October 10th has been noted as International Stage Management Day by the Actors' Equity Association.
To celebrate, I'd like to share my thoughts and experience with stage managers. Or, more importantly, the difficulty I've faced on productions they've been absent for.
I remember when I first started theatre. It was community theatre, it was for The Fringe, it was pretty low key and practically no budget.
I started off directing shows and, honestly, I thought it was a lot of work. I had to make the schedule. I had to contact the actors. I had to keep everything running on time. I had to keep track of all the props and sound cues and lighting cues and make sure the actors were reading lines properly from the script, and I had to do this, and that, and this, and that, and . . .
The list goes on and on.
Then, I got to work with a stage manager. The first time, I’ll be honest, I didn’t actually know what a stage manager was supposed to do. So I still did a lot of the work.
It was exhausting.
The more I engaged with theatre over the years, and started to work with higher-budget performances, and with more experienced individuals, the more I learned . . .
I’m not doing a director’s job. I’m doing the stage manager’s job. The stage manager is supposed to make the rehearsal schedule, take notes on props and lighting, and stay “on book” for the actors.
The first time I worked with an experienced stage manager, it was so simple! She did so much of the work and, as a director, I was able to focus on the play, the actors, and giving directions. It was so much easier both to put the production together, and to do what a director is supposed to do.
Do you know what the stage manager is supposed to do? Here’s a simple list below:
And that’s just a few of the responsibilities!
It’s a sad fact that, for lower-budget theatre productions, the stage manager’s roles are usually blended with the director’s roles due to budgetary reasons. Or, worse, the stage manager role is given to someone’s friend who wants to be a part of the show, and this was the only role left.
How else is this sad fact enabled?
Well, being a stage manager requires anticipating needs, and making sure everything is ready and good to go. Of all the roles in theatre, it is the one that requires the most teamwork, communication, and self motivation. The director doesn’t always tell the stage manager what they need, they just need to know what it is.
It’s almost like stage managers need magical powers! This makes it such a difficult role, one that only someone really experienced, only someone who really knows theatre can pull off. A stage manager is a talented person and, if you've got a good one, they make the entire production possible. I wish I had worked with stage managers sooner!
I’m so thankful I got to learn what a stage manager is. I'm thankful for the talented stage managers I've worked with! They honestly make the whole process so much smoother, and I hope they are properly appreciated for all that they do.
Happy International Stage Management Day!