Monday, March 26, 2012

The Work Behind the Scenes - Thank a Stage Manager

Jennifer America 

Jennifer America, ASC Stage Manager, deserves a huge round of applause.  She is the stage manager, responsible for a flawlessly smooth production, where props are where they are supposed to be, actors make entrances on cue, lights illuminate at exactly the moment they are needed, stage is a safe place for actors to work, scenery stands still when it needs to and moves when appropriate to do so, etc., ad infinitum.  A multitude of tasks comprise the Stage Manager's job, and she must be a master of many trades to do it well.  There is no more critical person in any play than the Stage Manager.

Ask any high school theater director, and h/she will tell you that the single most consistently and successfully employed graduate of the program is the kid who learned how to be a responsible, dedicated Stage Manager.  The youngster who graduates from high school and enters a tech ed Bachelor's program and dedicates him/herself to the arduous work will never ever want for a job.  
horizontal line
 The stage manager's work often begins in the preproduction planning and audition process, where s/he is important to the director in all kinds of ways. The SM is likely to be the one who organizes all the auditions, contacts all the actors to return for callbacks, and creates and keeps track of every schedule for every member of the company.

In rehearsals,  the director and stage manager work side by side.  The stage manager records the director's blocking and notes for the actors, which s/he will later compile into the production book, the director's book and the SM's book.  The SM keeps track of logistical and scheduling details and communicates what goes on in rehearsals to the rest of the team. This enables the director to concentrate his or her full attention on staging the show and directing the actors.

Stage managers' key responsibilities include:
  • scheduling and running rehearsals
  • communicating the director's wishes to designers and crafts people
  • coordinating the work of the stage crew
  • calling cues and possibly actors' entrances during performance
  • overseeing the entire show each time it is performed
  • marking out the dimensions of the set on the floor of the rehearsal hall
  • making sure rehearsal props and furnishings are available for the actors
  • attending all rehearsals
  • notifying the designers and crafts people of changes made in rehearsal
  • keeping track of hours worked, abiding by union rules if applicable, keeping pay records

    In rehearsals the stage manager also records all blocking, plus all the light, sound and set change cues, in a master copy of the script called the prompt book. The information in the prompt book also allows the stage manager to run the technical rehearsals, calling each technical cue in turn to determine precisely how it needs to be timed to coordinate with the onstage action.

    The stage manager and the technical director also work out a smooth and efficient plan for the stage crew to follow during set changes. Furniture and prop plans for complicated sets are drawn up by the stage manager and technical designer to show exactly where the furniture and props are to be positioned on stage at the beginning of each scene and  sometimes in the wings.  The stage manager directs the crews' movements and tasks in much the same way a director directs the play and the actors.

    Once the show opens, the director's work is essentially complete, and the stage manager takes over, making sure that every aspect of the production runs just as the director intended time after time, until the production closes.

    Most schools with extensive drama departments offer training specifically toward becoming a Stage Manager.  Equity has a membership category for stage managers.

     Jennifer America, ASC's resident Stage and Production Manager, is a graduate of the State University of New York at New Paltz, where she also studied directing and design.  She often serves as Play Master at the ASC and directs plays in neighboring theaters as well.  She is a member of the Actors Equity Association.

    Photos of Jennifer America, by Cindy Boyle,

    1 comment:

    Peter Galman said...

    Let's not forget s/he gets to baby-sit us children, the actors. Is that the reason s/he works for a higher scale than actors do? No. Probably because of all the above.