If you want to feel deeply involved in all aspects of a show, you’ve found the right staffposition. Stage managing demands a pretty heavy time commitment, but it is incredibly rewarding and a fantastic learning experience.By SMing a show, you get to see what everyone else does, you are a friend of both the cast and the staff, and you play a vital role in pulling everything together.
A stage manager’s job is primarily one of organization. The job’s responsibilities include:
You keep track of everything that happens at rehearsals and generally act as an assistant to the director, although your artistic involvement may vary.
Frequently asked questions:
Someone just asked me to SM their show, but I’ve never done it before! What now?
Congratulations! Your first step is to talk to the director more specifically about their vision for the show process. Make sure you know exactly what they expect of you. Your job really depends on the other people working on the show and can vary a lot in terms of responsibilities. Find out if you’re going to be the one in charge of taking care of conflicts, scheduling, finding rehearsal spaces, etc.
Who do you work most closely with?
You work most closely with the stage director, your assistant stage managers, and, in a smaller capacity, the producer(s). Since you will be at most (if not all) rehearsals and you will work with the director to create the rehearsal schedule itself, expect to work very closely with him/her. You will attend full staff meetings, which are usually scheduled and presided over by the producer(s), and you may also frequently meet in a smaller group with the director and producer(s). Your ASMs will be a godsend to you when you need someone to fill in for you at a rehearsal or when you have a million tasks to get done during tech week or performances.
How will I know what to do? What resources can I turn to?
Each director has his/her own style, and each stage manager does as well. The first thing you should do when working with a new director is to have a conversation about what he/she will want and need from you. Ask questions about what you should write down at rehearsals (how specific do blocking notes need to be? character names or actor names?) and how scheduling will go (will you create a schedule from week to week, or for a month at a time? what rehearsal spaces does the director prefer?). From there, you can figure out a system for organizing your process.
Make sure you are constantly checking in with the director, the actors, and the producer(s) about what more you can do, and don’t be afraid to take initiative when you see a task you could help with. When in doubt, write everything down, because you never know when a piece of information will come in handy. Talk to more than one experienced stage manager, if you can, to get an idea about how they work and hear any advice they may have. If you do not know who to contact, ask a member of the Board!
How well do I have to know the play?
Being the stage manager means you have to call the show, so you should know the play better than anyone else – including the director. You don’t necessarily need to have a deep understanding of the artistic vision of the play, but you should know exactly what happens, and when, in every scene. This will happen organically during the rehearsal process; being in the room for every rehearsal and every run will cement the show into your brain.
What is my role during a rehearsal? How do I create the schedule and keep track of everything?
Make sure you know the schedule for the rehearsal – write it down. Also be sure to write down everyone’s conflicts for that night. And don’t forget your copy of the script! During a rehearsal you need to call actors who are late and take blocking notes (and other random notes for the director). Sometimes you will be asked to read lines for missing actors. After rehearsals, send out a rehearsal report to the staff/cast lists with updates for designers, other important announcements, and perhaps something lighthearted, like funny quotes from the rehearsal.
Rehearsal report formatting can vary, but you should always include when the rehearsal was, where it was, who was present (and absent), and what scenes/portions of the piece you rehearsed. You should also include any information that people who were not in the rehearsal room need to know – things for the producers, props master, set designer, costumes designer etc.
You create a schedule based on the casts’ conflicts and the director’s needs. Sometimes, the director will let you know exactly how much time he/she needs for each scene if he/she wants you to write the schedule. In other cases, however, the director will prefer to write the schedule because it can be pretty complicated. In this situation, your only responsibility is to make sure the director gets the cast’s conflicts in order to do this. In other cases, the director will prefer to sit down with you and make the rehearsal schedule together.
How do I go about reserving rehearsal space?
There are tons of rehearsal space options on campus for you to check out! Most spaces require emailing the person in charge of the space, although a few spaces on campus have online reservation forms. Reserve space as early as possible, otherwise you may find yourself scrambling for a spot to rehearse at the last minute. Ask your director if he/she has any preferred spaces or special needs for the space – whether a mirror or piano is needed, for example. Make sure to consult this PDF frequently. It contains a pretty comprehensive list of how to reserve space.
Some of the best options include:
Keep in mind that for most houses, you need to be in the house to reserve the space. Just ask anyone in the house about reserving it – preferably someone who’s also involved with the show!
What is my role during the run of the show? What must I do each night before the show opens, during the show, and after the curtain closes? Who helps me?
This depends on the venue. You may have to turn on the light board and help set the stage or sweep it. Make sure that the actors are there on time and call them if they’re late. Make sure that you’ve got your script, clip light, pencils, and headset ready to go. Also, make sure the props are preset. When the house is about the open, you need to be the point of contact between the house manager and everyone else so that you know exactly when the house is opening. Make sure you let the everyone know when the house is about to open so that nobody is hanging around on the stage inappropriately.
START OF SHOW:
Give the actors a 10-minute warning, 5-minute warning, and “places!” announcement. Also, make sure the light/sound ops are in place before you begin, and let them know about any tricky cues if it’s the first time for them to light op this show or if it has been a little while since they light opped.
Call the show! This usually means following along with your script and cueing the light and sound ops for when they are supposed to hit their cues. You may also have ASMs backstage who will be able to be your connection to the actors should there be any problems. Every show will have very unique cues, and you might get the chance to cue some pretty crazy things! If anything goes wrong during the show, you are the one in charge of fixing it or telling people to fix it, so you need to be able to think on your feet. Also, always have a pad of paper ready to take notes if light cues seem weird, actors are missing their entrances or lines and this should be fixed, etc.
Clean up and make sure the actors get out of the dressing rooms before the building closes. It is your responsibility to be the last person in the building and make sure that the appropriate lights are off. While you’re waiting for the actors, take the time to clean up in the audience and make sure that orchestra lights are turned off (where applicable) and programs/ticket stubs are off the ground.
How do I call a cue?
Styles will vary with this one, but the following method is very effective:
SM: Standby cue A.
Sound op: Standing.
SM: Cue A… GO!
Make it clear to your light/sound ops that they should only press their cue when you say “Go!”, not when you say the name of the cue. You should have all of your cues written in the margins of your call script so you know when they’re coming. Make sure to say “standby” well in advance of the cue, especially if it’s been awhile since the previous cue happened. Warn your light/sound ops if a lot of rapid-fire cues are approaching – you might find it necessary to have some sections of the script where you eliminate the initial “standby cue X” and simply say “X… Go!” Generally, light cues will be numbers and sound cues will be letters.
Have fun and good luck! If you have any further questions do not hesitate to contact any member of the board with questions!
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