By Ali Mignone
I am directionally challenged. Someone who shall remain nameless (but who is married to me) once remarked that I couldn’t find my way “out of a paper bag.” This, unfortunately, is quite true. So I was thrilled to move to Steamboat Springs, which has landmarks like 40, the river and the mountains, because I knew it would be impossible to get lost! Until the day I spent twenty minutes driving around Safeway looking for my new bank. Which is across the street from City Market.
But as Stage Manager for Strings, it’s my job to get people and things onstage quickly, efficiently and most importantly, in the right place. While I may be a little turned around out in the world, after twenty years working in the arts, I’ve got my stage directions down pat. And I’m going to share my cheat sheet with you.
Let’s start with the basics. When you’re in the audience facing the stage, your right is house right and your left is house left. If you were a performer onstage facing the audience, your right is stage right and your left is stage left. Got it? Good, it gets a little weird after that…
Did you notice that stage right and house left are the same direction, from two different perspectives? At Strings, that means toward the parking lot. Now, stage directions are static and independent of the performer. So if you turn around and march to the stage wall with your back to the audience, stage left is on your right and stage right is on your left. (This is a really humbling moment for some performers, when they have to ask themselves, “Wait, it’s not all about me?”)
OK, that’s enough left and right, let’s do forward and backward. If you’re onstage facing the audience, upstage is behind you (farther away from the audience) and downstage is in front of you (closer to the audience). Why do we say up and down when most modern stages, including the Strings stage, are flat? The terms are left over from when theatres were designed so that audiences stood on a flat floor in front of the stage and stood or sat in balconies all around the house. The stage itself was raked (higher in the back than in the front) so that all those flat-standers could see what was going on. For you skiers and riders: upstage was up the hill and downstage was down the hill.
We have one last set of directions to cover. On the technical side, a lot of equipment, curtains, backdrops and other good stuff are hung above the stage. When it’s time to move those things to stage level for scenery cues or maintenance, we can’t say something’s coming down, because that means it’s moving closer to the audience. Oops, now what? So we say it’s coming in. And when it’s going back up to its usual hanging height, it’s going out.
So. Stage right is house left. Stage left is house right. Up is back. Down is front. In means down and out means up.
Please have pity on me if you see me standing still onstage during a stage change. I might be lost.
Ali Mignone is the Stage Manager at Strings, bringing 20 years of experience in the theater world and in arts/business administration. Ali recently moved to Steamboat from Connecticut, and she’s frantically cramming in all the hiking and biking she can do before ski season–when she plans to be
stealing powder from sharing powder with the amazing people she’s met here. When she’s not backstage or outside, Ali works as a Senior Consultant for Theatre Projects Consultants and as a freelance writer and editor.