Do you always believe that the show must go on? Do you want to spend your days hanging around London’s Theatreland? Do you fantasise about working at the National Theatre or Shakespeare’s Globe? Well, you’re in the right place! Find your seat, stop crinkling your bag of Fruit Pastilles and read all about the professional life of a theatre stage manager.
Theatre stage managers are the incredibly organised people who are responsible for making sure theatrical performances go off without a hitch. If you enter this line of work, you will organise and coordinate rehearsals, manage the cast, the lighting technicians, the sound technicians, the prop department, the costume department, and handle any problems when they arise.
As a stage manager, you’ll act as a go-between, liaising with the technical crew, the director and all of the other backstage and front-of-house staff. During the performance, you’ll run the show behind the scenes, making sure actors know when they need to go on stage, and handling any problems with costumes, props, lighting and sound.
You will have ultimate responsibility for the props, costumes and sets. This means managing the budget, buying all of the necessary materials on behalf of the theatre company, and managing set changes in between scenes. You’ll also be responsible for making sure props and costumes are well looked after and replaced when necessary.
You may also be in charge of ‘prompting’ the actors during performances, putting together the prompt script and offering prompts from the wings when required.
Finally, you’ll be responsible for making sure everyone and everything complies with health and safety regulations, both on-stage and backstage.
Salary & benefits
When you start your career as an assistant stage manager, you will most likely earn somewhere between £18,000 and £22,000 per annum.
Once you progress into the role of stage manager, you can earn anywhere between £20,000 and £30,000 a year. Over the years, your salary may increase up to £40,000 and beyond.
Equity, the trade union for professional performers and creative practitioners, sets minimum salaries for theatre stage managers. However, it’s possible for freelance stage managers with plenty of experience and a fantastic reputation to earn a whole lot more.
Understandably, theatre stage managers tend to work when other people go to the theatre. Consequently, evening and weekend work is a regular fixture. If you work for a touring company, you may be required to travel around the country for months at a time.
Occasionally, the work can be physically strenuous. Consequently, a certain level of stamina and physical fitness is required.
Graduates with a degree or HND (higher national diploma) in any subject can enter this line of work, although a degree in performing arts, theatre studies or drama may help you stand out from the crowd.
You don’t need a degree to become a theatre stage manager. You can break into the theatre business straight out of school by working in a junior position and then gradually climbing your way up the career ladder.
If you have your heart set on becoming a stage manager, the most important thing to do is get relevant work experience in a theatre. This area of work is highly competitive and therefore amassing a decent amount of work experience is essential.
Training & progression
As an assistant stage manager, the majority of your training will be done ‘on-the-job’ under the supervision of an experienced stage manager. You may, however, also choose to attend training courses offered by external organisations, such as the Stage Management Association.
From your entry-level position of assistant stage manager, you will progress into the position of stage manager once you have gained sufficient experience. You may even adopt the position of deputy stage manager along the way.
Once you have gained plenty of experience and established your reputation as a competent stage manager, you may become the stage manager for an entire theatre company.
You may eventually even make the leap up into theatre management, where you’ll be responsible for the corporate side of the business too, dealing with everything from HR and marketing to procurement and PR. Alternatively, you might wish to develop your creative side and become a theatre director.
Some stage managers move into other areas of the entertainment industry, such as television or film, while others simply decide to become freelance stage managers and work for a range of different theatre companies.