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Be Prepared

Katy McGlaughlin • Stage Manager’s Kit • March 1, 2016
Fire Alarm, photo by Ben Schumin
Fire Alarm, photo by Ben Schumin

If you were hoping this was a blog about the Lion King you will be sorely disappointed.

While in rehearsal recently, the ever-dreaded emergency tone came over the loud speakers and a voice calmly told us to evacuate the building being sure to use the stairs and not the elevator.

  As the rest of the stage management team herded our cast of 30, plus visiting production team members out to the parking lot I did a sweep of the back half of the building collecting the cast for the show that was supposed to open in 20 minutes as well as the cast for the next second stage show in rehearsal. As we gathered in the parking lot we quickly discovered that the theatrical haze being used in the aforementioned opening production had tripped the alarm. The sensors were supposed to have been turned off but a system update changed the setting and left one of them on.  Ironically, I spent the entire length of my gallery run last semester afraid of this very happenstance because we were using open flame and didn’t have the sensors turned off.

It being February, in Iowa, we huddled the casts together and got blankets out of cars. As the fire department and faculty arrived it was really incredible to see the separate casts lifting each other up. One of my actors was celebrating a birthday, so all three groups joined together to sing a rousing round of “Happy Birthday” as only theatre folk can. The girls getting ready to open finished fixing their hair in the parking lot and once the building was cleared we sent them in to open their show with an echoing chant of support.

I am thankful that this was just a false alarm but it really got me thinking about emergency preparedness. We as stage managers are often called upon to be leaders but an especial onus falls on us when catastrophe strikes. Last semester in my Stage Management seminar we made quick reference emergency procedure guides that designed to fit in a binder but be easily removable for quick access in an emergency.  I went home and reviewed the procedures for the school and I feel better knowing that I have an easy reference available.

I’ve had my fair share of emergencies, one of the worst being a time that a patron had a heart attack in the lobby but knowing that a couple of cast members were EMTs we had them come around front to help only to find out that the patron was their mother/mother-in-law. On more than one occasion I have started performances by candlelight, which I suppose isn’t really an emergency, more an inconvenience but nevertheless it involved managing the audience and the cast in unusual circumstances.

An emergency situation that is becoming more likely on a university campus is the threat of an active gunman. This threat scares me because, by their very nature, most theatres have multiple entrances, many of which are blocked open. There are also various theories about how to proceed on an active shooter scenario, should one stay put and block doors? Or leave and get out of the area? Do you fight or talk?

I don’t know that there is anything that could actually prepare you for a real emergency but I think it is important to have a plan in place and walk through the steps once or twice just to get a feel for the pattern; know the safe zones in a tornado or earthquake, check in with your house manager about evacuation plans. Stage Managers, like boy scouts, must be prepared.

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