Teaching students to call the shots with digital stage management tools


Think back to the last time you went to the theatre. Do you remember how many lighting changes there were in the show you watched? How about sound effects? Or scene changes?

If you haven’t a clue, you’re not alone—and that’s a good thing. Calling, or cueing, is a core duty of the deputy stage manager, who keeps track of every technical element during a live performance and cues the lighting, sound, flying and special effects departments to ensure the show runs seamlessly.

“The role of any member of stage management is to make every performance run flawlessly and smoothly, exactly as the director would want it. When the audience is so immersed in the show they don’t notice any of the technicalities, then we know it’s a job well done,” says Michael Budmani, Programme Leader, Diploma in Theatre Production and Management at LASALLE.

Michael Budmani, Programme Leader, Diploma in Theatre Production and Management, speaking to prospective students

As a professional stage manager, production manager and educator with over 30 years of experience, Michael is now on a mission to rethink and possibly revolutionise the way we train stage managers through the innovative use of technology.

“In conservatoires, drama schools and arts institutions worldwide, stage management is traditionally taught in a practical setting. Students learn how to become stage managers by acquiring skills in classes and workshops, then practising these skills within the environment of real live productions. But to date, the use of e-learning and electronic learning aids has been limited,” he explains.

A view of the stage from the technical box

Michael’s current research project looks at the development of a pioneering stage training software Call Q. Call Q is the first software specifically designed as an aid for students to learn how to call a performance. Developed by highly respected Scottish stage management educator Gail Pallin, Call Q enables a number of filmed productions to be uploaded, with pre-programmed cues. The user can run the video and attempt to cue the show, with the software stopping if a cue is called incorrectly. The programme will then alert the user of errors and corrective action.

“The initial Call Q prototype was developed with a short play shot from a single camera. Now, the next stage is to introduce users to a multi-camera filming of a fully staged theatre production, and that’s where LASALLE comes in with its production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It,” says Michael.

As You Like It (2019)

As You Like It was performed by BA(Hons) Acting Level 2 students in LASALLE’s Singapore Airlines Theatre in February 2019, directed by Professor Michael Earley, Dean, Faculty of Performing Arts. The filming and performers’ movements for this production were specifically orchestrated with Call Q in mind.

Michael Budmani worked closely with the Call Q team to integrate the filmed version of As You Like It into the software. On a recent trip to the UK, he collaborated with Call Q developers to upload the production then add elements to guide users through calling the show, together with prompts and tips to help navigate any errors made. The software has been successfully incorporated into the learning environment for the Diploma in Theatre Production and Management programme, with excellent results and overall student enthusiasm with the software.

Students using Call Q to practice show calling

Michael’s research into Call Q as a pedagogical tool was funded by LASALLE’s Research Project Funding (RPF) scheme. Dr Wolfgang Muench, Dean, Learning, Teaching and Research sees it as “an excellent example of the relevance of practice-led research at LASALLE. The innovative use of digital technologies not only advances the specific subject area but also significantly enhances students' readiness for employment in future work environments. Research projects such as Call Q are instrumental in the process to define a pedagogy for the learning and teaching environment for the 21st century at LASALLE.”

Michael concurs that innovations such as Call Q could really change the way that stage management is taught. “Stage management is such a hands-on discipline that for a long time—certainly for the three decades I’ve been working and teaching in this field—that the use of digital learning aids had not really been considered. A solution like Call Q will expand the training opportunities available to aspiring stage managers by making full use of technology. I’m tremendously excited about the possibilities and very happy that LASALLE is a part of this groundbreaking international project,” says Michael.