Stage Management 101
July 25, 2006 4:00 AM   Subscribe

What does stage management entail?

I'm considering an offer to be an assistant stage manager for an upcoming peace concert. However, I've only done minor things (think of it as being an assistant to an assistant) and this is quite a step up.

What do stage managers generally do? Are they just concerned with what happens during the event or are they also responsible for the logistics? Do they manage rehearsals? (We won't have any) How much power do assistants generally have? What other resources are there?

Any tips, ideas, personal experiences, and so on are greatly appreciated. Thank you!
posted by divabat to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How about this forum for stage managers?
posted by plokent at 4:14 AM on July 25, 2006

Stage managers are kind of like CEOs, in a way. Everyone else does most of the grunty work, but they're there to ensure that everyone knows what needs to be done and when.

SM's also take over from the director after opening night. They're responsible for keeping an eye on the performers, making sure they're not corpsing, calling extra rehearsals (often bringing the director back, if possible), etc.

SM's ... ugh, I have to get back to work. I'll try and post later, and/or email is in profile. (I was an SM through high school and for a couple years after)
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:35 AM on July 25, 2006

Buy me:

The Stage Manager's Handbook and The Pocket Ref. How much power can that cable carry? How you rig that panel to fly? What plug matches that jack? These two will tell you. Get them, glance through them to get an idea where things are (and many people tab the pages that are most important to them) and carry them with you.

You need to know thousands of little things, these two books will keep them in a nice handy package so that you will know them. You won't need to guess if that 3/16th cable can hold that fly safely, because you'll know -- it's right there, with safety margins -- detailed by crimp or bolt connections.
posted by eriko at 8:11 AM on July 25, 2006

Also grab a copy of Stage Management, by Lawrence Stern. I haven't read the other one, but this book is excellent. Zero to stage manager in about 300 pages.
posted by baylink at 8:26 AM on July 25, 2006

As an Assistant Stage Manager (ASM- everything in theatre has an acronym), your job is to be your SM's extra pair of hands and brain. The main role of an SM during a performance is to keep everything running on time. Basically, the SM is the person calling all the cues, which means saying exactly when light, sound, set changes, etc. all happen. In a concert, it's probably a matter of making sure equipment gets set up and performers are where they're supposed to be.

In general, the ASM(s) is/are there because the SM can only be in one place at a time. Just try to help the SM remain organized and be prepared to do a lot of whatever s/he tells you.
posted by JMOZ at 8:35 AM on July 25, 2006

What stage managers do and what Assistant stage managers do can be uncorrelated to a high degree. The best person to answer this question for you is the SM you'll be assisting.
posted by zanni at 8:45 AM on July 25, 2006

If you become assistant stage manager, remember to remind your cast that you can't spell orgasm without ASM.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:51 AM on July 25, 2006

A friend in a security job explained like so: "Every job has an output. Carpenters make houses, Bakers make bread, Musicians make music. Security people make nothing. It's their job to make sure nothing happens - In a regular, predictable manner."

A Stage Manager makes The Show happen. If something gets in the way of that, the SM either deals with it, or make sure it's dealt with. How you accomplish it is a style decision: I've seen everything from CEO-style delegation to micromanagerial obsessiveness (and dozens of variations inbetween).

An ASM's responsibility is to assist that, of course. How that works out is almost always something you have to hash out with the SM.
posted by Orb2069 at 12:50 PM on July 25, 2006

Being a SM/ASM is much like being a cat herder, as people have said above it's your job to make sure everyone and everything is where it's supposed to be. The cool thing about the job is that it's the very definition of generalist: you're expected to know a bit about everything that's going on.

If you have any more specific questions, feel free to email. I've been doing tech theatre for about ten years now.
posted by youcancallmeal at 1:32 PM on July 25, 2006

I'm learning how to be one right now-- majoring in it. The quickest way to describe it to complete newbies is that a producer takes care of getting things to the stage, and once it gets there, the stage manager takes care of them. These include actors, technicians, crew, sets, costumes, etc.
Usually the stage manager is in charge of the overarching logistics, paperwork etc (and they deal with equity on professional productions).
The ASM is more in charge of the backstage, nitty gritty elements. For example, while an SM would make sure that the costume designs will work based on what happens in rehearsal, the ASM would be in charge of meeting with the shops to ensure that changes were made, and to bring back updates to the SM.
During the show, the SM calls the show while the ASM facilitates things backstage. Lots of little emergencies/making sure things run smoothly. Calling places, things like that. The ASM also can take over if something catastrophic happens to the SM during/before the show.
But most of all, doing things when you are told quickly and with a good attitude will get you far. Often things need to happen rightawayorelse and if you stop to question your SM, things will become difficult.
Hash out your responsibilities with your SM before you start, and then be prepared to adapt.
posted by cynthia_rose at 8:31 PM on July 25, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks all!

This particular show doesn't have any rehearsals and there's just a little time to test equipment. I asked the SM about it and she says it's mainly a cost factor; she feels it'll work though I am a bit concerned. (There are gymnasts and 4-5 different musical acts and props...lots of things to take care of!)

It looks like if I become ASM, everything will be discussed before the event (two dates in October). Here's the exerpts from her emails:
The actual concert theme, is not too complicated really, but:

* The person who volunteers for this opportunity of Assistant Stage Manager, will have NO rehearsal time to fully understand what is required; I will fill you in over the next few months, as things come together, and we will need to chat together, face to face a couple of times.

* The first and biggest concert will be at Albert Waterways Broadbeach (8th Oct), (just around three hours before the concert, during setup time). This will be when you will truly come to understand and perfect the ideas in the show. You will need to have clear insight, then execute hands-on; you will need to overcome any challenges that arise, without panic, on the night of the concert. Courage, and Solid know-how combined! These are patron paid concerts, and therefore, the challenge for you, would be to NAIL IT!

* The second concert at Byron Bay Community & Cultural Centre (20th Oct), will have some rehearsal opportunity for various people, and of course, is a completely new venue to get used to. We have the hall from around 1pm in the afternoon till midnight.

The concerts will involve two acts:

* Act One is four music acts: microphone changes, floor mikes, standing mikes; some dance, flute playing, guitar work, singing, a Gymnast or two, 4 x set changes of portable painted backdrops, plus a portable film screen will be on and off stage. Music and Sound will be the focus, and you will have to work closely with the Sound Engineer, Sanat Raymond Oliver from 'Heaven on Earth Music'. He also will have a 'side-kick' helper, called Karl. You will need to take strong direction from Karl in the placement of microphones and leads. This is very important to understand, along with the set changes, and directing Artists (Eight in all, plus Reuben).

* Act Two is the same, sort of, but will be commanded by Reuben J. Silverbird (for your homework). Props, I am unsure of yet, but there will be some. It will take someone with a quick wit, hands on capabilites to direct other stage hands, keep the silence on stage, before giving the final 'NOD' of approval to the finalisation of each 'set' before the curtain rolls apart again. Each act changeover is to be around 4 - 7 minutes maximum, with the Gymnists to entertain, plus myself, perhaps one other person to join me on the edge of the stage, to tell a joke or two, with me as the evening's Compere. You will be in charge of the finished presentation, backstage sound/noise levels, and the turn-over of all performers, when I cannot be there.
I can let you know, for question 1.only three hours, but much will be set up, test of equipment, and a sound test, so, NO- not a run through as such. We will only have VERY limited time, to pull it all together. This is why I need people who know what they are doing.. It is a BIG ask, but, I know that it is possible. We cannot afford the extra $1500 it would cost for hall hire, or collate everyone together due to busy schedules; I will work all this out for you to understand, and I will answer you properly over the weekend..
I've sent the SM a bunch of questions and am awaiting her reply. Any other helpful advice is much appreciated! I have done backstage stuff before (mainly set-up, strike, props) so I hope this makes a good transition. And I just basically want to know what I'm getting myself into and not assume things, haha.

Thanks again.
posted by divabat at 7:26 PM on July 26, 2006

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