Staging a play or musical is costly work, and every additional hire, material order, or unforseen delay means money that isn't available to enrich other aspects of the production or solve last-minute problems. As the keeper of the production budget, it's the production manager's job to monitor and approve expenses, find creative ways to cut costs, and negotiate contracts with new hires and other contractors. In addition, the production manager is responsible for overseeing logistics related to the crew's needs and timeline: ordering materials, scheduling crew members, ensuring they know their goals and priorities for each shift, and resolving any problems that might stand in their way.
By staying on top of goals, communicating effectively with crew members and leaders, and solving problems quickly, production managers try to maximize the amount of time workers can dedicate to their jobs.
In the initial planning phase of a show, the production manager helps the show's general manager create a preliminary budget based on the show's needs. Later, when the show's designers complete their final drafts—commonly called design comps—it falls to the production manager to consider the cost associated with their proposed materials, equipment, and personnel, as well as the subsequent effect on the budget. Rather than simply returning a yes or no, the production manager works directly with the designers to reduce cost while maintaining the essence and effectiveness of the designs. Once designs and materials have been approved, the production manager interviews, negotiates contracts for, and hires the building crew members.
During the production stage, the production manager works with the director and technical director to create and distribute daily schedules for the various production crews, including progress goals for each shift. The production manager also begins to spend part of every day in the theater: checking in with crews, receiving material shipments, and solving immediate problems—anything from a missing delivery to absent crew members or a locked workshop. By staying on top of goals, communicating effectively with crew members and leaders, and solving problems quickly, production managers try to maximize the amount of time workers can dedicate to their jobs.
Production Manager (Theater) at a Glance
Production managers are generally expected to have a bachelor's degree—or better yet, a master's—in theatrical production, management, or design. The ideal production manager has a broad range of theatrical knowlege to draw on, understanding the craft of set, costume, lighting, and sound designers just as well as the work of technical crews and engineers. In addition, prior experience as a stage manager or assistant production manager is essential. Successful production managers might advance to become general managers, try their hand at producing, take on a more administrative role as business managers, start working in film and television, or shift into the live music and events industry as concert producers.
In the small, tightly knit world of live theater, networking makes all the difference. In order to secure a position, qualified individuals should stay in touch with past collaborators, attend dedicated networking events, subscribe to industry-specific publications and mailing lists, and always seek to leave a good impression on coworkers and higher-ups. In particular, It's important to cultivate connections with aspiring and current general managers, producers, and directors, who may have the power to choose production managers in the future.
- Personnel management
- Creative problem-solving
Creating a production timeline
- Contract negotiation
- Written and verbal communication
- Office suite (particularly, advanced knowledge of spreadsheets)
- Knowledge of union rates and regulations
As organizers and negotiators, production managers need emotional intelligence, diplomacy, and written and verbal communication skills in spades. In addition, while production managers tend to be helpful, humble, and invested in creating an efficient workplace environment, they also need the confidence and leadership abilities to get things done on a deadline, even if it means giving orders to someone with whom they've never worked before.
While a show is in production, production managers split their days between active problem-solving and management in the theater and administrative oversight in the office. Once the show is running, the administrative half of the job takes over. This job has many benefits, chief among them the ability to work professionally with artists, the combination of boots-on-the-ground and administrative work, and the potential for continued learning, given that no two jobs are the same.