From the Kansas Public Radio Website:
Stage Managers: You Can’t See Them, But Couldn’t See A Show Without Them
On Sunday night the spotlight will be on Broadway stars at the 71st annual Tony Awards. The evening also includes honors for some people behind the scenes — writers, directors and designers, for example — but there are many more, working backstage, who aren’t eligible for Broadway’s highest honor.
If you peek into the wings at a Broadway show, you’re likely to find a stage manager, sitting at a desk with video monitors and lots of buttons and switches. He or she will be wearing a headset — sometimes called “the God mic” — to communicate with the cast and crew.
“I like to think of a stage manager as the chief operations officer of the corporation that is the show,” says Ira Mont, stage manager of Cats.
Donald Fried, stage manager of the Tony-nominated play, Sweat, says stage managers are kind of “the Captain of the Enterprise.”
“I would call us the hub of the wheel,” says Karyn Meek, production stage manager for the Tony-nominated musical Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. “We are … in charge of communication across all departments. … During the show, we are in charge of making sure the lights happen, the set moves, sound happens, all the things … we are the person who’s controlling all of that.”
Donald Fried was formerly a dancer, and is now stage managing the Tony-nominated play, Sweat.
Jeff Lunden for NPR
Long before a show starts its run, the stage manager is an integral part of the rehearsal process, explains Fried. “Everything begins and ends with the script,” he says. “I’ve got to read the script, read it several times. Once, just to read it as a person, not as a stage manager or an artist or anything. Just to have an initial emotional feeling for it. Then, I go back and read [the writer’s] stage directions, so that I know what would happen light-wise, how she envisions the props, how she envisions the set moving, people entering and exiting, whether or not they’re changing costumes.”
Once a show is up and running, Meek says stage managers and their teams put in long hours. Her day begins at 9:30 a.m. with cast members telling her whether they’d be in or out of that day’s shows, due to injuries or illness. Depending on the day, she’ll arrive at the theater around 12:30 for a matinee or rehearsal. There’s a dinner break around 5:00 or 5:30, and then everyone’s back at the theater for the evening show.
Shows that feature complicated choreography or simulated fight scenes require daily rehearsals. Sweat manager Donald Fried says they do a fight rehearsal before every show. “We want to make sure everyone is safe and limber, and that the props are working,” he explains.
In the half hour before each performance, the stage manager walks through a beehive of activity, making sure everyone’s ready for curtain.
Meek climbs a ladder to her perch, high above stage left at Great Comet. Actors perform throughout the theater and Meek can keep an eye on them all. Once the show starts, she follows a musical score, with sticky notes showing all of the lighting and tech cues.