Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…
Ros Clifford, 30, is a deputy stage manager. She has worked extensively in London and regional theatre for nine years
Velma Lee is a 32-year-old actor, comic and improvisor
Vivian Lee is 38 and has played leading roles at the National, the RSC and the Royal Court, alongside regular TV appearances
Charlotte Osmand is in her 30s and has worked as a stage manager on and off the book in venues across the UK, as well as in event management
Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA-winning sitcoms, theatre and TV
Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays, and toured both nationally and internationally
Peter Quince is a 72-year-old actor working in theatre
Beryl You can tell how good they are by how happy the members of their direct stage management team are.
Albert Actually enjoying their job.
Peter Being firm but fun.
Velma It’s everything that makes a good manager, in the general sense of the term, isn’t it? People skills, approachability, big picture and calm in a crisis.
Vivian One who makes you feel safe, frankly. One who knows what they are doing. One who doesn’t look at actors as if they were feral cats in their lovely dining room.
Beryl You need to be able to talk to your company manager about anything.
Vivian I’ve had amazing ones who really added to the whole experience. They make a company feel like a company – more than any awkward company meal can ever do.
Albert Understanding how illogical and irrational most of the people they are working with can be, and being flexible, yet serving the best needs of the production.
Peter Treading that fine line where you fulfil your duty to the producers but still genuinely care for the workers.
Albert Someone who gets a good deal for the company meal, but isn’t the last to leave.
Beryl Really important, particularly if touring.
Jon I see this stage management-related topic has inspired a flurry of responses from everyone except our stage managers…
Ros I was interested to see what you all thought.
Charlotte I’m taking notes.
Vivian I’ve also had a company manager who took an actor out for dinner before a show to warn him that there had been a complaint of sexual harassment against him, and to watch himself. He was told who had made the complaint. The actress in question hadn’t been told about this, and her first scene was going on stage and being snogged by him. She found out that he knew it was her who had complained at the half, when the company manager came in to tell her the ‘good news’ that he had sorted it all.
Ros Oh my goodness.
Beryl That’s just bad management all round.
Velma That’s the fear I have as a woman, because the hierarchy is so hazy. It’s so important to balance friendliness with professionalism.
Vivian Fortunately, that was a rare bad story in among the many lovely company managers I’ve had.
Jon A friend of mine once described the ideal touring company stage manager as “someone who turns a blind eye to people taking coke after the show, but doesn’t take any themselves”. That friend certainly has issues but it works pretty well if you take it as a metaphor rather than literally.
Beryl The only bad CMs for me have
been those who feel disconnected or uninterested in the project. But this attitude is very rare and I haven’t come across it in donkey’s years.
Velma In the one bad experience I’ve had, they definitely bred a culture of ‘them and us’ and it became stagnant very quickly.
Peter The worst are those who see actors as problems to be coped with.
Jon I’ve only ever had two bad CSMs that I can think of – and actually they were both when I was working with Ros, so commiserations for that, Ros, and well done for putting up with them…
Ros I was just thinking about that…
Peter The best one I worked with was supremely efficient but made the job seem like fun.
Charlotte As a young assistant stage manager I did work with a CM who seemed to hate actors. I couldn’t work out why you would do the job if you didn’t like actors.
Beryl I think it’s a hard gig but it’s so important.
Jon Another thing to mention is that they have to be able to balance the ‘sitting in the office doing paperwork’ part with the ‘being a visible, comforting presence’ part.
Ros I’ve encountered too many CMs and CSMs who don’t show up every day. This not only causes the company to feel under-supported, but creates more work for the rest of us. A good CM is a truly magical, wonderful thing.
Beryl If you love the role, surely it must be rewarding, though – partly due to the variety of stuff in the job?
Peter One of our leading commercial producers requires CMs to understudy.
Velma I’d love to hear more from the stage managers.
Ros I’ve been a CSM a couple of times and, though it’s been tough, I’ve found it very rewarding.
Jon Correct me if I’m wrong, people who know better: I get the feeling that a lot of people end up as CMs because they feel the career path requires it, but once they’re there they miss being in rehearsal next to the director all day.
Ros I want to be a CM eventually – not because I feel the career path requires it,
just because I really want to.
Charlotte I tend to CSM on smaller shows where I can have that direct contact with
the company more. Having said that, if you want to have contact with the company as a CM you will.
Vivian That’s a good point. It’s funny with managerial roles: the promotion takes you away from the very thing that gets you into the sector to begin with. I’m basing this on cop shows I’ve seen…
Jon Hand in the badge, Vivian. I’m pairing you with this rookie for your last day.
Ros It can take you away from direct contact if you let it – but not if you get the balance right.
Jon Dryden Taylor is an actor, writer and editor of The Green Room. If you work in theatre and would like to join in the conversation, email firstname.lastname@example.org