SO, YOU’VE BEEN ASKED to stage manage a production. Congratulations! Now, what do you do next? Whether it’s your first show as a stage manager or your 101st, you “begin at the beginning,” as Lewis Carroll said. And the beginning is preparation.

Professional stage managers are typically contracted for a week of preparatory work that immediately precedes the start of rehearsals. At a community or educational level, the stage manager may be brought on to the project significantly earlier in the process. Either way, “prep” is a time for the stage management team to comb through the script, generate initial paperwork, and start building their communication network.

Here are four items that should definitely appear on your prep checklist.


Although it sounds like a given, the first thing to do is read the script. Read it for plot, clarity, and basic understanding. Read it for pleasure. THEN go back and read it again. But this time, read it as a detective. Read for detail. Read for specificity. Read to find questions. Does a basic kitchen chair in Scene 1 have to be stood on by an actor in Scene 6 and then be thrown in self-defense at the climax of the play in Scene 11? Does a character keep producing items from the pockets of a magic coat? Is there a storm in Act 2 that will require heavy lightning? These are details that will help you begin your preliminary paperwork and give you a starting point for conversations with your director, designers, and production team.


As the stage manager, you are the conduit of information for the production. It will be your responsibility to receive and relay the needs expressed by your director and actors in rehearsal to the designers and production team, who are often not in attendance until tech. You’re sharing the details they’ll need as they create the world those actors will eventually inhabit.

First, make it a priority to talk to your director before rehearsals begin. Create a list of questions you’d like answered. But rather than launching in with your questions when you meet, let them tell you about the script, their concept, and anything else they want to volunteer. Your job will be to practice your listening skills and take notes. Once the first wave of conversation is over, ask any remaining questions. Ask about the overall flow of the process, the schedule, and any particular needs of that director. Do they want to spend the first three days on table work only or will the cast be on their feet right after the read-through? How do they like to be notified about upcoming breaks? Is there any research that should be posted in the room for reference? Feel free to ask about specific technical aspects of the show and clarify what the director would like to discuss at the imminent production meeting.

Second, find time to talk to your designers and your production department heads. Do they have details regarding when actors will change costumes? Is there a ground plan for the set? Can they provide a file of sound cues to be used for rehearsals? Get any paperwork from them that exists, take the time to ask pertinent questions, and flag any cross-departmental issues for the upcoming production meeting.

Third, set aside time to talk with your stage management team. Go through the list of duties to be accomplished by your team during prep and beyond, then divvy them out. Who is responsible for the creation and maintenance of which documents? Who is the point person for each department? If you’re a team of one, maybe you don’t need to articulate everything, but it will still help to make a list of expectations that can be checked off as items are completed. If you’re a team of three, having someone as the point person for props, someone for costumes, and someone for sound, sets, and electrics is often an equitable breakdown of responsibilities. Honesty and transparency are important for a stage management team. You will be working closely over the next few months, so it’s vital to know that your team can and will support each other.

A student stage manager takes notes during rehearsals for the opening show of the 2017 International Thespian Festival.
A student stage manager takes notes during rehearsals for the opening show of the 2017 International Thespian Festival. Photo by Susan Doremus.


The area of prep that can save you the most time later in the process is paperwork. First, start documents that will be needed right away. The cast list, contact sheet, scene breakdown, and any schedules should be among your initial paperwork as they will be disseminated at or before the first rehearsal. Make sure you’re clear about everyone working on the production. In addition to your cast and director, who comprises the rest of the artistic team? Is there a musical director? Dialect coach? If your company uses a sign-in sheet for rehearsals, that should also be included in your first round of paperwork.

Once you’ve tackled the documents needed for the first rehearsal (or while you’re waiting for responses that will allow you to finish them), start items you will need later in the process. Two that are particularly helpful are the costume flowchart and preliminary props list.

The costume flowchart is a breakdown of the script by page number, accounting when each character appears. Over the course of your rehearsals, each character’s entrances and exits will be added. If it’s a one-person show with no costume changes, the costume flowchart may seem like a low priority. But if it’s a 20-person musical with an ensemble that plays multiple roles, establishing a flowchart early can save you time later. It can also flag areas that will need particular attention during rehearsals or that will need to be discussed at your production meeting. Is there a point in the show where six people are changing at once? Will you have sufficient run crew to accomplish those changes? Do you need to ask about possible costume layering for a particular song?

For the preliminary props list, comb through the script, making note of each prop mentioned in the text or stage directions. Then insert any additional prop information provided by your director, designer, or prop manager. This will help you identify prop needs in rehearsals, and it will provide you with a document you can edit each week to keep up with additions, cuts, and changes.

Before distributing any paperwork, have another member of your stage management team proofread your documents. Fresh eyes catch mistakes and can save a lot of headaches.


Often housed in a large three-ring binder, your promptbook comprises all the paperwork needed on hand during rehearsals and performances, including the cast list, contact information, schedules, departmental plots, run sheets, and presets. But, the heart of the promptbook will be your blocking and calling script.

There are as many ways to prepare your script as there are stage managers. It’s a personal process. Some stage managers prefer to keep separate blocking and calling scripts. Some prefer maintaining one “production bible.” If you’re choosing to prep two scripts (one for blocking and one for calling the show), then putting your text on the page opposite your dominant hand and the blocking table on the side of your dominant hand will allow you to navigate easily around the rings of your binder. So, most right-handed stage managers will put their blocking table on the right page and their text on the opposite page, and vice versa for a lefty. However, when maintaining a single calling and blocking script, put your text on the side of your dominant hand. Then during tech, you will have easy access to the far-right margin to pencil in cues. And it’s more convenient to remove pages from your binder and spread them out as you’re taking blocking notes in the rehearsal room than it is during cueing rehearsals.

There are also numerous ways to set up your blocking table and backing page. Some stage managers prefer two small ground plans stacked on the left side with lettered lines along the right side. This allows you to divide the page of text in half, recording the blocking for the first half of the page on the first ground plan and corresponding lines on the second set. Others prefer one large ground plan on the top half with lines underneath, three mini-ground plans along one side with no lines, or one small ground plan with areas for blocking, prop, costume, and miscellaneous notes. Again, there’s no one right way to set up your blocking table or book. What seems perfect for a two-person play may not work as well on a 15-person farce or a 36-person musical. Find what works for you and understand that it may take a couple of tries.

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