A career in stage management

 25 March 2011

Veronica Berg moved from Sweden to train at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Five years after graduating, she has worked on shows and tours all around Britain and abroad.

Veronica Berg trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Veronica Berg trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Getting into stage management

Veronica took an unusual route into stage management. She began working at the Opera House in Gothenburg, but in the kitchen. After only a week, she was asked if she was interested in working for front of house. From there, she worked in the bar until she was head bartender. Then she moved on to the restaurant and became head waiter.

Wherever opportunities arose, Veronica would take them. By the time she’d worked there for nine years, she had a real taste for working as a director’s assistant and as a stage manager.

Skills to be a stage manager

By this point, Veronica wanted to learn more. She wanted qualifications. There are technical theatre schools in Sweden, but she choose the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, in London.

“I’d been working in Gothenburg for so many years, I wanted the challenge of another country. A couple of friends of mine from the Opera recommended Guildhall. And I wanted to improve my English somewhere where there was an exciting theatre scene.”

She did some research and found that Guildhall had the same departments as the Opera House. Singers, actors and stage technicians were all training in one place together. This appealed to her.

“Considering I really enjoyed working at the Opera House, I applied there. I came over to do an interview at Guildhall, then I went back to Sweden. A couple of weeks later I got a letter saying I was accepted!”

Finding work as a stage manager

“It’s similar to acting. You need to keep yourself out there, and not be discouraged when you get a ‘no’."

Stage managers are self-employed. They find work in the same way as actors do, but very few have agents to help them. So what does Veronica do to find work?

“I write letters, and letters, and loads of letters! I try to keep in touch with people I’ve worked with before. I also send updated CVs to people I’d like to work with. I have a long list that I’ve had since I finished Guildhall. That list keeps getting additions!”

“I’ve been busy since I finished Guildhall, so I can’t complain. Maybe there are other people who have had it better, but also people who have had it worse. I’m kind of in the middle somewhere.”

Developing a career in stage management

Veronica had a solid career ahead of her at the Opera House in Gothenburg. But she opted to stay in London and, despite the recession, she found work. Although she started with very few contacts in Britain, once a company has used her once, they often use her again. But does she think of going back home?

“There are fewer theatres in Sweden, less work, but the theatres know me. Here there a lot more theatres, and a lot more competition. I think it’s kind of fifty-fifty! It all depends on if you get the jobs or not.”

That’s the hard truth for anyone working in the theatre business. You have to go where the work is. Also, contracts are usually short. Many shows only run for a few months. Just as you get used to one show, your job ends. And there’s never a guarantee of another one.

“I think that’s the frustrating part, because sometimes you get so many phone calls. They ask, ‘can you do this’, ‘can you do this’, and you have a hard time choosing. At other times, there’s nothing, there’s absolutely nothing, no-one calls, you don’t hear anything.

“With luck, you have some work to go to in-between. If you don’t, when you’re working you save money. Hopefully you’ll manage to get to the next job. I’ve been quite lucky. I’ve always had something coming up, or I’ve found something a short time after I’ve finished the last job.”

Advice for stage managers

In building a career in stage management, a little luck helps. But so does determination and willpower.

“It’s similar to acting. You need to keep yourself out there at the same time as not being discouraged when you get a ‘no’! Because there’s loads of ‘no’, but also loads of ‘yes’.

In the theatre business, you have to go where the work is. Contracts are usually short. Many shows only run for a few months. Just as you get used to one show, your job ends.

“You need to make loads of choices too. When you have all the phone calls it’s hard to pick the right one.

"You don’t want to say no to something and then sit without, and you don’t want to say yes to something and then miss out on something better. So, it’s kind of a balancing act.”

Glamour isn’t really part of a stage manager’s lot, Veronica feels. You work behind the scenes. It’s very easy to feel overlooked. The audience doesn’t usually applaud the stage managers directly, however well they work. Does she ever want to come out and take a bow?

“Oh my god, no! No, I’m much more a back stage person. But it’s exciting, it’s always different. One work day is never the same as another. It’s alive, it’s not mundane. Many different kinds of people work together to create something great.”

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