Stage Manager

Dolor Sit Amet

The Job and What's Involved

Stage managers are responsible for the smooth running of theatre productions. They act as a vital link between the artistic and technical aspects of a show. They make sure that everyone and everything involved in the production, from actors and technicians to props and lighting, is in the right place at the right time.

The role involves working closely with all members of the production team. In particular, stage managers carry out the instructions of the director.

Responsibilities before the production starts include:

  • Scheduling rehearsals.
  • Marking out the set on the floor of the rehearsal room with tape, based on design plans.
  • Sourcing substitute rehearsal props.
  • Compiling a prompt copy or prompt script, noting the actors' moves, set changes and technicians' cues.
  • Supervising the introduction of the real props as they are acquired or created.
  • Overseeing the arrival at the theatre and the installation of set, lighting and sound.

During performances, stage managers watch each show and deal with any incidents, ensuring that:

  • The stage and wings are set up with the furniture and props required.
  • Actors are called before and during the show.
  • All cues for technical departments such as lighting, sound, video and scene changes are called by the stage management team from the prompt desk.
  • Nightly performance reports are sent to the director and management.

After the performance run is over, the stage manager also supervises the departure and the removal of production equipment from the theatre.

In larger productions, stage managers lead a team usually including a deputy stage manager and one or more assistant managers. In small shows and fringe tours, one person may carry out all the stage management tasks.

Working hours are often long and irregular, dictated by production times. Evening and weekend work is common.

The work is based in theatres and other art venues. Some theatres can be cramped, dark and stuffy backstage. Some might manage productions at outdoor venues.

Physical stamina is essential. Stage managers often help move or lift props.

Stage managers may go on tour with a production, which can involve lengthy stays away from home. A driving licence is important, as they may need to collect props or drive cast or crew members between venues.

Assistant stage managers may start on a salary of between £14,500 and £17,000 a year. Minimum weekly salaries for stage managers are around £375 a week, without allowances, equating to approximately £20,000 a year in full-time employment.

Many stage managers are freelance and are paid for each production or performance run. Subsidies and touring allowances to cover food, accommodation and commuting costs may be provided. The entertainment industry trade union Equity negotiates minimum rates with different theatre and production companies, updated regularly and published on its website.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Around 2,000 people work as stage managers. There are jobs in all parts of the UK. Employers range from:

  • Regional theatres.
  • Large commercial theatres, such as those in London's West End.
  • Touring companies.
  • Concert production companies.
  • Fringe theatre.
  • Alternative, community and children's theatres.
  • Community organisations, such as those working in education or prisons.
  • Organisers of corporate, sporting and entertainment events.

Many stage managers are self-employed and work on short-term contracts. Competition for jobs can be strong. Stage managers may also work at festivals, theme parks, holiday camps and on cruise ships. This work is often seasonal.

Many posts are filled through personal contacts. Vacancies are listed in specialist publications, such as The Stage, and on websites such as www.stagejobspro.com. Jobs in holiday parks, theme parks and cruise ships are often advertised at www.residententertainers.com. Equity and the Stage Management Association (SMA) list opportunities on their websites, accessible to members.

Education and Training

There is no set entry route into stage management. Previous experience in performing or as backstage crew can be valuable. This practical experience could be gained in a voluntary or community group, amateur production, youth or student theatre and will generally be favoured over academic qualifications.

It is usual to start in a junior role, either as casual stage crew or assistant stage manager. Entrants may then progress to deputy stage manager and then stage manager.

The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant to this area of work. The Level 3 BTEC National Award, Certificate or Diploma in production arts also offers numerous pathways, including stage management.

Degrees, foundation degrees and HND's in the following subjects could also provide a useful background:

- Stage management
- Theatre production and technical theatre
- Drama or music.

Entry to degree courses is usually five GCSE's (A*-C) and a minimum of two A levels, or equivalent. Entry to HND courses is with four GCSE's (A*-C) and one A level, or equivalent. Entry requirements may vary, so candidates should check with individual colleges or universities.

Graduates studying non-related subjects may study for postgraduate qualifications in technical theatre.

It may be possible to enter work as a stage assistant or backstage crew via the new creative Apprenticeships technical theatre pathway.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Several drama schools also offer degrees and diplomas in technical theatre, incorporating lighting, stage management and sound, which are accredited by the National Council for Drama Training.

Stage managers that work with child performers backstage need a full Chaperone's Licence, in addition to a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most training is on the job. Even with a qualification, many stage managers start their career as an assistant, receiving direction from experienced stage managers.

The SMA runs short training courses in specific skills. These are available to members and non-members. These practical courses are usually designed to assist stage managers in their career development by updating or enhancing existing skills.

Companies are often unable to support training financially, so stage managers may have to take responsibility for their own professional development.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A stage manager must be:

  • Adept at managing and motivating people.
  • Extremely well organised, with an eye for detail.
  • Tactful but firm, to handle any 'creative tantrums'.
  • Cool and efficient in a crisis.
  • Good at solving problems.
  • Able to maintain concentration during long periods or repetitive tasks.
  • Confident with figures and IT.
  • Able to read music, especially in the case of stage managers working in opera or ballet.
  • Physically fit.

Your Long Term Prospects

Stage managers often need to work with a number of different companies to advance in their careers, potentially working up to posts with national companies.

In a larger organisation, they may be able to progress to company stage manager, with wider duties such as publicity and financing.

It may be possible to move into other areas of theatre, such as directing or producing. It may also be possible to move into other media including film or TV.

Get Further Information

Creative and Cultural Skills, Lafone House,
The Leathermarket, Weston Street,
London SE1 3HN
Tel: 020 7015 1800
Websites: www.creative-choices.co.uk
and www.ccskills.org.uk

Equity, Guild House, Upper St Martin's Lane,
London WC2H 9EG
Tel: 020 7379 6000
Website: www.equity.org.uk

National Council for Drama Training (NCDT),
249 Tooley Street, London SE1 2JX
Tel: 020 7407 3686
Website: www.ncdt.co.uk

Stage Management Association (SMA),
55 Farringdon Road, London EC1M 3JB
Tel: 020 7242 9250
Website: www.stagemanagementassociation.co.uk

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