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Stage Managers can do anything

Posted by Team APATA | Oct 13, 2022

If you are a stage manager or know a stage manager, then the title of this article sure makes sense.

Stage managers can do anything (and everything) to make a production, event, in fact anything on stage, or in front of an audience run so smoothly you’d think there were twenty of them.

The fact is there is usually a single Production Stage Manager, with one or two assistants on large productions like those we see on Broadway and the West End. And less for productions and companies that are smaller.

The Stage Manager’s role incorporates everything upstage of the proscenium arch and they are vital to the director in maintaining and executing their vision. They are excellent communicators and masters of logistics and time management; they also take care of the everyone involved while working under high pressure with grace. Stage Managers are truly the cornerstone of the theatre world.

Inspiring Stage Management

Have you met Cody Renard Richard? He was the first stage manager to be named one of ‘Variety Magazine’s 2020 Broadway Players to Watch’ and is a Tony Award-winning producer, professional stage manager, advocate, and educator.

During the height of the global pandemic and subsequent shutdown of theatre across the US, Renard Richard became a leading voice for Broadway’s rising social justice movement ignited by the death of George Floyd.

As Founder of the Cody Renard Richard Scholarship program Renard Richard plays a pivotal part in the lives of aspiring BIPOC theatre makers pursuing degrees in non-performance related theatrical fields such as stage managers; designers; directors; producers; writers, and offering mentorship and funding.

“I believe every stage manager is a leader, so let students know that. Stage managing is having a sense of humanity. If people approach the work by being themselves, thinking about what they bring to a room or situation, it will only make them better artists, leaders, and stage managers. As a teacher I focus on soft skills. We all know the hard skills – being organised, time management, people-skills. I think it’s important to start talking about the leadership role, your influence on the room and the company’s culture. We need to teach young people how to use their voice. The sooner people show up as themselves, the freer they’ll be. Empower people by speaking light and love into them and allow them to flourish.”

“The Theatre is fun,” Renard Richard says, “but as a stage manager it takes a lot of time and commitment, so infuse it with joy and fun and the rest will flow.”

When it comes to leadership and stage management a leader doesn’t have to be the loudest voice in the room. A leader is anyone who can influence and leads by example.

From the very first rehearsal you need to set the tone. You have the usual list of housekeeping but imparting what the atmosphere of the space will be and how to move forward is crucial in that first rehearsal.

Responsibilities of a stage manager

Each production is different, and each director is different. Some directors will map out the entire project. Some will work with you. Some will have a vision for each week, and you are responsible for helping them achieve those outcomes. Have you got what it takes?

  • Pre-production: Prepare and organise all production communication.
  • If your production has Props Manager, it may be your duty to source and manage props.
  • Rehearsals: Run rehearsals. Communicate date, time, who’s rehearsing, and where?  Generate rehearsal reports.
  • Blocking: Putting what is in the director’s head onto paper by recording any movement the cast does on stage. (Floor plans come in handy here.) Some people take notes and transfer to digital in a little more depth later. Others use programs like Stage Write or Google Sheets and include the use of video for blocking.
  • Script revisions: Notate all script changes and update all changes daily. Develop a system with the script writer (If applicable) and create a script change log.
  • Tech rehearsal: Schedule, and block rehearsals & report daily.
  • The Prompt Book or Production Book – The lead script/score containing all the moves and technical cues used to run rehearsals and later, the actual production.
  • All other communication: Character scene breakdowns, calendars, scripts, workplace health and safety reporting, Cast in /out sheets, ensemble tracking, weekly reports and schedules for long shows, daily reports and schedules for short runs, performance reports, etc.
  • Show Calling: Breathing life into the production.
  • People, people, people. You are the lead communicator on a production, you oversee the mental and physical health of everyone involved; therefore, you need to be a people person!

In this 2020 interview Bridget Samuel, Stage Manager for State Theatre SA, talks about her responsibilities as stage manager for the production ‘Euphoria’ ahead of a regional tour.

Qualities of a Great Stage Manager

Matthew Stern, Stage Manager and Director of the Broadway Stage Managers Symposium, shared his 10 lessons from 2020 about Theatre & Stage Management in this blog post. Stern says stage managers are a community of special people who can do anything!

Stage Management for Students

Do you have a student who is highly organised, or who communicates well with others? While they probably won’t need to run rehearsals or create schedules for your school musical, engaging students as stage managers and assistant stage managers is a great opportunity for kids to learn and appreciate the responsibilities and business that goes on behind-the-scenes.

We’ve spoken to plenty of industry professionals who discovered their calling only when they stepped out of the spotlight and into the wings. They realised that while they don’t want to be on stage, they still want to be involved in theatre.

Teachers are often the ones who spot potential stage managers whether in high school, at university, or helping in community theatre. Encourage your students where you can and get them involved in:

  • Prop-making.
  • Set movement and blocking.
  • and being your director/teacher assistant.

Lisa Mulcahy’s informative article Managing the Show – Training Student Stage Managers for schooltheatre.org delves into the specifics of how you can introduce your students to the concepts of quality stage management.

Australian Stage Management Courses:

WAAPA: Diploma of Live Production and Technical Services

Academy of Film, Theatre & Television (AFTT): Diploma of Live Production & Technical Services (Stage Management)

CollArts (Australian College of the Arts): Stage Management Course

Inclusive and Equitable Stage Management Practices

Theatre, like many other industries around the world, has been called on to acknowledge a history of inequity and systemic, harmful practices.

How can future stage managers play their part in creating a better industry for all?

There are lots of resources out there, here are a few that we want to share with you:

  1. We commit to anti-racist stage management education – essay by Stage Managers Narda E. Alcorn and Lisa Porter. Alcorn is Chair of the Stage Management Program at the David Geffen School of Drama – Yale University. A Professor of Theatre and Dance Lisa Porter is Head of Stage Management at the University of California.
  2. D & I Webinar: Inclusion Strategies for Stage Managers with Narda E. Alcorn and Lisa Porter.
  3. Hold Please – essay by Miguel Flores, R. Christopher Maxwell, John Meredith, Alexander Murphy, Quinn O’Connor, Phyllis Smith, and Chris Waters
  4. Broadway Stage Management Symposium: A professional development and networking conference featuring Broadway’s stage managers and professionals. Sharing their experience and expertise on numerous panels on a wide variety of topics specific to the art and craft of stage management and delivered live or online annually.
  5. Cody Renard Richard – codyrenard.com – Renard Richard has webinars, keynotes, articles and more to share on the art of stage management.
  6. The Creative Equity Toolkit by Diversity Arts Australia and the British Council is a perpetual how-to-guide for increasing cultural diversity in the arts.

Recommended Stage Management Reading

Essential reading for emerging stage managers.

  1. Production Stage Management for Broadway – Peter Lawrence.
  2. Stage Management Theory as a Guide to Practice – Narda E. Alcorn and Lisa Porter.
  3. Off Headset: Essays on Stage Management Work, Life, and Career – Jean & Sadler.
  4. The Back Stage Guide to Stage Management, 3rd Edition – Thomas. A. Kelly.
  5. Stage Management, 12th Edition – Lawrence Stern and Jill Gold.

Basically, if you have a love for the theatre – but not necessarily the spotlight, a passion for leadership, don’t mind a bit of paperwork, and have a big heart, stage management could be the career for you!



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