The ‘Backstage Stuff’ of Stagecraft: What the Stage Manager Actually Does

The stage manager has numerous responsibilities, but only one function: to make a show run smoothly. It is that simple, yet also that complicated.

Working as part of a small and newly-formed theatre company is as exciting as it is demanding. My duties throughout the process as the only stage manager have involved scheduling rehearsals, organising the actors, managing the rehearsal room, planning production meetings, making props lists, timekeeping rehearsals, sorting all things health and safety, prompting actors, facilitating technical aspects of the production… responsibilities that are usually divided between a stage management team of two or three. Yet often, when family or friends ask what I’m doing on this project, I’ll answer: ‘Oh, you know, just some backstage stuff’.

In the broadest sense, I’d say my main responsibility is to make sure the directing team’s artistic choices are realised in the actual performance. During rehearsals, I’ll typically serve as an adjunct to the director by recording the blocking and ensuring that cast members stay on script, have the requisite props, and follow the blocking. Managing the rehearsal room is the most tiresome part of the process for me, as you have to constantly be on the ball with timekeeping and prompting. In the earlier stages of the rehearsal process, Tom and Amy worked off a ‘ten minutes on, one minute off’ pattern. Sometimes ten minutes meant ten minutes, and other times it meant 25. It was important for me to read the room, and not just yell ‘time’s up!’ when they were in the middle of something emotional. Sometimes, though, you have to be the voice that yells at people to stop rolling around on the floor and get on with the rehearsal because there’s 15 minutes left and they need to get through four more scenes.

It’s also important that you’re always probing the logic of every decision made, and thinking of practical solutions to problems that arise. Constellations runs for just over an hour with no interval, and the actors are on stage for every second of that. Part of my role is working closely with the rehearsal room team and asking annoying questions like: ‘if the actors never leave the space, how will that prop get on stage?’ and ‘if in one universe he has this prop, and in the next universe he doesn’t, how do we hide said prop in such a way that makes it believable he doesn’t have it even though the audience has just seen that he does?’. Robbie put it politely when he describes the play as a bit of a headache.

As the lighting and sound cues are developed throughout the process, I record the timing of each as it relates to the script and other aspects of the performance in ‘The Book’. This book contains all cues, technical notes, blocking, and other information pertinent to the production, and when it gets to opening night, it’s how I run the show. Once the audience enters the space, the stage manager controls all aspects of the performance by calling the cues for all transitions. If this wasn’t done, there would be no show. No pressure, then.

Stage management may be a typically low-profile role involving plenty of unsocial work hours, often with little acknowledgment, but this aspect of stagecraft is so genuinely fun and rewarding that all the headaches are very worthwhile. Constellations is such a beautiful play, and it’s such a pleasure to get to work on it with some of the most talented, hard-working and appreciative people I know. The play poses some wonderfully unique logistical challenges, but it’s such a joy to work on, just as I’m sure it’s going to be a joy to watch.

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