Entertainment Blog

Home 9 Event Planning 9 Ultimate Stage Management Guide

Ultimate Stage Management Guide

by | Dec 11, 2023 | Event Planning

Navigating through the complexities of stage management essentials for events requires a deft combination of technical know-how, organizational agility, and clear communication. Whether you’re orchestrating a grand theatrical production or coordinating the moving parts of a corporate event, mastering the elements of stage management ensures that every performance unfolds without a hitch. From the meticulous crafting of a prompt book to the precise execution of cues during a live show, effective stage management is the silent force that turns creative concepts into memorable realities.

We’re here to be your compass to the backstage world, where the unsung heroes of events wield clipboards and headsets to create the magic that audiences cherish. Let’s pull back the curtain on the skills and strategies that make a stage manager the linchpin of any successful event.

What Does Stage Management Include?

Stage management is a multifaceted role that’s the linchpin for theatrical productions, musical concerts, and dance performances. It covers a wide array of tasks that ensure the seamless execution of a show from the initial rehearsals to the final performance. The role of a stage manager is like the hub of a wheel, central to the coordination and support of all the spokes of a production, which include directors, performers, costume designers, and the technical crew.

Key Responsibilities in Stage Management

The responsibilities of a stage manager are extensive and crucial for the smooth operation of a production. They’re tasked with the rehearsal process, scheduling and conducting rehearsals, meticulously recording the director’s decisions, and making sure these are communicated effectively to the designers and stage crew. The creation of the prompt book, often called “the bible” of the production, is a critical task.

This comprehensive binder includes all the necessary cues for sound, lighting, and set changes, as well as other crucial information that ensures the integrity of the performance is maintained once the show has opened. In addition to these preparatory and rehearsal tasks, stage managers supervise pre-show activities, including technical and safety checks, and ensure that performers are ready and in place for their entrances. During the performance, they’re the ones calling the technical cues to the crew over wireless headsets, maintaining a bird’s eye view of the entire production to ensure everything runs according to plan.

The Importance of Communication Skills

Effective communication is the cornerstone of successful stage management. A stage manager must liaise with all departments involved in a production, from the actors to the creative team to the technical staff, making sure everyone is aligned with the director’s vision. They must also be adept at organizing and conveying information to various teams, managing budgets in collaboration with the production manager, and overseeing the logistics of scene changes and prop management.

Their role requires them to be the conduit for all communication, making sure that each team is informed and coordinated for the smooth running of all the different teams and production.

Technical Knowledge Requirements

A stage manager’s technical knowledge is as crucial as their organizational skills. They must have a broad understanding of technical theater, including lighting, sound, and set design, to effectively call cues and make necessary adjustments during live performances. Their ability to multitask and remain composed under pressure is essential, especially when unforeseen issues arise.

Stage managers often begin their careers as stagehands or technical crew members, progressing to assistant stage manager roles before taking on the full responsibilities of stage management. The role of production management demands a high level of dedication and the ability to work long hours, often extending into evenings and weekends. For those on touring productions, this can mean being on the road for extended periods.

While no specific qualifications are required to become a stage manager, training in relevant fields such as drama, theater studies, or stage management can be highly beneficial. The skills required for this role are diverse, ranging from organizational and communication prowess to a sharp eye for detail and the capacity to solve problems swiftly and effectively. In terms of career progression, stage managers typically start in entry-level positions and work their way up through roles such as Deputy Stage Manager to Stage Manager and, in larger theaters, to Company Stage Manager. Remuneration varies with experience, with starting salaries reflecting the demanding nature of the role and the level of expertise required.

Stage Lighting

Pre-Event Planning and Organization

Creating a Comprehensive Event Run Sheet

An event run sheet is essential for coordinating the sequence of activities and ensuring that all parties, including vendors, are aware of their responsibilities and timing. It’s important to update this document regularly to account for any alterations.

The run sheet should encompass all necessary contact details for the event team, such as the speaker bureau, venue, and caterers. It must also delineate the event’s itinerary in complete detail, from setup to the conclusion, including presentation times and meal breaks. This tool is crucial for task delegation and for the event to proceed smoothly.

Coordinating with Performers and Speakers

For performers and speakers, it’s vital to communicate the event’s objectives, target audience, format, duration, and technical needs to ensure their readiness. Preparing for logistical issues and potential last-minute changes is also essential.

Managing expectations for both the presenter and the audience is crucial. Providing feedback after the event is beneficial for evaluating the presenter’s impact. Expressing gratitude for their efforts fosters a good rapport.

Their unique requirements, such as technical specifications and hospitality needs, must be considered when booking performers. Additional expenses for their travel and accommodation may also arise.

Liaising with Technical Crew and Vendors

The technical crew plays a critical role in the event’s success. The Project Manager supervises the production, while the Technical Director handles the technical aspects. The Video Engineer is responsible for the visual display and recording systems.

The Audio Engineer ensures the sound is clear for the audience. At the same time, the Lighting Director uses lighting to enhance the ambiance. The Stage Manager orchestrates on-stage activities, confirming that performers are prepared for their cues.

Stagehands provide invaluable support with setup, breakdown, and transitions during the event. Collaborating with these experts is necessary to address technical needs and guarantee a smooth operation.

Ensuring Venue Compliance and Safety Procedures

Adhering to venue regulations and safety protocols is imperative. The organizers are responsible for verifying that the venue adheres to all legal standards and that safety measures are implemented and adhered to. This includes ensuring the venue can support the technical and performance demands.

Preparation for media interactions should align with the guidelines from artists or speakers. By prioritizing compliance and safety, risks are mitigated, and a secure environment is established for attendees.

Lights On A Stage

Tools of the Trade

Essential Stage Management Software

Theater management software is indispensable for coordinating the intricate aspects of a production. It facilitates the organization of staff, rehearsal schedules, and the sale of tickets while managing customer databases and marketing initiatives.

The software allows for detailed planning, such as establishing pricing strategies for various seating configurations and designing promotional campaigns to draw diverse audiences. An integrated employee directory simplifies the process of incorporating new staff and creative team members, providing immediate access to contact information and other pertinent details.

Within the software, each show’s task assignments and shift schedules can be managed efficiently. Team members can check off completed tasks, fostering a sense of achievement and transparency. The software also serves as a platform for assigning mandatory training modules, such as those for health and safety, to ensure all personnel are well-prepared.

By implementing a software solution, stage managers can reduce administrative burdens, economize, and enhance the customer experience with a streamlined reservation process. The software’s CRM features are instrumental in maintaining vital customer information, which can be leveraged for focused email marketing campaigns.

In essence, this software supports a range of operational tasks, ensuring that every aspect of the production operates seamlessly.

Communication Devices for Managing Crews

Professional full-duplex communication systems are essential for coordinating the efforts of stage managers and their teams. These systems typically include belt packs, headsets, base stations, and cables, guaranteeing clear and consistent communication across venues.

Manufacturers such as Clear-Com offer high-quality equipment that can be tailored to the size of your production. With product lines like RTS® Digital Matrix and RadioCom™, you can select the ideal system to facilitate effective interactions throughout rehearsals and performances.

The Stage Manager’s Kit: Must-Have Items

A stage manager’s toolkit is a bespoke assortment of items prepared to address any situation that may arise during a production. While the contents may vary depending on the event’s specific needs, certain tools are universally beneficial for overcoming common challenges encountered in stage productions with professional experience.

Managing Documents: Scripts, Scores, and Schedules

A stage manager’s responsibilities include the writing and careful handling of scripts, scores, and schedules. A well-prepared script is more than just dialogue; it encapsulates the essence of the production, maintains audience engagement, and contributes to the smooth progression of the event. It should reflect the presenter’s style and be crafted for straightforward usage.

A run-of-show document provides an overview of the event’s timeline, indicating when key transitions and segments will occur. A production script expands on this, encompassing all dialogue, media file names, presenter identities, and introductions. The script’s layout is vital for maintaining order and alertness among the team, both behind the scenes and on stage.

Incorporating cues for production specifics and media files and utilizing color coding, varied fonts, and phonetic spelling can enhance the script’s utility. By diligently managing these documents, stage managers ensure that every facet of the production is contemplated and executed with exactitude. Attention to these aspects of document management is key to fostering a well-organized and successful show production work environment.

During the Event: Real-Time Management

Cue Calling: The Art of Timing

Executing cues with precision is vital for the fluidity of a show’s technical aspects. A cue signals a specific action or sequence of actions and must be communicated with exact timing. Stage managers typically alert the crew with a standby cue shortly before the actual cue, ensuring readiness. The protocol for cue execution involves stating the department, the word “Cue,” followed by the cue number, and ending with “GO.” Leading the cue slightly allows the crew to respond promptly. Visual confirmation that the cue is in progress is also crucial.

For significant scene changes, a longer lead time is given to the crew to prepare. The prompt book should clearly document each cue, including the department, cue number, and the specific trigger for the cue, allowing for consistency and reliability in cue calling.

Handling Unexpected Issues and Delays

When unforeseen challenges arise, maintaining composure and clarity in communication is essential. A backup plan can mitigate the impact of such issues. Not every problem requires immediate resolution; prioritizing them is key.

Flexibility, adaptability, and a constructive outlook are valuable traits in these situations. Conducting a thorough walk-through before the event can help identify potential issues. Transparency with attendees regarding any disruptions is crucial.

Avoiding assigning fault and having alternative solutions ready are effective tactics for managing unforeseen circumstances.

Supervising Changeovers and Transitions

Overseeing the switch between acts or scenes requires meticulous attention. This includes arranging the backline, connecting input cables, and ensuring that musicians are stage-ready with their equipment properly placed.

Monitors must be installed, and input levels verified so that the performers can hear each other and the mix. This setup is often coordinated with the front-of-house team as they perform their sound checks.

By attentively overseeing these moments, the first stage manager’s job contributes to the event’s continuity and the artists’ preparedness.

Maintaining Show Flow and Energy

Sustaining audience interest is crucial for an event’s success. Employing various strategies to maintain the momentum and vibrancy of the show is important. Introducing scenes, music, or characters, recounting relevant anecdotes, and making connections to current events can captivate the audience.

Incorporating tangible examples, impactful data, and local anecdotes can make the content more engaging. Clear signposting and smooth transitions are essential for guiding the audience, while interactive elements and group participation can heighten involvement.

Promoting engagement through social media and incorporating wellness activities can also enhance the event’s overall experience.

Stage Lighting Colourful

Post-Event Wrap-Up and Evaluation

Conducting a Post-Event Debrief

A post-event debrief is critical for event planners and management teams to dissect and evaluate the event’s success. This process involves a thorough group discussion, deconstructing and scrutinizing the event from inception to completion. Using an event debrief template can guide the conversation, ensuring all aspects, such as planning, marketing, venue selection, and guest management, are covered.

The debrief provides a platform to celebrate what worked well and, more importantly, pinpoint improvement areas. Reviewing the event’s original goals, objectives, and budget and assessing attendee and client satisfaction levels and practical experience is important. By inviting all key contributors to the debrief, you can form a comprehensive view of the event.

Gathering feedback during and after the event through methods like comment cards and satisfaction surveys enriches the debrief with attendee insights. The debrief isn’t just a look back but a proactive step towards enhancing future events, developing relationships, and fostering team growth.

Organising Strike and Equipment Return

The strike, or the deconstruction of the event setup, is a bustling and intricate process that requires meticulous planning and coordination. It involves systematically dismantling and removing sets, props, and equipment, ensuring that everything is accounted for and returned to its rightful place or prepared for transport to the next venue. Safety is paramount during this phase, and a well-documented strike plan is indispensable.

This plan should detail the sequence of deconstruction, the items’ handling, and each crew member’s roles and responsibilities. Proper training, personal protective equipment (PPE), and the provision of appropriate tools are necessary to manage and minimize risks. Regular breaks and refreshments can help maintain crew alertness and prevent accidents.

After the strike, it’s beneficial to review the process, identify solutions to any issues, and make improvements for future events.

Collecting Feedback for Future Improvements

Feedback is the cornerstone of event evolution, offering insights that can significantly enhance future events. To capture this valuable information, event planners can employ various methods, both high-tech and traditional. Immediate feedback can be gauged through a simple show-of-hands at the event. At the same time, more detailed insights can be gathered through social media monitoring, facial recognition technology, and feedback stations.

Comment cards and email follow-ups allow for more reflective responses post-event. Incorporating feedback mechanisms into event apps and live polling during the event can provide real-time data. Although more traditional, physical feedback walls and paper survey forms still play a role in gathering attendees’ opinions.

Creating an environment where feedback is welcomed and seen as an opportunity for constructive improvement is crucial. This feedback should be integrated into the event debrief and used to inform planning for subsequent events.

Finalizing Reports and Archival Material

After the debrief and strike, compiling a comprehensive report is essential. This report should encapsulate all relevant data, observations, and feedback collected throughout the event lifecycle. It’s not enough to gather this information; it must be reviewed and internalized to inform actionable improvements.

Regularly revisiting past debriefs can help identify recurring issues and trends, allowing for strategic adjustments. By documenting and archiving this material, event planners create a knowledge base that can serve as a valuable resource for training and guiding future events. This continuous cycle of evaluation and improvement can help event teams refine their craft, enhance their reputation, and ultimately deliver more successful events.

Elevate Your Event Management Game

With the curtain call nearing, remember that the stage management team isn’t just a behind-the-scenes role—it’s the heartbeat of an event. Whether it’s the silent echo of a well-timed cue or the structured choreography of a scene change, the impact of a stage manager’s work is omnipresent. Harnessing the array of tools, skills, and processes outlined here will empower you to orchestrate events that resonate with professionalism and dynamic execution.

The stage is set, the audience is waiting, and it’s your move to make every show more than memorable—make it impeccable. As you navigate through the nuanced symphony of stage management, let your passion for perfection be the guide to mastering the art of the unseen conductor. Lights, sound, action—your leadership role is clear, and the success of each event is your standing ovation.

Melanie Williamson

Melanie Williamson


Melanie has been working at Onstage for 17years  with her love and passion for all things entertainment and events. Prior to Onstage, Melanie worked in Hotels and Venues in various roles which gave her a strong knowledge in how all things work for events. Her entertainment  product knowledge combined with her event skills, makes her a highly sort after Stage and Events Manager (just as recently contracted for events overseas).

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This