Stage management

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Part of a stage manager's panel, or "Prompt corner."

Stage management is a broad field that is generally defined as the practice of organization and coordination of an event or theatrical production. Stage management may encompass a variety of activities including the overseeing of the rehearsal process and  coordinating communications among various production teams and personnel. Stage management requires a general understanding of all aspects of production and offers organisational support to ensure the process runs smoothly and efficiently.

A stage manager is an individual who has overall responsibility for stage management and the smooth execution of a theatrical 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, or "Production Stage Manager", and one or more assistant stage managers.


The title of Stage Manager was not used until the 18th century. Though the concept and need for someone to fill the area of stage management can be seen with the Ancient Greeks. The playwrights were usually responsible for production elements. Sophocles is the first known stage technician, supported by his employment as a scenic artist, playwright, musician, and producer.

Moving into the Middle Ages there is evidence of a Conducteurs De Secrets, who oversaw collecting money at the door and serving as a prompter on stage. The prompter held the script and was prepared to feed performers their lines, this was a common practice of the time.

Between the Renaissance and 17th century the actors and playwright handled stage management aspects and stage crew. During the Elizabethan and Jacobean Theatre there were two roles that covered the stage management: Stage Keeper and Book Keeper. The Stage Keeper was responsible for the maintenance of the theater, taking props on and off stage, and security of performance space. The Book Keeper was responsible for the stage script, obtaining necessary licenses, copying/providing lines for the performers, marking entrances and exits, tracking props, marking when sound effects come in, and cueing props and sound effects.

Between the Renaissance and the 16th century, actors and playwrights took upon themselves the handling of finances, general directorial duties, and stage management.[1] Stage management first emerged as a distinct role in the 17th century during Shakespeare's and Molière's time. During Shakespeare’s time the roles of stage management were left to apprentices, young boys learning the trade. There is still evidence of a prompter at this time.

Though it wasn't until the 18th century in England that the term Stage Manager was used. This was the first time a person other than actors and playwright was hired to direct or manage the stage. Over time, with the rise in complexity of theatre due to advances such as mechanized scenery, quick costume changes, and controlled lighting, the stage manager's job was split into two positions—director and stage manager.[2]

Many playwrights, directors, and actors have previously worked as an assistant stage manager. Writer and director Preston Sturges, for example, was employed as an ASM on Isadora Duncan's production of Oedipus Rex at the age of 16 and a half:

When one is responsible for giving an offstage cue, even the simplest ones, like the ring of a telephone or a birdcall, demand considerable sangfroid, and the job is nervewracking. One is very much aware that everything depends on the delivery of the cue at exactly the right microsecond. One stands there, knees slightly bent, breathing heavily...[3]

Sturges didn't last long in this job, due to his calling for thunder and then lightning instead of lightning and then thunder, but 16 years later Brock Pemberton hired him as an ASM on Antoinette Perry's production of Goin' Home, which led to the first mounting of one of Sturges' plays on Broadway, The Guinea Pig, in 1929.[4]


Page from American actress Charlotte Cushman's prompt-book for Shakespeare's Hamlet at the Washington Theater in 1861.
  • Pre-Rehearsal Preparation:
    • Knowing the rehearsal and stage layout
    • Understanding the ground plan of the set
    • Should acquire all rehearsal props that are needed in rehearsals
    • Sending out the rehearsal Schedule to the actors
    • Create a contact sheet with information on everyone in the production
  • First Rehearsal
    • Have the actors fill out emergency contact forms and other information needed by the production team
    • Assigning scripts to everyone in the production
    • Make detailed notes on the blocking of the production
    • Make sure the production team members who need to explain the set, actors equity association reps, costumes, directors concept, and more
    • First read through of show SM reads the stage directions
    • Responsible for the wellbeing & safety of everyone and should have basic first aid kit at all rehearsals
  • Rehearsal Period
    • Responsible for any questions or changes the director thinks of during rehearsal to bring up during Production Meetings
    • SM’s are responsible for following along the script, prompting when actors forget their lines and taking line notes
    • Monitor time to make sure company get their breaks at specific intervals (more important when working in Equity)
    • Noting any changes or edits to the script
    • Responsible for creating the running script that includes tech cues that are used by the SM
    • Writing daily rehearsal reports that detail what happened in rehearsal that day and what notes, if any, the Sm/director have for the production team. Then distributing distribute it to all production team members
    • Collecting the bios for the actors and production team for the show’s programs
    • Responsible for contacting anyone who is running late to rehearsal without notifying the SM
    • Most rehearsals are closed, meaning no one outside of the production is welcome, and it is the SM’s job to enforce this
    • Creating a callboard for the actors to sign in during tech rehearsals and performance
    • Creating cue sheets for everyone taking cues from the SM during the show (Sound usually makes it own separate cue sheets the SM is not responsible for)
    • Running tech rehearsals with other aspects of the production team (Lights, sound, set, costumes, etc)
  • Design Meetings
    • Not always present but all decisions made need to be communicated to SM to ensure all production team are informed of what happened during the meetings
  • Production meetings
    • Responsible for running the meeting
    • Maintaining a healthy environment for communication
    • Documenting all discussions and decisions
    • Ensuring attendance of all production team
    • Ensuring the meeting accomplishes everything on the docket within the allotted amount of time
    • Sending the Production Meeting Report forms that detail discussions and decisions made to production team members
  • Performance
    • Responsible for making sure actors are on time to rehearsal and contacting them if they are running late
    • Working with house managers to deal with unexpected events (tornadoes, delays, technical difficulties)
    • Knowing state laws and responsibilities during emergencies
    • Responsible for creating a performance log for each show that details any technical, artistic, or temperament problems that arose during the run.
  • Strike
    • Making sure all production members attend strike
    • Making sure all rented or borrowed material is separated from the rest of the set at returned to its lender
    • Knowing what set pieces, props, and costumes will be saved and which will be destroyed and making sure the collect pieces that are saved and destroyed


Stage Management Kit[edit]

The stage management kit can be as expansive as a huge tackle box, or a smaller bag containing only the absolute essentials. Some common items in a kit include:

  • First aid kit/hygiene supplies
    • Band-aids
    • Epi pen or sugar pen
    • Pain medication such as Ibuprofen or Tylenol
    • Tweezers
    • Ace bandages
    • Antibiotic ointment
    • Nail clippers/file
    • Mints
    • Eye drops
    • Lozenges
    • Lip balm
    • Ice packs
    • Hand sanitizer
    • Tampons/pads
    • Gauze
    • Hair elastics and/or clips
    • Bobby pins
    • Tissues
  • Flashlight(s)
  • Batteries
  • Variety of tape
    • Gaff
    • Spike
    • Glow
    • Masking
    • Color-blocking
    • Reflective
  • Tools
    • Wrench
    • Screwdriver
    • Power drill (& charger)
    • Staple remover
    • Pocketknife
  • Emergency sewing kit
    • Mini-scissors
    • Safety pins
    • Needle & thread
    • Extra notions like:
      • Zippers
      • Buttons
      • Snaps
      • Hooks and eyes
    • Hemming tape
    • Tide or stain-removal pen

Rehearsal room kit[edit]

Other items may be needed specifically during the rehearsal period, such as:

  • Laptop for note-taking and rehearsal reports
  • Pens, Pencils, and Highlighters
  • Sticky notes for line notes or other notes in the script

Means of Communication[edit]

It is important to keep lines of communication open between the stage manager and all other departments of the production.

  • Technology
    • Phones
      • Actors' Equity requires a dedicated line in a production office, but most people in a cast and crew will have personal cell phones available
    • Texting/Calling
      • The stage manager may need to text or call actors or crew members to give them reminders or check up on them if they are late for a call time.
    • Email
      • Email can be useful for communication between production departments, sending reminders to cast and crew, or distribution of rehearsal reports and other materials
        • The SM might utilize a feedback loop - ask the recipients to reply to show they have received and understand the information
          • "Communication without feedback isn't communication, it's broadcasting." - Ed Baker
    • Headset/walkie talkies
      • During tech, dress rehearsals, and the run of the show, the Stage Manager may need to be on headset to call cues and communicate with lights, sound, and any Assistant Stage Managers
    • Call board
      • The call board might be an actual bulletin board backstage, or an electronic message board. Usually the sign-in sheet for actors and crew will be located on the call board

Prompt Book[edit]

The prompt book contains the script from which the SM calls the show, labeled with light and sound cues. It may also contain:

  • Shift plot for props
  • A pre-show schedule
  • A pre-show checklist
  • Light and sound cue breakdowns
  • Rehearsal schedules
  • Rehearsal and performance reports
  • Confidential emergency health history
  • Cast and crew contact sheet

Regional differences[edit]

United States[edit]

In the United States, Stage Manager is a generic title that may be applied to anyone who performs stage management functions. On small shows, one person typically performs all the tasks of stage management, and is simply referred to as the stage manager. Larger shows often need two or more stage managers. In such cases the head stage manager is titled Production Stage Manager (commonly abbreviated PSM), and working under the PSM is one or more Assistant Stage Managers (commonly abbreviated ASM). Shows that employ three stage managers have a PSM and two ASMs, though the program credits may list them as Production Stage Manager (first or head stage manager), Stage Manager (second stage manager), and Assistant Stage Manager (third stage manager).[2]

Some professional stage managers on plays and musicals may choose to be represented by a union known as the Actors' Equity Association, which also represents performers. In addition to performing their typical stage management duties (e.g., maintaining the prompt book and calling performances), Equity stage managers are also required to uphold the union's rules and rights for Equity artists. Union stage managers for opera, ballet, and modern dance are represented by the American Guild of Musical Artists and perform most of the same duties as their counterparts in plays and musicals.

United Kingdom[edit]

In the UK, the structure of a stage management team depends on the type and size of the production. It can consist of stage manager (overseeing the running of the show), deputy stage manager (commonly called DSM), and assistant stage manager (commonly called ASM). A fringe theatre show may employ one stage manager to carry out the tasks of an entire team, whereas a West End theatre show in London might employ multiple ASMs. Professional stage managers are represented by the British Actors' Equity Association, which also represents performers.

Deputy stage manager[edit]

The DSM prompts actors and will usually cue technical crew members and sometimes cast, while following the orders of the director and stage manager. The DSM calls actors to hold while technical problems are sorted out during rehearsal, and determines where in the script to restart halted scenes.[5] The deputy stage manager (DSM) is a separate position in some theatres, while in others the responsibilities of the DSM may be assumed by the stage manager or assistant stage manager.[6]

Assistant stage manager[edit]

The assistant stage manager (ASM) has varied responsibilities, which are assigned by the stage manager. The ASM assists in finding and maintaining props during rehearsals and the run of the show. The ASM may take attendance or estimate audience size, may manage the backstage technicians, may act as a liaison between crew, cast and management, and may call some cues. Mundane tasks such as mopping the stage and brewing coffee or tea may fall to the ASM. If the stage manager is unable to perform his or her duties, the ASM must be able to fill in.[7] The assistant may also be in charge of one wing of the stage, while the stage manager is on the other wing.

Show control based venues[edit]

Many live shows around the world are produced with the forehand knowledge that they will have a very long run, often measured in years. These are usually known quantities that are very expensive productions and have a guaranteed audience because of their location. Often, they are on cruise ships, in theme parks, Las Vegas or at destination resorts. These shows warrant very long-range development and planning and use stage managers to run almost all technical elements in the show, without many of the other traditional crew members, such as sound, lighting and rigging operators. In these cases, show control systems are installed and connected to all other technical systems in the theatre, which are specifically designed to be controlled by show control and to operate safely with minimal supervision. Stage managers working these shows usually have the additional responsibility for programming the show control system, and often the other control systems as well.

Different Areas of Stage Management[edit]

The role of stage manager evolved from an amalgamation of various positions in theater over several centuries and is still generally known for its integral relationship with theater. Many other types of productions and events have incorporated the position of stage management, however. Some of the most common are Opera, Music and Dance concerts and, Film and Television.

For music concerts, stage management includes a large variety of responsibilities depending on both the venue and the size and expertise of the musical group coming into the venue. Some of the responsibilities of a concert stage manager include overseeing the schedule for load in and out of equipment, seeing to the comfort of the group which can include arranging refreshments and or transportation, sometimes arranging how and where merchandise is to be sold at the venue, and above all, as with all areas of stage management, watching out for the safety of all participants in the experience including performers, audience, and any crews required.

Stage Managers and Unions[edit]

With being a Stage Manager you also need to know what unions you will be working with. Some of the things that a Stage Manager needs to know about working with a union is how often do they take breaks, and who is represented by which union.

Actors Equity Association[edit]

Commonly referred to as Actors Equity (AEA). Actors Equity represents the stage actors and stage managers in the live theatre industry. The AEA works to negotiate and provide performers and stage managers quality living conditions, livable wages, and benefits.


International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) represents the stage hands in the theatre.

United Scenic Artists[edit]

United Scenic Artist also known as United Scenic Artists of America. It organizes designers, artists and craftspeople in the entertainment and decorative arts industries.<ref>United Scenic Artists is affiliated with International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees since 1999.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Thomas, James (1984). The art of the actor-manager: Wilson Barrett and the Victorian theatre. UMI Research Press. p. 203. ISBN 0-8357-1492-6. 
  2. ^ a b Fazio, Larry (2000). Stage Manager: The Professional Experience. Focal Press. p. 367. ISBN 0-240-80410-4. 
  3. ^ Sturges, Preston; Sturges, Sandy (adapt. & ed.) (1991), Preston Sturges on Preston Sturges, Boston: Faber & Faber, ISBN 0571164250 , p. 123-24
  4. ^ Sturges, Preston; Sturges, Sandy (adapt. & ed.) (1991), Preston Sturges on Preston Sturges, Boston: Faber & Faber, ISBN 0571164250  pp. 239-245
  5. ^ Pallin, p. 81
  6. ^ Bond, p. 15
  7. ^ Bond, pp. 15–16