Working in the Theatre: A Career in Stage Management

When you see a junk drawer filled to the brim with odds and ends, does it make you cringe? Do you want to catalog and organize each and every paper clip or sandwich tie so it can be found later?

What if you could get paid for having this type of personality?

There are many careers that rely on a highly organized work ethic and in the realm of the Performing Arts that position falls to the Stage Manager. This person runs rehearsals, keeps everyone informed of changes while the production is being built, and calls the shots (or cues as they are known) on stage to make every performance run smoothly.

Do you need a college degree to become a Stage Manager?

Technically, the answer is no. You do not need a college degree to start working in the theatre arts. If you can land an internship with a theater after high school, you can learn the role of a Stage Manager by studying under them as an apprentice or what is mostly likely called, a Production Assistant1. The only issue with learning as an apprentice without a college degree is that you will not produce a university sponsored play from script to stage. As an apprentice at a theater, you will not be union (most theaters are unionized), and will not be able to fulfill the roll of a Stage Manager at any time.

But, before you shy away from this fun job, there are ways around earning the equivalent of a stage management degree from a college or university.

The first way is to locate a “Civic” theater in your home town. Most small towns offer public run theater productions. At this type of theater, all positions are up for grabs and once you’ve established yourself as a prompt, organized team player, someone may hand you the reigns to run the production! I have personally stage managed several productions in my home town’s civic theater when the stage management assignments were few and far between at the university I was attending. They gave me an accurate picture of what I would face in the real world of performing arts but on a smaller scale.

What other ways can you learn the role of a Stage Manager without attending college?

� Learn Stage Management from productions that are on tour.
� Summer stock theatre where your boarding is paid for, and sometimes the food.
� There are also professional, but smaller theaters that rely on a core group of individuals who need to constantly grow their pool of artists.

The most important thing to remember is not to be distraught if they say no. Somewhere out there, a theater needs a stage manager and it’s a career you can learn on the fly.

With the help of a few key books, you can better understand the role of a Stage Manager in the Performing Arts. They will be listed at the end of this article. Suffice it to say, most of them will explain the tons of paperwork that are created when blocking a script, actor’s union paperwork, production updates, and being comfortable around backstage equipment. But that’s why you’ll love this job. If you love organizing, and you’re addicted to office supplies, this career is right up your alley.

Instead of working inside a five by five cubicle sniffing white out, you can be shuffling paper for famous actors, hob knobbing with directors who rely on your expertise to keep them from falling apart during previews, and most of all, enjoy the family you’ll create by working with the designers and your running crew.

You don’t have to be “talented” to be a Stage Manager. You only have to be meticulous, be unafraid to manage people, have a great sense of timing, and keep a personal copy of the Office Depot Supply Catalog by your side at all times.

Here is a list of key books universities and colleges require their students to own while earning their degrees in Stage Management:

Carter, Paul Backstage Handbook. New York: Broadway Press, 1988
Bond, Daniel Stage Management: A Gentle Art. New York: Routledge, 1991
Gruver, Bert The Stage Manager’s Handbook. New York: Drama Book, 1972
Stern, Lawrence Stage Management. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, Inc., 1987

Also check your local Borders bookstore or Barnes and Noble’s bookstore under Performing Arts for books that include free forms you can use if you’re jumping into stage management cold.

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1. A Production Assistant in theatre is different than one in the film industry. With theatre productions, your role may include designing elaborate shift changes between Acts, whereas in the film industry you may only be relegated to getting coffee or making copies. (You have to do that too in the theatre)

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