On Being A Stage Manager

by Alejandra Cisneros

The first job I took in theatre was as a Stage Manager. I had never done it before, had not studied for it, I just needed a job and said yes.  I was told “Your job is really important; you are to support the director in everything they need.”

I’ve worked as a stage manager on and off for six years now and every experience has been different; some good and some bad.  I still don’t know what a Stage Manager technically does, rumor has it that they get to stand around with a head set and “call the show”, but who knows.

I do it all; I create props, I paint sets, assist the Lighting Designer, assist the Costume Designer,  mop the stage,  take out trash, drive people home,  videotape shows, serve as a stage hand, be a nanny, etc.  Job descriptions tend to have no meaning during non-union gigs; none of us on the production are going to get paid what we deserve. So I figure, if I’m here I might as well stay busy.

Here are a couple of lessons I’ve learned on the job:

1.) Be prepared! Have your essentials, for me it’s the contact sheet, a calendar with all the rehearsal dates, a watch, a roll of gaff tape (gaff tape fixes everything), box cutters, gloves, highlighters, post-its, tie-line and a staple gun.

2.) Don’t take it personally. *This is true most of the time.

3.) Actors come in all different levels of maturity and types of personalities. Stay professional!

4.) Crews come in all different levels of maturity and types of personalities. Stay professional!

5.) You have 12 actors…9 will be late for rehearsal, 4 won’t call to tell you that they’re late, 2 won’t pick up the phone, 1 will tell you they didn’t know about rehearsal.

6.) Stay out of the baby mama-drama. People hook up, then they break up, then they fight, then they are having drinks at the bar, then they are going home together. Who cares?!?! Avoid it all together and you’ll have a happy run.

7.) Don’t be afraid to tell someone to stop acting like an ass, (in a polite way). At the end of the day, it’s your show too. You deserve to have as much fun as everyone else.

8.) Don’t lose respect for the people you are working with, it will all go to hell very fast if you do.

9.) Sad to say but a lot of people out there don’t say thank you. Don’t be surprised if no one acknowledges all the work you have done.

10.) Stay organized, be one step ahead of your director. Sometimes directors assume that you don’t know anything or vice versa that you know everything.

11.) Respect your director’s decision. Don’t run backstage and start talking all sorts of nonsense. I feel that the director has the greatest stake in the play; they function on a whole different level. Respect.

12.) The first warning I received as a stage manager was “Don’t let the actors take advantage of you.” I agree, but that golden rule applies to everyone on the production, don’t let anyone take advantage of you. People may not realize that they are giving you too much work, if you can handle it then it’s all good but if you can’t then don’t be afraid to draw your line.

13.) Most importantly, above all others, have fun.

Alejandra Cisneros was born in Miami and raised in Los Angeles, CA. She is a graduate from the University of California, Irvine where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Media Studies and Art History. She has directed theater and film for several years now and can admit that her passion for the craft continues to grow with every production. Recently she co-directed the fotonovela, “Sweet Temptations” at the 2011 Los Angeles Festival of Books. When she is not directing you can find her stage managing with gusto on her favorite LA stages.  She is a member of East LA Rep’s new play reading group and will be directing a staged reading of “American Triage” by Marisela Orta Trevino in collaboration with Beyond Baroque. Alejandra’s favorite claim to fame is her work on the cult classic superhero series El Verde! Check out the website: www.elverdeshow.com for more information.