When people think about a stage production they usually think about the actors, set, lights, costumes, and the story of the show; but most audience members don’t think about the stage manager and their crew who silently keep the show moving forward from behind the set. The director trusts a stage manager with the show from tech rehearsal to the final curtain. Although the director is still there, the stage manager is in charge backstage.
As a five time stage manager, I know that every show is as different as the directors I’ve worked with. Some shows take a big crew to cover everything that has to be moved between scenes, but others need just one person backstage. You are almost never seen by audience members but for some shows you wear costumes in order to change scenes while the lights are up.
As I see it there are five basic rules for being a stage manager:
1. Stage Managers Come Early and Stay Late
Before the show it is the stage crew's job to clean the stage, check props, remind the cast how much time remains until the show starts, make sure everything is ready for the show to begin, get any food or live plants in place and show ready, and most importantly do anything the director or the assistant director need. After the show the stage crew will reset the stage for the beginning of the show, make sure props are in place and costumes are in the dressing rooms, take care of any food or live plants, clean any dishes, and make sure the directors don’t need anything to change before the next show.
2. Stage Managers Solve Every Problem
In live theatre there are going to be occasional problems. Some are easy to fix, like mending costume pieces before the next show. Some problems, though, take more creative solutions. One that comes to mind is quickly fixing a couch leg in the dark backstage, right before it goes out again, knowing it is going to be sat on and the actor has no idea it's broken. These problems often get temporary fixes during the show and then are actually fixed afterwards when there is more time.
3. Stage Managers Use Glow Tape
It is necessary for stage managers to use glow tape, which glows in the dark to help the actors get on and off stage safely. It isn’t a good idea for actors to be on platforms or stairs in the dark without it. Stage managers use glow tape to show the edges of the stairs and platforms as well as where other set pieces are so nobody gets hurt or breaks anything while entering or exiting the stage. This is a constant job as actors my come to the stage manager in the middle of the production and ask for more glow tape in a certain place for the next show.
4. Stage Managers Pay Attention
This rule sounds easy but it’s probably the hardest because after you have heard the same show night after night, it is easy to space off. However, as soon as the stage manager starts losing focus, something will go wrong. Some shows don’t have a lot of work during the scenes so it becomes easier to not pay attention. If a stage manager is supposed to catch champagne glasses that are thrown off stage in a big musical number, but lets her mind wander and isn’t in the right place to catch them, the actor would be stuck with the glasses on stage and not know what to do. Even worse, the actor might not know the stage manager isn’t there and throw them anyway, only to have them break off stage. This would cause serious problems later.
5. Stage Managers Know It Isn’t Always Fun But It Is Worth It
Honestly, there are many tasks stage managers are in charge of that are not fun to do. Crawling around the set putting small pieces of tape on the ground, sweeping the floor before every performance, getting home late after shows or even bruising yourself while trying to carry big set pieces quickly and quietly off stage. These tasks on their own are not fun. Stage Managers find the joy of stage managing through the sense of accomplishment after a hard scene change, or after the show when they think about how well it went and how they solved any problems.
By following these rules stage managers can be great, without them the show could go terribly wrong. Some are easier than others, but using them all together anyone can be a successful stage manager!
This blog post was written by Clare Wilton.