Stage management

The history of stage managing is long, but not much recorded. As I’ve quoted elsewhere on here,

Alan Read, in Theatre and Everyday Life, (Routledge 1993) cites a journal from 1734 called  ‘The Prompter’ which describes someone who “though he seemed not to command yet all his instructions were punctually complied with, and in the modest character of an adviser had the whole management and direction of that little commonwealth”. The characteristics described – punctuality and modesty – are still the same one can observe today.

The items in this menu section refer to a number of aspects of the role. Looking at the textbooks on the subject, most refer to what I call the procedural aspects: this is what stage managers do. I’ would pose the thought that these functional aspects also have broader aspects. Stage managing is an organisational approach to making theatre; a tool for understanding the creation of meaning (and therefore of how meaning is created in broader society, not just in the microcosm of its representation); and concerned with the relationships between different players of the ‘sign machine’ (hence implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, political in its mode. Hence, I’m describing a view of stage management which is about how practitioners operate, a conceptual approach.

Stage management: the procedural view

Stage management team are usually responsible for:

  • Booking and setting up rehearsal rooms
  • Scheduling and calling artists, and keeping hours to contract
  • Recording rehearsal progress and actions
  • Advising director on technical and artistic matters
  • Learning the show, and its artistic intentions
  • Attending, calling meetings, and recording decisions
  • Negotiating changes to planned actions
  • Contacts with outside suppliers, gathering production material
  • Planning and executing scene changes
  • Cueing artists and technicians
  • Health and safety throughout the process
  • Movement of the show if touring
  • Both discipline and pastoral care of company

They may also be responsibe for a vast range of other duties, dependant on circumstance.


The functional view:

  • Rehearsal organisational
  • Artistic support and control
  • Liaison, negotiation and arbitration
  • Technical functions
  • Strategic planning

This list can form the basis of work prioritisation – at any particular point, which is the most important function?



Dynamic view:
Conventionally, the pattern is broken down to time-based functions:

  • Pre rehearsal preparations
  • Rehearsal period
  • Technical week
  • Performances
  • (Touring period)
  • Post performance.

I prefer to look at phases of activity (or underlying principles of action)

  • Gathering information
  • Experiment or testing
  • Decide on plan
  • Implement
  • Deal with consequences

This pattern is actually cyclical, and exists at different scales of resolution.

Areas of activity 

What is theatre?

  • a building
  • an activity
  • a producing company
  • an organisation
  • an act of communication
  • a social or cultural event

Types of theatre organisations

  • ‘national’ companies
  • commercial touring companies
  • West End managements
  • Regional repertory theatres
  • Touring houses
  • Civic theatres
  • Amateur (‘little’) theatres
  • Fringe theatres
  • Site specific and immersive performance
  • Circus
  • ‘Applied’ theatre
    • Theatre in education, and for Young People
    • Theatre in prisons
    • Forum and legislative theatre
    • Therapeutic drama

Stage managers also apply their skills to:

  • Event management
  • Conferences
  • Festivals
  • Product launches
  • Television stage management and floor management