Get into stage management
The role of stage manager is a busy and challenging one. Laura Flowers was Resident Stage Manager at the Almeida Theatre, and explains how she got into stage management.
Stage management is a competitive field to get into. With few permanent positions available, many stage managers freelance, moving from production to production, sometimes with gaps of unemployment in between.
“It's common now to do a training course, and I did a three year degree. The more that you learn the better equipped you are to deal with different situations.
"It's a very intense experience doing a play. Everybody gets very close and has fantastic times."
"You could never say that once you've left college you will know everything that you could ever need to know about stage management. You continue to learn all the way through your career, because every show brings its own challenges.
"That's part of the fun and challenge of it and why people enjoy stage management. It isn't an easy job but it is very rewarding."
Working as a stage manager
Stage managers often work six days a week, sometimes starting early in the morning and finishing late, after that evening's performance has finished.
The Almeida Theatre produces its own work, which is a busy day for a stage manager. “I will work on the show that is in rehearsal, and I will work on the show that is performing in the evening, so I do quite long hours.
Laura shares evening duties with the Resident Company Manager. “We do half each, but it still means a long week. Sundays are holidays.”
Stage Managers co-ordinate the flow of information between all departments, therefore the ability to communicate well is a vital skill. “It is our responsibility to communicate everything that comes out of the rehearsal room to all the different members of the creative and production team.
"With the show in the evening: we need to run it, maintain it and distribute any information that comes out of it that everyone needs to know about.”
The process of stage managing a show
When starting to work on any new show, stage management are first given the script. “We read the script and make a props and furniture list, which is everything that's mentioned in the script, who uses it and how it's used.”
On the first day of rehearsals, whoever is involved with the production is invited to a 'meet and greet' and introduces themselves. Next comes the read through of the script. “It's brilliant to hear the actors voices for the first time, because until then you've only read it yourself.
"There will usually be a Model Box (an accurate 3D version of the set made by the set designer) there on the first day. So everyone gets a clear sense of the vision of the designer and a clearer idea of how the production is going to be realised."
"Finding that elusive object for a prop and seeing it on stage every night is just brilliant.”
Laura and her team are responsible for setting up the rehearsal room and ensuring that everyone is in the right place at the right time.
”I'll normally come in about half an hour before any of the actors are called with the rest of the stage management team. We'll set up the rehearsal room and make sure that everything is ready and deal with any issues that have come out the previous days rehearsal.Then we'll be in all day facilitating”.
On the evenings that Laura is working, “I will have to run out of rehearsal about 6.30pm to get down here to check that all the company that are performing that evening are there and deal with any issues. It can be quite a hectic day, without necessarily a break between those two different roles”.
“It's a very intense experience doing a play and everybody gets very close and has fantastic times. The last day is always very sad. It doesn't happen as often as you'd like, but with so many people being freelance you cross paths with people over and over again. There can be years in between, but it's so lovely when you see them again.”
Working with props and set design
Laurais also responsible for sourcing all of the props and furniture that are in the shows. “I absolutely adore that part of my job,. A play might be set in a very expensive place where everything needs to be the best quality.
"Often your budget doesn't allow you to actually get all those things, so you might have to give an effect of that period or that style without actually having the actual things".
Laura works closely with the set designer, using the 3D Model Box and list of props and furniture gleaned from the script to decide what is needed. She goes to lots of antique markets, getting up early to make sure she gets the best items for the best price.
“It can be sometimes be almost impossible to find something and that's the challenge. Getting the item that ticks all the boxes, that's what I really like. Finding that elusive object and seeing it on stage every night is just brilliant.”
Freelancing as a stage manager
Before working at the Almeida, Laura freelanced extensively. Stage management is a competitive field to get into with few permanent positions to go around.
"You can go for long periods without breaks and don't turn work down, because you never know when your next wage is coming from."
Typically, many start out as Assistant Stage Managers before progressing to become Deputy or Stage Managers.
“The people who train and are qualified to do the job definitely outnumber the amount of jobs there are available. But it is in no way the same as actors, so we are comparatively very lucky and generally find it easier to find work."
With more freelancers than permanent staff and an increasing amount of theatre companies without a permanent base, freelancing has become much more common in recent years.
“People do often have periods out of work. The worst thing about being a freelancer is the difficulty of turning work down. You constantly work, and you can go for long periods without breaks. And as much as you say, 'the next thing that comes along, I'll turn down' – you don't. Because you never know when your next wage is coming from.”
Laura stresses the importance of getting to know people: “The more places you work, the more contacts you make and it's all about networking and contacts because you never know who can give you your next job.”
Being a Resident Stage Manager means being involved much more with long-term planning. “When I started this was a big challenge, because it's just something as a freelancer you never worry about. You never really see past the last day of the show.”
A long-term career as a stage manager
"A lot of stage managers will move into different areas of theatre such as administration or general management. There are a lot women in stage management, and many who start families leave.
"It's not a job that can really be very easily fitted around family life because of the working hours, the way that we have to be on call, the long hours and early starts.
"Even though most rehearsals are due to finish at 6pm, they might overrun. You might have a problem that comes up at the end of the day and you really have to stay.”
Despite the long hours and unsocial working hours, Laura has great enthusiasm for her work and loves her job. "Most people who work in theatre do it for the love of it and it is a passion. People want to work hard. We did a show here earlier this year where stage management did an 83-hour week. If you didn't want to do it by the end of that you'd be asking yourself – why am I here?”