Three quarters of stage managers who work with prompt desks have regularly experienced back or muscle pain as a result of their work, according to new research into working conditions.
Most said they often found the seating at a prompt desk unfit for purpose, and half have visited a healthcare specialist as a result of pain caused at work.
The Stage Management Association asked more than 500 deputy stage managers and showcallers in the UK about their experience of coordinating shows from prompt desks.
The majority of respondents (70%) said they were forced to stretch or twist their bodies to work effectively, as a result of outdated and impractical equipment, the SMA said.
Its executive director, Andy Rowley, said stage managers sit at prompt desks for up to 12 hours during technical rehearsals, and up to three and a half hours daily for a show, on desks that can be between 30 and 35 years old.
“We started receiving reports from stage managers about prompt desks causing all sorts of issues, and we needed to have some solid evidence. Looking at the survey, the evidence is definitely there, but the aim now is to raise awareness and put them on the agenda so over the next few years we can make significant improvements,” he said.
The SMA is preparing to draw up guidelines around the design, installation and use of prompt desks as part of a working group set up to address the issue. Rowley said he was aware of two manufacturers developing new designs, which he hopes will be “significantly better” for professional use.
The survey was carried out online and heard from 513 stage managers.
In other findings, 92% of respondents had never submitted a risk assessment for the equipment used to call a show, and 73% said they had rarely or never found prompt desks to be as well designed and positioned as those in modern offices where they had worked.
While 50% said they had visited a healthcare specialist as a result of back or muscle pain caused by their work, 68% said this had never been paid for by their employer.
Rowley said this was an example of stage management being overlooked around working conditions.
“Very few stage managers are given any help when it comes to osteopaths or medical help, which contrasts fairly sharply with acting companies, especially in the West End and on larger tours, where actors are given quite a lot of help with physiotherapy,” he said.
Rowley added that he hoped the results of the survey would help employers to prevent the problems in the first place by creating more comfortable and safer environments.