The question I’m asked the most when I tell people I’m a stage manager is: “What, exactly, does a stage manager do?” The full answer would take several books and a full time course of study at a major theatre school, so I will summarize! One of the best analogies I’ve heard for what an SM does is that we are like the air traffic controllers of the theatre; every piece of information about the show passes through our hands. We are the hub in the middle of the wheel of theatre and responsible for organizing many things.
Before rehearsals even start the SM is in touch with the design and technical teams discussing what the vision is, what the technical requirements are, and what challenges are expected in implementation. We are also getting the rehearsal space ready with all the basics: coffee mugs, pencils, tape lines on the floor denoting where various walls and set pieces will be on stage. Stage management makes sure that everything is in place for the first day of rehearsal ensuring a smooth start to the whole process.
From then on, we keep doing the same thing: we keep things running smoothly and keep track of everything. The team is constantly tracking everything on and off stage during rehearsals. This includes the actors’ movements onstage (called blocking), what costumes they are wearing and when they get changed, what props they are carrying as well as where those props come from and where they get left. This way we know where everything is at given moment during the play. This lets the director pick up a scene right in the middle knowing that everything is where it should be.
Also at this point, the team communicates non-stop with the other departments that are involved in the production. Wardrobe, wigs, lighting, sound, set, and any other design or technical department may need information from us, or have information to give us. Requests from the director about props needed, requests from wardrobe for fitting sessions with actors, and any changes that are made that actors need to be aware of are just a few of the bits and pieces we keep track of and communicate.
When we move onstage and begin combining all the technical and design elements, that is when the stage management team starts taking over running the show. Tech week is often seen as the hand off of responsibility from director to stage manager. During each performance, the SM keeps everything on track by cueing lighting and sound operators, as well as any other effect and crew members working that show. A less understood aspect of our job during the run of the show is to maintain the integrity of the director’s vision. Usually the director is around until Opening Night and then is off to direct another show in another theatre. To make sure every audience sees the same show, stage management will give notes and reminders to cast and crew alike reminding them of how the director asked for things to be done.
Finally, at the end of the show, after closing night, everything the SM team noted is archived for the production company in the event they want to remount the production exactly the same way.