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A demanding job with long hours, low pay and no public recognition needs someone pretty special. And as Campbell McCracken found out, Visible Fiction's Stage Manager Ingrid Gunn, has just that special quality required.

photo of stage design from above

Perfectly invisible

Stage management is one of those jobs that only gets noticed when it's done badly. Punters watching a theatre performance from the stalls shouldn't see your work if you're doing it properly. If you do your job well you won't get a round of applause, or a review in the papers next day.

But good work doesn't go completely unnoticed - it can get you a very good reputation in the industry. And someone with such a reputation is Ingrid Gunn.

Working full-time for Visible Fictions, Ingrid has just completed a national tour with their production of Monster. However, she doesn't have time to sit back and reflect on its success. "At the moment I am working towards our next couple of productions, Emily's House in Spring, then The Underpass in the Autumn."

Tears in the sun

"Stage management is tough. It's really tough. If you work for a small company then being stage manager means you do everything. But," she reflects, "you never get bored."

As a freelance stage manager (which Ingrid was before she joined Visible Fictions 18 months ago), not only can you get to work with different companies, but you get to tour too. "I've been to the USA (from California to Alaska), Ireland and Cyprus."

"Cyprus was my best and worst experience. It was outdoors in a stone amphitheatre in the middle of summer, and there was no running water, no electricity and no shade. You had to carry all your equipment and water for two miles because there was no road. But it was an enormous success and after all the hard work it really was worth it. It was great fun. Great fun in the end. Lots of tears shed!"

Early start

Ingrid was drawn to the technical side of the stage from a very early age. "My mother ran the Arts Society in Cromarty on the Black Isle that brought touring companies to perform in the village. Right from being a small kid, I'd go along to the hall and offer to set out chairs and do mundane jobs like that, just to be around everything happening. I loved it instantly and knew that's what I wanted to do."

At the age of 13, she went to the Scottish Youth Theatre in Glasgow and did their summer festival, where she spent two weeks doing workshops, two weeks rehearsing and finally two weeks doing the show.

"It was a huge thing. It's a fantastic thing. It really does teach you exactly how a show goes together."

Too young

But at that point Ingrid and the traditional route to stage management parted company. "Most people go to drama school, but I was too young. I applied to RSAMD (Royal Scottish Academy for Music and Drama) and Queen Margaret (QUeen Margaret University College) and they both sent letters back saying 'please apply in two years time when you're 18.' But I didn't want to wait that long."

Having access to all the theatre companies coming to Cromarty allowed Ingrid to make lots of contacts in the industry, and especially to build up a relationship with Scottish Opera. "When I was 16 I got a phone call from them saying that there was a job available making tea and coffee and sweeping the stage (for a pittance) and did I want to do it."

And did she?


Ahead of her time

The lack of formal training hasn't hampered her career in any way. "I think learning on the job is a better way to do it. I'm sure the colleges would disagree, but it meant that I was five years ahead of people coming out of college because I started at 16 and they were getting out of college at 20 or 21."

"I was lucky to work with some really nice people who taught me lots of things. I was lucky enough to get panto at the Eden Court theatre in Inverness and I learned a lot from Bob, the stage manager. I did four or five pantos there, working my way up to being on the book (calling all the technical cues for the show), which I did for two years." (Oh yes she did!)

Just the job

So would Ingrid recommend that everyone takes the direct approach and bypasses the formal route?

"I had the contacts and I had a good idea what theatre was about. If you don't have that, I'd say going for one of the drama schools is the better way to go. The two big Scottish drama colleges are very good and a lot of people coming out of them get work. I would definitely recommend going to one of the big drama schools!"

And would she recommend stage management? "The hours are long. Very long hours, often seven days a week, and you don't get overtime. But that's only to discourage people that don't like hard work. If you like going home aching at the end of the night, but knowing that you've done a good day's work, it's the job for you."

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