Thank You Five Minutes

by Jacob Coakley

Jacob Coakley
Jacob Coakley
How do you get it all done?

I’ve been taking a writing class the past few weeks, and it’s fascinating to see who in the class has any history of theatre production. The class is full of adults, so we all understand responsibility and actually doing the assignments—but you can tell who has any experience really working towards a production, the ones who enjoy the idea of getting a show ready.
The most I ever had to do in order to get a show ready every night was for a small theatre company. Because there weren’t a lot of people involved, I got to do a lot of different tasks. I was the stage manager, run crew, audio tech and light board op.

My first rehearsal was the tech. I raced to get up to speed and learn the show. After the show opened, the odd jobs didn’t stop. When the building staff tore down the velour curtains between onstage and backstage, I rehung them before show time. When the afternoon show changed our light plot, unplugging our fixtures from the dimmer packs and moving them so they could add their instruments, I repatched and refocused. I trouble-shot the sound system when the speakers stopped working, and (if I remember correctly) did a little maintenance on the vile back stage bathroom.

None of this was extraordinary, and I’m sure all of you have your stories of all the insane hurdles you had to overcome to make a show happen. That’s part of the thrill of theatre—the relentless countdown to curtain. Once you get on the train of a production, it doesn’t stop. If you’re in theatre, you love it. If you don’t, this isn’t the line of work for you.

I was recently talking with a friend who doesn’t work as a stage manager anymore (but still thinks of himself as one) about the special mindset SM’ing takes. It’s a tough position to fill—you ally with the artists  but the level of attention to production details goes far beyond that of an actor, or designer, or director. I would never last as a true stage manager, but as I was relating this story to my friend, I could see him practically drooling. He wanted out there. He wanted to be making things happen. He wanted to be calling 15, then 5, then places.

You can tell when someone likes production. Writers or not, you can tell when someone understands what curtain time actually means, and are genuinely excited for it—whether they feel they are ready or not. When I’m rushing to finish a script for a deadline it’s not the same as curtain up. It’s not the same as production. So I cheat. I imagine that stage manager voice in my ear, and listen for the “Five minutes, five minutes.” I don’t even stop my response. “Thank you, five,” I’ll say—and then I can’t help but write faster.