Written by DDG Committee
The job of stage manager is one of the most time consuming, difficult, and important positions in the theatre. The stage manager receives less glory than most involved in a production and often is only notices when something goes wrong. The stage manager hears all the complaints, has to deal with all the problems, and receives the blame for everything that goes wrong. Yet, with all of this, the position of the stage manager is one of the most important and rewarding in the theatre.
The stage manager begins before rehearsals and is one of the last people out of the theatre on closing night. In between those times, they become the life line, the communications hub for the entire production team and the performance ensemble. Organization is your key to success and the success of the production. What follows is a guideline for assisting you in your job of stage manager for this production. These are only guides and are not intended to be “rules” for stage managing. If you have a way of working that is more practical for you, by all means use it. Remember to refer to this manual often. It is easy to get caught up in the process without realizing that you are forgetting a responsibility.
Characteristics of a Good Stage Manager
A good stage manager…
Realizes that that bulk of responsibility for the smooth running of the rehearsal process and the production run is on their shoulders.
Remembers that responsibilities can and should be shared with able assistants.
Keeps their cool:
Never loses their temper, especially in front of their cast.
Maintains a professional attitude at all times: Remaining loyal to all aspects of the production and never gossiping with the cast. Remember you are privy to many discussions that are not for the cast and crew.
Remembers to always add “please” and “thank-you” to everything you do and say.
Is organized, efficient, and observant:
Always has paperwork ready, props gathered, rehearsals and meetings organized, and always be ready for what is to happen next.
Always takes responsibility for the production, always is early for any call, always is ready for the unexpected, and always is ready for what is to happen next.
Is always asked to return for another assignment:
Good stage managers are the life blood of the theatre and if you carry out your tasks well, with a good attitude and energy, you will always work in this business.
What Happens and When – A Checklist of Tasks
_____Script – Your first responsibility upon receiving a stage managing assignment is to obtain a copy of the script. Usually you can get a copy from the director or from the stage management advisor.
_____Calendar – You will also want a copy of the production calendar. You can obtain this from the Technical Director or SM adviser.
_____Keys – See the SM advisor for your keys.
_____Prompt Book – The prompt book will be your daily guide to the production. All paperwork concerning the production should be kept here. The prompt book holds all blocking notes, cueing, and paperwork for your production. Many versions of prompt books exist and you should use what seems most comfortable to you. Separate pages for blocking that can be removed once we get into technical rehearsals are suggested with a reduced ground plan on each page. Another option is to copy a separate script that will be used for cues.
Assist the director in getting ready for auditions:
_____Copy audition forms.
_____Ask the director how they would like to run auditions
_____Post any audition notices from the director.
Create preliminary lists (tables or databases)
_____Preliminary prop list (per text, not the back of the script)
_____Preliminary light cue list.
_____Preliminary costume prop list.
_____Preliminary sound list.
_____Preliminary rehearsal prop list.
_____Distribute your lists to the appropriate people.
Begin the contact sheet.
_____Create a contact list using names, duties, or character, and phone numbers. Addresses are not necessary. This will not be able to be completed until after auditions.
Prepare the call board for information that will be posted throughout the production process including:
_____The Contact Sheet
_____Any and all correspondence to the cast and crew.
Before the first rehearsal:
_____Using the audition forms of the performers cast, type up a list of conflicts for yourself and the director. Give all audition forms to the production manager when finished.
_____Check to see that the stage has been set up for read thru.
_____Get Publicity Data/Bio Sheets from the Publicity Assistant and prepare any other paperwork and/or scripts for the cast.
_____Check with the scenic, lighting and costume designer to see if they will be in attendeance at the first read-thru.
_____Tape/paint out the ground plan before the first blocking rehearsal.
_____Gather any rehearsal furniture needed for blocking rehearsal. Check with designer for assistance.
_____Compile a list of necessary rehearsal props.
_____Discuss with director about the dates props will be needed.
_____Check with designer and pull rehearsal props.
_____Schedule once a week meetings with the stage manager adviser.
The Rehearsal Process:
Preparation before Rehearsal – Opening Procedures:
_____Arrive ½ hour before rehearsals begin.
_____Unlock the theater.
_____Turn on all work lights and house lights.
_____Get out rehearsal properties.
_____Make sure all furniture is in place.
_____Check to see that all actors have arrived and call any late comers.
_____Have rehearsal buzzers, bells, or phones ready as necessary.
_____Time all rehearsals.
During the Rehearsal:
_____Call lights, begins scene, etc.
_____Take copious blocking notes.
_____Take notes on any technical requests or needs from the director.
_____Fill out daily rehearsal report.
_____Be ready for the next scene so time is not wasted.
_____Prompt for lines. Be sure to wait until actors call for “Line!” Never prompt just because an actor has paused.
_____Keep an eye on rehearsal running time and inform director as necessary to keep rehearsals on schedule.
_____Spike all set pieces.
After the rehearsal – Closing Procedures:
_____Make sure to show all notes on rehearsal report to director at the end of each evening.
_____Lock up all properties in prop cabinet.
_____Place ghost light on stage.
_____Turn out theatre work lights and house lights.
_____Lock all theater doors.
_____Check back doors of shop.
_____Post rehearsal report on call board.
_____Be sure costume shop and dressing rooms are locked. Turn off all lights including bathrooms.
Start all over tomorrow.
Lists will change almost daily, especially the prop list. It is very important that you keep organized and on top of the current needs of the production. Whenever something new is added (or cut) during rehearsal, include these on the evening’s rehearsla report under the correct heading. Keep your lists current and reprint them for the designers periodically (about once a week for the prop list, less often for the others – discuss with designers their needs.) Each time you print a new list, include a “date revised” on it so you and the designers know which list is current. Star new items and note at the bottom what was cut since the last list. Be very detailed on your prop list – note which items will be consumed (eaten, torn up, etc.) each night, and any other important characteristics.
The stage manager should run all production meetings and keep those in attendance on task and productive so valuable time is not wasted. Start with the director and their questions and work through in the following order: Director, Scenic Director, Costume Designer, Lighting Designer, Technical Director, Publicity (if in attendance). Take notes on teh production meeting form, Xerox the notes for all in attendance and place in mailboxes or on call board. You may choose to take short hand notes and re-copy them later. Just be sure everyone can read your handwriting. Be precise; sloppy note taking leads to mistakes and misunderstandings.
Run Crew Meeting:
_____Obtain a final crew list from the technical director.
_____Contact all crew members to remind them of the meeting that takes place the Monday 2 weeks before Tech Week.
_____Before the meeting, discuss with the TD any special issues that the crew needs to be informed of.
_____Run the crew meeting. Hand out and discuss “Crew Guidelines Sheet” and any issues unique to the production.
Final/Revised Technical List:
_____Compile final properties list and distribute as necessary. This should happen the day after the “Prop Add Deadline.”
_____Create final dound effects list. Distribute as necessary.
_____Attend “Prop Review,” “Light Preview,” and “Sound Preview” with director and designers (if they are scheduled). Take notes as you can but this is NOT the time to book your cues.
Before technical rehearsals begin (3-4 days ):
_____Go over prop lists with designer so you are sure of each and every property in the show.
_____Set up prop tables SL and SR, cover with kraft paper, and layout all props with name and character designation.
_____Be sure you understand how all scene changes work.
_____Post show running order backstage, in greenroom and dressing rooms.
_____Ready your crew assignment sheets/cards and know where every crew person will be and what they will be doing. Spome of this may have to be worked out with the technical director and designer. More of these decisions may be made at paper tech the Friday before first tech.
_____Post a tech week schedule on the call board and hand a copy to each performer.
_____Be sure you understand all emergency procedures.
_____Create a “Sign-in Sheet” and post it on the green room door.
_____Figure out where and how many headsets will be needed.
_____Figure out where quick change areas will be needed.
_____Glow tape any areas where difficult exits or changes are anticipated.
_____Place cues in your prompt book (booking cues).
You should have received a Cue Synopsis from the lighting designer, sound designer, and any special effects designers involved with the production 2-3 days before paper tach. Use these as guides to begin booking your cues. Paper tech will answer any questions you may have about how and when cues need to be called.
Paper tech happens the Friday before tech week. All production staff and backstage crew heads if they are available are required to attend. We “walk” through the entire show syncronizing all cues and their placement. This is the time to be sure that sound cue 2 happens with or before light cue 12.
A dry tech may be scheduled the Saturday before the first tech rehearsal. No performers are called for this rehearsal. All crew members and designers are required to attend. Typically the TD and designers run this first crew rehearsal. Running assignments are made here and crews are trained for their specific assignments. Scene changes can be run here and complicated ones rehearsed as needed. Change problems can be worked out without the actors having to sit and wait.
The technical rehearsal is a beast unto itself. Now the operations and technical responsibilities are in your hands. The design staff will work with you especially at first tech, but you are expected to keep things on schedule and moving. You must remain professional and pleasant at all times, even through a very long rehearsal. Many times the technical staff will just keep going at tech rehearsals. Watch that the crew and performers don’t get overworked in long stretches. If you think we need a break, talk to the designer or TD. They are always a good idea.
_____Make sure everyone involved with the production gathers in the house before the rehearsal begins. This is the time for announcements and introductions. Many of the crew and cast have probably never met. Once announcements are complete and the staff has given you the okay, call “5 minutes please” and the evening will be underway.
_____Call “Places Please” and check that headsets are working and everyone can hear and communicate with you.
_____Check with light board operator to see if they have control of the house lights and that the work lights are off.
_____Take a deep breath and call your first cue of the evening. Take the rehearsal one cue at a time. Stop when necessary as requested by either the director, designers, TD, or yourself. The stage manager should be the only one to halt the performance.
-When the performance needs to be stopped you should call out “Stop Please”
-Discuss with those appropriate what needs to happen and from where you will pick-up the rehearsal.
-Always let the performers on stage know as soon as possible where they will be re-starting form. Don’t leave them figuratively in the dark.
-Never leave a stage in black, someone could get hurt. Always restore to a cue with light as soon as possible. If you must go to ao blackout inform those on stage and off “Stage is going to black” before you turn out the lights.
-When everyone is ready to go on headset call “Begin please” to the performers and they will start as they are ready. They may need a moment to compose themselves.
This process will carry on throughout the evening. Don’t rely on someone else to stop you. If you wish to back up and take a cue or a series of cues again feel free to stop and do so.
At the end of the evening the director may wish to meet with performers. You should meet with the technical staff first for notes then join the performers. At times you will be pulled in both directions, but during the tech week, you need to be with the technical staff first. Be sure to check with all designers and the director as to their wishes for the next night.
Check with crew members on problems an concerns. They are your link to a smooth performance. Treat them with respect and appreciation and they will enjoy their job. If you ever have any problems that you feel uncomfortable with involving a crew member or a performer inform the stage manager adviser immediately.
The performance belongs to you. The responsibility for the production is squarely in your hands. Arrive every night with nothing but the production on your mind. You, above all, need to check your life at the door so the performance can go as smoothly as possible.
_____Follow the Stage Manager’s Checklist for each performance.
_____Synchronize a procedure with the house manager.
_____Check for any repairs or touch-ups needed.
_____Make sure performers have no problems.
_____Check with house manager each performance. See if there is anything you can do to facilitate the process with the front of house staff.
_____Double and triple check the stage, the house, backstage, and the dressing rooms every night. You can never be “too sure.”
_____Keep a running inventory of any consumables for the show. This includes food, liquids, papers, notes, envelopes, etc., and inform the correct people before things run out.
Enjoy this process and the show. While the amount of work will never seem less than a mountain, the rewards of completing a production are great. Mistakes will happen, that is the nature of live performance. Don’t be too hard on those who make the mistakes, even if it is you; take the time to correct them.
After the Production Run:
_____Fill out a SM Crew Evaluation Sheet. This is done to let the faculty know who actually worked on the show and how you felt they performed their duties.
Points to Ponder
Communicate – Talk with each and everyone involved with the production and many problems can be solved before they happen. You are the conduit between everyone else.
Mediate – Don’t cause problems, solve them. Be professional and respectful at all times but be firm. Never hesitate to ask for advice from the faculty or others with experience.
Listen – Problems may not always come to you so always keep an ear to the ground for potential problems.
Be Patient – Many things and people will try your patience daily. Remember there are many artistic egos working in tandem; help to keep everyone working together.
Remember – We are all working toward the same goal; the best live theatre experience we can create. You are an integral part of this great ride.
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 24 October 2006 )