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10 weeks as ASM on Alice in Wonderland

In 2017, Katie Ranson a Year 12 Level 3 Technical Theatre Arts student at BOA took on a placement at The Old Rep. Here's how she got on... 

I was given an opportunity to become an Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) for the production of Alice in Wonderland. As a student, this was a massive opportunity for me to get an insight into, and gain first-hand experience of, the professional world of the performing arts and backstage industries. So, of course, I could not let this pass by.

As an ASM I had to work with all departments throughout the full process, from rehearsal to final performance, to provide good communication at all times in order to ensure a high quality show through being aware of the needs of others. During rehearsals I designed, built and sourced props, fitting the design briefs produced by the set designer and directors’ vision and instructions. Technical rehearsals were very busy as we worked out how to store and manage the vast amount of set backstage, rehearsing technical cues, scene changes, and improving quick changes for cast members to ensure they were on time for their next entrance. It was at this point that, as a team, we saw the product of our hard work throughout the rehearsal and technical period. 

My role meant that I had to get used to a lot of new faces. As an ASM you work with a lot of people, piecing the show together, and with each show there is often a different team, particularly if you work as a freelance ASM moving from contract to contract. There were three ASMs on this show due to the sheer amount of backstage demands which was most exciting. I worked closely with the Stage Manager and Deputy Stage Manager, who made sure we were all on track with our ASM duties and who gave us daily tasks, undertook daily checks and informed us of any repairs that need to be addressed or if there were any changes to the show due to things such as cast illness, changes to roles or performers, technical issues or developments.

I also liaised closely with the set designer, as we would gather the visions for the props and this was most important in ensuring that every aspect of the stage design blended together to ‘fit’ i.e. lighting, set, costume, props and sound all creating the same world, as envisioned by the creative team. During my time on the show I got to know the rest of the team, from the wider staff at The Old Rep to the full creative and technical teams. It was a very intricate network that worked well to sew the show together, including everyone from the marketing team to external visiting professionals. It was extremely beneficial to work with a professional creative team and professional actors in a real work place.

When someone offered me the opportunity to work on a professional show as an ASM, I instantly took it, as I wanted to understand much more about the role. I learnt so much more about the role through doing it on such a large scale and detailed production and I realised that I have the stamina and commitment to fulfil a long running production – this was a 10 week placement with a 6 week run of production, usually with two shows a day. I carried out the assigned tasks of an ASM, but I also got to know what other people's job roles entailed and I now understand how all roles interrelate. I discovered how real establishments work, and the hierarchical order of responsibility and organisational management. This means I can now use this new knowledge to help progress me into the industry as I have advanced skills and knowledge compared to many of my age. Because I am a student, going into a professional environment is a huge step and a challenging one due to the competitiveness of the industry. I saw first-hand how each member of the creative, technical and stage management teams had their own responsibilities and tasks to do, and I also saw the need for this to be done on time and effectively as everyone is relying on each other. So seeing this, motivated me to maintain the high standards I saw set by others. I wanted to prove not only to everyone else, but also myself, that I was capable of completing the job role to the professional standard. With help from the team, I gained valuable experience that I am now able to take forward onto other productions, help guide my peers using what new knowledge I have, and use to access the professional world of work.

I most enjoyed the environment in which I was working. Everyone was kept busy pre-production, and once all the pieces of the puzzle fitted, we all came together and celebrated our achievements. It was a lovely atmosphere to work in. I really think that something like this, makes young people appreciate how much work is put into a job. This needs to happen more often because it motivated me to work harder, just by watching others work hard too.

Katie Ranson