A stage manager is responsible for the overall organization of a theatrical production. The job requires keeping actors and technicians on task, managing meetings and rehearsals, and remaining calm and level-headed throughout a process that tends to be emotionally and physically draining. Although a difficult task, the job can be highly rewarding when the result is a successful production.
All duties involving organization and scheduling of a production fall to the stage manager. While the director or producer generally determines the overall schedule, the stage manager handles the details of keeping an up-to-date production calendar, reserving rehearsal space and related tasks. During rehearsals, the stage manager takes notes for the director, actors and technicians, including movements across the stage, script changes and light, sound and scenery needs.
Through meetings with others, the stage manager compiles a master script that includes all of these details and updates it with every meeting and rehearsal. During technical rehearsals and shows, the stage manager uses this script to let each technician know when to take a cue, such as changing the lighting look or playing music.
While the stage manager is responsible for organizing everything and keeping the master script, she is expected to ensure everything upholds the director's vision for the play. Stage managers are not generally allowed any creative input on the production as far as how actors deliver their lines, where they stand (beyond relaying what the director has said) or how the technical aspects look. However, some directors will consult trusted stage managers about the vision of the play.
In nonprofessional theaters and many professional theaters, stage management work requires evening and late night work during rehearsals and shows. Because the stage manager is responsible for setting up rehearsal and performance spaces and cleaning them afterward, long hours may be required at unconventional times. Some professional theaters use traditional office hours for rehearsal schedules, planning and meetings and only require evening or late night work during the run of the show. Weekend commitments are standard for theater workers, with Monday being the most common day off each week.
Due to the quantity of responsibilities a stage manager has, he must be extremely organized and able to find information quickly. Legible handwriting is a must, as the master script must be easy to read by another person should the stage manager fall ill and require a replacement. Stage managers must be experts at dealing with a variety of personality types and remain even-tempered even when others are excitable or upset, which happens frequently as the tension mounts near show times. Good stage managers are able to anticipate the needs of the production and the director and carry out tasks without being asked.
Stage managers are needed in a wide variety of performance environments. In addition to more traditional theater venues, summer stock theaters often require extended outdoor work. Traveling shows may require long hours on a tour bus and a heavy workload after very little sleep. Stage managers may also be used for touring music acts, which add the element of repeated exposure to high volume sound to the work environment.