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Oxford University Theatre Technicians and Designers

Stage Management Guide

Roles

Stage Manager

The role of the stage manager in Oxford student productions often varies a great deal from what is standard in professional theatre. The role also varies significantly between the United Kingdom and North America, where the roles of SM and DSM are combined as the responsibility of a single person.

The Oxford stage manager is usually responsible for the organization and tidiness of the backstage areas, for ensuring that any set changes or costume changes happen smoothly and efficiently, and for ensuring that the actors have any props that they might need, at the time they are needed. In Oxford productions, which often do not have the separate role of “Properties Designer”, the responsibility for sourcing hand props falls to the stage manager, and indeed is often one of the main facets of the job. Similarly, in productions that do not have the separate role of “Fight Director” or “Fight Captain”, the stage manager is usually in charge of running fight calls before each show.

In professional theatre, the stage manager has a much wider range of duties: they are responsible for coordination and communication between the director and actors on the one hand, and the production team on the other. The SM is responsible for maintaining the director’s and designers’ vision throughout the run of a show, and for preventing anything from adversely affecting the production - providing calm and collected management of any issues or crises that may arise at any time.

Deputy Stage Manager

The Deputy Stage Manager (DSM) is responsible for coordinating all of the technical cues (lighting, sound, video or projection, flying, automation, pyrotechnics, etc.) in the show, by means of calling. They are therefore also responsible for creating and maintaining the prompt book, a copy of the script in which all of these cues are marked. For musicals or operatic performances that require precise coordination of technical cues and music, the DSM may mark cues directly into a copy of the score (and an ability to read music will then be essential).

In professional theatre, the DSM is also responsible for creating and distributing rehearsal schedules, attending all rehearsals in order to record blocking (the positions and movements of the actors on stage), and taking detailed notes to distribute to the production team about any relevant issues that arise during rehearsals (e.g. one actor’s jacket will need a pocket, the director would like a spotlight on another actor at the beginning of scene 1.4, a third actor will be topless in scene 2.1 so their wireless mic will need to be concealed somehow, etc.).

Assistant Stage Manager(s)

The assistant stage manager (ASM) works closely with the stage manager to ensure that backstage runs smoothly: helping with set changes and costume changes, and managing props. Depending on the complexity of the show, the number of ASMs required will vary greatly: a show with a large number of set changes, or set changes that require lifting heavy furniture will obviously require more ASMs than a show with no set changes at all. ASMs should be invited to attend production meetings and paper techs, so that they understand the show thoroughly, and so that they gain a fuller understanding of the stage manager’s role, since they may later go on to stage manage shows themselves.

Company Stage Manager

In Oxford theatre, a company stage manager (CSM) is responsible for managing the cast while in the space; maintaining order backstage, and ensuring that actors are where they need to be at all times. This is not a common role in Oxford, and normally the Stage Manager and/or ASMs will have these responsibilities. On productions with very large casts and/or bands, particularly in the Playhouse, some companies have introduced this role in order to take pressure off the rest of the stage management team.

In professional theatre, the role is rather different - professional CSMs are part of the administrative side of the company, and effectively represent the producers of the show. They may also coordinate press and publicity, and ensure that regulations set forth by various unions (such as Equity and BECTU, for actors and technicians respectively) are followed by the production.

Resources

Career Guide - The Stage Management Association’s guide to working as a stage manager, deputy stage manager, or assistant stage manager in the UK.

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