Jump to content

Advice for Stage Managing a musical

Recommended Posts

Hi all, I'll be Stage Managing a production of We Will Rock You in a few months and was wondering if anyone had any general advice to take with me. I've Deputy Stage Managed before but haven't taken on the role of Stage Manager as often. Any advice on sourcing props in a budget friendly way also appreciated :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Grace, you could do with providing a bit more info - is this a learning environment (school/college?), or amateur theatre,  or professional? 

These are pretty large questions,  and it would be helpful to know what support/ advice you have available in person.  

Also,  you might get more response in some of the stage management related Facebook groups. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This might be a bit long - so skip it if it's dull and boring.

The snag here is that schools, then colleges and even universities never seem to do this right!

If we take a typical show - any scale of any status, we have two groups of people - the performers and the 'managers'. Discount the performers and look at the rest. It may be odd to use the word manager, but the lowliest member of the entire team is a manager. They manage what they personally have been tasked to do. This is what separates theatre and events from proper jobs. Ignore the title - we have a job to do, and very rarely, if ever, do we have another person who is there to supervise and train us - if that happens, its partial - they have their job to do as well, so at some point we are on our own and have to make decisions. For this discussion, accept that as the production becomes more complex and has more money, then the quantity of people grows too. More things to manage = more people.

We end up with historic titles, which usually make no sense. Assistant Stage Managers are an assistant to nobody. A Deputy Stage Manager is NOT the Stage Manager's Deputy. Trying to run a production with the common triangle of boss at the top and minions at the bottom might work for a factory (or a college) but not in theatre and events. Claire, above, was trying to get you to reveal context. This is because it's actually the things people do that are important. Common tasks that must be managed set what you do, and then a title gets applied - often randomly by people who have no clue either.

Here are some typical task areas.

Sourcing, looking after and repairing props

Playing in sound effects - the gun shots in a play, the honking car horn outside.

Giving cues to cast and crew during the show.

Following a musical score.

Operating Qlab on a Mac in the wings.

Making Moving and setting scenery.

Painting scenery.

Completing a show report.

Firing somebody.

Doing paperwork.

Operating special effects

Conducting understudy rehearsals

Sweeping the stage.

Drawing plans.

Unloading lorries.

Risk Assessments.


Enough there. All these things might need to be done at the local High School or the London Palladium. Done by people with titles such as.

Assistant Stage Manager

Technical Assistant Stage Manager

Deputy Stage Manager

Company Manager

Company Stage Manager

Production Manager

I've ignored the roles who don't have the word 'manager' in the title.

Very often the title in a pro production is allocated because there is a prescribed price for the job - not really to do with the role - as in what they do. In a school, college or amateur company, the title comes with a sort of status - often unfounded and misunderstood. So often, assistants could not cover the deputies job, or the deputy cover the assistant - sometimes people write down the list of what they do in case they are ill or off, and somebody can cover, following a prescription list of the show. Go SR, collect fan, bring back to SL props table ready for next scene. Turn on remote control, go SR and turn on prop etc etc. It sort of works.

Allocating the jobs to the title can be quite tricky, but once a show is running, if it runs a long time, people will also start to provide cover for others maybe? 

Grace said she'd DSM'd before, but a DSM is not prescribed really. In most pro productions the DSM is in charge of running the show. They control when things happen and are responsible for adjusting things if problems happen. That could also be the Stage Managers role in a different production. Or the Stage Manager could not even be on stage during the show, but maybe in an office doing paperwork, listening to the show on the show relay speaker?

Deputy Stage Managers and Stage Managers may have absolutely nothing to do with sourcing props - that could be an ASM job, or a Production Manager job - or even somebody in an office with a computer and credit card.

The entire company and how their skill set is laid out matters most. In one of my slack periods I got asked if I would be Stage Manager for an amateur show. I went to one meeting and discovered they were a two tier organisation. The cast, and then two stage management who were expected to plan and do everything. One had already been picked from the performing arts department at the local college, and me. I never went back for meeting two. They didn't know what the job entailed and didn't want to. Totally fine - that's how they did their version of it - a Stage Manager and an assistant - who knew very little.

If you are doing WWRY - then you will need a team of people. Quantity depending on their abilities to do the roles some of which I mentioned above. If there is a person calling the show and nothing else, I reckon at least a couple of people to be ASMs. Most Stage management folk are NOT expert at everything - they may be proppy and totally non-technical (but essential) or they could be a techno-wizard with absolutely no inter-personal skills. Some DSMs panic under pressure, others can call the show with their mouth, give cues with their fingers and kick a Qlab go button with a foot whilst whittling a wooden boat from a piece of scrap timber with a leatherman.

If this is school or college, or worse a chaotic amateur company - you need to find out exactly what they think your job is, or you will inherit everything - including the flack when it goes wrong. 

I suppose in school and college, you also have to cope with people thinking you are being bossy and controlling, and then having the staff mess things up for you, because frequently if they have an acting background, they have no clue either about stage management - they just throw the words around. There is always an element of giving people titles. Whoever is in charge backstage should also of course be willing to push the broom, while clever fun stuff is done by others. Like in the forces, the pips on your shoulders matter little when there is a panic on. You let the best people do their jobs.

My favourite comment said by me during one show - OK, I know she's feinted but get her costume off and give it to the understudy as soon as she comes off, just cover her up and keep her out of the way. I'm not quite sure who's job role that really was?




  • Upvote 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was reluctant to respond to this but now that Paul has been expansive I can be succinct. You are at a school for performing arts where they get paid to teach you this stuff so get them to do just that.

I am not being nasty, just once taught your predecessors at Filton with a lot less facilities than you now enjoy. The more we tell you, the more your tutors will curse us. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with Kerry. You're at a school for the performing arts. If they're not teaching you how to stage-manage a musical, what exactly *are* they doing?

(Also noted that you haven't visited the forum since you posted your question a week ago...)

Edited by gareth
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Over the years it’s been pretty obvious that few teachers understand the roles that support actors, dancers and singers. The use of ‘stage manager’ as a term sort of shows their knowledge of how productions are put on. How many musicals in the paid entertainment industry feature that role? Very few now I think, or for the past 25 years. Smaller am dram and dance shows have them. The poor person tasked with the producer’s understanding of the word. The truth in education is that the grades come from performance. Back stage roles were added in the 90s because for the performers to get their grades, somebody had to do the production roles, and they needed grades. They were laughable as options in GCSE and A Level, and OK in National Diplomas in the full version, vastly watered down in the other versions. The system coped with schools and colleges with excellent facilities and also useless ones. Useless with kit and useless with staff. Both turned out ALL the grades. It sounds like at least the OP tried to find a source of the info, but has come across problems with teaching. I thought my old college did it normally, but working for the boards discovered we were not typical at all. Then I did some supply work in schools and discovered that was in general, terrible, explaining why the kids coming to my college were so bad. I had a group from the local college in, with the intention of pinching the best for paid work this summer. The year before I didn’t take any and I suspect the same may happen this year. Some people from this process in the past are now doing stuff all over the world at a really high level, but in my own area, this has just stopped.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Kerry and Gareth, to clarify the tutors at my college do teach me these things, however I am required on this project to undertake research of my own outside of what I learn there, and indeed was directed this way (as one of many sources I will be looking at) by one of my tutors. Today has been the first opportunity I've had since posting to properly sit down and read through responses. Thank you Paul for your time and detailed response, and Claire too, I have looked to and found lots of friendly advice on such facebook groups and appreciate the time.

  • Upvote 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.