Totes, Tackle boxes, and Toolkits

by David J. McGraw
The author recommends the Plano Pro Rolling Workstation
The author recommends the Plano Pro Rolling Workstation

A popular topic in stage management social media this week has been SM Kits: not necessarily the individual tools (see our very first blog post!), but the containers themselves. 

First, there is an ongoing debate about whether producers should provide all equipment: why must the stage manager stock everyday items, particularly consumables?  My take is that, unless I have willingly taken on an under-resourced production, the producer should either provide regular equipment – tape measures, first aid supplies, door stops, reams of paper, etc. – or pay me a fee for me to bring all the equipment.  Personally, I don’t mind placing an order for spike/gaff/glow tape, particularly if it is a one-off project where I get to keep the unused consumables on the company dime.  But this is a discussion to be had with the production manager or producer.

But even if the producer provides some equipment, I still will want to bring my personal tricks of the trade, and that means using a SM Kit.  There is a joke that the SM Kit is like the shell of a hermit crab: you can tell how long a stage manager has worked based on the size of her/his kit.  But I know plenty of veteran stage managers who downsized their kits when they entered a resident position, much like an older couple might downsize from a house to a condo.  The size and type of kit is often based on three factors:

1.     How often do you need to move it?

2.     How far do you need to move it?

3.     How equipped is the space?

Many stage managers start with a tackle box but soon lament having to haul it around every day.  Some SMs who need to carry their kits on public transit switch to a backpack for mobility (and fewer questions about where they are going fishing).  I have a smaller kit if I need to bring it with me every day and a larger kit if I can park it in the rehearsal hall or in a storage cabinet.  Many SMs quickly upgrade to a wheeled kit, whether it be luggage or a rolling toolkit.

Also consider whether the kit itself can serve a secondary purpose.  When ASMing, I bring a sturdy kit that I can use as a step if I need to reach up or even as a makeshift bench.  As an ASM, I don’t sit while there are actors backstage: I want to be mobile and approachable.  I will sit in the green room prior to the performance, but once backstage, I stand if there are actors present.  So having a kit that doubles as a low bench gives me a nice break during full-company scenes.

One last consideration when selecting a kit is whether it can be locked.  How secure is your space?  How valuable are the contents of your kit?  Or, simply, do you want to prevent a nosy cast member from scavenging through your kit?  Find an option that can be quickly opened during an emergency but gives you confidence overnight.

Have a kit you like?  Post about it in the comments.