What is a stage manager and what do they do? These mysterious creatures slip in and out of rehearsals. They sit at the booth, backstage and behind the staff table with a look of constant concern on their faces. They are the stage managers. Stage managers are ever present, yet it seems that their job is constantly misunderstood. Here I will make an attempt to clarify their role in the process of putting on a show.
A stage manager is responsible for the well-being of the show. From rehearsals to tech week to the performances themselves, the stage manager is working diligently. There is a good deal of work that goes on before rehearsals ever begin, but for the sake of length, I will skip to rehearsal.
Once the schedule has been planned out and the cast list posted, rehearsals begin. Here it is a stage manager’s job to make sure that everyone is on time and everything goes according to plan. This can involve the “gophering” that stage managers are so well-known for. Stage managers will run from place to place, doing all of the errands that the production team needs.
Individually, an errand is simple and short. The errand could be picking up a boom box or grabbing cookies from Mama in the business office (an absolute necessity for any rehearsal). But soon, more and more errands need to be run. Combined, this myriad of errands would mire a rehearsal, preventing any real work from getting done. A stage manager strives to get the production team anything they need so they can keep working.
In addition, a stage manager must have a ironclad sense of time. A stage manager must be strict in order to give the actors a break and keep the team on schedule, but simultaneously flexible, realizing that some things just need more time. If something does run long, it is then a stage manager’s task to find time for whatever was rolled over in the schedule. This often involves a good deal of bargaining and compromise with the rest of the production team.
Perhaps a stage manager’s most important task in rehearsal is recording blocking. A stage manager’s script is covered in short hand notes, documenting everything from an actor’s movement (e.g. USR to MSL X) to light and sound cues (e.g. LX and SX). These little tidbits of information become crucial when directors and actors need a reminder of motion, and for tech week, when technicians need to know what is moving and when.
Speaking of tech week, let us move on to the most crucial time of a stage manager’s career. Tech week is the period of time just before the show opens when the technical crew and the performers combine their talents to become a show. It is the critical job of a stage manager to merge the two groups with as little stress as possible.
There are countless details to be accounted for during tech week. Lighting cues, sound cues, entrances, exits, set movement, and trap doors all fall under a stage manager’s domain. A stage manager coordinates all of these motions so that the show runs fluidly from start to finish.
A stage manager sits at the technical booth “calling” the show. Every time a cue happens, a stage manager says something along the lines of “Light cue 27, ready. Light cue 27, GO.” On GO, the technician at the light board will hit the GO button, triggering the cue. It is through hundreds of these signals that a show comes to life.
Everything said and done, the stage manager is responsible for making sure everything runs smoothly. A stage manager thinks on his or her feet, solving problems as they come. A stage manager is always prepared with supplies and a positive work ethic. A stage manager arrives first and leaves last. The stage-managing position is often a grueling and daunting task, but one that the theater simply cannot do without.