by Karen Loftus,
DTA Instructor and Professional Stage Manager
Why not introduce your students to a skill set that not only benefits your productions – a strong backstage crew and smooth production process – but also benefits the students individually? By exploring stage management – whether in class or in production – students learn skills such as analytical thinking, organization, teamwork, and problem-solving.
You may think that’s a lot of responsibility to place on young people. But I know that they’re definitely up for the challenge. There may be those students that don’t necessarily want to be on the stage, but they long to be a part of the process and the community.
We create our environment with our attitudes, as well as how we interact with our fellow artists. I think that student stage managers can be very successful in creating that positive and efficient environment.
We all know as teachers that our kids tend to listen to each other more than they do to adults. So how great would it be to have a student that’s setting the tone for your rehearsal and performances?
Student stage managers can get kids to buy into the rehearsal and performance process probably more than any adult could. So, as a director, your student stage manager is your ally, as well as your right hand.
Stage management can be approached in many different ways. What works for one stage manager may not work for another. Seasoned stage managers learn how to steal from other stage managers they admire. They ask, “Hey, can I get a copy of that form?” or “Can I look at your book?” or they may even ask to shadow the stage manager during the show and listen in on headset.
With the stage management staff, there’s often a production stage manager, an assistant stage manager, and production assistants. This is a great structure to work with when you’re training your student stage managers and this is what I try to do in my program.
Each show would have at least four stage managers total. One production stage manager, who would be the most experienced, who’s in-charge and they would end up calling the cues for the show. I’d have one to two assistant stage managers who would run the backstage during the show and are often on headset, if we have them. And then, there were production assistants and they were usually my least experienced students. They helped out during rehearsals and then they would become part of the run crew for this show.
This is a way your younger students can learn from your older students and you continually train your stage management staff. The stage managers in my program became a powerful team unto themselves. Oftentimes, the students would be non-singers who wanted to work on a musical or even the other way around – students who preferred musical theatre and stage managed during a non-musical and eventually just became students who enjoyed stage management by itself. I’m proud to say some even went on to major in it in college.
Take a moment and think about your current students. Who do you think would do well as student stage managers? Which of your students tend to be organized, communicate clearly, and would really enjoy being a part of the show?
These students just might be your next stage management team – a group that will learn about leadership, organization, teamwork, and problem-solving, with the added bonus of keeping your production running like a well-oiled machine!