Spotlight on... Ian McCarthy (Stage Manager)

Spotlight on... Ian McCarthy (Stage Manager)

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Edward Crook

An interview with ‘Mac’ – the seventh pillar of Theatre Royal Nottingham. Young reporter Edward Crook interviews Ian McCarthy who has worked at TRCH for over 35 years. Find out what's involved in his job and a few stories from over the years. 

During my time as a Young Reporter I was lucky enough to be able to conduct an interview with Ian McCarthy, the veteran Stage Manager of TRCH.  Ian McCarthy, more commonly known as ‘Mac’, has been working with the Theatre Royal since 3 

September 1980.   He started work at the Brewhouse Theatre in Taunton, initially working behind the bar, before being given the opportunity to get involved with the stage management, lighting and sound.  Following a successful interview at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, Mac declined entry to Cardiff University, where he was set to study a BSc in geography, and took the job, starting off as a ‘wingman’, which involved being in charge of one side of the stage.  He became stage manager in 1985, and has been working here ever since.

Have you got any advice for aspiring stage managers?
“I think, for anyone who wants to come into this business, really the easiest way, the most effective way, is to work in a small provincial touring theatre. Most of the college courses are very good, however, when it comes to the real work environment; you have to unlearn what you have learned, because it’s not how it happens in reality. Doing it the way that I did it is quite possibly the best route because you get to do everything. You get to do lighting, sound, you get to do the whole gambit and understand how it all works and how it all goes together.  We get a show in and that night we do a performance. If it’s a big show we get two days.  Obviously this show has been different because it’s a production fit-up and we’ve had all the rehearsals for it.  It’s normally two days, it comes in, it goes up. If we are lucky, we get a rehearsal and then there are 1100 people out there watching it.  It’s all about time, when those doors are shut and there are not bums on those seats, that space is loosing money. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day, it’s about taking money, it’s about getting punters in there to watch the product we are putting on, and the longer we are shut the more money were losing. You get rid of one set on that Saturday night, and the next show is on the Monday. It’s just relentless.

It’s a job that’s all consuming and your partner has to be incredibly understanding. You work long, anti-social hours. You know people say to you ‘we are having a party at the weekend’ and ‘would you like to come round?’, or ‘we are going to go out for a meal’, but you can’t do it because there is a performance to do so you give up your social life for your job and sometimes you give up your home life.”

What do you like most about the job?
“We’re doing something different every day, every week, and also meeting some very famous people, whether they be famous old-school technicians, lighting designers, choreographers or actors. It’s also been a great thing having the hall next door. I love music and I have been to see nearly every band that I have wanted to see.”

What would you say your least favourite aspect of the job is?
“Ageing. When we do the big moves we probably won’t finish until 8am the next morning, so you’ll be working a 20-hour shift. It takes a lot longer to recover from that now. It is all physical, there are not many mechanical aids.”

Is there a specific type of production that you like working on the most?
“It would probably be any shows by big companies, because their shows’ production values are higher because they can throw more money at it. If money is no object, then the effects that you can achieve … it’s most remarkable what you can do, and the industry has changed a hell of a lot in the last 35 years.”

Have you met any actors or heroes that have left a lasting impression on you?
“Oh gosh, lasting impressions … I think I’ve been very, very fortunate with certainly my longevity. I have met some incredible characters during that time. Some of the more notable ones would be people like Peter O’Toole, Pete Postlethwaite, and actresses like Glenda Jackson.  I mean when she walks on to a stage she just exudes star quality. There is this about actors and actresses of that kind of calibre, there is something mesmeric about them, their performances. Peter O’Toole, for all of the hell raising and everything else when he was out there performing, it used to send tingles, your hair would be standing up on the back of your neck. He was in Man and Superman and his performance was absolutely stunning. It is the big names like that, to be able to watch them work their magic and do their craft, really, what they get paid for, yes, they are bloody good at it.”

Has there been any incidents or funny stories that have happened, that particularly stick out in your memory, during your time at TRCH?
“There was one incident many, many years ago when we were doing the opera Samson and Delilah with Opera North, very early on in Opera North’s career. In those days we used to make up our own cue sheets as we went through the lighting sessions. During the afternoon, when all of the stage staff were sent away on a tea break, one of the stage management team went up on the fly floor to do a particular cue, and it didn’t get logged on the cue sheet. Towards the end of the opera, when Samson’s hair has regrown and he has got his strength back, he collapses the Temple. When the collapse was supposed to happen, the only person that should have been on stage was Sampson.   When we did it the entire chorus was on stage. The pillars were made out of big lumps of one-metre diameter polyzote blocks that were covered in canvas, and made to look like stone. They were 30 centimetres thick, and would fall from 10 metres in the air, so being hit by one would probably hurt. The chorus were running off stage screaming, the orchestra stopped and there was no applause from the audience.  We couldn’t reset the columns because it would have taken too long but we managed to reset the back wall and so we then carried on after a break of about ten minutes while the stage was cleared of all the rubble. I believe it is in a book of operatic disasters somewhere.  So there have been a few incidents like that when things like that have happened.  It’s a live venue at the end of the day. It’s part of the magic of the theatre.  Some things happen like that that could be quite dangerous.”

Do you have a favourite show that you have worked on (apart from Stephen Unwin’s ‘A View from the Bridge’, obviously)?
“It depends of genre. I love operas; Wagnerian opera is the big thing.  We did a production of The Flying Dutchman, which was probably one of the first operas that I actually worked on.  I can’t remember what year it was now, it was either 1980 or 1981, and it was absolutely stunning, it was brilliant.   Restoration Comedy, I do like my Restoration Comedy bits as well, and my favourite musical of all time, Jesus Christ Superstar.”

How do you prepare for a show like this?
“We get sent ground plans of sets so we know exactly what it looks like when it’s going to be sat on the stage here, and so we are aware where everything sits spatially.  We also get a hanging plot for where the company want all of the masking drapes.  We mask everything out so the punters cannot see into the wings, or see the space above. We want the audience to be focused on the production, and not looking at the ropes on the side or people walking up and down the wings.”

Have you enjoyed working on this production?
“I’ve always been a great fan of the Touring Consortium.  It was set up a long time ago now, and the Theatre Royal has always been a key player within the consortium here. They’ve always produced a high quality product with good actors, and it’s also always been done well.  Production values have also been quite high with the Touring Consortium and I’ve liked a lot of pieces that they’ve done. They’ve been quite innovative.”

Can you say what particular challenges you faced during this production?
“None really, because all of the production work has been already been done. The set builders and production managers know everything, how it’s all going to go together, and how it’s all going to work.   The medium scale touring productions like these never really cause any problems.  The only problems we get are when some of the bigger scale shows come in, and are designed for a bigger space that what we are. There is normally a width issue here in Nottingham.  Normally our stage is basically 12.5 or 13 metres wide.  When you get something that is 16 metres and you are trying to shoehorn it into our space, that’s when you get problems.  For something like this, it is designed for, or designed to fit into, the smallest venue that they tour to, and by coming in here, we are one of the bigger venues that they tour to, there isn’t really going to be a problem.”

If you had to describe this production in three words, or as few words as possible, what would you say?
“Miller ... hardly a laugh a minute, but a great production.”

During the interview process, it became very clear to me how fond Mac is of the theatre, and how proud he is of the time that he has spent working here. One thing that particularly stood out to me, was his custom of referring to the theatre as ‘she’. Universally well spoken of, Mac is a huge asset to the TRCH. I would like to say a big thank-you to him for speaking with me and showing me around. May he continue to help bring the joy of theatre to the crowds of the TRCH for many years to come.

A View from the Bridge opened at Theatre Royal, Nottingham, where it ran from 4 to 7 March 2015. It then toured to Cheltenham, Darlington, Wolverhampton, Bradford, Coventry and Edinburgh, where it concluded on 2 May.