What is Stage Management? - Definition & Responsibilities

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

Stage managers serve many roles in a theatrical production. From pre-rehearsals through rehearsals and performances, stage managers work long days to ensure that every aspect of the production runs smoothly.

What is Stage Management?

If you were to walk backstage at any theatrical performance, it would seem slightly chaotic. In one corner, there might be actors rehearsing their lines while tailors and seamstresses sew hems into their costumes at the same time. Backdrops might be whirling right and left, while the crew stands by ready to carry furniture onstage for the next scene. However, in the center of all of that chaos is a critically important person: the stage manager. The stage manager coordinates all of the different aspects of a production, from the costumes, sets, and props to actors and rehearsals, so that everything runs smoothly. To survive as a stage manager, you need to be organized in every respect, have good interpersonal skills, and possess a keen eye for all the details that need to be tended to in a production.

The Stage Manager's Duties Before Rehearsal

In any production, the stage manager's job begins long before the actors set foot on the stage. Their work begins with the stage itself: the stage manager is responsible for making sure the stage is set up with backdrops, furniture, and even props so that things are ready for the actors when it comes time to rehearse. To make this happen, the stage manager may have to coordinate between many groups of people depending on the size and scope of the production. These groups could include the props department, set designers, costume designers, and the director.

Next, the stage manager needs to make sure the stage management kit is ready to go for rehearsals. While the first aid kit, including cough drops, ice packs, and aspirin, is the most obvious item that goes into the stage management kit, there are a lot more supplies needed to keep rehearsals and productions on target. For example, there should be a sewing kit to quickly repair any costume malfunctions that happen along the way. There should also be some tools for emergency set repairs. Hammers, screws, tape measures, flashlights, batteries, and even electrical tape are all handy supplies to keep in the stage management kit.

Stage Management Kit

Finally, the stage manager needs to be prepared to rehearse with actors. A stage manager should always know what scenes will be rehearsed and what actors should be present. Ultimately, when actors don't show, the stage manager needs to have all of the cast's contact information to track them down. A stage manager also needs to be sure the green room and the restrooms are ready to be used by the actors as rehearsals begin.

During The Rehearsal

Have you ever watched the workers on the tarmac waving their large yellow flashlights as jumbo jets move around them in every direction? Once rehearsals start on a production, the stage manager becomes just like those workers. Twenty different things can be going on around them at all times, and their job in rehearsal is to keep it all running smoothly.

As the rehearsals commence, the stage manager keeps track of all of the blocking for each scene in their copy of the script. Blocking consists of the stage directions for where actors should move on any given line during a scene. As part of rehearsals, the director will go through and block each scene. The stage manager needs to note the blocking in the script, because part of their role is to coordinate with the lighting department make sure the lighting works with the blocking of each scene.

Common Blocking Abbreviations

The stage manager may also keep other types of notes during rehearsals. For example, they may keep notes for the director such as artistic decisions related to characters and dialogue. Those notes may be used by the stage manager to work with individual actors as determined by the director. At the end of each rehearsal, the stage manager also needs to be sure that everything is stowed safely in its place, from the stage management kit to props and costumes, so that it's all ready to go for the next rehearsal.

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