What does a Stage Manager do?

A stage manager is like the hub of a wheel—the central, stabilizing core from which the spokes of a production radiate. Stage managers facilitate communication across all creative and technical departments; act as a right hand to the director; oversee sets, props, lights, and sound; and call all technical cues during performances. Although the details of the role vary depending on the art form in question, stage managers in all disciplines are broadly responsible for ensuring that the production runs smoothly from first rehearsal to final curtain call.

Rehearsal and Production

Stage managers schedule and run rehearsals, where they also:

  • Record the director's decisions about blocking and notes for the actors;
  • Convey the director's wishes to designers and stage crew;
  • Create the prompt book (a.k.a. "the bible")—a thick binder containing the production's sound, lighting, and set cues, as well as other vital information.

Pre-Show and Performance

Once a show has opened, the stage manager is in charge of overseeing the integrity of the performance, including:

  • Supervising preshow activities such as technical and safety checks;
  • Running the performers through warm-ups and notes;
  • Ensuring that everyone is ready for curtain and in the wings in time for their entrances;
  • Calling technical cues to the crew over a wireless headset.

At a Glance

Career Path

Many stage managers start out as stagehands or members of a technical crew before working as assistant stage manager (ASM) on one or more productions, and then become stage managers. Because stage managers are top-level positions, moving up means working on bigger, better-paying productions, or switching gears to producing or directing productions. Most stage managers are also technical theater artists and may earn side income by working as lighting technicians, costumers, carpenters, or painters. They may even progress to become technical theater directors.

Finding Work

Stage managers are freelancers who might work in the theater, dance, and/or live music industries. They could be hired by theater producers, theater companies, dance companies, tour managers, and more. Aspiring stage managers should learn as much as they can about the various technical theater disciplines and work as an ASM on one or more productions before pursuing stage manager positions.

Professional Skills
  • Broad knowledge of technical theater
  • Calling cues
  • Scheduling
  • Personnel and project management
  • Written and verbal communication
  • Multitasking
  • Collaboration
  • Good under pressure
Interpersonal Skills

Stage managers are famous for their drive, dedication, and multitasking ability. They are people who relish putting in long hours organizing large projects, taking notes, and scheduling groups of people. As the link between the various technical departments, the actors, and the director, written and verbal communication skills are essential. The best stage managers are capable of remaining cool and collected and solving problems under immense pressure when live performances go awry—which they inevitably do.

Work Life

Stage managers lead busy, dynamic lives while working on a production. Days and often evenings are spent in rehearsals during the weeks and months leading up to opening night. Once a show has opened, the stage manager works at every evening and matinee performance for the duration of the run. Stage managers for touring productions can be on the road for long stretches. Large productions may divide the duties among a stage management team, which can provide some relief.

If they aren't full-time employees of a theater, dance, or orchestra company, stage managers typically have other jobs which they balance with their stage management work. These could be technical jobs within their industry or unrelated part-time work.