Backstage at the Royal Shakespeare Company

Henry V production photos_ 2015_Photo by Keith Pattison _c_ RSC_RsC.HenryV.2665

This week I spoke to Lucy Topham, Assistant Stage Manager for the Royal Shakespeare Company, to find out what it’s like to work behind the scenes for one of the world’s most famous theatre companies

Tell me more about your job as Assistant Stage Manager, what does it involve?

I work in a team of three made up of a Stage Manager (SM), Deputy Stage Manager (DSM) and Assistant Stage Manager; together we organise, run and support rehearsals and when the production moves into the theatre, we co-ordinate the running of the shows. As the Assistant Stage Manager (ASM), I am responsible for ensuring we have all the required props, furniture, costume and weapons in rehearsals, and liaising with the relevant production departments, the director, the designer and actors in the process. I write the rehearsal notes, which go to everyone working on the production to communicate what is happening in the rehearsal room and support the SM and DSM with the running of rehearsals. This could involve paperwork, changing scenes around in rehearsals or ensuring simultaneous calls/rehearsals are happening as planned. When we move into the theatre I work with the company and the production staff to ensure the show runs smoothly backstage, that things happen as they should and deal with problems as they arise… which inevitably they do!

My job is slightly different at the Royal Shakespeare Company to other theatres. In previous Assistant Stage Manager posts I would prop the show, maintain the props during the run and set them for each performance. The RSC have prop supervisors dedicated to propping the show and then resident prop teams at the theatres who maintain the props and set them for the shows. This allows the stage management team more time for rehearsals, be that understudy rehearsals for the current show or rehearsals for the next play in the season, which happens alongside running shows.

Royal Shakespeare Company production of HENRY V by William Shakespeare directed by Gregory Doran

How did you get into such a career?

I studied drama at university and as part of my course I worked on several shows as a stage manager, which I quickly realised was something I was very suited to. So after university I did a postgrad in stage management at drama school (The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama). I chose that particular course because you had to do two placements in theatres and the college had relationships with producing theatres I was keen to work with. During my second placement I was offered my first job at the Royal Court and luckily things have continued from there.

Were you always interested in working for the RSC?

Very much so and particularly having studied drama at university where you repeatedly come across the work of the RSC. The company are one of the biggest in the world and their reputation is built on decades of excellent work. I wanted to work with and experience that.

What challenges have you faced working on the King and Country Cycle?

We’re re-rehearsing Henry IV parts I and II alongside playing Henry V – with matinees and rehearsals taking place for the live performance (broadcast to cinemas). The time we have to re-rehearse has been tight!

What is the best aspect of your job?

I love that every day is different. What I’m doing changes depending on where we are in the process – the mix of rehearsals, technical rehearsals and shows mean I’m rarely bored. And I’m continually meeting and working with new people, which keeps things fresh.

What is the hardest part?

The hours can be long and unsociable and it’s hard to make real-life plans. Fortunately people in theatre are very social.

How do you feel about getting to travel the world with your job in the coming months (Lucy will be going on tour with the King and Country Cycle to China and New York)?

I’m delighted to be travelling with the company. I’m a keen traveller outside of work and getting to travel and do my job is something I’ve always wanted to do. It will be really interesting to see how theatres work in China and I’m intrigued how we will overcome the language barrier! And New York and China are such big contrasts.

Royal Shakespeare Company production of HENRY V by William Shakespeare directed by Gregory Doran

What do you aspire to do next?

I’d like to do more work as a Deputy Stage Manager. I love calling shows (what the DSM does during the show) and having assistant stage managed for several years now on a variety of productions I’m ready for a different challenge.

Henry V is on now at the Barbican until 30th December 2015, and the rest of the King and Country Cycle plays will be performed at the Barbican in December 2015 and January 2016. For more information visit www.kingandcountry.org.uk.

Images: Keith Pattison

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