I stage manage. And if you're wondering what that particular role consists of, let me give you a rundown.
By Jessica Wei
So, I should admit something while I'm cozying into the whole “Friday Five Columnist” role. The fact is, I write a lot about performers (for obvious reasons, like this being a theatre blog) and sometimes very cynically, but I am not an actor by most conventional standards. I've had a few on-stage roles in the past, but honestly? It's not really my thing. Something about the bright lights and memorizing 60 pages of script. I'm less “cast”, more “crew”. So this column's my shout-out to the people who are in the productions but never on stage, the people who work around the clock to make the stars shine and keep the director happy. And isn't that the most important thing? Feeding the egos? (Just kidding.)
I find solace in the tech booth in the back, behind the audience.
But when the house is hot and the actors are pacing around backstage or in the green room, I find solace in the tech booth in the back, behind the audience. I click my light-up pen, flip open the prompt book, lean into the microphone and whisper to the cast that the show's about to begin, cue the lights and wait. I stage manage. And if you're wondering what that particular role consists of, let me give you a rundown. A stage manager does everything from helping organize rehearsal schedules, keeping record of stage blocking (the positioning of the actors on the stage), helping actors remember their lines, co-ordinating with light and sound techs, going over props, running the cues during performances, and giving calls to the actors to let them know when to go on. In most big shows, an SM will have one or two assistants who do props and backstage stuff. Sometimes they won't. Those are a lot of jobs that lie in the margins of the collaborative creative process. And those jobs often go overlooked by people, including those in the thick of the play. There are tons of reasons to be nice to stage managers (and backstage crew in general), but allow me to present five of them.
WE DON'T GET EMOTIONAL BREAKDOWNS.
An actor can have a character-related meltdown. Directors can get furious at their artistic limitations and stomp around. “My creative fetus is dying inside of me” is a line one could drop without any questions about why one was being such a bitch today at rehearsal. In fact, the stage manager will probably be there to sweep up the emotional mess and maybe actually go get Miss Fetus Meltdown a coffee and two aspirin like she asked. And then the stage manager will check up on her later that day and leave nine missed calls inquiring about whether she will be available for tomorrow's early morning rehearsal. Hypothetically. Or something.
IF YOU TREAT US NICELY, WE'LL TREAT YOU NICELY.
That coffee thing? Don't count on it happening often, especially if it's a smaller production. If you treat the SM with respect, show up to rehearsal on time, ask nicely and demand little, we'll be there for you when you need it. This may include back massages.
WE'RE TIGHT WITH THE PEOPLE WHO RUN THE SHOW.
Like costume and set designers, the people in charge of lighting and sound, producers, the box office, front of house, etc. Need technical support? We'll hook you up.
YOU COULD BE DOING YOUR SOLILOQUY IN PITCH DARK.
Not that a stage manager would let that happen, because SM's are very morally upright citizens concerned with only the good of the production. But the potential is there, my friend! It takes one delayed “LX” cue to keep you in the shadows. And leading up to the show? While we still need you in rehearsal, we can make the schedule very inconvenient for you. So watch it, buster.
WE DO IT FOR THE PLAY, NOT FOR THE GLORY.
We don't get a bow. We don't get interviewed. We spend the entire show behind the audience, quietly overlooking the backs of theatre seats. We dress conservatively to make sure we're not seen. We get one brief mention when the cast assembles onstage after the show to receive applause and give us a sweeping wave of acknowledgment. Some audience members will look around and check out the booth, but most don't bother. When actors and directors are reading their performance reviews, we aren't scouring the Internet for feedback on lighting transitions. We don't do it for the glory. We do it because it needs to be done for the play to go well. And, okay, sometimes we do it because we have crushes on certain bearded light techs, but we mostly do it for the good of the show. And at the end of the day, who else would you want in charge of this stuff?