Calling a show

CALLING A SHOW – A few random thoughts.

– Your job is to facilitate the running of the show so the actors can make the audience have a wonderful experience. If you get too busy or swamped under, the flow of the show breaks down. When that happens, the actors lose their focus and the product suffers. These comments are not to be taken as gospel, but should be considered. They are based on MANY years of learning things the hard way.

– Don’t do too much yourself. Trust your ASM’s, crew chiefs and props runners. If you are racing around doing things, you WILL miss problems. You should be watching and checking.

– Don’t let your technicians become too chatty on the headsets. It will distract you all and the more dominant ones will make a “call” if they feel a cue has been missed, even though it may have been changed. Be VERY polite, but be in charge.

– Numbering. This is always a contentious issue between SM’s and techies. Tech staffs like to use separate initials for light (LQ) and sound (SQ). The reason this is a problem has to do with timing and the way you actually call your cues. You always give a warning a paragraph or so in advance, but you may still have a green operator who is unsure. How you should call the actual cue is “101 – go!” When you are running a cue heavy show it takes too long to say “LQ101, spots and SQ 55 – go!” You want them to know the cues are coming and just be able to say “both – go!” This is another reason for just using sequential numbers for cues (120, 130, 140. Always leave room for inserts!) You can put the letter behind the cue when you give the warning. “Ready 110 lights and 120 sound, please.” You have plenty of time when you’re doing your “Ready’s” but very little when you’re doing the calls.

– This is mainly a problem with a “three wall” show like a pantomime or musical that interacts with the audience – ad libbing. It was mentioned earlier that in a longer running show it is the SM’s job to keep the company from diverging too much from the script. In some shows ad libbing is permitted by the principles, BUT THEY MUST KEEP THEIR CUE LINES INTACT! A show can become sloppy very quickly if this does not happen.


– I prefer to photocopy the acting script onto paper so there is a LOT of empty space. Left page should be left blank for notes and diagrams with the script on the right page. The reason – most people are right handed. I like to make two scripts – one for rehearsal and the second marked on tech day with the cues and run info. The reasons for this are that all your blocking and character notes and the many erasures and changes are not needed any more and distracting when you’re running. Remember, anything you want someone else to read will be seen in a dim red or blue light. Please write it in dark pencil so it can be red and changed. You WILL fine tune cues as you go. A script marked in red ink will become incredibly hard to read in red light, for instance.

– I seriously recommend you put your script in a binder. Loose pages WILL be knocked over by an excited actor at just the wrong time. Also, there’s tradition. Make your binder your own, your own bit of theatre history that you take from show to show.

– Use organizes because your script should include a company list, rehearsal schedule and absentee list during rehearsals, and youl lists of techies, crew and props runners for each performance.

– Marking your script. I’ve included a sample page, but here are some tips. The first page in your binder should be the preshow page that is applicable to your theatre. A sample is shown in the job descriptions menu.

– The first blank page should contain an appendix of your shorthand. Things such as NQ24 for next cue is on page 24, usually put in the bottom right corner on the right side page, TOP for top of page, (cues frequently are the very first thing on the next page. Why? Who knows, just happens!) AIP for actors in place, used especially when using an infrared camera and the cue should be called when the actor(s) is/are in place. FTB, fade to black is a good example. Don’t assume anyone will know that, one place I worked called that GB for go black.

– The first blank page also contains your initial stage setup and when the next major change occurs. This is called a run list. Once it is fixed, it should be reprinted separately in BIG TYPE and stuck on the walls for the ASM’s and crew.

– The cues should be put on the right side of the right page. If a cue is time sensitive, such as preshow cues, put that first. Example…

30” Q100 preshow

Q105 house to half

5”   Q110 announcements

Q120 curtain warmers out

Preshow sound out


3 knocks (if your group follows that tradition)

Open curtain

130 – Go! (Whatever your first cue is)

– Lighting and sound cues frequently have to run at precise times, so usually a line is drawn under the dialogue with the cue number on the right hand side and an uptick indicating exactly where it should be called such as…

“He was never, at any time, a member !of the Nazi party”                                                                           140

Scene Five

                                      AIP                                         150

This indicates that you would say “go” after the word “member” is spoken. It was the end of a scene. 140 was a blackout. After that actor exited and the new ones were in place, AIP (actors in place) Q150 was “150 – go!”

– A couple of things that might change your call. If you can’t see the action that is the cue but the techie can, that is called a visual. You still call it in advance though, just to alert them and of course write it in your script along with the action.

                 On Marta’s exit                                      visual     160

The other thing is delaying a cue. Sometimes cue’s built up in the board are so complex that it isn’t worth while re-recording so you add in a times count, such as

“He was never, at any time, a member !of the Nazi party”                                                          3 count       140

– Even though they may know the show as well as you do, a good techie will never mind you calling everything because we all have bad days! SM’s and techies included!

– A follow, is a second cue that automatically follows a cue. You should always write down that info to keep your numbering straight. If for instance, there had been an automatic music cue, or work lights added, you would mark it like this.

“No” she said, “I’ll never agree to it.”!                                                                                    3 count       170

Follow        175

This section is a work in progress. Any suggestions? Please email me.