Case Study: Assistant Stage Manager - Kat

What do you do?

I'm assistant stage manager at the Nottingham Playhouse.

Different types of stage manager have various different duties.

I'm here mostly during the evening, working backstage with props and actors, and dealing with any actors' problems that crop up. I also look after dressers and any other casual staff that we have, and generally keep an eye on things backstage during the show.

During the day, I sort and find props for the show that is currently in rehearsal. In a producing theatre, that's how it works, it's a continual cycle of shows.

The normal stage management set-up at a theatre like this is: one assistant stage manager, two deputy stage managers and one company stage manager.

What is your background?

A lot of people go to drama school and do a course in stage management and technical theatre. Whereas I did a theatre design course, which was very open-ended and meant you could go into lots of areas of theatre.

After the degree, I came here, starting off dressing, and building up background experience. I did that for a couple of years, then got offered the job of assistant stage manager on a short-term contract basis. When the full-time position came up I went for it.

What characteristics do you need to be successful in your job?

You need to be pretty good at communicating with people - with actors, other members of the department, and other people around the building - because you spend a lot of time doing it. You've got to be approachable, so they will come to you if they have any problems.

You've got to have common sense, and be good at writing things down clearly. In stage management, a lot of lists are needed. For a show, you'll need a running list, which tells you what you're doing at what point of the show; and a setting list, so you can set out all the props correctly.

The communication side of the job is being made easier by computers, so it's important to be quite computer literate.

What other jobs could you do using the skills from this job?

I know people who've left stage management and gone into teaching drama and theatre. Some people move into theatre administration, because of the experience they've had of dealing with a lot of paperwork and working on computers.

What changes will there be in the future?

There's a lot of talk about making things more computerised, such as the prompt desk. But if you are using the prompt desk during a performance, it's nice to be able to control things yourself. It's easier to react to something going wrong if you don't have to reprogram a computer. After all, theatre is live and no two shows are ever exactly the same.

But on the rehearsal side of things, computers have made things much easier. For example, email has meant that you don't need to write things, then fax and photocopy them. It just makes the communication side of the job a lot easier.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?

Dealing with difficult people, who are under pressure. When you're working on a live show, and they have a problem, some people aren't afraid to let you know. You have occasions when someone will snap at you, then five minutes later, they come back and apologise. So you have to be thick-skinned, to be able to deal with that.

It's a good challenge when you're working on a busy show, where you run around doing stuff, and feel that you're pushing yourself. And when you get to do things you haven't done before - I've had shows where I've had to put people into flying harnesses and things like that. So every show brings a different challenge and something new to learn.

Are there many opportunities to enter this career?

Yes, I think there are. It's becoming a little bit more difficult because there's a lot of repertory theatres that have closed. But there's still a lot of theatre out there for people to join in with.

There's lots of stuff going on in London, and most towns have a theatre - whether it's a rep theatre or one which puts on touring shows. There are quite a lot more options with touring theatre, so if you are interested in travel, then that might be for you.

What do you like about your job?

I like the fact that every day is different. The challenges and problems that you have to deal with during each day are always different.

It's nice working with lots of different people. You get to meet a lot of people, from all areas.

And I like the fact that you can learn very different things. For every show there might be something you haven't quite done in a particular way before.

There are also opportunities to go on tour; to travel to other theatres and see how they work.

What do you dislike about your job?

Sometimes it would be nice to have more evenings off, although we do get some of the summer off, because the theatre has a month of maintenance when there are no shows. As an assistant stage manager, you're working every show, so that's what people find the most difficult.

What are your ambitions?

At the moment, I'm learning more about being a deputy stage manager (DSM), so I've been doing some work in rehearsals. You learn a lot from doing that, and also from working on bigger shows that challenge you and make you think.

So I'd like to get more of that kind of DSM experience and move up through the stage management ranks. I'll maybe look into production at some point, and move into that area.

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

Get a lot of experience of theatre. Try to join in with youth groups; try to get involved. See a lot of theatre, as well. You start to understand a lot more, the more you've seen. And for a lot of what you see, you can work out how it's done.

A day in the life

As an assistant stage manager (ASM) I'll usually start at 2.00 pm. I'll read notes I've been emailed from rehearsals and have a chat with the company stage manager about them. Then we start getting and making the props for that show.

By about 4.00 pm, I'll start setting up for the evening's show.

At about 5.15, I'll have a break.

At a quarter to seven, myself and one of the deputy stage managers do a check of the props for the evening's show. We do it together, so it's not just the responsibility of one person.

At 7.10, I'll go round to check that all the actors are in and are alright, and give them any personal props. Then, until the performance, it's a case of waiting around for a bit and changing into dark clothes (so I'm less likely to be seen by the audience while I'm backstage).

At 7.40, there's a call to get ready for the performance starting at 7.45.

Depending on the show, we'll have worked out who's doing what during the performance; who's doing what cues, for example.

At the end of the show, if there are any weapons, swords or valuables, it's the ASM's job to lock them away.

Then you get changed out of your dark clothes, and that's it until the next day.

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