Stage managers are involved in many aspects of a live theatrical production. Although a formal education is not a requirement to become a stage manager, earning a bachelor's degree in theater is recommended. Not only does a degree increase employability within a competitive market, but classes within a theater program can teach valuable skills in topics such as stage management, directing and human resources in theater.
A stage manager is the linchpin of a theater production, the liaison between the actors on the stage and all of the behind-the-scenes crews who bring a script to life. This individual, or in some cases team of individuals, coordinates and organizes the production from beginning rehearsals and into production. Once the show goes live, the stage manager plays a vital role in the smooth execution of each performance.
|Required Education||High school diploma or equivalent|
|Recommended Education||Bachelor's degree in theater|
|Projected Job Growth||5% from 2018-2028 for producers and directors*|
|Median Salary (2019)||$41,306 annually**|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics **PayScale.com
No stage performance would ever make it to opening night without the guidance and supervision of a stage manager. During rehearsals, the stage manager keeps vigilant notes about any changes to the script, artistic ideas that arise, technical issues that need to be communicated to the props or costume department, and any other details that need to be addressed in the course of developing the show. Keeping the cast on schedule, prompting forgotten lines, communicating between management, directors and the cast, and dealing with the administrative side of scheduling and maintaining contact information all fall under the stage manager's job description.
As the show moves to the actual stage, the demands of the stage manager increase. Safety becomes a major concern when sets, lighting and rigging come into play, as do an additional batch of cues that the stage manager is responsible for. During the performance the stage manager 'calls' the show, alerting actors and crew of upcoming changes via a prompt script that he or she is responsible for maintaining. Once the show has opened, the stage manager also is responsible for conducting and distributing performance reports for each department.
There is no absolute degree requirement for a stage manager position, but as in many fields, post-secondary education can only help one's chances in the job market. A baccalaureate degree in theater performance or theater management would well prepare a graduate for a career as a stage manager.
The importance of a thorough understanding of the nuances of performance can't be underestimated when managing a staged production. Additionally, a working knowledge of sets, costumes and lighting is advantageous to effectively act as a liaison between the myriad crews in backstage production. It's particularly important to study direction, since part of a stage manager's job can be to rehearse and prepare understudies.
A student in a Bachelor's in Fine Arts program in Theater Management would find the following kinds of classes helpful toward a career in stage management:
- Stage Management
- Theater Management
- The Art of Directing
- Dramatic Criticism
- Management in Stage Production
- Human Resources Issues in Theater
Stage manager positions are rarely full-time, salaried positions. Instead, stage managers work on one show at a time. He or she may well be looking for another job at the same time, knowing that the current show isn't going to run forever. The rare exception to this show-hopping existence is permanent work in regional theater.
According to the Stage Manager's Association, most beginning stage managers should expect to spend a few years becoming established enough in the industry to rely solely on stage managing jobs for income (www.stagemanagers.org). Payscale.com reported in August 2019 that stage managers' median salary was $41,306.
While not mandatory, a degree in theater can be valuable to an aspiring stage manager. In addition to excellent management skills, a stage manager must have an understanding of any technical issues that might arise, as well as the confidence to offer artistic input, criticism and direction to performers and stagehands. This is rarely a full time position, and many stage managers work job-to-job.