The Girl in All Black Flailing Her Arms While on Headset

By Ellen Connally

Entering college last fall with a performance background, I wanted to explore other tentacles of the great Theatre beast. After all, that’s why I decided to attend a Liberal Arts school. The first opportunity that presented itself to me: stage management. I floundered my way through stage managing Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog my first semester, and was Assistant Stage Manager for W.A.S.P. this past spring. However, it wasn’t until I became Assistant Stage Manager/Deck Chief on Compleat Female Stage Beauty that I began to truly understand how stage management works. Amidst the strain and spectacle of stage managerial duties, I found my two favorite things about this role: learning a new language, and coordinating backstage.

My Stage Manager, Emily, has an extensive vocabulary of blocking shorthand that, to the untrained eye, looks like squiggle doodles. At the start of the rehearsal process, Emily presented me with her symbol sheet. Common blocking elements (ex: “sit down”, “face”, “counter”, “exit”, etc…) were given representative letter-and-arrow jottings, and characters and props were given abbreviations, each able to be differentiated from the other. I eagerly copied down her dictionary into my binder (or “book”, as per the theatre jargon). The more I used Emily’s Blocking Code, the more naturally it flowed into my prop tracking and fight choreography notes. I even began creating new symbols when I came across blocking movement not seen outside of fight and sex scenes. Slowly but surely, this shorthand has begun sneaking its way outside of rehearsal… and into my blocking notes for devising assignments and scene work. #SMproblems

In addition to the joy of Blocking Code, waving my arms at actors and my crew has proved to be oddly fulfilling and exhilarating. Something about being on headset in the blue light and holding the responsibility of executing quick and efficient scene changes off of the SM’s G-O makes all the rehearsal stress worth it. Sometimes I feel like a ninja runway traffic controller, sneaking around in the dark, coordinating stage traffic, making sure there are no crashes back stage or in the wings. Other times, I feel like a cheerleader, giving pep talks to my crew and supporting the actors when they come off stage. Yet other times, I feel like a techy-geek mom, decked out in audio cables and safety goggles, keeping people on task.

I suppose that’s what stage managing is to me: stepping up to the role of a code-cracking, traffic controlling, tech-geeky, cheerleading mom ninja.


Ellen Connally (ASM/Deck Chief) is thrilled to be working on her first Pitt Rep mainstage show.  A sophomore theatre and French major, Ellen's Pitt theatre experience includes: stage manager, Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog, Voice 3 And This is How I Want It, And This Is How It Will Be.  This is her second semester as the Outreach Director for the Performance Collaborative.