Want to meet the stars? Become a theatre stage manager!

One of the most exciting and rewarding positions for stage-struck job seekers is that of Theatre Stage Manager – coordinating every aspect of front of house and backstage to ensure the show runs like a dream! The stage manager is, literally, the human hub of the entire performance from the first rehearsal to the opening night and beyond. Responsible for managing rehearsal and costume calls, lighting and technical calls, the scenery and props department and all the performers and musicians involved in the production, the show couldn’t go on without the stage manager!

People management and personal stress management are two essential skills, with potential stage managers needing to be aware that artistes are temperamental creatures at best and monsters at worst, with directors and lighting designers a close second in the ‘explosive’ stakes. Divas male and female stalk the stage of any successful production, be it world-class opera, dance, recital, massive pop gig, musical, drama or the local amateur theatre company’s annual bash.

become a stage theatre manager

One famous female stage manager at the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden was faced, on the opening night of Verdi’s Don Carlos, with a bomb threat just five minutes after the curtain went up – with the added bonus of two members of the Royal Family in the Royal Box. Clearing the stage and dressing rooms of hundreds of singers and backstage workers in five minutes flat and supervising the clearing of the several thousand audience, her efficiency resulted in local pubs crammed with fully-costumed performers all waiting for an explosion which, happily, didn’t happen!

Everyday work activities have their glamorous side as well, with preparing rehearsal schedules, liaising with production mangers, directors, costume designers, wig-makers and all the backstage departments an important part of the job, whatever the size and location of the theatre. Less popular tasks include liaising with performers’ and stagehands’ trade unions and pacifying set designers whose creations aren’t practical as regards scene changes! Everyday upsides of this good job are getting up close and personal with famous artistes and watching a performance take its final, glorious shape.

During the show itself, the entire onstage and backstage area is run by the stage manager, with performers and stagehands alike subject to his or her authority. Calling performers to stage, cueing them on, supervising scene changes, checking lighting and sound requirements and making sure all props are in place is a complicated and stressful challenge essential to the success of the show. If touring, it’s even more difficult, as each theatre on the tour will have its own peculiarities, some of which may be very peculiar indeed.

The position is open to all graduates, although those with performing arts, music or theatre study degrees have a strong advantage. A good way in without formal qualifications is as a member of the stage crew, either in lighting or as a stage hand, gaining useful experience of how everything works along the way. Such good jobs are, however, highly sought after. Employers will look for computer skills, a sense of humour, (essential), and the ability to read music may be required. Problem solving and thinking on your feet is standard, as is staying calm when all about you are losing theirs!  

Salaries for this fascinating and rewarding job depend on the size and location of the theatre, with assistant stage managers at entry level on an average of £18,000, deputies on £20,000 to £25,000 and those fully experienced earning up to £40,000 or more. Most positions are contracted for the run of a specific show or tour, although the major opera, dance and drama venues keep permanent companies, allowing ongoing work patterns.

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