Stage Manager: Functionary or Creative?
If I was to ask who are the ‘Creatives’ on a theatre production, it’s fairly easy to guess most people’s response. At the top of most people’s list would be the director.
If it’s a new work, next would be the playwright or composer and if it’s a musical, the choreographer and musical director. Next would come the designers; the set designer, costume designer, lighting designer, sound designer, possibly a video or projection designer. Then you might include the cast, especially if it’s an ensemble work. But if I was to ask you if you considered the stage manager to be a ‘Creative’, what would you say? Many would answer no, although they would acknowledge that the stage manager is essential to any theatre production.
Is the stage manager a part of the creative process or do they perform a functionary role?
It’s the stage managers job to manage the running of the production from the rehearsal room all the way through to closing night. During the rehearsal period, the stage manager is responsible for noting all of the blocking, coordinating the room and keeping all the production team informed of any changes that are made. They need to have a close working relationship with the director.
Some directors might even consider them their right hand. Often the stage manager is the only other person in the room with the director, besides the cast. Although their primary function to run the room, they can be turned to by the director for a creative opinion on a scene or performance by an actor. I know in the past that a director used me a sounding board during a rehearsal. In this instance, I have had the chance to offer my creative opinion.
However, this is a general understanding that the stage manager will not offer their opinion unless they have an established relationship with the director or their opinion is asked for.
During the technical period, the show is being created into the version the audience will see on opening night. The set has finished being built, the cast are now in their costumes and the sound and lighting cues are being added. The stage manager creates the prompt script during this process, which indicates where the cues should be called throughout the show.
Although the director and designers will have decided where the cues should fall, it is up to the stage manager to call these cues correctly. Sometimes during the creation process the stage manager will be called upon to give thoughts on the placement of the cues.
On opening night, the director will leave and hand the show over to the stage manager. There is a trust that is placed in this transfer that the stage manager will maintain the artistic integrity of the show. This is done with the help of a dance captain or assistant director who stay on. Often on smaller shows, the stage manager is left solely with this responsibility.
It is their task to rehearse in new cast members or understudies, if required, and to give notes to the cast to make sure the director’s vision is preserved through the run of the show.
While the calling of the cues should be based on the placement made during the technical rehearsals, there is often a window of flexibility for the stage manager if, for example, they have to adjust based on problems that arise during the performance or extending a pause to allow for the audiences react.
Although it is clear that the stage manager’s contribution to a production is a large and necessary one, I believe it’s hard to say definitively if the stage manager is a creative part of the process.
I believe it depends on the personality of the individual stage manager and their relationship with the director. Some stage managers are very happy not to be involved in the creative process, and although some of the work they do may be considered creative, they would prefer not to be defined that way.
Other stage managers enjoy being actively involved in the creative process and like to give their opinion when called upon. These stage managers develop long working relationships with particular directors and work with them on multiple productions. Ultimately I believe that any person involved in a production, from the light board operator to the director, makes a creative contribution to the show. It’s only the size of the contribution that’s different.