What you should expect from your SM and PM

What should you expect from your production manager and stage manager. For those new to the industry you are often confused by the various roles and what they should be doing. So let us explain some of these roles and what they involve.

Stage Manager

The role of the stage manger is a very demanding one. As they are responsible for the actual smooth running of the show once it hits the stage. But before it is on stage there is a whole host of things that a stage manager needs to do. In a lot of productions the stage attends as many rehearsals as possible, and during those rehearsals they make notes in their prompt script of actors moves, entrances and exits, possible cue points. Their prompt copy will become the show bible, it will have copies of the lighting, audio and AV cues, it will have copies of all the plans – from set plans to lighting plans. Also relevant information such as contact lists, budgets, props etc will also be in this folder. 

Many productions will have the stage manager call the the lighting, audio cues to the operators. This is often down over a communications system. They will also make sure all cast are in place, sometimes calling them a page or two before their entrance. They will make sure that props are in place, crew are ready and everybody is present and ready to do their best for the show.

So what skills does a stage manager require? The actually need a large variety of skills. They need an understanding of lighting and audio, therefore if there is a tech issue they can understand what is the problem and possibly suggest solutions/ They need to understand safety and how to implement safe work practices, they need to be able to work under stress and deal with people, from cast and crew to the general public.

A stage manager manager that has no tech understanding etc really is not a Stage Manager. They are in control of what is happening on stage. They need to be able communicate precisely with the crew about any tech issues. A good stage manager will always keep up with changes in technology. They won’t necessarily know how to use it all, but they will know the principle behind the equipment and what it is used for.

Production Manager

So what does a production manager do? The production is a major player in a production. Their task is to make sure all of the tech elements come together and on budget. The role of the production manager requires that you know a lot about all of the various technical aspects of the production you are currently working on.

This will involve dealing with matters ranging from the procurement of staff, materials and services, to freight, set construction, logistics,  labour relations,  venue booking, scheduling, operations management, mending delay problems and workplace safety.

The skill set is quite extensive. Often production managers come up through the ranks, having worked in a variety of other technical theatre areas. They may have started out as a lighting tech, or set construction. From these roles they have expanded their skill set, done further training and then made the step up to Production Manager. So they know about all of the backstage roles, and also about time management, budgeting, payroll systems, union regulations.They will have extensive knowledge of WHS in the workplace with special emphasis of the performing arts.  Their knowledge is very extensive and they will keep on learning everyday.

Therefore these two roles are critical for the smooth running of a show. Without them the show is likely to grind to a halt. So when you get a SM and PM respect them for their knowledge, but be very concerned if they have very little experience in theatre. I have had this happen and the end result was not pretty.

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