally well-adjusted considering her circumstances

Complexity

–       clearly understands the implications of her current job in society

–       dutifully cares for her mother and understands Mama’s needs

–       desires so much more than life has dealt her and will work for it

Relationships

–       protagonist

–       loves her mother as seen in her actions

–       becomes quite fond of Michael

–       has loving memory of deceased father

Character:  Mama / Gladys

Objective

–       to help her daughter as much as she can

Dramatic Action

–       her devotion shows itself in physical affection

–       dependent but not by choice

–       physical ailment that prevents her from doing what she would like to

Conflicts

–       struggles with the direction her daughter’s life has taken

–       struggles with being lonely

Willpower

–       determined to help her daughter, despite Selma’s objections

–       has definite desires but is unable to fulfill them

Values

–       traditional beliefs, from prayer to modesty

–       Selma’s happiness is utmost in her mind

Personality traits

–       dependent

–       helpful in a somewhat manipulative way

–       lonely but friendly (likeable)

–       cannot work due to impaired health

–       looks and acts older than her years

–       emotionally well-adjusted considering her daughter’s occupation

Complexity

–       clearly understands the circumstances of her life

–       feels the void left by husband’s parting, deeply

–       desires so much more than life offers for her daughter

Relationships

–       loves her daughter beyond all else, unconditionally

–       likes Michael so long as he treats her daughter well

–       misses her departed spouse

 Character:  Michael

Objective

–       to meet the perfect wife

–       to succeed at his business

Dramatic Action

–       self-assured, confident

–       impressed easily (by Selma, by Mama, by his friends)

–       perhaps a bit gullible?

Conflicts

–       struggles with finding someone to share his life with

–       struggles the impression he gives others

Willpower

–       not incredibly strong, especially compared to the women

–       easily swayed by all the others in his life, except his parents

Values

–       seems to be open-minded – he is honest

–       seems to believe in people, but this proves false

–       ends up having extremely traditional values to a fault

Personality traits

–       independent and pretty content

–       helpful and generous (with Mama)

–       not exactly manipulative, but he does let Mama set him up with Selma

–       great looking, a perfect gentleman in an old-fashioned way

Complexity

–       doesn’t look beyond simple appearances

–       not very open-minded, in the end, very judgmental

–       desires a traditional wife but not much more

Relationships

–       infactuated with Selma (not in love, because he can’t accept her as is)

–       kind to Mama, not just for Selma but because he’s a nice guy

–       ignores his own parents

–       swayed by his friends’ (society’s) opinion

Final Thoughts on The Book

The director’s prompt book is a good way for students to formalize their ideas about a play, develop a plan of action and create a document of the entire process.

 

  • This Author:

    Paul Mroczka

    Paul Mroczka has served Theatre By the Sea as associate director and playwright-in-residence. He has directed for companies including North Country Center for the Arts, Pontine Movement Theatre, The Theatre of Newburyport and the Palace Theatre. A former National Endowment for the Arts fellow in playwriting, he has also garnered a Shubert Fellowship, the Jason Miller Award and has received grants from the New Hampshire Council for the Humanities. His plays have been performed at New York’s La MaMa La Galleria, Nat Horne Theatre, and Manhattan Punchline Theatre, among others. His interactive planetarium show, Pathfinders, is running at the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord, NH. Recent directorial assignments include Good People, Steel Magnolias, and The Complete World of Sports (Abridged) at The Barnstormers Playhouse in New Hampshire, and Rumors, Orpheus in the Underworld, and The Glass Menagerie at PSU. This summer Paul finished an initial draft of his new play, Smart Money ... Read Full

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A collection of my old prompt scripts on the shelves of Pacific Theatre. There is another collection of them in off-site storage.

This post continues where The SM Prompt Book: Show Bible Pt. 1 left off. (On a side note – I recently put together a new prompt script for a show that started rehearsals this week and it was fun to have this post on my mind as I was putting things together.)

5. Blocking

Blocking is another one of those things that every stage manager does a bit differently.  My personal style has evolved a lot over the past seven years.  Most stage managers use some combination of written out blocking with drawings.  I choose to create a page with lines down one half of it and miniature floor plans of the set on the other half. The image on the right is a scanned sheet out of the blocking from Refuge of Lies.  As you can see it has three miniature floor plans down the right hand side of the page and lines on the left.  This page only has a few notations on it.  Each notation, for me, begins with a number – the number is assigned to a line of dialogue on the page opposite so that I can easily figure out where the action is to happen.  I will then write the initials of the actors name, in this case DN & TK (David Nykl & Terrence Kelly) followed by the action.  I use shorthand for writing blocking out.  For instance, EXT = Exit, X = cross, etc.  I use the floor plans to draw the crosses as often it is easier to draw the path they take than it is to write out specific notations.  This is far from being the only way to write blocking.  I know some stage managers who have a floor plan on the top half of the page with lines on the bottom. I know others who prefer to write notations directly onto the script pages.  One reason that I prefer to not write directly on the script pages is so that if things change drastically I can just put a new blocking sheet in on top of the old one. Then, not only do I not have to erase it, but two days later when the director decides to go back to the old way, we still have the old blocking to go back to.  Side note: I once had a floor plan for a show that was exceedingly cluttered and hard to see pencil marks on, so I tried drawing out the blocking with highlighter. (See Left) It was a show where the number of times that circles were made through the cluttered area was really important, but sadly this method didn’t work very well and I certainly don’t recommend it.

If you look closely you can see that most of these are visual or timed cues with only one or two cues taken off words. (From The Woodsman – 2008 – Property of Pacific Theatre)

6. Cues

I joked last night that there is enough information on the subject of cues and cuing to be its own post. And the friend I joked to said, so why isn’t it?  This is a brief overview of cuing and I will be posting a more detailed post in the weeks to come.

Like so many other element of stage management, the way you write in your cues is a very personal thing.  The only necessity is that it be easily understood so that if someone else had to call your show.  I am a fan of the post-it flag method, but other use dots, highlighters, lines and yet other ways of marking cues.  The reason I like the post-it flags is that when you are in tech and cues are shifting, it is very easy to move the cue around the page without having to erase anything.   I use a different color of post-it for Lights, Sound, Quick Changes, Projections, & Special FX.  Each post it I write on with a sharpie pen the cue type and number (ie – LX6, SQ 4, Pro 17). I then write the cue word in PENCIL on the clear part of the post it and stick it in my book opposite that line of script.  If there are multiple cues going at the same time I group them together. For my standby cues, I write out exactly what I want to say on a 1.5″ post it and stick it opposite where I want to call it.

A sample page from the calling script for the October 2011 production of Re:Union from Horseshoes and Hand Grenades Theatre. This show was the most technologically difficult show I have ever worked on, with over 420 cues.

Update (Dec 5, 2011) – When working with new plays or plays for which I have an electronic copy of the script, I love to input my cues on the computer.  This allows me to write in visual cues mid page and easily group together clustered cues.  My preferred way of creating a computer based calling script is in Microsoft Word (or Open Office) and using the callout option.  For a step-by-step screen cast of creating callouts in Open Office, click here. While I know some stage managers create these electronic calling scripts and then call the show from the screen, I still prefer to print out the document and put it into my prompt book. This means that I now often have a separate calling script and blocking script as the page numbers and line numbers no longer match up once I input the visual cues.

7. Copies of all Rehearsal Reports

A typical rehearsal report includes the following information:

What was covered in rehearsal
Who was present
Notes for each department (props, costumes, set, lighting, publicity)
Any alterations to the script
general notes for the production team (especially deadlines for getting things in or important dates)

I choose to use a tabled template that I adapted from the template given to me when I worked for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.  I also choose to attach the file rather than including it in the body of the e-mail.  I do this because I find the formatting I use to be helpful and in the body of the e-mail it just won’t show up.

8. Copies of all Lighting, Sound, Props & Costume paperwork

For lighting this will mean cue lists, magic sheets, dimmer hookups, & a copy of the plot. For sound this is track listings, cue lists, level sheets, & speaker placements/assignments (which can be created for you by a number of the sound design software programs currently available). For props this is a props list (plus running prop list), preset lists (with photos of any intricate presets), tracking paperwork & originals of any paper props (preferably tucked in an envelope or a page protector). When it comes to costumes you are looking at a costume breakdown, a laundry list, a quick change plot, quick change presets/breakdowns, design drawings, & tracking sheets.  I’m not going to post samples of all of these because for the most part this is not paperwork that you are creating, it is simply paperwork that you are storing after being given it by the designers.  Most likely the only things you will be required to create from this list are preset & tracking sheets for props & costumes.  Possibly also the QC plot.  If these are things that you would like to see an example of, please feel free to e-mail me and I will happily send you a PDF to look at.

9. Minutes from Production Meetings

Sometimes it is up to the SM to take the minutes at production meetings but often they are taken by the production manager and will be e-mailed out.  It is important to keep copies of these minutes handy as they will contain deadlines, ideas, and questions that may still need answers.  They also provide a reference point to turn to if something hasn’t been completed properly or on time, to say, “Look, here’s where it says that this is what it should be and that you were present for that conversations.” In addition, they make it easy to create an agenda for the next meeting, as you can see which things required follow up and put them on the agenda.

10. Anything else you might need

Often at the end of the run you have a CD with sound cues which should be kept for a remount. Or a disc with lighting cues. Or notes relating to how to turn off the building alarm system so that the smoke machine doesn’t set off the fire alarm.  These are things that will come in handy to anyone else who has to do the show.  And will prevent midnight phone calls from production managers frantically trying to remember the password for turning off the fire alarm.  During rehearsals or the run of the show, this section might include extra copies of blocking sheets, or timing sheets.

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About Lois

I am a Vancouver-based Stage Manager and frequent theatre goer. After graduating from Trinity Western University I spent two seasons as the resident stage manager at Pacific Theatre. Now I am working as a freelancer with various companies in Vancouver.

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