Pulling Back the Curtain
The Work of a Stage Manager
Most are familiar with the actors and their job in the world of theatre. They know designers create the world that the actors interact with and the audience is able to see the product of their work. They get to see the vision the director puts together by combining all the pieces of the puzzle with their vision of how the show should go.
What the audience doesn’t see is the multitude of technicians that come together to ensure the production goes off without a hitch. One of these team members is the Stage Manager. The Stage Manager is in charge of ensuring the technical and artistic integrity of the show is achieved throughout the run of the production. There are four sections to the production process from beginning to end. The Stage Manager has a different role in each individual section. There is pre-production, rehearsal, tech, and performance.
Pre-production is the process of preparing for the rehearsal process. This is where the script is read and paperwork is made such as contact sheets, props lists, blocking sheets, and other materials to ensure rehearsals start with all information needed for actors and directors. This is where the communication starts with all the departments and the stage manager amass as much material as they can. The Stage Manager prepares the rehearsal room in this phase as well. Along with setting up the room with the rehearsal props and furniture, taping the ground plan onto the floor is crucial as it indicates to the actors the space they will be working in. Actors need to know where walls and doors are located and where their playing space is.
During the rehearsal processes, the Stage Manager is a note taker in the extreme. They are in charge of tracking the movement of the actors, the movement of the props, and the actor's interaction with the set. The Stage Manager is also the prime communicator between design departments. During rehearsals, the director in communication with the actors will give notes that are then passed on to designers and shops. If an actor is using a prop that is not working or we need to know how a piece of the set will be moving or how many people it will take to move a piece of the set, it is the stage manager who notes it and asks the questions to the relevant parties. They create a rehearsal report after every rehearsal communicating what happened each day and what issues need to be addressed. It is the job of the stage manager to know the show better than anyone else in the room.
Technical rehearsal (tech) is when the stage manager takes over. Through the rehearsal processes, the designers have been working with the shops bringing their designs to life. Tech is the rehearsal process of combining the actors and design elements. The Stage Manager gets their cue sheets from the light and sound designers and puts them in their calling script. The technical rehearsals are when the backstage crew first gets to practice and work on their contribution to the show. The Stage manager is in charge of the crew and making assignments to them. Depending on the size of the show the crew can range from two people to twenty. At the Black Hills Playhouse, the large musical will on average have three crew members consisting of a deck chief, an assistant stage manager, and an additional stagehand. There will also be two people working wardrobe. In addition to the backstage crew, there are also technicians running the light board, soundboard, and spotlights.
The final stage of the process is performance. The culmination of the weeks of work all end with the performances. At this point, the designer's and the director’s jobs are done. They may stay for the opening and then they are off to their next job. The stage manager is now the main hub of communication and has the responsibility to lead the backstage team. The stage manager ensures the run of the show keeps to the standards the director set during tech when the entire team was present. The stage manager is in charge of ‘calling’ the show. When the lights change, the sound comes on, and pieces of the set move, there is one person communicating with multiple individuals making this happen on cue. The stage manager ensures that everything happens on time every night as the cast and crew depend on the consistency to perform their jobs.
Through all the technical elements that the stage manager deals with, they also have a front row seat to the creative exploration of the entire project. The stage manager sees the actors create their characters and the designers create the world of the play. The stage manager plays the problem solver during the run of the production. Anything can happen from the power going out to an actor getting injured. The stage manager needs to be aware of all happenings at all times as in live theatre, anything can happen!