Stage managing in the curriculum

I’ve been putting off writing this post for some time now. The time has come to get things off my chest, and outline why I regard stage-managing as a valuable asset to the school and college syllabus.

Having practised as a lecturer for thirty years; and been involved in the setting of vocational and academic standards; and latterly involved in outreach and widening participation, I have come to believe that the subject contributes, or can contribute, or has the potential to contribute, a number of characteristics.

(Video shows London 2012, with in-ear calls provided by stage manager)

  1. There are vocational outcomes, related to technical presentation and the management of artists and events in live performance.
  2. The development of skills applicable to a range of connected activities. These include event management more generally; working in TV and music; organisational and training work among others.
  3. There are transferrable skills that have wide application: working under pressure and time-based decision making; crisis management; interpersonal skills; use of technology within a context.
  4. A way of understanding contemporary cultural representation, by understanding how meaning is created through the integration of human performance and visual and audio components.
  5. A way of understanding management and organisation through the development of a series of analogues and models. The theatre performance itself is, of course, an analogue; developing and presenting it is in itself part of this process.
  6. A holistic way of learning which lends itself to applied learning; the development of reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action see .

When I was constructing a BA programme in Stage management, I leant for theory on Jon McKenzie’s 2001 book Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance. In it, he analyses the real-life failure of the Challenger spacecraft in terms of its performative aspects. He defines three aspects of performance at play: the technology of the craft itself; the performance of management in terms of the decision making; and the broadcast performance, with its impact on scheduling, personnel etc. The latter two are also joined by the notion of culture: the management culture which lead to faulty decisions, and the launch as a cultural event screened to the world.

This distinction allows for a useful way of thinking about stage managing, which goes beyond the traditional procedural view, and allows the stage manager to be seen as a creative member of the team, with a necessary understanding of the aesthetics of the performance.

  1. Technology. The stage (read, place of performance) can be read as a series of more or less complex scenographic devices for creating meanings. These will include scenery of various kinds; lighting; sound; music; and now video; costume and props. the technology may be simple or complex.  All of these elements need to be designed in some way; pleas note, however, that uniting them as scenography integrates in some way these compo
    “Ka” in Las Vegas (Image from

    nents, in what I believe to be a sort of kinaesthetic relationship. Lighting and sound, for example, also have their own aesthetics, though properly we might consider these under the next heading.

  2. Culture. Understanding the aspects of culture production and representation is critical to knowing the outcomes which are being defined as part of artistic creation, rehearsal and quality management. There is an ethical dimension to this, making sure that inadvertent (or worse, deliberate) false representations, untruths do not occur; that there is an artistic integrity in the performance. In the West, we also celebrate innovation and novelty. The range of types of performance, through dance, drama, opera, music, site-specific and street performance, comes under this heading.
  3. Management. It should be remembered that the act of artistic creation is not separate from the creation of value, either in economic or social terms. Like any other enterprise, theatre is subject tot he same need for effective and efficient management. Gareth Morgan, who has experience of arts management, outlines a number of approaches to management theory, based on a set of models and analogues.

To these aspects I would now add a fourth, that I think of as Community. As well as the outward facing aspect of production, theatre makers need to take in

to account how their work is received, and the meanings not just as created but


also as understood. The role of the audience, and the 

strands of society to which they belong, should also be a concern of the stage manager; in the absence of which, meaning can be misconstrued. Boal’s construct is useful analysis of the effect of drama.

This short essay is in the nature of a rationale, and only points to the outcomes of training. What the content should be, and the pedagogy which delivers it, is the subject of another essay.



References and further reading:

Augusto Boal (1973) Trans Charles A. McBride et al (2000) Theatre of the Oppressed London, Pluto

McKenzie, J., 2001: Perform or Else: from discipline to Performance (London: Routledge).

Gareth Morgan (1986, 1997,2006) Images of Organization, Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications

Schön, Donald A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 046506874X. OCLC 8709452.