Stage Managing 101

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Me with dancer Garen Scribner

As SF Ballet’s stage manager, I often get asked what it takes to perform this job for a theater or ballet company. Many stage managers have a degree in stage management–either a bachelor’s or a master’s. I have a degree in theater from University of Washington. At U of W, I spent three years gaining hands-on stage management experience calling a large number of the graduate program productions, so I felt like I was off to a great start. After working with a number of companies, including Pacific Northwest Ballet, I joined SF Ballet in 2005.

During the Ballet’s repertory season, my job includes setting up the studios for all rehearsals, taping the studio floors so that dancers know where sets will be positioned on stage, running all the rehearsals on stage, and running all performances. I wear a headset so that I can talk to the light board, the folks manning the follow spots, the carpenters, the assistant stage manager, and the fly rail. Running the shows includes calling the half-hour break, the “on stage” call and all other announcements, as well as telling the conductor when to go to the pit. It also entails calling every spot, lighting, and scenery cue for the show.

For each performance, I stand down stage right (to the left for the audience), right behind the wall. I have monitors of the stage (low-light and color), the conductor, and the computer monitor of the light board. I read music so I’m able to follow the ballet through the music score. Not all stage managers are able to and it’s not imperative, but I like to use the score as a road map–sort of like driving. For me, the music is the backbone of what holds a ballet together.

The Cinderella score with my notes

When you come to the Opera House to see SF Ballet perform, it’s usually my voice you hear right before curtain, asking you (hopefully nicely!) to turn off your cell phone. During the off-season, when there’s no company members around, I’m busy with paperwork, making copies of videos for choreographers and dancers, and looking toward the season calendar to see what ballets are coming in and what preparation might be needed.

Part of the ballet catalog that we manage in the production office for internal reference

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4 Comments

  1. Posted June 25, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    I remember being backstage at that amazing opera house so many years ago. Wonderfull memories.
    And below in the “catacombes” as the Italian conductor called them.. Ha Ha

  2. avatar Frank
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much, Ms. Green – I wouldn’t mind this turning into a series of articles on stage management and ‘behind the scenes’ details.

  3. Posted June 28, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Hello,
    I love these insights into the mystery of taking the dance to the stage. Because of this I read about theatre on various sites and saw the disclosure in the Guardian regarding the SFB bringing S. Pollunin in to direct and star in a ballet about some actor who died. Are there not enough people here at home to do this kind of thing? Who will be doing the music?

  4. Posted July 22, 2013 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Your article is very interesting. I worked backstage at ABT for a number of years and reported to three absolutely excellent stage managers Lori Rosecrans Wekselblatt, Dathan Manning and Danielle Ventimiglia, currently the principal stage manager. Talk about a job that requires a cool, organized head, here it is. I have the utmost respect for stage managers particularly in ballet. I hope you keep a diary. I’m sorry that I didn’t.

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