Every show needs a director, but when it comes to show week, the director steps aside and puts the stage manager in charge.
The stage manager’s job is to make sure all backstage aspects of the show go to plan, and forms a point of contact and information for front of house, box office, the sound/lighting operator, the bar and the actors themselves.
They’ll make sure that the set is as it should be, that the right props are in place at the right time, and they’ll manage scene changes. Of course the planning for all this will all have taken place well before show week, and the stage manager (and their assistant/s) will also have played a part in the get-in when we start putting the production and set together ready for show week.
Kay George and Graham Clements are two of our most experienced stage managers. We asked them what skills are needed to be a good stage manager, what they need from their assistant stage managers, and their top tips for performing the role successfully.
“I always looks for consistency in my crew; they need to be able to attend every performance and a few on the days prior to the show going up. We all help with ‘the Get In’ and ‘the Get Out’ which involves building and decorating the set and dismantling it at the end of the run.
The Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) is my right hand person who will have learnt the order of the show, be able to assist as required and will have their own specified jobs. If it is a complicated show, lots of props and scene changes, I’ll usually post a crib sheet backstage.
The ASM will also double check that the backstage props table is complete and that the actors are in possession of their own personal props.
Usually while the Stage Manager is alerting the Front Of House and bar staff that the show’s about to begin, the ASM will have called the actors down from the dressing room about fifteen minutes before the show starts. The Stage Manager will also be alerted by the Front of House staff if there’s any sort of incident with an audience member and act appropriately, and all backstage crew have to be aware of what needs to happen in the event of a fire.
My tips? Stay calm – or you’ll panic the actors! Make sure you discuss with each actor what props they need, where and when. Although you have to be firm with actors so they’re clear on where they need to be and when, it’s also important to be caring and help them cope if they’re suffering from nerves or stage fright – you have to respect your actors.”
“The stage manager needs to be someone who can manage people and situations in an organised and calm way. One of the joys of live theatre, even with all the hours of planning and rehearsal, is that it will be different every night. That’s what makes it so exciting. The stage manager and crew need to be ready to deal with the unexpected during a show. A prop, scenery or wardrobe malfunction or a timing or technical issue, it is all part of theatre. With the right people around you, it doesn’t have to be a problem.
My tips? Get to know the show and the cast, well before the get-in. It will be time well spent. Don’t panic. Very occasionally during a show week things go wrong, but if dealt with quickly and calmly the audience probably won’t know. It may seem obvious, but on a big show like a panto or musical, you need a good team of ASMs – work with them to put together a concise list of props and tasks so everyone knows what they need to do and when.
Enjoy yourself, because that is what it is all about. As stage manager you will get involved in nearly all aspects of running a show. It can be challenging at times but you get to meet and work in a team with a lot of talented people. That’s what I love about it.”
If you’re interested in stage management, the best way to get started is to offer your services as an Assistant Stage Manager. Take a look at our 2019 productions and contact the director of one you’re interested in – they’ll put you in touch with their stage manager. You don’t have to be technically minded – common sense, focus and the ability to think on your feet are most important!