ASK PLAYBILL.COM: Stage Managers

Ask Playbill.com   ASK PLAYBILL.COM: Stage Managers Examining the responsibilities of stage managers and production stage managers.

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This question comes from Robert Seier of Bronx, NY.

Question: What exactly is the difference between a stage manager (or assistant stage manager) and a production stage manager in terms of their respective responsibilities in a theatrical production? Answer: To answer this question, AskPlaybill.com spoke with a spokesperson for Actors' Equity (which also governs stage managers) and Ira Mont, the third vice president of Actors' Equity (an office held by a stage manager) and currently the stage manager of Young Frankenstein.

Let's get the titles out of the way first: The person billed in the Playbill as production stage manager is the boss, followed by the stage manager, and then the assistant stage manager, plus any other assistant stage managers who might be hired.

That's what happens in the Playbill. In the contracts, the titles work differently, Mont says. Let's take a scenario where the entire team is a production stage manager, stage manager and assistant stage manager — which is currently the case on Young Frankenstein, Mont says, though they might need to hire another assistant because of the workload. In this case, Mont says, the person billed as production stage manager is contracted as the "stage manager," the person billed as stage manager (Mont) is contracted as "first assistant stage manager," and the person billed as assistant stage manager is contracted as "second assistant stage manager." Confused? Don't worry, this stuff basically just governs who gets paid what.

While Mont says that most Broadway musicals these days have a production stage manager, the boss of the stage management team will often just have the title "stage manager," especially in smaller productions Off-Broadway and regionally.

Almost all Broadway musicals require at least three people on the stage management team, Mont says. Plays require at least two.

So now that we've got the titles out of the way, what do stage managers do? Basically, they coordinate the artistic side of the show. They carry out the director and producers' wishes and help them maintain the show's artistic integrity. They schedule rehearsals, keep track of all the technical cues and the blocking (the movements of the actors during the show), and coordinate the actors and the tech aspects during a show. Note that the stage management staff is distinct from the company management, which deals more with the business side, such as payroll, contracts and ordering supplies for vendors.

In terms of the breakdown of which member of the stage management team does what, it always varies. "Fundamentally, I feel like all the stage managers on a team share in all of the duties," Mont says. "It's really just a question of how you would organize any office or any organization — there's one person [who has] got to be in charge, delegating how things get done."

During rehearsal, Mont says, "One person might be in charge of taking down blocking. One person might be in charge of tracking all the costumes and props required." The production manager might take down the blocking and also serve as the stage management's point person for the director, designers and other members of the production team. During the technical rehearsals, when all the tech elements come together for the first time, Mont says, "Usually the production stage manager will tech the show, set up the calling of the show, and the other stage managers will be on the deck setting up."

Calling the show, for those who don't know, means telling everyone working on the show, via headset, when each cue should occur, right before it's supposed to occur — such as telling the light board operator when to switch the lights, or telling the sound board operator when to bring in a sound effect. Mont says that early on, the production stage manager typically calls the show, but everyone on the stage management team eventually gets a turn. While one stage manager is calling the show, the others are in the wings, helping to set up and direct traffic.

Sometimes, during a show's run, the production stage manager can't call the show because he or she has to be taking notes for the actors and director. Some production stage managers, if they have the clout, may even get a title such as "associate director," Mont says.

During a show's run, the stage management team is also responsible for running rehearsals for understudies and cast replacements, often on their own, without the original director present. The production stage manager will often serve as the "de facto director" during this process, Mont says, while the other stage managers will help out and sometimes even jump in to read lines.