How to be a stage manager

How to be a stage manager

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During theater rehearsals, the stage manager acts as the director’s assistant by conveying instructions to the actors and crew and making sure they’re carried out. She handles the logistics of set changes, judges whether actors say their lines according to the script and keeps records of changes to the production. When rehearsals are finished and the play begins its official run, the director leaves. This puts the stage manager in charge. She makes sure actors perform their parts as rehearsed, that the technical crew manages lighting and other effects on cue, and that the play runs smoothly and on time. She can learn her skills on the job or in school.

Starting

According to the Stage Managers’ Association, the way to learn stage management is by doing it. Because the job does not require an education to enter, many stage managers learn their craft within a theater. They may start as actors with small parts who, when not rehearsing, call out stage directions, contact absent performers or place specific props during the show. Because of their talent and desire for management and organization, they continue with more tasks related to administration, such as cuing technical crew when to play sound effects. They may then assist full stage managers on larger productions before managing smaller plays on their own.

Potential stage managers can also learn their craft with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in stage management, which is available at some colleges and universities. The degree offers the basics in all aspects of theater, such as design, production, performance and directing. Depending on the student’s interests, the education may focus on acting, movement, voice and speech, or concentrate on set design, construction and technical skills. To graduate, students must generally participate in several school productions to gain hands-on experience.

For those with experience or a bachelor’s degree in a theatrical subject, a Master of Fine Arts in stage management may prove a more suitable education. This program of study generally assumes basic knowledge of stage fundamentals and can target the development of organizational skills. Courses concentrate on management and organizational issues. Participants learn such advanced concepts as marketing, theater security and law. They then meet with graduate students in other stage disciplines such as acting, directing and design to develop several school productions.

Internships

Whether as part of a college program or simply as a way to advance training, many professional theater companies offer internships and apprenticeships in stage management. Some of these positions give stipends and college credit, and some do not. A few may even grant “points” that eventually lead to membership in Actor’s Equity, the professional theater union. All internships offer a chance for the inexperienced to work in a real theater under the guidance of a professional stage manager and director.

  • American Association of Community Theatre: Stage Manager
  • Stage Managers’ Association: How Does One Learn Stage Management?
  • Boston University: Stage Management BFA
  • Stage Managers’ Association: Which Do You Recommend for Learning Stage Management?

Aurelio Locsin has been writing professionally since 1982. He published his first book in 1996 and is a frequent contributor to many online publications, specializing in consumer, business and technical topics. Locsin holds a Bachelor of Arts in scientific and technical communications from the University of Washington.

Last Updated: October 9, 2020 References

This article was co-authored by Kendall Payne. Kendall Payne is a Writer, Director, and Stand-up Comedian based in Brooklyn, New York. Kendall specializes in directing, writing, and producing comedic short films. Her films have screened at Indie Short Fest, Brooklyn Comedy Collective, Channel 101 NY, and 8 Ball TV. She has also written and directed content for the Netflix is a Joke social channels and has written marketing scripts for Between Two Ferns: The Movie, Astronomy Club, Wine Country, Bash Brothers, Stand Up Specials and more. Kendall runs an IRL internet comedy show at Caveat called Extremely Online, and a comedy show for @ssholes called Sugarp!ss at Easy Lover. She studied at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and at New York University (NYU) Tisch in the TV Writing Certificate Program.

There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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Being a part of a live performing art production can be very exciting and fulfilling. A stage manager is in charge of the entire production, and must know the ins and outs of every production they oversee. A stage manager must know how to do every job in the production. Strong leadership and communication skills are also important. Once you have the necessary skills, you can apply at local schools and colleges, theatres and playhouses, as well as concert halls and music venues.

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How to be a stage managerStage managers typically provide practical and organizational support to the director, actors, designers, stage crew and technicians throughout the production process. They also are the director’s representative during performances, making sure that the production runs smoothly.

The role of the stage manager is especially important to the director in rehearsals. Here the director and the stage manager work side by side, with the stage manager recording the director’s decisions about blocking and notes for the actors, keeping track of logistical and scheduling details and communicating what goes on in rehearsals to the rest of the team. This enables the director to concentrate his or her full attention on directing.

Stage managers have several key responsibilities and tasks to perform in each phase of a production, including:

  • scheduling and running rehearsals
  • communicating the director’s wishes to designers and crafts people
  • coordinating the work of the stage crew
  • calling cues and possibly actors’ entrances during performance
  • overseeing the entire show each time it is performed

In conjunction with the director, the stage manager determines the scheduling of all rehearsals and makes sure everyone involved is notified of rehearsal times, meetings, costume/wig fittings and coaching sessions. During the rehearsal phase, stage managers also:

  • mark out the dimensions of the set on the floor of the rehearsal hall
  • make sure rehearsal props and furnishings are available for the actors
  • attend all rehearsals
  • notify the designers and crafts people of changes made in rehearsal

In rehearsals the stage manager also records all blocking, plus all the light, sound and set change cues, in a master copy of the script called the prompt book. The information in the prompt book also allows the stage manager to run the technical rehearsals, calling each technical cue in turn to determine precisely how it needs to be timed to coordinate with the onstage action.

The stage manager and the technical director also work out a smooth and efficient plan for the stage crew to follow during set changes. Furniture and prop plans for complicated sets are drawn up by the stage manager and technical designer to show exactly where the furniture and props are to be positioned on stage at the beginning of each scene and sometimes in the wings.

Once the show opens, the director’s work is essentially complete. Now it’s the stage manager’s job to make sure that every aspect of the production runs just as the director intended time after time, until the production closes.

Sample Job Description & Duties

Assistant Stage Manager

Often needed in larger productions, when the stage manager is out in the house, the ASM is often stationed just offstage to facilitate communication between the stage manager, crew and actors, as well as ensuring safety. The ASM often helps with complex set changes, quick changes offstage, or preparing the stage for performance.

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A few holy ‘musts’ for becoming an efficient and steady stage manager

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How to be a stage manager

How to be a stage manager

The stage manager is often described as being the glue of any production, the person who always knows what’s going on, where it’s happening, and how things are actually progressing.

A great stage manager is typically a calm, professional, and organized person with a good base knowledge of stagecraft, and an ability to courteously manage others. To help you in honing your skills and approaches for that next upcoming production, following is a brief list of commandments to follow to ensure proper stage management:

Thou Shalt Be Prepared.

Begin your preparations before your very first production meeting, jotting notes on what you’ll need, as well as on preliminary scheduling or contacts. As some productions are always more challenging than others, it never hurts to do a little research on Google, as well, to get a feel for any common hurdles ahead. And once the rehearsal period begins, make sure you always have a toolbox of essentials with you, including everything from administrative stuff (pencils, chalk, tape, highlighters), to tools (flashlights, penlights, batteries of all kinds, and more), first aid basics, emergency sewing supplies (especially buttons and snaps), and more.

Know Thy Contacts.

Always carry your production contact info with you on any meetings, rehearsals, performances, and more. A little administrative planning can be a godsend when an emergency pops up, so be sure to write, print, and copy call lists and rehearsal schedules as soon as they’re set. Most importantly, always ensure that you have contact information for everyone in the production, from the director and assistant(s) and other personnel, cast and crew, to the venue managers or janitorial staff for your rehearsal (and performance) spaces.

Taketh Good Notes, and Giveth Good Notes

In the life of a stage manager, especially during the rehearsal process, there’s no such thing as too many notes. So listen closely at each and every meeting, taking extensive notes on blocking, lighting and tech cues as they occur, as well as any other noteworthy aspects. Write in block capitals, clearly, and in pencil until the show is set.

When giving notes to actors after performances, be tactful and professional. Sometimes you’ll have to keep an eye on morale, so if an actor, for instance, flubbed six lines tonight, but four of them were minor omissions or rephrases? Save it for another note, or talk to the actor privately, later. Try to consciously point out something positive when giving multiple notes, as well, as a sweetener.

Know Thy Blocking Language and Abbreviations.

To take good notes, you’ll need a working knowledge of stage terms and especially blocking language. For instance, if Chris is going to cross to upstage right during a monolog, you’d ideally write it in simplified forms, like this: C X USR next to that action in the script. This language will enable you to write notes fast and to be able to accurately recreate even complex stage movement back to the director or players as needed.

Go Forth and Make it Fun

Stage managers are often the caregivers of the production, keeping up morale, making sure everyone’s happy, on time, and doing their best. So cultivate an enjoyable work atmosphere. Be attentive to breaks, noting the times in your logs, and bring candy and veggies to rehearsals for cast and crew to snack on (get reimbursement if you can — it’s a common and legitimate expense). When it comes time to open, give out small gifts or heartfelt well-wishes in personal, handwritten cards on opening night. Make sure you include everyone who has helped to bring the production to life — not just cast and crew, but any other volunteers, venue support or janitorial staff, and others.

Thou Shalt Be Accountable.

The buck stops with you. So arrive first, and leave last. The stage manager’s job is as grueling as it is rewarding, and being ever-present is an important part of the work.

Thou Shalt Stay Classy.

This doesn’t mean you have to abandon the awesome casual feel of working in the theater. It just means you need to be attentive to how you present yourself. So make an effort to be presentable and professional, and even when casual, try to stay classy, with no low cleavage, exposed midriffs or torsos, etc.

Be Thou Courteous

As the stage manager, people will look to you for cues on how to behave, and for what’s acceptable during the production. So try to reign in your language, and avoid profanity and questionable slurs or references, even in jest, among friends, etc. Be professional and courteous at all times. And during a tedious rehearsal or difficult production, a simple smile or encouraging word from you can accomplish great things, so make sure you’re always cheerful, accessible, and approachable.

Thou Shalt Not Gossip

This is a tricky one, just because the theater’s a fun place, and it’s one in which we all tend to make friends and form relationships. But, in a nutshell, while it’s great for you to make friends with actors and crew during the process of mounting your production, make sure that you nevertheless maintain a certain amount of slight but professional distance. Try to avoid too much carousing with the actors, and absolutely never badmouth the director in front of cast or crew, even casually or after hours. You should always put yourself forth as a united front with the director.

Know Thy Tech!

Ideally, all stage managers should know how to run the light board, sound effects equipment, and spots — it’s invaluable knowledge for anyone in the theater. While not every stage manager can run a light board, you never know what will happen, and it’s always good to have good working knowledge of your lighting and sound equipment. At best, it will enable you to manage those crew members more effectively, and at worst, you’ll be able to step in, in the case of emergency. Also acclimate yourself to common headset workarounds, errors or snafus.

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How to be a stage manager

There are two ways to become a stage manager, and each has distinct advantages as well as drawbacks. One way is to learn by doing, working your way through the theater ranks as an intern. The other way is to go to college and receive a degree in theater while also getting practical experience. In both cases, you should plan on a lot of long hours and hard work.

The stage manager is a crucial member of the team in a theatrical production. He or she supervises the backstage crew while also ensuring that the needs of the cast are met. A good stage manager keeps things running so smoothly that most people aren’t even aware of what he or she is doing, and this person is prepared to deal with a wide range of situations, from an actor who is missing in action to a damaged light board. Stage managers need to be flexible, quick thinkers, and a good one can command a very high salary for his or her services.

The most important thing to ask when you are considering a career in stage management is whether or not the career is right for you. Stage managers work very hard, and the job is often extremely stressful. They must be able to deal with a wide range of personalities and situations with calm, and they must be willing to do any job, no matter how menial it seems. Even the best stage managers mop a stage now and then, or drop off someone’s dry cleaning. People who are firm but polite and extremely organized, while being levelheaded and quick on their feet, tend to do well as stage managers, while people with fiery personalities and a lack of organization may not do so well.

Traditionally, stage managers have learned through apprenticeship, often starting young. The advantage of an apprenticeship is that it allows a person to learn every aspect of backstage work; a good stage manager is capable of operating a light board, handling sets, dealing with the production’s sound, managing props, and so forth. The best way to get these skills is through doing them, working your way up to an assistant stage management position and ultimately becoming a stage manager.

While learning through internships, trainees may not get the best wages, but they sometimes have a chance to work with very talented directors, actors, and theater crews, and they can establish a network of connections that could be very useful later. Ideally, trainees will work their way up on the theater circuit, starting out in community theater and ultimately ending up in professional theater organizations. This allows them to pursue union status, which can be very useful for a professional stage management career.

Becoming a stage manager by getting a degree in theater also has its advantages. Some theaters like to work with college-educated individuals because they are well rounded, with a broad depth of knowledge about the history of the theater. Most colleges with stage management programs also offer plenty of opportunities for learning in the college theater, and they encourage students to pursue internships with theaters in the area to get lots of practical, hands-on experience. A college degree in theater also allows someone who wants to become a stage manager to pursue a master’s in fine arts, which can be useful if he or she wants to teach.

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

How to be a stage managerMary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

How to be a stage manager

16 – 21: How to be a Stage Manager

Course dates:

Thursday 7 March, 5 – 8pm
Thursday 14 March, 5 – 8pm
Thursday 21 March, 5 – 8pm
Thursday 28 March, 5 – 8pm

Duffield Studio

This course is available to 16 – 21-year-olds
You must be able to attend every session to take part.

£40 (Bursaries are available)

If you love theatre but don’t want to be in front of an audience, then stage management could be for you.

On this course you’ll have the chance to come backstage at the National Theatre, work with our stage managers and try out the huge variety of jobs they undertake. From learning the basics of cueing to creating a props list and a daily rehearsal call, this is a brilliant opportunity to develop your skills.

No previous experience is required but you must be available for every session to take part.

To apply please complete this form by Thursday 21 February. This is your chance to tell us about your interest in theatre. The more you tell us – within the word count – the more we will understand about you and why you want to take part.

Bursaries

We would never want the cost of a course or project to prevent anyone from taking part. A limited number of full and part-funded bursary places are available. If you would like to apply for one, please indicate this on the form when you apply.

What does a Stage Manager do?

What does a Stage Manager do?

The STAGE MANAGER (frequently referred to as SM), works on a production from the start of rehearsals through the last performance and coordinates schedules and information for the creative team. The SM assists the DIRECTOR during rehearsals, notates blocking, and is responsible for all backstage activity once the show opens. STAGE MANAGERS “call” the show – which can include coordinating deck cues with the LIGHTING OPERATORS, SOUND OPERATORS, CONDUCTORS, and ACTORS, while maintaining communication for all facets of the production during performances. Depending on the size and needs of a production, there may be various categories of stage management, such as PRODUCTION STAGE MANAGER, STAGE MANAGER, and ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER.

Skills

Organization | Communication | Leadership | Problem-Solving | Attention to Detail | Multi-Tasking | Patience | Caretaking

Pathways

Assistant Stage Management | Assistant Directing | Production Assistant | Fellowships | Apprenticeships | Volunteering | Internships | Degree in stage management, theatre management, and/or production

How to become a Stage Manager

How to become a Stage Manager

Many colleges and universities offer degrees and concentrations in stage management, as well as opportunities stage managing student-led productions. Many theatres offer fellowships, apprenticeships, or professional training as stage managers, too. Broadway stage managers often begin as assistant stage managers and are hired anywhere from the start of casting to the last performance. Those just starting out may want to explore experiences working with student-directors or as assistant stage managers.

How to be a stage manager

A lot of articles you read these days about how to become a stage manager focus on how hard the work is, how difficult it is to find jobs, how little money you’re going to make, or even how all the good positions are taken.

There are so many amazing ways to create a successful career. The trick is to change your perspective. Take some time to expand upon the definitions that have been presented to you up to this point and suddenly, the pool of jobs for stage managers you could be hired for expands significantly.

1. More than a stage manager – you’re a freelancer

Often we only think of SM careers as time spent in pre-production, rehearsal, and show calling. This unfortunately only gets us part of the way. In this industry, it is a near guarantee that we won’t spend the entirety of our careers in the same role working for the same company. Freelancing is king in our world.

Let me repeat that. Freelancing is king.

Not only will you need to learn to work with hundreds of freelancers throughout your career, you’ll also need to align yourself with the “gig economy” mentality. In some ways, you’re already prepared for this. Shows open and close and you’re off in search of the next opportunity. News that more industries are aligning with this way of working is a topic for serious debate these days. Many wonder if it is sustainable, is it the new norm. Which in some ways is a funny concept to event and theatre people. We’ve been working this way for years! Our struggle is not coping with this type of work environment. Our’s is looking beyond the next gig and the one after. It is thinking long-term, how we can turn these short-lived employment stints into a long career with benefits, security, and a little bit of financial stability.

To do this, you must think of yourself as a business because in everything but legal status, that’s what you are. The services you provide to a producer are the end result of all the efforts of your business. In order to get to the point where you are able to provide products and services, your business must build an infrastructure encompassing many different departments.

Here’s a few classic business departments and some ideas about you might apply them to your “Freelance Business For Hire.”

Marketing

How do others find out about you to hire you? How do you network? What makes the best impression? How do you present yourself compared to other people vying for the same jobs?

Sales

How much do you charge for your services? How do you increase volume? How will you meet your sales targets for the year?

Finance and Budgeting

Closely related to your Sales, where does your money come from and where is it going? How do you pay for rent and bills? How are you being paid? How much do you put away for taxes? How do you save for retirement? How much do you have to make to cover your cost of living?

Legal

As a freelancer you’re going to be working for a lot of different companies. How do you make sure you’re protected?

Operations

Can you do your job more efficiently than others competing for the same role? How can you give yourself advantage over your competition? What about continuing education?

2. Broaden your thinking

What is management, really? Don’t only take gigs that fit within a narrow subset of what has been defined for you as “stage management.” There are plenty of other management roles that align beautifully with the wide sets of skills that you’re learning through your work in the theatre.

Think about the aspects of stage management that you truly love (there are many to choose from). I guarantee you that jthere are jobs out there across various industries that allow you to exercise those particular skills. Those roles just don’t carry the title, “Stage Manager.” Side note: many of them have the added advantage of paying well, too! Here are just a few of the potential jobs for stage managers out there, just to get your creative juices flowing: