I have been lucky to have the chance to stage manage a variety of shows in my four years at Emerson and after recently closing this year’s Newfest winner, Chops, I have to say there is nothing quite like working on a new play. Newfest is such a unique opportunity for all students involved because it gives us the chance to witness the development of a student written play from the beginning while it is being given the full treatment of an Emerson Stage production. Much like the rest of the shows we produce it consists of a company of student designers and student actors but with the addition of a student playwright there is a lot more to be taken into consideration.
Preparing for Newfest is quite different from preparing for a straight play or musical mainly because we don’t have a script until a week or two before auditions. Can you imagine not knowing anything about the show you’re working on until then? As stage manager, I was able to create templates for much of the paperwork I produce (schedules, calendars, rehearsal reports, etc.) but without the script we can’t get a head start on creating paperwork having to deal with props or other design elements. It can be a bit nerve-wracking but the idea of not knowing what kind of show you’re working on is quite thrilling.
One of the most unique aspects of working on Chops was collaborating with our playwright, Kirin McCrory, during rehearsals. Kirin was actively involved with the production and attended rehearsals regularly to answer questions from the cast regarding her written dialogue, character relationships, and in general to witness her play come to life. As the stage manager, I checked in regularly with her regarding script changes because any changes to the text would not only affect the actors’ lines but would also affect the placement of lights and sound cues. It’s also important to keep track of script changes because the playwright or director may want to refer back to how a line used to be written.
Other than these aspects of a new work, Chops rehearsals were just like rehearsals for a typical Emerson Stage show. I was responsible for scheduling, recording blocking, and coordinating with our designers to ensure that everyone was on the same page. My assistants kept track of props and costumes, set up fittings for the actors, took down line notes when the cast went off book, and helped out in any way they could to ensure the director and cast were happy. Seeing Kirin’s play come to life with audiences responding to her writing was such a wonderful opportunity and I encourage everyone to continue submitting plays and seeing Newfest in the years to come.
Justin Silverman is a senior BFA Stage/Production Management major at Emerson and was the Stage Manager for CHOPS.