Every job has its tools and one of the biggest money suckers for a stage manager is their kit.
What’s a stage manager kit? Well, it harkens back to the idea that a stage manager is the person who is “absolutely responsible for absolutely everything” for a production… which is an over or under simplification of sorts, but one of my professors in college described it as that and I never quite shook that definition.
Your kit is how you pull this off.
Has your actor walked head first into a hanger? He probably needs a band-aid. And possibly an ice pack and some aspirin.
In real life, you’re probably on your own, man. And if you’re pretty lucky, at least you’ll get reimbursed for the items you use.
That being said, it’s kind of a task for a broke as a joke new stage manager to start putting their kit together. Being the frugal stage manager that I am though, I’ve got some tips for you.
Start out with a list of everything you need and then prioritize it. I always, always harp on Lawrence Stern’s Stage Management text as being the best possible resource for any new stage manager, and he has a very comprehensive list in his book, but you can also find some great SM Kit lists by just Googling.
Tip #1: Look through that list and see what you can find for a free. A lot of the items in my kit, I never paid for. I’ve long stolen all the free little items in hotels – so items like soap, shampoo, etc all made it into the kit for nothing. Also, when it says things like “hair pins,” you don’t need 1000. I have about 20 in mine, just taken from my own personal stockpile.
This is another key thing to remember – a lot of items in your kit are just in case. You should not be the main supplier of these items. They are for mid-rehearsal or show emergencies. You know, when that awesome fan dance goes all wrong and three of the dancers catch fans in their hair and destroy their hairstyles. You want to be standing in the wings with enough bobby pins to put them back together to finish out the scene. And then they should go back to their dressing rooms and fix their hair with their own bobby pins.
Along the same lines, you should also figure that when you hand over those bobby pins, you’re saying good-bye to them. This brings us to the next tip.
Tip #2: Keep track of the cost of every item in your kit. Sometimes you will work for cheap, crappy little start up companies and they’re not going to reimburse you for anything in your kit. But sometimes you will work for companies who see the value of your kit and are willing to reimburse you.
Even if they don’t reimburse me, I usually bring it. My kit has plenty of things in it that just help me, too. However, there’s a big difference between what I lend out when I’m able to be reimbursed and what I’ll lend out when I’m not.
Side note: ALWAYS discuss whether or not reimbursement is an option when talking about your salary/stipend negotiations. If they want a ballpark figure, usually promising to keep it under $100 will work out for you. Hey, it may be nothing, because, sure, all those actors will bring their own pencils.
Tip #3: Google some of the items on your list and see if there are free offers online for them. Moist towelettes, antibacterial ointment, hair spray, you never know what you’ll find. Honestly, I stalk freebie sites regularly and stockpile items as they pop up to replace in my kit. Rewards clubs are great too. Staples has a particularly fabulous one.
Keep in mind though, that if they get used in rehearsal, you’ll still have to replace them. It’s pretty easy to get an idea of how much it would cost by swinging by a CVS or Walgreens and checking out the travel sized section. I find the price of what I would buy to replace it and use that in my master list for my kit, so companies I work with know what it’ll cost to replace.
There are also situations where I’ll buy something like a box of towelettes and only keep 10 or so in my kit. I make sure the replacement cost is the cost of a box of towelettes, not the individual packet cost, since if I run out, that’s what I’m going to have to shell out to replace it.
Side note: If you are negotiating regarding your kit and you have a master list of what’s in your kit and the cost to replace it, it doesn’t hurt to bring that to the negotiations to give the producer an idea of what you may be asking for. If I have an especially kind producer too, I may hit them up to update all the medication in my kit at the top of a run too. Listing expiration dates of medication in your kit on the master sheet doesn’t hurt either.
Tip #4: Write to companies explaining your job and ask for free samples or coupons. This is mostly helpful for medication. Different stage managers take different stances on providing medication for their cast because, really, who are you to provide medicine (you know, the same way a school nurse can’t do a whole lot with medication). Personally, I always stock aspirin, Imodium AD, Peptobismal, Tums and a non-aspirin headache medicine. And once one person’s got a cold, I add some Day-Quil into the mix too.
Tip #5: If you have a local hardware or stationary store, go ask to see the manager with a list of supplies you’d like from them – scale ruler, pencils, note cards, pencils, crescent wrench, pencils, small flashlight, etc. (did I mention pencils?) and ask if they would consider donating it to the production in exchange for program credit (clear this with your producer first, but often it’s the type of thing they don’t have a problem with).
By picking up things bit by bit, it keeps the cost down – especially when you’re just starting out and funding your own kit. It might seem like a pain, but having a SM kit makes life so. much. easier.
The one item I recommend that you don’t go the cheap route is the actual box you put it all in. I bought a terrific Plano tackle box back in college. 10 years later, it’s still my SM kit and it has flown all over the world with me.
Happy stage managing!