Magnify: Technical Stage Manager

This is the first in what I hope to be a series of articles magnifying job roles within the Theatre Industry from a personal perspective, giving insight into the inner workings of theatrical positions as and when I become involved in them.

I have just come to the end of my 5 month stint as a Technical Stage Manager for a project at university. The brief was for four designers in their third year of a Film Degree to present ideas based on their recent work, and for these designs to be displayed in a studio as part of a two-day performance festival. We were to be a production team of four – myself, two Production Managers, and a Lighting Designer. All of us inexperienced, with a few months’ worth of production lectures to prepare us for a full on project which would be open to the public. It’s safe to say, the pressure was high.

My role of Technical Stage Manager was outlined as such:

A Technical Stage Manager (TSM) combines the roles of Stage Manager and Technician, usually within smaller theatre companies.
According to the Prospects website, a Stage Manager (SM) “needs to have a good understanding of both the technical and artistic elements of a performance” and carries out the wishes of the director throughout the production period and the performance weeks. This means that the SM has a lot of responsibility during the working process as they ensure all aspects of production are in order.
A Theatre Technician looks after the technical side of production – this covers sound, lighting, AV (audio visual), and any other special effects required through the performance. Therefore, a Technical Stage Manager takes on a lot of responsibility, but as it is usually within a smaller company this can lead to a good balance of experience and work.
(taken from my production blog)

It was a daunting task. The responsibility of the studio rested solely in my lap, along with the realisation that these final year students’ depended on me to make their final projects not only work, but look good too. I’d had very little training, and was now presented with installations involving Mac computers, projectors, and looping DVDs – after just one lesson on AV, I managed to set up two projectors running from a DVD player and MacBook, and by the end of the get in week everything was playing and looping as required. There is only one way to describe how I managed – brute strength and ignorance. A lot of the success came from trial and a lot of error.

In a large team, the role of Technical Stage Manager is undoubtedly one that comes with a lot of stress but a lot of satisfaction too. Even within my small studio, seeing everything lit up and getting compliments on the design was very gratifying, and made some of my efforts pay off. However, I would advise one to think carefully before taking on such a role – by its very nature you become your own team (as I did out of necessity). It is intense, with high levels of responsibility and organisation – I spent days emailing various sources to retrieve the required equipment (for which we had no budget), as well as liasing with facilities departments for the venue. It is, as I’ve repeated several times already, very hard work, physically and mentally as it requires the ability to set up studios using screens and large pieces of furniture, as well as the various technological requirements. But if all goes well it is worth it – once the technical issues are sorted and everything’s plugged in, you can sit back and watch your studio run itself. An odd job to take on, and I’m still unsure exactly how I felt about it – I’m glad it’s over, that’s certain, but would I do it again…? I am yet to decide.

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