This post was inspired by Ceris’ awesome series of ten articles over on The Lovers, The Dreamers, and You about what makes the best actor/director/stage manager/designer/etc. That got me to thinking… what makes the best theatrical assistant?
Theatre is such a collaborative art form, and as they say, “Many hands make light work.” Assistants come in many forms on a theatrical production. Pretty much any crew member or artistic staff member can have an assistant. I’ve been both an assistant director and a director’s assistant (which are two very different positions!), I have been an assistant stage manager, I will be assistant fight director for [THEY FIGHT!], and I’ve just started assisting with whatever’s needed on London Community Players’ upcoming production of Sullivan & Gilbert this week! It will definitely make for a busy April and May, but when have I ever not taken on a zillion projects at once?!
With this in mind, what makes the best assistants?
1. They’re organized souls. They know what’s on the schedule and what’s going to be worked on next. They know who is called to rehearsal and who isn’t there. They’ve got everything important neatly noted (bonus points for colour-coordination!) and they’re always the first to show up and the last to leave.
2. They anticipate the needs of their leader. The most basic function of any assistant is to make the life of the person they’re assisting easier. The best assistants have got the answers to questions at their fingertips and come up with creative solutions to problems. They observe their leader and know what to do when situations arise. They get to know their director’s routines and habits and act accordingly. And the really awesome ones will be proactive in helping things run smoothly. For example, during my recent production of The Little Mermaid Jr. at OKTC, my amazing assistant director/stage manager, Ben, went ahead and typed up a list of kids’ entrance and exit locations and posted it up backstage for the actors to refer to — without my even asking him to do so. When he showed it to me, he said, “I know that when I’m in a show, I find this sort of thing useful, so I thought the actors might as well.” Awesome!
3. They know when to speak up… and also when to be silent. Oftentimes a director will get to the point where their brains are so full that they need to just do something, anything else to clear their thoughts. The best assistants will help them achieve this, whether it be by giving suggestions or alternatives, staying quiet and letting the director talk him- or herself through the issue, or any other number of helpful measures! (Remember, it’s up to the assistant to anticipate the needs of their individual leader… helping yours could involve anything from going on a coffee run to doing a line run with the actors to standing there while the choreographer dances around you! I’ve seen all of these things happen before!)
Each crew member is different, and each role has different responsibilities and demands. A lighting assistant might be taping down cables, while a dance captain is leading a warm-up, while the ASM is calling an absent actor to find out where they are! At the end of the day, an amazing assistant is an extremely valuable person to have around — train and treat them well, and keep them close!
What are your suggestions for what makes an amazing assistant? Leave them in the comments!
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