Setting the scene: How to become a stage manager

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The Independent Online

From theatrical work to music festivals, good stage management is vital.

When the actors in a fantastic play are on stage taking their umpteenth curtain call in front of a rapturous audience, there are other people in the theatre who are just as deserving of a standing ovation. In fact, without them, there wouldn’t be a play to watch in the first place.

What does a stage manager do?

Stage managers are the people behind the scenes whose job it is to make sure that the organisation of a play – everything from the first rehearsals right through to clearing up after the last performance – goes off without a hitch. It is a job packed with responsibility: the ability to multi-task, communicate effectively, pay attention to detail and remain calm under pressure is crucial.

A stage manager’s role varies from production to production in terms of the scope of what is involved. For example, those managing amateur performances – or plays with a limited budget – could find themselves helping to build sets, assist on costume fittings, help with make-up and even drive the cast around venues. Generally, however, the role will always include managing rehearsals, sourcing props, maintaining a prompt book and liaising with the actors, director, technical team, venue owners, box office and front-of-house staff to ensure everyone knows where they are meant to be and what they are supposed to be doing.

Courses on offer

Courses in stage management are generally taught as two-year foundation degrees (although there are three-year degree course options at some UK institutions). A foundation degree gives students the right skills to attract employer at the end of their course. Budding stage managers need to go through the ranks as assistant stage managers and deputy stage managers before they can take on the title role, but graduates go on to become technical assistants, stage managers, specialists in audio and visual techniques or even project managers at events outside the world of drama.

For example, many graduates work at music festivals or for music companies in the UK and even internationally, as the skills gained on a stage management course in the UK are recognised throughout the world. To get onto a stage management course, you will need anywhere between 60 and 160 Ucas points, depending on which institution you apply to. Mature students need relevant experience within the industry to be considered.

Potential students are usually interviewed before getting a place on a course. A portfolio of past work or other evidence of having already got involved with stage management at school or college can be useful, but institutions will also consider a person’s passion and commitment.

Skills needed

Overall, students must demonstrate a good aptitude and attitude to get onto a course. There are a number of modules on a stage management course to help students gain the skills they need to be employed in the industry. Lighting, sound and audio, and basic rigging skills are all taught, as is the expertise to be able to break down a script (for actors’ cue calls and scenery or lighting changes) and all the elements of health and safety: making sure there are accessible fire exits for the cast, for example.

Most of the basic elements of a stage management course use traditional methods, but students will be trained to use new technology too. This includes using the most up-to-date digital lighting, sound desks and moving lights, as well as computeraided design programmes for stage designs.

Students are taught through a variety of different methods, including lectures, practical workshops, tutorials and work-related tasks on performances and productions. Self-directed study is also a key part of a stage management course, with students required to do their own research outside of class time.

Work-based learning is another important aspect of any stage management course. There are opportunities to work on various work placements, which give students a chance to get a real feel for what the job involves, gaining hands-on experience within the industry and building up their portfolios.

Assessment is usually through written and practical assignments, including keeping a journal during the preparation and execution of a performance and conducting research projects. However, how a stage manager is assessed in their career is down to them





  • For a full list of courses, use the course search facility at www.ucas.ac.uk

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