The Ins and Outs of Stage Management

Most people outside of the theatre world don’t really know what a stage manager does, so here is my attempt to explain the job.

What is a stage manager?

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The stage manager (SM) of a production is the person who holds everything together. They are the main point of communication for every aspect of the show. Any problems go through the SM and they need to find a way to resolve them. The SM also runs rehearsal and makes sure that everyone is on time, where they need to be, and that everything runs according to schedule. Come performances, the SM calls all cues and reports on every detail of the production, including run time and any issues that might have arisen.

Wait, what are cues?

Cues are called to signal specific actions, such as a projection or change in lighting. The SM calls these and operators for each section (lights, sound, and projections) go on the cue.

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Pictured above is a page from a production I stage managed last semester. Each color corresponds to each technical aspect of the show. Pink stickers are light cues, orange is for projections, and yellow is for sound. Cues placed side by side are generally called simultaneously. The lttle scribblings are either reminders of visual cues (cues taken off of movement and action as opposed to dialogue) or notes on a large standby. Each cue is given a standby first before the actual “GO” in order to give the operator time to get ready and sometimes many cues will be given the same standby. This minimizes delay and insures the cue will actually go when the SM calls it.

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This is actually my favorite part of an production. It can be stressful at times. For one short play I had the light operator on standby throughout the entire play (about 20 min) because the light cues came too fast. I spent that entire performance standing in the booth and saying “lights go” continuously. It was actually a really fun time.

What about running rehearsal?

In rehearsal, the SM needs to keep everyone on track. They keep the director on schedule, make sure breaks are taken, and make any notes that are needed. Here’s where communication comes into play. Members of the technical crew do not usually join rehearsal until a week before tech. This means that the SM needs to communicate and issues or questions. This is usually done in the form of a rehearsal report, sent out to all members of the crew. The report will contain the minutes of the rehearsal, an upcoming schedule, and all questions. This will then usually lead to a string of emails in an effort to resolve any issues. A similar report is written up for each performance as well.

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Also, though this job is usually given to the ASM (Assistant Stage Manager), sometimes the SM will need to be on book or making line notes. This means they will give an actor their line when prompted and will make note of any incorrect or skipped lines.

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The SM is also responsible for recording any and all blocking (movement on stage) and choreography.

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And what about the actors?

The SM runs the production, every aspect of it. While there is more work on the tech side, and actors usually report to their director or instruction, the Sm is tasked with keeping everything on track. This includes making sure everybody is on time.

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During performances, the SM will call places before the show which will summon the actors.

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The SM does not do a lot with the actors’ performances, but is still in charge. Here’s where communication comes in again. The SM will communicate with the actors and make sure they know what they need to be doing to help the tech side of things and if they need to fix anything.

So they basically just keep everything running smoothly?

Yep. The SM is there to resolve issues and keep everything going. It’s a tough job but I love it. Don’t know how, but I do.

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