The stage manager is the right hand of the director through pre-production and rehearsal. With the curtain ready to go up, the director moves on to the next project and the stage manager is left to ensure the creative integrity of the show. After the director has left the show in his or her capable hands, both the cast and crew now answer to the stage manager.
The role of a stage manager can very slightly between traditional theater, concerts, and touring productions. Before rehearsals begin, the stage manager works closely with the director, production manager, and technical director to plan a production and rehearsal schedule, hold auditions, and hire crew. Early in the rehearsal process, he or she will take notes from the direction staff on character blocking and technical cues. It is also the responsibility of the stage manager to enforce attendance policies, maintain paperwork for payroll, and in the case of union cast, monitor Actors’ Equity Association compliance. In the late stages of rehearsal, this individual will supervise run-through and dress rehearsal and will call cues and feed lines to the actor who keeps blanking out on stage. He or she will take notes on performance, technical execution, and blocking. It is also the job of the stage manager to be a bridge between the crew and the cast: If an actor is repeatedly tripping over an ill-placed prop or set piece, the stage manager acts to alert the proper crewmember and resolve the issue.
On performance days the stage manager will supervise pre-show activities. These will include sound check, lamp tests for lighting, and system safety checks for elements like rigging, automation, and pyrotechnics. He or she will also account for the cast and run them through warm-ups and notes. At house open, the stage manager will clear the stage and call for the house to be set for walk-in. When the curtain goes up, the stage manager may stay backstage at a podium, or at the front-of-house position with the lighting console operator to call cues over a headset. The stage manager’s bible is the prompt book; the thick binder contains the show script with cues annotated and information like contact sheets and emergency procedures. From this point forth, the stage manager is charged with maintaining the integrity of the performance and technical direction.
Skills & Education
As the theatrical entertainment industry continues to evolve, production companies require more advanced skills and education. A four-year degree in stage management, technical design, or performance is not a hard-and-fast requirement, but it is preferred. Coursework in these areas can teach you about scene design, production planning, venue safety, and give a fundamental understanding of production terminology. In the case of Equity productions, the stage manager must be trained in the rules and processes of Actors’ Equity and be a member of the union.
What to Expect
The best tool of a stage manager is a well-stocked kit: pens and pencils, gaffer’s tape, first aid supplies, and a multi-tool are show-savers when a mini-crisis arises. Live shows are unpredictable by definition; you must be prepared to handle any challenge with quick, decisive action and keep cool under pressure. The cast and crew look to the stage manager for leadership and guidance. Show production is a collaborative process, so a professional and respectful attitude is crucial. Experience as a performer, assistant stage manager, or technician can lead to opportunities for work as a stage manager. From there, you have the opportunity to advance to a role as a director, production manager, tour manager, or other similar position.
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