What Does A Stage Manager Do?

The Stage Manager or SM is the central hub through which all information for the show should pass. They communicate with every department, and know every technical detail about the production. They also call cues during performances, record blocking, and schedule all rehearsals.

Because all of these details are too much for one person to remember, the Stage Manager is responsible for creating the Prompt Book (sometimes called the SM Bible). This is a binder which contains all of the production information.

Stage Manager in Rehearsal

There is usually a team of Stage Managers involved in any theatrical production, who split the responsibilities based on their individual roles. I will cover the roles of each team member later, but first lets look at their roles during different parts of the process.

What Does The Stage Manager Do During Rehearsals?

During rehearsals the Stage Manager’s main responsibility is supporting the creative process of the actors and director in any way possible. This support often comes in the form of:

  • Setting up the rehearsal space
  • Taking attendance
  • Calling the start and end of rehearsal and calling breaks
  • Recording blocking in the prompt book (How to Record Blocking)
  • Learning music and choreography
  • Taking and distributing technical notes for the Rehearsal Report (Templates available HERE)
  • Tracking props
  • Tracking scenery
  • Setting up for the next scene
  • Being on book to prompt lines to actors
  • Answering questions
  • Looking ahead for issues to preemptively solve
  • Sending the rehearsal report to designers and admin staff
  • Sending Daily Calls and schedule updates
  • Making coffee

Without the Stage Manager in the room, the actors, director, and other artist would need stop every few seconds to make notes of these tasks. The more the creative team can rely on the stage manager, the more the are able to focus completely on their own jobs.

What does the SM do during Tech Rehearsals?

During technical rehearsals (referred to simply as tech) the production stage manager is in charge of coordinating the technical elements, the actors on stage, and the crew to move through the show so the design team can create cues. They also help assign crew responsibilities, and note all cues so they can call the show after tech is complete. Typically tech responsibilities include:

  • Setting up and testing communications systems
  • Calling start and end of rehearsal as well as breaks
  • Coordinating actors and crew to be in position for specific scenes and moments for recording cues
  • Writing cues into the prompt book
  • Updating presets
  • Planning ahead to keep everyone productive
  • Maintaining quiet when needed
  • Maintaining a calm demeanor to keep others relaxed

On many shows, running tech is one of the highest stress parts of a stage managers job. It requires careful attention to detail, planning, coordinating large groups, strong communication, and most likely longer than normal work days. It can be overwhelming, and requires you to rely on everything you have learned about the production up to this point.

What does the Stage Manager do during the run of a show?

Stage Manager backstage during performance at live theatre show

Once the show opens, the SM is in charge of all actors and technical crew. During performances the SM must:

  • Call Cues During the Performance (Learn more about How to Call Cues)
  • Take attendance at call time
  • Maintain the call board and post any updates or schedules 
  • Ensure crews are completing presets
  • Coordinate with house management 
  • Call places
  • Ensure all departments and actors are ready to start the performance
  • Ensure safety of everyone on stage
  • Send schedules for the next day/week
  • Send performance reports

After the show opens, the SM becomes the lone leader of the production. In professional productions, the Director, Designers, and other production staff are no longer on contract once the show opens. The Stage Manager is responsible for maintaining the original vision, and making the best decisions for the show.

As strange as it sounds, most of the creative team leave town to join their next production the morning after opening night. They all trust their vision will be upheld by the SM.

Depending on the production the SM may have other responsibilities. For example, on touring productions, the SM might be responsible for running load in and load out for each venue of all technical equipment telling local crews where to load/unload equipment.

PSM, SM, and ASM

Here I will just cover the titles and their basic definition, but the responsibilities of each person vary base don the level of production. Because this is fairly complex,

Production Stage Manager (PSM)

The highest ranking title of Stage Management Team in US theatre. This person generally does the majority of the work on the prompt book, and is responsible for scheduling, and managing the members of the company.

Deputy Stage Manager (DSM)

This is the UK equivalent of the PSM. Their responsibilities are generally similar, though some methodologies change between countries.

Stage Manager (SM)

In smaller venues and educational productions the Stage Manager is usually the head of the SM team. In commercial theatre the title of “Stage Manager” goes to the First Assistant Stage Manager.

Confused yet? it only gets worse, so I have created a separate article covering the details of the Members of the SM Team HERE.

What is a Prompt Book or SM Bible?

The Prompt Book is typically a binder that includes every piece of information about a production. This should include:

  • A blocking script with blocking, acting notes, and anything actor related
  • A calling script with all technical cues written in
  • Cast/crew contact information
  • Sheet music
  • All technical info (including renderings, cue sheets, ground plans, light plots, etc.)
  • Scheduling info
  • Run sheet with the track of each member of the production
  • Shift sheets
  • Equity information

In simple terms, someone who has never worked on the production should be able to pick up the Prompt Book and find every piece of information they might need to recreate the production themselves.

The most used information in the prompt book usually will include the blocking script, the calling script, and scheduling info. The more information the better in the prompt book, but it absolutely MUST be organized. Information is useless if you can’t find it quickly when the need arrises. 

I wrote another entire article on How to make a Prompt Book which is an in depth look at what goes into making your first Prompt Book.

What makes a good Stage Manager?

The best stage managers are almost always calm, cool, and collected people. They are in control in chaotic situations and handle pressure with ease. Reliability is the stepping stone to trust, which is vital to success as a Stage Manager.

It may sound exaggerated, but the actors and crew members put their life in the hands of the Stage Managers running the show.

If the stage goes to black at the wrong moment, someone could easily fall off the stage. If the SM calls for a flying scenic element to come in before an actor or crew member is clear of it they could be crushed underneath.

A good stage manager can handle sensory overload with ease. They should be able to call cues verbally, hit cue lights, and ensure the acting space is safe for the actors to continue on during chaotic moments.

Most Stage Managers I know have a “business mode” which they click into while calling shows. This is where emotion goes out the window for the performance, and the job at hand is the only thing on their mind.

Stage Managers also help handle interpersonal conflicts between company members. Patience is often key with these situations and listening to both sides and finding the best solution for all is the most professional way to handle them.

Another factor which takes a toll on younger Stage Managers especially is keeping a brave face on. The rest of the company knows when their stage manager is stressed, which causes a general uneasy feeling among the rest of the team.

If the SM team is in control the rest of the company can relax and focus on their own role feeling confident that they are in good hands.

The most important traits in an SM are their calm demeanor, their broad technical skillset, and their ability to understand and handle interpersonal issues.

If you are interested in reading more on what makes a good stage manager, read my article on The Essential Skills for a Stage Manager.