Stage Manager 101: Taking Blocking Notes

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Cristina D'Almeida

Just like calling a show, taking down blocking is one of the most important tasks of a Stage Manager. I think if you were to split the role of a Stage Manager into two different phases, you would have the rehearsal process as part 1 and performance mode as part 2. In part 1, blocking notes are one of the most important aspects, while writing in cues and calling the show is the most important part during performances. This is why we have blocking scripts and calling scripts and keep them separate. Recording blocking notes quickly and efficiently as the director stages a show is something I have not fully mastered and is so incredibly challenging on many levels.

A great thing to do to prepare yourself before a director starts blocking a show is becoming familiar with shorthand writing and symbols. Directors often work quickly as the thoughts come to their mind, so it’s important to be able to take notes quickly. Using shorthand is a great way to successfully write these notes. The only thing is to make sure you can later understand what they mean.

My biggest anxiety while taking blocking notes is the amount of space the notes take up and also as said before, the speed the director works in. I like it to go smoothly so I am always super focused and a few steps ahead of the director as they move through a scene. To me, plays are a bit easier to take down blocking. Musicals would be next in terms of difficulty and operas are probably the hardest for me because of working with a score and the unusual format it has. I always find when looking at a musical script, the song lyrics are within the text and the text is dominant to the lyrics. In a score, it’s the opposite most of the time. The dialogue is within the music and there is emphasis on the music. This makes it hard to take notes in a score. There is a severe lack of room. Sometimes, if using a script, it helps to write notes on the opposite blank page. There is an abundance of room if you do that. You can align the notes with the lines. This also keeps things neater.

I believe as long as you can later read what you wrote, and so can others, then you’ve successfully executed blocking notes. There are so many great ways of doing this, but shorthand has always worked for me. I think you really learn different ways of doing it, and what works and what doesn’t, by working with a diversity of people and different companies. Theatre is open minded, even in the technical aspects like blocking notes.