Theatre stage managers coordinate all aspects of a theatre production to ensure the successful delivery of the performance

As a theatre stage manager you'll manage rehearsals, actors, technicians, props and costume fittings, and liaise with front-of-house staff and the director.

You'll need to have a good understanding of both the technical and artistic elements of a performance so you can ensure it's delivered exactly to the director's requirements.

Involved from the rehearsal stage through to the live performances, you'll be on hand to deal with any emergencies that may arise.

Larger productions typically have a stage manager supported by a deputy stage manager and one or two assistant stage managers. For smaller shows, you're likely to work on your own.

Responsibilities

As a theatre stage manager, you'll need to:

  • set up and run rehearsal schedules
  • procure props, furniture and set dressings and, in small companies, assist in set construction
  • arrange costume and wig fittings
  • distribute information to other theatre departments
  • manage the props, and possibly the design budgets, liaising with the production manager regarding costs
  • supervise the 'get in' to the theatre, when the set, lighting and sound are installed, and the 'get out', when all the equipment is removed
  • compile and operate prompt copy - also known as the 'prompt script' or 'the book', which notes actors' moves and cues, and the requirements for props, lighting and sound
  • make alterations to the set between scene changes, prompt actors and cue technicians
  • take charge of the show once is starts, running the backstage and onstage areas during performances
  • make sure that what is supposed to happen during a performance happens and handling any problems that occur
  • liaise with the director, stage personnel and other technical departments, e.g. costume, lighting and sound
  • call actors for rehearsals and performances
  • during a long run, maintain and replace props and costumes as required
  • liaise with resident staff at other performance venues (if touring)
  • ensure the company's welfare and maintain a good working knowledge of all relevant health and safety legislation and good working practice.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for assistant stage managers and stage managers tend to range from around £18,000 to £22,000.
  • With experience, you can earn around £25,000 to £35,000. Salaries for experienced senior stage managers with an established reputation can rise to in excess of £45,000.
  • The Independent Theatre Council (ITC) negotiates minimum rates of pay for its members. For current ITC/Equity weekly rates, see ITC Rates of Pay Performers & Stage Managers. See also UK Theatre/Equity Rates of Pay & Agreements covering performers, understudies and stage managers.

Salary levels can vary significantly depending on a range of factors including your level of experience, the type of theatre company you work for and your location. Additional payments, such as touring allowances, may be available.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You must be prepared to work long and unsociable hours including evenings, weekends and bank holidays.

What to expect

  • The work is based in theatres and other arts venues. Conditions backstage can be hot, dusty or dark, although this depends on the age and size of the venue. Open-air theatres may be the opposite of this.
  • The work can be physically demanding as you may be expected to help move or lift props, especially when working for smaller theatres.
  • You may also need a good head for heights. You'll be expected to 'muck in' and apply your skills to any given priority, especially at the beginning of your career.
  • Jobs are available in most areas of the UK, and there are also opportunities to work overseas. Self-employment or freelance work is possible. Experienced stage managers may opt to work freelance in order to gain more varied experience and earn higher rates of pay.
  • Occasionally, you may need to travel during the day. If you're in a touring company, you may spend long periods away from home.

Qualifications

Although it's possible to get into theatre stage management with any degree, foundation degree or HND if you have experience, the following subjects are particularly relevant:

  • drama/theatre studies
  • music
  • performing arts
  • stage management
  • theatre production
  • theatre professional practice.

Members of the Federation of Drama Schools provide conservatoire style vocational training for students who want to be theatre makers, technical theatre practitioners and performers. See the list of member schools.

Other relevant qualifications include the Level 3 Diploma and Extended Diploma in Performing and Production Arts and the Level 4 Professional Diploma in Technical and Production Practice for the Creative Industries. For more information see University Arts London - Qualifications.

You can enter the profession without a degree or HND at a more junior level such as a member of the stage crew or theatre technician. You may then be able to work your way up to the role of assistant stage manager and then progress further.

Although a postgraduate qualification isn't essential, a postgraduate degree in stage management or theatre may be useful, particularly if your first degree is in an unrelated subject. Search postgraduate courses in theatre studies.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • excellent communication and organisational skills
  • a sharp eye for detail
  • a sense of humour and the ability to stay calm in a crisis
  • people skills: persuasiveness, patience, tact and an understanding of the pressure performers are under
  • computer skills and awareness of current technologies
  • the ability to work under pressure, especially in the run-up to a performance
  • problem-solving skills and the ability to think on your feet
  • confidence, decision-making ability and negotiation skills
  • stamina in order to cope with long hours during technical and dress rehearsals, and for touring.

A driving licence is useful.

You'll also need business awareness and administration skills to manage your own tax affairs, for example.

Work experience

Competition for jobs is fierce and you'll need to have practical experience of theatre work. Try to gain this through student, community or amateur theatre groups and get involved in as many different areas of the theatre as possible. This can help to build up contacts, which may lead to future job opportunities.

Experience as a casual stagehand in local theatres can be useful. Arrange to speak to the stage manager at your local theatre to talk about possibilities.

If you're studying a relevant degree, such as stage management, make the most of work placements to establish a network of contacts.

Try to vary your work experience so you get a feel for how different types of company operate and how sets can differ. Also, watch as many different kinds of productions as you can and attend talks about different productions.

Reading specialist press, such as The Stage, will also help you keep up to date with what's happening in the profession and show your commitment.

Employers

There are theatre stage manager jobs in all parts of the UK. Employers range from small touring companies to medium-sized repertory companies and large-scale commercial theatres, such as those in London's West End.

Other employers include:

  • alternative, community, prison and children's theatre
  • fringe theatre
  • regional theatre
  • theatre-in-education companies
  • touring theatre.

There are also opportunities with national theatre, opera and dance companies, although these represent only a fraction of the opportunities available. Companies include:

In addition to theatre work, stage managers can also work at open-air music concerts, festivals and theme parks.

Look for job vacancies at:

The SMA circulates Freelist - a monthly list of members looking for work - to potential employers.

Contact local stage managers for advice and to find out about any available work. Networking is a key factor in getting a job - many vacancies are filled through contacts made while working - so keep a log of any contacts you make in the field and stay in touch on a regular basis. You can also send targeted applications, via CV and cover letter, to theatre companies.

Professional development

Most of your training is likely to be on the job. Few venues or companies can afford to fund in-service training, so you'll be expected to take responsibility for your own continuing professional development (CPD).

It's important to keep your skills and knowledge up to date throughout your career. The SMA is the professional body that supports and represents stage management in the UK. It runs a range of short training courses aimed at enhancing your skills.

The association also arranges networking events, backstage tours and talks, which are good for building contacts and keeping up to date with industry news.

Organisations such as the Independent Theatre Council (ITC) and UK Theatre also provide courses, events and conferences. See ITC - Training Timetable and UK Theatre - Training & Events for more.

Career prospects

You'll typically start as an assistant stage manager and, after gaining skills and experience, may progress to deputy stage manager. With further experience, your next step is to become a stage manager and then company stage manager, although this is usually only the case in larger theatres.

Some stage managers remain as assistants or deputies for their entire career, especially in larger organisations. Others may move between companies, filling roles as assistant, deputy or stage manager as required.

Geographical mobility will help your career development as you move between theatres, or travel with a touring company, to broaden your experience and skills.

It's possible to develop your skills to move into specialist roles, such as theatre lighting director, sound manager or wardrobe manager. This involves developing the technical or design skills you'll have learnt through stage management roles through further training and experience.

You may have the opportunity to become a theatre manager or producer (sometimes called a production manager or production director). This involves working in larger theatres, running significant budgets and coordinating the whole physical production of a play. With experience and further training, some stage managers go on to become theatre directors.

You may be able to use the skills and experience you gain in the theatre to move into production jobs in television or film, where you could potentially work in roles including trainee floor manager. You could also move into stage management of large-scale music concerts, or become an events manager.

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