Observations of an Assistant Stage Manager: The Many Ways to Call “Line”

Stage-managing any job means three things (plus one):

1) There will be sweat.
2) There will be tears.
3) There may be blood.
+1) The wealth of information you will gain while on the job will surpass anything you could ever be taught in the classroom.

Heading into Hofstra University’s production of The Learned Ladies, I had my share of expectations as well as anticipations and questions to ask. Setting out my prompt book, spiking the stage, and organizing our share of French restoration props, I sat back, and waited for the actors to arrive. Little did I know, this being my first department ASM job and all, I was in for an experience.

That’s what I’ll be writing to you guys about today – processes I’ve observed and learned from within both production and performance aspects – in the hopes that you’ll get a kick out of some and valuable tips out of the others. Who knows, maybe along the rest of my journey with this production I’ll pick up even more tips and bits to share, but for now, Enjoy!

Calling “Line”:

As with any SM/ASM’s job, staying on book is a major component to helping the show run smoothly and, of course, correctly. Within my production, I’ve been given the illustrious task of staying on said book, calling lines, and taking line notes, but there’s something that’s been blazingly obvious to me since day one of rehearsal – just how many different ways in which an actor can call “Line.”

Just as every actor is different from the next, so is the deviation in calling “Line.” This is common knowledge, yes, and something anyone would expect, but what I’ve observed by being on book, is how calling that simple word reflects on the actor’s choice of acting methods. The multitude of ways in which that one word can be called, but the split-second decision to say it the way that actor does.

What started off purely as a personal game to see how who said what, soon turned into a list of quirks that I now share with you! Of course, this is all my thought process, and you may object (or approve), but I’ve posted a brief list of examples of line calling I’ve heard that maybe you’ll recognize in yourself as well. Take a look:

The Are You There? “Line” – Being on stage can be an overwhelming experience, and under the heat of stage lights, it’s a comfort knowing there’s an SM/ASM out there to help. Calling to them for help is just the thing the actor needs to get back on track.

The I Give Up “Line” – The moment when you can actually see on an actor’s face in that second on stage where they reconsider their career choice and their entire life.

The I’m So Sorry! “Line” – Having to call “Line” is a normal thing, but for some actors, it’s their most embarrassing moment of their day. Just breathe and relax.

The I Refuse to Call ‘Line’ “Line” – We all know the actor needs it. The actor knows they need it. There is a time and place for being proud, but rehearsal is not it. Being too proud to say it when an actor needs a line can be a touch frustrating.

The Angry “Line” – “Why am I so stupid!” could be a typical phrase to insert here. We’ve unfortunately all seen it – actors who can’t seem to forgive themselves and need a minute (or ten) to cool off.

The NOW! “Line” – The faster you give the actor their line, the better because they’re about to chew your head off for time’s sake.

The Soft-Spoken “Line” – Sorry, but did you call “Line”? … I couldn’t hear you from way over hear off-stage.

The Rapid-Fire “Line” – “Line,” acting, “Line,” acting, “Line,” acting, and so the game continues until someone hands over a copy of the script to the actor.

The “Line” after “Line” – This one is just a personal one for both amusement and frustration, but when an actor’s line ends with the word “line,” and they call “Line” right after, it’s practically impossible to decipher between “Did the actor just stutter, or do they actually need my help?”

(Source: theatermania.com)

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