Stage managers: the real A-Team

by -

Test your mettle – become a stage manager. Putting on a show and ensuring it happens on the advertised day, at the advertised time can be very pressurised, juggling and prioritising demands. Things can’t be put off, either – if stage managers don’t give that “go”, ultimately nothing will happen, and it’s no good saying “I’ll have dinner and then preset the stage” because, inexorably, time moves on and the auditorium has to be opened, whether you’ve had your dinner or not.

Life outside a theatre, by comparison, is pifflingly easy. Deadlines? Oh, we’ve missed one, shall we adjust it to next Thursday then? I couldn’t quite get this done this week, I’ll do it next week, except I’m on holiday, and then on a training course, so maybe the week after next.

I can see The Stage’s mailbag swelling as I write – no, I’m not saying nobody outside the live arts knows how to get anything done, or done on time. But often ‘deadline’ is a misnomer since things, realistically, could be done at a later stage: no tickets have been sold to hundreds of people for 7.30pm tonight.

Stage managing also constantly demands you step outside your comfort zone – even on a long contract, each live show is different and, well, live, so unpredictable. Can you cope with the pressure of taking decisions rapidly on your own, of constantly adjusting to a shifting set of situations? What will you be like in a crisis, if a piece of set collapses or the fire alarm goes off? Will you be able to take action or will you be mired in indecision, a rabbit caught in headlights? If you’re a successful stage manager you know you can handle an emergency, but will you ever find out what you’re really made of if you’re not?

It’s my theory that that is why people climb Machu Picchu or go backpacking in Afghanistan – to push themselves to the limit and see what comes out. Instead, they could simply get together with their mates at home and put on a show in a day – it would sort the wheat from the chaff in no time at all. Come to think of it, do this before you go backpacking with friends, to make sure they’re the right people to set off with.