Coarse Stage Management

A Farce in Five Scenes and a Finale

One of the attractions of live theatre is that things can - and do - go wrong. Of course, not all productions resemble Michael Frayn's 'Noises Off'
or 'The Play That Goes Wrong' but every performance offers an opportunity for a cock-up. Here is an example from my own experience.

Dramatis Personae
Set Designer [X] - notorious for never completing a set before the show opens and sometimes not before the final performance
Stage Manager [Y]
Deputy Stage Manager [DSM]
Several Assistant Stage Managers [ASMs]
Lighting Operator [Lights]
Sound Operator [Sound]
Front of House Manager
Cast of 26 characters - all played by a single actor


It is a Saturday evening at a highly-regarded West London fringe theatre, just before the First Night of a production of a well-known single-handed play. The auditorium doors are due to open at 7.30pm for the performance scheduled to start at 7.45pm. Cast, all 26 characters, is sitting in the dressing room waiting for her call to the stage.

The play will be performed on a thrust stage. The set for Act 1 is a split-level kitchen with a single entrance upstage right, a practical electric oven and hob stage right, a worktop centre stage right and a practical sink with draining board and under cupboards centre stage left. A table and chairs are situated in the centre of the lower-level downstage area. The floor is a sandy yellow colour. The upstage entrance is flanked by kitchen cupboard units, a notice board and a practical refrigerator. There is a white swing-top bin between the upstage door and the refrigerator.

Scene 1 - 7.25pm

The Lights and Sound have conducted their technical checks and are sitting in the Control Box waiting for their call from the Stage Manager to confirm whether they are ready for the house to be opened for the audience to come in.

Suddenly the Set Designer, who we will call X, appears from the prompt side vomitorium entrance carrying a large pot of matt black paint and proceeds to touch up the downstage side of the worktop. Realising that Front of House are about to request permission to open the auditorium doors, Sound uses the 'voice of God' auditorium public address system to instruct X to "Clear the stage". X starts, scurries towards the prompt side vomitorium and falls off the stage, twisting an ankle and spilling the paint next to the stage-left side of the set - fortunately none of it lands on the kitchen units or the sandy coloured kitchen floor. X staggers into the vomitorium and after a short delay reappears carrying a handful of blue paper towels and proceeds to mop up some of the spilled paint. After a couple of minutes X limps off across the set stuffing the wet towels into the swing-top bin, smearing it liberally with black paint. By an amazing stroke of luck X hasn't stepped in the paint and leaves no footprints on the kitchen floor.

Scene 2 - 7.30pm

The Stage Manager, Y, appears from the vomitorium accompanied by several ASMs, all carrying blue paper towels. Y and the ASMs paddle around in the paint, mopping it up, after which the ASMs disappear into the vomitorium. Meanwhile, the DSM has very sensibly entered from upstage, removed the swing-top bin, cleaned it and replaced it. At the same time Front of House are attempting to contact stage management for permission to open the auditorium doors, but no one is listening, they are all in the auditorium clearing up the mess. Lights and Sound, who have a perfect view of the 'performance' from the control box and can hear all the chatter over their 'cans' are by now helpless with laughter. Cast is sitting in her dressing room wondering why she has received no call to the stage - there is no-one to call her!

Scene 3 - 7.35pm

Y, who has been paddling around in the paint, stands downstage of the set, inspects it and is about to to walk across the kitchen floor when the 'voice of God' tells him to "Freeze". Just in time, Y, who was about to step onto the set, spins round and disappears into the vomitorium without further incident.

Scene 4 - 7.37pm

Lighting and Sound breathe a sigh of relief and settle down to wait for their cues to start the show as they hear the DSM instruct Front of House to open the auditorium doors.

Scene 5 - 7.38pm

Front of House desperately telephone the DSM - the auditorium doors are bolted from the inside and cannot be opened; an ASM is sent to unbolt the doors. Lights and Sound having heard this exchange over their 'cans' are now almost hysterical with laughter. Cast is wondering why she still has received no call to the stage.

Finale - 7.40pm

The doors are opened, the audience, who have been waiting patiently in the foyer, take their seats and at 7.50pm - just five minutes late - the performance begins. Cast is fantastic, the show is a great success and everyone leaves having enjoyed a superb evening. Only two people are less than happy. One is X, who has a twisted ankle and a deservedly bruised ego! The other is Michael Green, author of The_Art_of_Coarse_Acting, who, as a member of the Front of House team that evening, was locked out of the auditorium, missed all the fun and didn't hear about it until the interval.

The End
This document is © Chris Newall 2020. It is not for sale or general publication.

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Author : Chris Newall
Last update : 23rd April 2020