In this episode of the Making Theatre Podcast for Miro Magazine, Geoff Williams talks to Stage Manager Lucy Mason Lockett about stage management in theatre:

I started as a guerrilla theatre maker. All things considered, that’s basically still what I do.

What this means is that I usually have almost no resources for my work. By some alchemy, I scrape a group together and in spite of everything, I manage to get productions to the stage. But being a scavenger has meant that I’ve had to learned to do every job in theatre. This was just necessity; you work with what you have and sometimes all you have is yourself.

Creating work in this way brings an unexpected benefit – you learn very quickly about the background mechanics of the theatre. The creative decisions are what people think is happening when theatre is being forged: which sounds to use, how loud, which lights, what colour, how bright? How does all of this work in the venue? What if there just aren’t the technical capabilities to do what you want?

But there are also a whole lot of practical considerations that can seem so stunningly mundane as to be invisible. Things that are trivial, common sense, right? Things we can sort out by ourselves. We don’t need to bring on someone just to do that…

I’ll give you some examples. The actors can take care of their own costumes. They’ll wash them between shows, always bring them and never forget anything. Oh, and they’ll also worry about their props of course. In the flurry of preparation for a performance, they’ll be organised as actors should be and make sure that everything will be exactly where it should be for curtain up (or whatever opening the particular show happens to have). The director/ producer/ somebody will worry about making sure the lights change when they’re supposed to and the sounds happen when they’re supposed to. The director/ producer/ somebody will fix things that break, and see that everyone is where they’re supposed to be and…

I jest, of course. There is a whole set of behind the scenes professions built around these kinds of job: stage management. These individuals have the thankless task of oiling the wheels of smooth running theatre. At their best, their work is invisible because everything goes to plan. Stage management encompasses many jobs, which guerrilla theatre makers do themselves by necessity.

Guerrilla theatre making usually cannot afford a stage manager, but if ever I have a bit of money, I will put some aside for one (or a DSM, or hybrid of the two you usually see on the fringe). I find this person to be one of the most valuable assets in the rehearsal room as well as during the run. They take care of so many practical things, allowing me to focus on the job of directing. They will also sort out the kinds of issue that I, as a guerrilla theatre maker, tend to leave to the last minute: exactly how many potatoes will we need per show? Will she actually smoke the cigarette?

This episode is an interview with Lucy Mason Lockett, the stage manager/ DSM on my last production, Drowned or Saved?. She illuminates all the different breeds of stage management job, and as always in the podcast, talks a little about how she gets work.

As a parting thought, remember that your stage manager will probably be brought in very late in the journey of your show to the stage. Think well of them as they try to get to grips with everything at light speed. They do more things than you’ll probably ever know.