Stage management is the practice of organizing and coordinating a theatrical production. It encompasses a variety of activities, including organizing the production and coordinating communications between various personnel (e.g., between director and backstage crew, or actors and production management). Stage management is a sub-discipline of stagecraft.
A stage manager is one who has overall responsibility for stage management and the smooth execution of a production. Stage management may be performed by an individual in small productions, while larger productions typically employ a stage management team consisting of a head stage manager and one or more assistant stage managers.
Up until Saturday night, I was working as a stage manager for the show HARVEY by Mary Chase at work. Each year, the theatre I work at produces a community show as a fundraiser, where we ask a local group to be our actors. This year, we worked with the real estate board.
Normally this sort of thing doesn’t even come close to falling under my typical job duties as the theatre in education coordinator (or bar manager, for that matter), but somehow last year I ended up stage managing. I guess I did a good enough job because they “asked” me to do it again. (I use quotes because I never was really asked, it was more of a “We’d like you to….” conversation.)
I have really mixed feelings about stage managing. Some days I HATED it. Like, I’d-rather-get-hit-by-a-truck-then-have-to-go-into-work kind of hate. I was even in tears at my desk one particularly bad day over something that was only 10% justified in my opinion. But now that it’s over, I look back with mostly good memories.
Last year was my first time doing anything production-related, and I was pretty clueless (the one stage managing class I took in university taught me nothing!). Thankfully Laura, our apprentice stage manager, was assigned to crew the show and she helped me through it all. It was still pretty awful though. I think I accumulated something like 12 days of “over time” because I was still doing my regular job all day, and in rehearsal twice a week in the evenings. The first few days of tech week (which for those of you not in the biz is when we move rehearsals from the rehearsal space to the stage – with full sets, costumes, lights, and sounds) were probably 3 of my top 10 worse days in life. It was bad… bad… bad… but somehow it worked out. By the end I swore I would never stage manage again. But I’m glad I changed my mind.
This year went significantly better than last year. I still worked a lot, but I took time off when I could (mostly because I was sick a lot) and we had rehearsals in the mornings. That made all the difference in the world. I still was super stressed out come tech week, and opening weekend, and actually had to take my work home with me a few times, but things just seemed to go much smoother. The realtors were a lot of fun, and not too demanding. And the play was SO MUCH better than the one we did last year. I’m actually hoping to see the off-Broadway production of HARVEY when I’m in New York.
There is no way that I would want to be a stage manager all the time. I have many friends that love it, studied it in school, one even went on to grad school for her masters in stage managing. I think they are all crazy. One show a year is enough for me. The rehearsals, for the most part, are painfully boring. And I find the relationship between stage manager and director to be quite difficult, especially because I have directing experience and have to pretty much sit there with my mouth shut in rehearsals. Thankfully the community show only runs for 8 performances (opposed to the usual 20 for our main-stage shows), because by performance number 3 or 4 I start to get a little too comfortable with the routine. My mind starts to wander, I’m not really paying attention anymore, and I am increasingly impatient with the others that haven’t gotten into the routine yet.
But, we closed on Saturday night, made a pretty nice amount of money, and it was great getting to know the cast. Now I’m back to a very calm work day that typically ends at 5pm. If only my internal clock could revert back to the the old “9 to 5” and I could get to sleep before 2am…