IN THE FOREWORD to Thomas A. Kelly’s The Backstage Guide to Stage Management, Sir Peter Hall says that it’s the stage manager’s duty to “create an atmosphere in which everything is possible.” That sounds amazing, right? Well … amazing and perhaps a bit daunting. But here are five ways a stage manager can build a rehearsal room climate of trust, creativity, and efficiency.


As the stage manager, you ultimately set the tone in rehearsal. If your attitude is collaborative and your energy is relaxed and positive, you’ll find that mood mirrored by others.

Your primary job is to support your director. Remind yourself that you’re there to serve the director’s vision, not your own. Even if you disagree with a piece of blocking or a character choice, it’s your responsibility to facilitate the requirements of those choices, not to challenge them.

At the same time, you are a leader in rehearsal. People look to you for answers, reach out to you with issues, and sometimes seem to expect you to know their every need before they even begin to talk to you. Although you may not be able to take care of every little thing immediately, you can meet every interaction with open, honest communication. Really listen. Don’t just listen to reply, jumping in as soon as you have something to say. Exercise your stage managerial patience and let others finish before you respond. It can prevent misunderstandings and will ensure people feel heard.

Try not to show it if you are overwhelmed. It can be easy on a big show to let insecurities get the best of you. Relying on your stage management team and playing to your and their strengths can relieve a lot of stress. As clichéd as it sounds, taking a deep breath before you respond to whatever issue arises can give you the moment you need to establish your footing, find your confidence, and lead your team.

A stage manager takes notes during rehearsal for the Thespian Playworks program at the 2019 International Thespian Festival.
A stage manager takes notes during rehearsal for the Thespian Playworks program at the 2019 International Thespian Festival. Photo by Corey Rourke.


One of the best ways to ensure a focused room is through scheduling, from the master calendar distributed at auditions to the daily schedule of scene work, costume fittings, and dialect sessions. Providing accurate, easily understood plans gives your company a signpost of expectations. It will give you and your director the means to keep the room on target. If everyone knows you’re only slated to work on Scene 3 until 4:30 p.m. when the lead heads off to a costume fitting, but it’s already 4:15 and there are still three pages to go … well, it’s easier for a director to rein in the room for a final burst of hyper-focused energy when the end of the session is in sight.

Honor that schedule by following the adage: “Early is on time. On time is late. Late is unacceptable.” Your call time (and that of your cast) isn’t when you walk in the building. It’s not when you park your car or fill your water bottle. Your call time is when you are fully present and ready to work. You and your team should always be on time and prepared. Hold actors accountable if they’re not. If an actor is tardy, immediately follow up with them by phone. Check to ensure they’re on their way, and let the director know their tentative arrival time. If their delay requires a change in the day’s plan, determine that as close to the start of a session as possible.

While rehearsal is underway, you can support a sense of concentration by maintaining focus yourself. Keep your attention on the work, stay accessible to your director, take notes and blocking as needed, and minimize distractions. In other words, when it’s time to work, work.


A great way to maintain the schedule set with your director is by having the rehearsal room set up and ready to go. If you’re starting the day with the living room scene, don’t wait until warm-ups are over to move the sofa, chairs, and tables into position. That’s lost time. Have everything ready to go before the day begins. Find ways to anticipate the needs of your director and actors to keep work flowing. The last thing you want is for an actor to break out of an emotional monologue and grind rehearsal to a halt because the necessary prop wasn’t preset.

Breaking down the room is just as important. It’s a time to account for everything used during the day. Check props, set pieces, and rehearsal costumes to see if anything sustained damage. An unnoticed frayed strap could wreak havoc on a dancer’s foot during choreography rehearsals if it snaps mid-routine. Identifying problems at the end of the night (hopefully before you send notes) can allow timely repairs, safe actors, and productive subsequent rehearsals.


Accurate blocking records also facilitate productivity. “Blocking” is the term for the precise movement and position of each cast member onstage. It is the stage manager’s job to keep an exact notation of those moves in the prompt script.

There are many ways to note blocking. It can be any combination of words, symbols, and letters. But it should be clear, concise, logical, and efficient to transcribe. And it must be decipherable. It does you no good if you can’t read it and no good to develop an elaborate system of symbols if your assistant stage manager can’t answer a question when you’re out of the room. There WILL be questions. Regardless of your personal system, make sure there’s a blocking key in your production binder. Consider leaving open space on your key to allow your blocking system to evolve. You never know when you’ll need to incorporate symbols that have never been essential before.

Always remember that blocking isn’t set until opening night. There will be many, many, many versions of the show as you progress through initial staging and scene work, move to the stage for spacing, and work through tech and previews. It’s your job to record each new version. With any luck, things will solidify early in the process, and you’ll be able to home in on one accurate accounting of the movement. But a good rule of thumb is to keep three drafts in your book until blocking is settled. Keep more than that and you risk your notes becoming too garbled to discern. Keep fewer and you risk not being able to recall what the actors did before that your director now likes better.


As the conduit through which information flows, one of your central duties as a stage manager is to keep everyone on the same page. This is accomplished through rehearsal reports. At the end of each rehearsal, you will distribute a report of that day’s work, any injuries or illnesses, the next day’s schedule, and any discoveries in the room that need to be relayed to personnel not in attendance. The language should be efficient, accurate, and complete. Don’t resort to shorthand that may need interpreting.

Always be tactful and impartial. Be mindful of your readers. No one is ever trying to bring you the wrong thing. They want props and costumes brought into rehearsal to work as badly as you, the director, and the cast do. Remind yourself of that when you provide feedback. If there’s an issue with a prop, costume, or set piece, it’s usually preferable to present the problem, rather than telling a production department or designer how to fix it.

Reports should be sent as close to the end of rehearsal as possible. But don’t be too quick to the punch. Take a moment to check in with your director and the rest of your stage management team to add or clarify notes from them. Break down the room to ensure no other notes need to be included. Look over emails that have come in over the course of the day to determine if something else needs to be addressed. Before hitting send, take a moment to re-read your report for grammar, logic, and accuracy. Better yet, have your assistant stage manager read it with a fresh set of eyes.

Even the best stage managers face occasional rehearsal challenges, but you can go a long way toward avoiding the most obvious ones by incorporating these strategies. In a world where vulnerability is necessary to foster creativity, that is immensely important to cultivating a room of possibility.

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