The role of the stage manager is a vital one in the theatrical process. Stage managers truly make the show happen. Without a great stage manager, rehearsals go awry, cues don’t happen, and the show grinds to a halt. Good stage managers are hard to find, but those students are out there.
If you’re looking for your next stage manager, look for students with the following five qualities:
First and foremost, a stage manager must be organized. They need to know what is being rehearsed and when, who is needed at each rehearsal, and how much time is left in rehearsal. Artistic staff members get super-busy and it is easy for them to lose track of time. The stage manager is essential for keeping everyone on track and on time. Stage managers are also generally in charge of ensuring that the necessary rehearsal materials are available when they’re needed, such as CD players/MP3 docks, extra pencils, or first aid supplies.
When providing missed lines, assigning pre-show tasks, or calling the actual show from the booth, stage managers must have confidence in themselves and their teams to make sure the show goes on. Stage managers are leaders. They need to have confidence to solve problems on the fly and know what to do in an emergency. Student stage managers must also have the confidence in themselves to know when to ask for help – and then to actually do it, rather than just struggling on their own. There is no shame in asking for help. How else will students learn?
Part of a stage manager’s job is to assist with administrative tasks such as keeping actors and artistic staff on task, taking attendance, and calling absent cast and crew members to find out where they are. These tasks can be uncomfortable, especially if a student stage manager is calling one of their peers or a parent to ask why the cast member isn’t there, or telling a teacher that they have gone over time and need to move on to the next task. This doesn’t mean being rude or bossy – being able to communicate clearly and in an assertive manner ensures that rehearsals run smoothly.
Remember that being confident and being assertive is not the same thing! A student can believe in themselves and their abilities/knowledge, but have trouble being able to express that towards others. A student can be confident without being assertive, but cannot be assertive without having confidence. Being assertive takes practice, and being a stage manager definitely helps to grow that skill!
A huge part of the stage manager’s role is to take detailed blocking and technical notes during rehearsals. They must watch and listen carefully to the director, musical director, choreographer, fight director, and so on, and record everything (in pencil, because there WILL be changes!) in the stage manager’s prompt book – entrances, exits, placements of set pieces, props and people, cues for lights, sound effects, music, and more. That way, when the scene is re-visited (and the actors and director inevitably forget what was originally blocked), the stage manager can make corrections.
We’ve established that a stage manager needs to be organized, confident, assertive, and a good listener and observer. On top of all of that, they need to be tactful – knowing how to behave and respond in delicate or difficult situations. It’s a balancing act for sure. When things get stressful and tasks need to be done, it is definitely easier to use sarcasm and sass when speaking to others, particularly when students are in a leadership role – they may think that this demonstrates their authority.
But speaking with kindness and positivity while also being firm and honest is important. In order to receive respect, students must first demonstrate respect towards others. And speaking to their peers and teachers in a tactful and thoughtful manner is one way of doing that. When it comes down to it, students need to treat others the way they’d like to be treated. And a great stage manager does this at all times.
by Lindsay Price, by Kerry Hishon
The Drama Classroom Companion is filled with articles and exercises to build the skills needed for theatrical performance as well as real world skills like creative thinking, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication.