7 Stage Management Warning Signs: A New Year’s Resolutions Update

7 Stage Management Warning Signs

7 Stage Management Warning Signs | brokeGIRLrich

So we’re about halfway through the year, how’s everyone doing with their New Year’s Resolutions?

I was pretty excited a few months ago to cross off my first resolution, to find and furnish (in a financially responsible manner) an apartment. Thanks to my great hand me downs from my grandmother (who has pretty awesome taste) and Walmart, I managed to come in way under budget.

Resolution #2 – join a gym and lose the circus weight (15 pounds) is sometimes edging towards successful and sometimes not. Honestly, it’s been an insanely stressful two months in my life and fortunately, I’m one of those people who stop eating when I’m stressed, so it’s actually progressing better than usual these days. Definitely nowhere near the goal yet, but the progress is something to be excited about, even if I’m the only who can see it. Isn’t that the story of life?

Added bonus, my chubby chucking tips totally made a guest appearance over at Budgets Are Sexy when J. Money talked about More Tricks to Accomplish Your Goals Faster. So… yay? A simultaneously embarrassing and proud moment – if only he’d been able to highlight how I made my savings account explode! Er. I suppose I’d actually have to accomplish that first though. :0P

The resolution I’m most excited to talk about today is that I stage managed a show this weekend! And yes, there was a squirrel involved. 


Even if you’re kind of new to reading the blog, you may have picked up that I love theater and I have been a stage manager for the past 10 years. Honestly, I still think of myself as a stage manager even though I made the miserable leap to production management about 6 months ago.

Since production management is the responsible older sibling of the theater, it actually freed up a lot of time and provides me with enough income to not actually wonder how I’m going to get my bills paid. That being said, I freaking miss stage managing.

I knew it was going to be rough giving it up, but since my boss promised some leniency in my schedule to freelance when I got the job, I made a resolution to stage manage something this year. I mean, it’s New York. I figured if I wasn’t super concerned about compensation I could find something to give me that show running high, right?

Here are some crazy things I learned before I even got a job though: 

  1. Being a stage manager in NYC is freaking insanely competitive.
  2. How anyone lives on a freelance stage managers stipend income is beyond me. And I am super impressed by you. And I wonder if you want to write a guest post about how you’re not starving to death? Because I would love to know how you’re doing it.
  3. Apparently, I am not the only stage manager who cares whether or not they make much money (ie see point #1). This is cool if you have a 9 to 5 that pays well. If you don’t, I’m just even more puzzled.
  4. It is apparently not unreasonable to request 3 weeks of full time work (40+ hours) from someone for $75. Total. Or, my favorite, to just do it for the love of theater. I believe you are confusing your attempt at a professional endeavor with community theater then, Mr. Producer. Which is totally fine, but let’s call a spade a spade, please.
  5. Most of the time it is honestly who you know.
  6. But once in a while it is sheer dumb luck and good timing.

This job was totally the case of #6. After several weeks of being shot down at interviews, on a total whim, I replied to one of the emails I got from the SMA job postings and was seriously hired on the spot.

Warning Sign #1: When you are hired so fast you don’t even know you work for the company yet.

So this is the email I sent and the reply I got:

So, I'm hired?

So, I’m hired?

Apparently, that reply was me being hired. I called “Sally,” expecting to be interviewed and was just thrown into the fray. We talked about our mutual schedules and agreed that one Saturday would completely cover what I needed to know and worked with my availability.

Ok, I can roll with this (remember the story of how quick I wound up on a cruise ship?). I was very clear with them from that first phone conversation that the one Saturday was my only availability within their rehearsal schedule and I was cool with them selecting someone else if they needed a more present stage manager. And I totally noted the warning sign of only one rehearsal… but if they didn’t think it would be a problem, I assumed it would be a pretty easy performance. They should know, right?

Warning Sign #2: When you attend the one rehearsal they asked you to attend and only see half the show.

This bothered me on a few levels after I went to the only rehearsal I could attend. First and foremost, I want to do a good job stage managing your show, but you’re sort of setting me up for failure if I never actually get to see it. I spent a fair amount of time trying to convince the director to just video tape a rehearsal and send it to me (I can’t even begin to tell you how many shows I’ve learned watching videos on an airplane and then cold called with no handover – thank God for excellent technicians), but, for whatever reasons, he never did.

Then there were the vague descriptions at the rehearsal I did go to. “A poet might speak here.” “This might be a drum solo.” Hmmm… and where exactly do these things go? “Oh, you know, we will decide.” When?? WHEN? Because I think now is the time to decide. “Maybe the babies will dance here.” Uh, what? What babies? What do you mean by babies? How old are they? Do they need a child wrangler?

Warning Sign #3: When you are asked if you own a coms system. No. Not a headset. The entire coms system.

Is this a thing? Is there actually a stage manager anywhere that owns an entire portable communications system? Other than your iPhone. Maybe it’s a thing. I’m still a little baffled by that entire conversation.

Warning Sign #4: When you go check out the performance space for the first time, a local high school, with the director and producer and only half a dozen lights will turn on. And you’re told there’s no ladder high enough to reach the other lights.

So in addition to stage managing the show, I was supposed to run the light board. In a high school setting, it seemed like it would be fine. Honestly, considering only a small quantity of the lights even worked, it turned out the best it possibly could. The board was a Producer II+ with no display. No cheat sheet. Honestly, it was like shooting a gun into the middle of a lake and expecting to kill a fish.

My favorite aspect of it was that whenever you turned on one of the spotlights, it also made all the blue lights onstage turn on too…

Warning Sign #5: When a squirrel runs across the stage.

I named him Herbert. He also liked to run up around on the lighting units and knock plaster on the stage. This is really cool when people, and children, are dancing barefoot.

I have a theory he eats the wires and lives on electricity. And this is why the lights don’t work. Except he likes the color blue. So he doesn’t eat those.

Warning Sign #6: When your stage crew are volunteers. 6 giggling 13-year-old girl volunteers.

Who have never done a thing in a theater in their life. And don’t want to be split up. And don’t follow a single direction you give them. And make you repeat yourself 20 times.

Warning Sign #7: When the sound guy that the producer arranged all on his own shows up with enough speakers to blow out the eardrums of every person in Madison Square Garden.

And then takes up until 20 minutes before the house opens to get the sound system to work. Which means there is no dress rehearsal of the event at all. There was barely time for the dancers to even walk across the floor once.

So yeah, that happened.

And then it fed back all night too. So that was cool too.

But the coolest thing about the whole night? The world premier of this tiny, grassroots, awesome, ethnic little piece.

Was it sort of a hot mess at times? Oh gosh, yes. Was I more than a little ashamed to be captain of the helm of a ship with so many issues? Holy cow yes. 

But at the end of the day, theater magic happened. And it was absolutely a rough performance, but the future potential of the piece is so evident – in a real venue, with a proper dress rehearsal, it’s going to be incredible. And despite the headaches and the possibly rabid squirrel, I was so delighted to be a part of the madness.

I actually felt happier and oddly complete at several moments during that show than I have in months. I definitely confirmed I’m not done stage managing for good yet.

And I got paid. So that was pretty cool too.


*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on Femme Frugality and The Unextreme*

10 thoughts on “7 Stage Management Warning Signs: A New Year’s Resolutions Update

    • I made $350 for about 16 hours of work altogether… well, probably like 18 or 19. I did some paperwork at my apartment, but I tend to value stuff I can do on my own schedule different than I value my time when I HAVE to be in a certain place for a certain amount of time.

  1. I’ve never thought about stage managing and how they get paid. I understand lots of people want to run their own little productions. I guess I assumed they did it for the “love of theater”. Good thing I didn’t embarrassing myself to see if that was so! Thanks for linking up with Countdown in Style, Mel! I always learn so much from you!
    April recently posted…Countdown in Style {23} features Outdoor Decor, Repurposed Shirts and Emergency Savings.My Profile

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