Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Calling a Show

A producer works hard to create and bring together all of the elements of an event - and today's events can be technically complex. However, some producers are either not confident enough to bring the actual show together on cue, or may be spread too thinly with the added responsibility. In these cases, the producer may hire either a Technical Director (TD) or a separate "show caller." Show callers are usually people who have worked in theater and called cues in theatrical extravaganzas as stage managers (in the theatrical definition). They are seasoned and experienced in interpreting a producer’s requirement for the crew to make sure everything happens at the right time and with maximum theatrical impact, where appropriate. If a show caller is hired to run only the show, that person is coming in to the event “cold” with no knowledge about it whatsoever and must therefore be brought up to speed very quickly. We will assume this scenario for the following explanations, much of which has been provided courtesy For purposes of easy explanation, the show caller’s job will be divided into two main segments, pre-show and show.


Before the actual job of calling the show begins, a certain amount of preparation is required. If time permits, a separate briefing for the show caller is helpful and avoids any last minute panic onsite. The show caller then needs some time to prepare for the show by reviewing the material provided. This is typically followed by a rehearsal, particularly if the show is complex.

A show caller will need the following information which will usually be provided either by the Producer or TD:
  • Names of all crew members on intercom
  • Any announcements needed (e.g. asking the audience to turn off cell phones or any health and safety announcements) 
  • Running order 
  • Scripts (including entrance and exit points) 
  • Print outs of PowerPoint slides (for checking if correct ones are projected) 
  • Video play list showing each video’s duration time 
  • Music play list showing each track’s duration time 
  • Production schedule showing crew call times, any rehearsals, and all show times (to be reviewed throughout the day with the producer) 
  • Presets (i.e. required pre-placements of persons, props, or other items at specific points in the program)
  • Creative interpretation of the running order 
  • Background of any speakers or other useful information.
Typically, there are some procedures that a show caller will use to prepare the script and himself/herself for the show. Much of it is personal preference, but the following are general guidelines:
  • A show caller will need: pencil and/or marker pens, rubber bands, ruler, stopwatch (with big numbers and preferably no beeping noise), watch (synchronized with the producer’s), water, mints, plain paper. 
  • If you are the show caller, have the script on a right hand page and your writing on the left hand page. Write alongside where the cue in the script needs to happen (on the left hand page) and use a ruler to draw a horizontal line (in pencil) to link into the cue point. At the point where the cue happens, draw a short vertical line up from the horizontal line to mark this cue point. 
  • Plan timings for when you are going to do certain things. 
  • Ensure all technical crew members are on headsets. 
  • Make an announcement for crew to turn cell phones and pagers off. 
  • Put in all presets to check they are all in place. 
  • Put in cues for yourself for announcements (e.g. to announce “10 minutes until doors open”). 
  • To minimize the amount of words or space used on a page when you are writing in information, you can use abbreviations for key elements to be used, such as “A” or “SND” for audio/sound, “L” or “LX” for lighting, “V” or “VT” for video, etc. 
  • Try out cues by speaking out loud, never in your head or you won’t get a sense of the timing.
A technical run-through of the script is a must if there are numerous technical cues and a long program, such as an extended awards show. The show caller can once again make it easier to run the show by considering the following during rehearsal:
  • Create your space. For most show callers or TDs, this is usually at the technical console position, next to the producer. Position yourself so your free ear is next to the producer, when you are on headsets. Again, everyone has a preference. I personally prefer to call a complex show from the rear of the venue from a central communication station that is connected to all the technical people involved, and from where I can see the whole picture. Other times, if the show involves a lot of entertainment that might be entering and leaving from different parts of the venue, I work better calling the show using wireless comm that gives me the flexibility to move around and change the way the show flows if I see it needs it, or to talk directly to an entertainer or presenter. See the figure below for a typical TD or show caller position.

TD Calling a Show (Courtesy Darren Dreger, BC Event Management, www.

  • Talk to the crew casually before the technical rehearsal to determine: Have they got all their software? Do they know their running order? Is there anything you need to know (e.g. how a piece of technology works and what you need to cue)? 
  • Agree to cue numbers if the crew wants to use those. (LX usually does; others probably don’t but it’s worth asking.)
  • Tell the crew what sort of cues you are going to give them. 
  • Always get crew to acknowledge stand-bys. 
  • Be firm but fair, listen for their feedback or suggestions but remember you are in control. 
  • Take it steady and do one cue sequence at a time. Get it right, and then move on.  
  • Make sure you have re-written your cues before you try a cue or sequence again; take your time and make sure you really understand what the producer wants and how to achieve it. 
  • Start your stopwatch for videos, just in case the video engineer forgets to count you down. Also make a note of a sequence 30 seconds before the end so you can start the stand-bys to come out of the video.
Finally, and most critically, speakers and entertainment need time to rehearse. They must understand how long they are allowed onstage because impromptu, unrehearsed speeches and entertainment acts that are longer than promised can wreak havoc with a show and cause it to go much longer than planned. A full or partial speaker and entertainment rehearsal can help to avoid this, by having the show caller consider the following:
  • Be alert so you can respond to changes, update your cues, put people on stand-by, etc. 
  • Keep communicating with the crew so they know what is going on and what to prepare for. 
  • Try out any changes the producer may have made after the technical rehearsal. 
  • Time all speakers with a stopwatch as they will ask how long they were and it will help you plan timings for the actual show.
  • If possible, remind the producer to ask the speakers for their last few words leading into a video to help with the cueing. 
  • Ensure all speakers tell you where they will be located in the audience for the 30 minutes preceding their time onstage in order that stage managers can find them easily. 
  • For entertainment, ensure they know how long they are allowed onstage, where and what equipment must be pre-placed onstage and removed after their act, and at what point in the program (exact time) they are to be ready in their green rooms. 
  • Ensure all speakers and entertainers understand how they will enter and exit the stage. 
  • Work out a standardized method of removing speakers or entertainers from the stage if they go over their allotted time – and ensure they all know what the signal is. This could be the subtle playing of a musical tune on CD or by an onstage orchestra, the flashing of a light from the technical console, the frantic waving of an offstage stage manager in the wings, or if all else fails, turning off the microphone.
Next time, we'll look at the actual show.


  1. Really enjoyed this post. I will bookmark it. I have called a show on rare occasions, and regularly work as an assistant stage manager. These tips are really a great checklist to keep in mind as you prepare. I regularly share this kind of information on Twitter and Facebook and would really like to keep up on your newer posts, but I didn't see an option to subscribe to your RSS feed. Am I missing it?

  2. I have just put up the RSS feed option. Hope you will visit again, Jenise. Thanks for the vote of support.

  3. excellent post and incredibly informative blog. I will be back. THANK YOU for your valuable insights
    Dilip - Events Producer - Dubai

  4. Love this post! Used this to educate my clients...It gives the best answer to their question "why do I need a showcaller and stagemanager?"
    I'll share it within my network!

    gr. Bart -Event producer/showdirector - Amsterdam

  5. The information about a show caller is now very clear to me