No this isn't going to be a page about tricks to watch out for. It is a brain dump of things I wish I knew when I started. Theatre is a challenging, time consuming but VERY rewarding hobby (that is all it is to me).
If something goes wrong check the masters! That's the preset master, sub masters and grand master - every master on the board.
Lighting (LX) tips
Firstly get familiar with the equipment store - what is where and what things are called. Never adjust the focus of a lantern with it on full it blows bulbs easily and gets expensive.
Sound (SX) tips
The pins in the XLR always point in the direction of the signal. I'm going to use male and female to describe plugs and sockets - males have the pins and females the holes, hopefully you can work out why. For example a microphone has a male connector (the signal is coming out) so attaches to the female end of the lead. The lead's other end connects to a socket on the mixing desk which is female (the signal goes into the board). When the signal leaves it is on a male socket (so the lead must be female) as the signal is leaving the board etc.
Surviving a Get in - Tech - Dress day
Every so often you will be working a day consisting of a get in (loading the equipment/set etc. into the theatre), a technical rehursal then a dress rehursal. Whilst the cast get a breather between the tech and the dress you (as a techie) will probably spend the time adjusting things etc. It is also not unkown for a get in to run up until the tech due to tweaking things.
So vital things to pick up (probably from a super market) are:
- A water bottle (you'll need it, smaller is better as it can always be topped up with cold water from a tap.
- A selection of salads/sandwiches for lunch & tea. They are quick to eat and the salads are filling, contain lots of slow release energy and normally come with a fork.
- Chocolate for those moments later in the day when you need an energy hit to wake up your body (it contains quick release energy).
- Coffee - to keep your mind awake.
- Yes chocolate and coffee really are (in my experience) the techies best friend.
- Remember when you feel thirsty your body is already dehydrated. To keep your mind fresh and alert (useful for safety) keep hydrated.
Beware the musical
Whilst musicals offer some unique and enjoyable challenges (such as a large cast, colourful fancy lighting and lots of effects there is however one big problem with them. See the music is written to be catchy and you will find it getting stuck in your head, especially when (if your stage managing) the dress rehearsal is about the 100th time you've heard each one.
Seriously though musicals is one type of theatre that I really enjoy doing because of these challenges. It is only by challenging yourself that you find out what you can do. I still find myself able to recite the words to songs/hum the tune I haven't looked at for about 13 years.
Know your theatre
If you are lucky enough to be in a position where you rarely leave a single theatre then get to know it (and it's quirks). Depending on how much time you spend in it and what roles you are taking on you will quickly learn things that are helpful to you. It is now almost ten years since I left school but if you put mw back into the school theatre I could tell you where every sound connector is, the number of any socket on any lighting bar, which sockets were wired to be able to deliver 13A each (ie on a separate fuse at the fuse box), the location of every intercom socket etc.
The sooner you pick up this knowledge the quicker your work becomes. Incidentally because I became funicular enough with the equipment I was able to show a trick to a professional techie in one theatre (a trick which he didn't know the lighting board could do) as the theatre used the same board we had at school (OK the 48 rather than 24 channel version).
Beware the first shows
Your first show in any real position of respectability will always hold a fond spot in your heart and mind. For me these are (in chronological order) Into the Woods (first time I stage managed), Grease (First time I designed & ran lighting) and Tommy (first time I did sound from design through rigging to performance).
One of the things I love about theatre is the history & traditions. Some people may call them superstitions and I have no problem with that but I follow them as traditions not as superstitions.
The Scottish play
It is siad to be bad luck to say the name of the Scottish play (Macbeth) in a theatre. The cure for the bad luck this brings to a production is said to be undoable by spitting on the floor (thus getting rid of the demon which made you say it) and turning once anticlockwise (to symbolise turning back time). Oh and it's not Mr/Mrs Macbeth but Mr/Mrs M.
It is considered that Macbeth is a cursed production, some people believe this to be due to the fact that struggling companies will put it on thinking it to be easy to do well.
Whistling on stage
This one does have a sensible reason behind it. It is said to be bad luck to whistle on stage, and in days gone by it often proved to be so. In the West end (and I'm going back quite a few years here) the theatres used crew from ships to raise and lower the scenery, these crewmen would communicate by whistling. So if in fact you were on stage and whissted it was likely you'd be hit by a bit of set. With the use of intercoms and cueing lights this threat has largely passed.
Break a leg
Perhaps the best known of the traditions is that of wishing actors good luck by saying break a leg. Wikipedia has a good description of this one.