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A Stage Manager Tells: Before Rehearsal Begins

By Miranda Swineford

Most people that work in theatre have a pretty good idea of what a stage manager does during rehearsals – at least, the things that can be seen. We take blocking notes, cue lines, keep track of the time, coordinate presets and scene changes, answer the questions, and solve the problems. Yet, there are so many things a stage manager does, so many balls constantly being juggled, that many elements of the stage manager’s job go unnoticed. So, in honor of the unseen, here is a sampling of some tasks a stage manager completes before rehearsal.

Early in our morning, we check our phone. There is a smattering of unread emails. The lighting designer is curious about why the blocking changed during that intense monologue, as now she has to rethink the entire look. She wants to meet with the director and see a run through of the new blocking in rehearsal, today, if possible. One actor requests a day off next week for his daughter’s science fair. The day he wants, of course, was the day we planned to have a designer run. The costume designer hopes to stop in for a last-minute fitting because the long-awaited antique dress has finally arrived in the mail. There are questions about comp tickets, about days off, about snack allergies, and so on.

The responses take time and coordination, as all requests are time-sensitive and involve many busy schedules. We are the intermediary for all, whilst we adhere to strict union rules, venue constraints, and the occasional difficult personality.

Each time we are away from our electronics, when we shower or ride the train, we return to further inquiries. Yet, we are consummate professionals and mornings like this are typical. We know the most efficient course of action for each situation and each temperament. Plans are made, compromises forged.

Then, we finally arrive at the rehearsal room, we unlock the door, turn on the lights, adjust the AC, and start brewing the coffee. We post the schedule and any other updates on the call board. Set up chairs and tables. Sharpen the pencils. Print and collate any new script pages. As time passes, we start to field the frantic pre-rehearsal communication. Someone has the flu, someone’s tire blew, and so on.

We roll with the punches, continuously adjusting to make sure our rehearsal is productive, even if it does not go exactly as we planned. And, it never does go exactly as planned.

After everything is set, people begin to arrive. They collect their new paperwork and drink the fresh coffee. At this point, we have already been working for hours. Most people have no idea about all that we have already done, which means – we’ve done it well. We watch the clock and, when the time comes, we announce to the room that it’s time for rehearsal. Just now, rehearsal begins.

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