Stage Management

A key player during rehearsals and performances is the Stage Manager-- the person who keeps everything organized. The stage manager is always on time, and makes sure everyone else is too. The stage manager is responsible for the smooth running of rehearsals, and is the first to arrive and the last to leave

During rehearsals, the stage manager works closely with the director and communicates any notes from the director to the producer and production team. Actors report to the stage manager, both during rehearsal and during the run of the show. The stage manager maintains a neat, orderly and easily understood prompt book that includes all information involved in the running of the show (blocking notes, schedules, all production memos and company lists).

Once the show has started, the stage manager oversees all backstage activities and ensures the show is technically sound and running smoothly. After opening, the stage manager is responsible for maintaining the director's vision throughout the run. Stage managers have strong organizational and communication skills, efficient work habits, a calm and helpful manner under pressure, the ability to deal with several problems at once, an excellent sense of time and humour and very neat handwriting.

If you're assigned the role of stage manager for a play, here's a guide to help you prepare for the part.

Preparing for Rehearsals

Get a copy of the script. Read it for the plot and to understand what happens to the characters on stage and off.

Read the script again and note the entrances and exits for each character and what characters are in each scene. It's called a scene breakdown or "cast-scene breakdown" of the play.

Read the script once more and list on a separate sheet of paper all the props, costumes, lighting and sound effects referred to in the script.

Visit the rehearsal space and get to know it. You may be required to mark on the floor using masking tape to indicate parts of the set and entrances/exits. Make a list of any supplies you may need during rehearsals. The actors and the director will rely on you to make the rehearsal space a pleasant place to work.

Make a "prompt script." There are several methods but all involve cutting and pasting individual pages of the script onto loose leaf paper. Use a glue stick, tape or photocopy the pages. When you are making your prompt script, give yourself plenty of margin space and leave the facing page blank for blocking notes. The blank page should be on the right for right-handed stage managers and on the left for left-handed stage managers. If the book is arranged this way, you won't have to put your arm over the text to write the blocking notes. Reserve one clear margin for marking your cues.

Always write your blocking notes and cues in pencil, as there will be changes.

Things a stage manager should have at rehearsals:

  • pens & pencils
  • masking tape
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • pencil sharpener
  • post-it notes
  • stop watch
  • eraser
  • magic markers
  • clear plastic ruler
  • an extra script
  • colour cloth tape
  • measuring tape
  • watch
  • scissors
  • scotch tape
  • highlighter

Recording the Blocking:

Stage Manager is the place to go for information about the rehearsal hall, lines, blocking and the day to day schedule of rehearsals. Throughout the rehearsal process, it's the stage manager's job to take note of every move each actor makes while on stage. For example, Your blocking notes can be as simple as "Alice X DR" - the character Alice crosses to Down stage Right. Whatever you record should be understandable to you. It's important that you keep your markings consistent to avoid confusion.

Spiking the Floor

During rehearsal, the position of all pieces of furniture or movable set pieces are "spiked" by marking the places where they sit with pieces of cloth or masking tape on the rehearsal hall floor. When you move into the theatre, these spike marks must be transferred to the stage.

Prompting

"To be or not LINE" This is a good indication that an actor has forgotten their line. Part of the Stage Manager's job is also to prompt the actors. In most cases the actor will ask for help with the standard method being to ask for "Line." In rehearsals, try to be aware of incredibly long pauses by actors. If you're not sure, wait until they ask. Use your best judgement when an actor jumps text. If the missed text is essential to the plot, the actor will eventually realize their mistake and want to go back anyway. Be confident when you prompt. Give the line loudly and clearly, in your natural accent. In a large theatre or rehearsal hall, you will need to project your voice just as an actor does.

Resources

If you're new to stage management, read Theatre Ontario's publication Stage Management Without Tears. It's a beginner's guide to stage management with handy checklists, forms, and advice. To obtain a copy of Stage Management Without Tears, visit our online publications listing.

If you've been a stage manager before, Winston Morgan's book, Stage Managing the Arts in Canada is the best resource available in Canada. The book contains informative essays written by some of Canada's best stage managers covering stage managing musicals, working as an assistant and an apprentice, stage managing in rep and theatre for young audiences. It also features invaluable checklists and sample "to do" lists throughout all stages of production. You'll really enjoy the cartoons in Morgan's book. To purchase a copy of Stage Managing the Arts in Canada, visit our online publications listing.

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