Production

So, What Does an Assistant Stage Manager Do, Anyway?

What does an assistant stage manager do?
Written by Kerry Hishon

As we all know, the role of the stage manager is a large and challenging one. And, while the stage manager is an amazing person, it’s always useful to have help. Enter the assistant stage manager!

The assistant stage manager (or ASM) is a crucial part of the artistic team because they also to help make the show happen behind the scenes. ASMs are responsible for helping in any way they can to make sure everyone’s jobs run smoothly. Some shows have multiple ASMs, depending on the size and scope of the project.

Being an assistant stage manager is a great way for students to get involved in theatre, no matter their age or experience. A great ASM is helpful, hard-working, forward-thinking, organized, flexible, and a good listener. But what does an ASM actually do? Let’s take a look at the three most common duties and responsibilities of an assistant stage manager.

Assisting in many different capacities during rehearsals

During rehearsals, ASMs can take on a ton of different jobs. Some of these tasks may include (but are not limited to):

  • Helping to set up the rehearsal space and keep it clean and tidy
  • Assisting the stage manager with administrative tasks (for example, the stage manager may delegate calling latecomers to the ASM so the stage manager can stay in rehearsal and take notes)
  • Taking notes and updating the prompt book if the stage manager is sick or otherwise unable to attend rehearsal
  • Acting as stage manager and taking notes in separate rehearsals (for example, the stage manager may stay with the director and take blocking notes while the ASM goes with the choreographer to record dance combinations)
  • Liaising with the costume and props teams
  • Standing onstage as a placeholder for an absent actor
  • Reading cue lines or prompting actors during run-throughs (so the stage manager is free to take notes)
  • Running lines with actors who are at rehearsal but not being used at that moment
  • Reviewing blocking and choreography while other scenes are being rehearsed

Being flexible and ready to take on any task is an important asset of an assistant stage manager. You never know what may arise on a particular day, and the ASM is a great person to help get those tasks done.

Running the backstage during the show

During the actual performances of the show, the assistant stage manager will be backstage, on a headset that is connected to the stage manager and other operators. The ASM is the backstage eyes and ears of the stage manager. They are the conduit between the booth and the backstage, and can communicate any issues that are going on either way. For example, an ASM can communicate to the booth that an actor is going to be late for their cue (perhaps their zipper got stuck during a costume change) so the stage manager may be able to make a cue adjustment.

ASMs are backstage problem-solvers and often deal with emergencies such as helping with a quick change, grabbing forgotten props, or touching up makeup. Once during a past show, one of my ASMs had to hold up a door that had gotten knocked off its hinges for the last five minutes of the act until we could fix it during intermission. That ASM definitely saved the day in that situation!

ASMs frequently assist with set changes during the show and in between acts, and with making sure these happen efficiently. My ASM for Heathers: High School Edition was responsible for helping to mop up fake blood from the stage during intermission (which the audience always seemed to enjoy watching). ASMs also occasionally get to assist with special effects such as fog machines, snow machines, confetti cannons, and other exciting technical aspects.

When they are backstage, ASMs generally wear a black shirt, black pants, and black shoes so they are more difficult to be seen by the audience, and to indicate that they “aren’t supposed to be seen” if they do have to go onstage. Occasionally, ASMs are outfitted in a show-appropriate costume if they have business to do onstage and the director wants that look for their show.

“Other duties as assigned”

Assistant stage managers are frequently the students who “git-er-done” and are delegated various projects and tasks by the stage manager and director. The ASM is that extra set of hands that is just so helpful when there are a million things to be done. That is one of the coolest things about being an assistant stage manager – every day at the theatre is different. Here’s just a few of the weird and wonderful things that ASMs have done on shows I’ve worked on or seen:

  • Operated a crocodile puppet
  • Sat backstage by themselves because all the actors were onstage for the entire show (so they cleaned the backstage area)
  • Dressed up in a mascot costume when there weren’t enough actors to cover that role
  • Actually gone onstage last-minute, in costume, with book in hand, to cover the role of another student who was too sick to perform
  • Pre-set props onstage
  • Fixed broken set decorations
  • Acted as fight captain and ran fight call before the show
  • Folded and stapled programs
  • Swept and mopped stages
  • Disciplined an actor who was being loud backstage
  • Took rehearsal photos to be used in social media posts
  • Administered first aid backstage when an actor got hurt
  • Changed batteries in a microphone pack in less than 15 seconds

No two rehearsals or performances are ever the same for an assistant stage manager, and the variety and energy really suits some students who enjoy hands-on, unusual tasks. If this sounds like a fun and interesting job, why not give it a try

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Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. She blogs at www.kerryhishon.com.

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About the author

Kerry Hishon

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. View her blog at www.kerryhishon.com.