How to Stock a Stage Management Kit on a Budget

How to Stock a Stage Management Kit on a Budget

How to Stock a Stage Management Kit on a Budget | brokeGIRLrich

Every job has its tools and one of the biggest money suckers for a stage manager is their kit.

What’s a stage manager kit? Well, it harkens back to the idea that a stage manager is the person who is “absolutely responsible for absolutely everything” for a production… which is an over or under simplification of sorts, but one of my professors in college described it as that and I never quite shook that definition.

Your kit is how you pull this off.

So to give you an idea of how old I am - yes, that is an actual disposable camera in there. It uses film.

So to give you an idea of how old I am – yes, that is an actual disposable camera in there. It uses film.

Has your actor walked head first into a hanger? He probably needs a band-aid. And possibly an ice pack and some aspirin.

Did your lead actress just catch her hem and tear it out as she ran for the stage? She probably needs it pinned up… or at least double-sided taped.

Do you need to tape an outline of the set for rehearsal? You may need masking tape and a measuring tape. And a scale ruler to read the floor plan correctly.

In an ideal world, the theater you’re working for will provide you all these things.

In real life, you’re probably on your own, man. And if you’re pretty lucky, at least you’ll get reimbursed for the items you use.

That being said, it’s kind of a task for a broke as a joke new stage manager to start putting their kit together.  Being the frugal stage manager that I am though, I’ve got some tips for you.

Start out with a list of everything you need and then prioritize it. I always, always harp on Lawrence Stern’s Stage Management text as being the best possible resource for any new stage manager, and he has a very comprehensive list in his book, but you can also find some great SM Kit lists by just Googling.

Tip #1: Look through that list and see what you can find for a free. A lot of the items in my kit, I never paid for. I’ve long stolen all the free little items in hotels – so items like soap, shampoo, etc all made it into the kit for nothing. Also, when it says things like “hair pins,” you don’t need 1000. I have about 20 in mine, just taken from my own personal stockpile.

This is another key thing to remember – a lot of items in your kit are just in case. You should not be the main supplier of these items. They are for mid-rehearsal or show emergencies. You know, when that awesome fan dance goes all wrong and three of the dancers catch fans in their hair and destroy their hairstyles. You want to be standing in the wings with enough bobby pins to put them back together to finish out the scene. And then they should go back to their dressing rooms and fix their hair with their own bobby pins.

Along the same lines, you should also figure that when you hand over those bobby pins, you’re saying good-bye to them. This brings us to the next tip.

How to Stock a Stage Managers Kit

Thanks, ExtendedStay, for the soap!

Tip #2: Keep track of the cost of every item in your kit. Sometimes you will work for cheap, crappy little start up companies and they’re not going to reimburse you for anything in your kit. But sometimes you will work for companies who see the value of your kit and are willing to reimburse you.

Even if they don’t reimburse me, I usually bring it. My kit has plenty of things in it that just help me, too. However, there’s a big difference between what I lend out when I’m able to be reimbursed and what I’ll lend out when I’m not.

Side note: ALWAYS discuss whether or not reimbursement is an option when talking about your salary/stipend negotiations. If they want a ballpark figure, usually promising to keep it under $100 will work out for you. Hey, it may be nothing, because, sure, all those actors will bring their own pencils.


Tip #3: Google some of the items on your list and see if there are free offers online for them. Moist towelettes, antibacterial ointment, hair spray, you never know what you’ll find. Honestly, I stalk freebie sites regularly and stockpile items as they pop up to replace in my kit. Rewards clubs are great too. Staples has a particularly fabulous one.

Keep in mind though, that if they get used in rehearsal, you’ll still have to replace them. It’s pretty easy to get an idea of how much it would cost by swinging by a CVS or Walgreens and checking out the travel sized section. I find the price of what I would buy to replace it and use that in my master list for my kit, so companies I work with know what it’ll cost to replace.

There are also situations where I’ll buy something like a box of towelettes and only keep 10 or so in my kit. I make sure the replacement cost is the cost of a box of towelettes, not the individual packet cost, since if I run out, that’s what I’m going to have to shell out to replace it.

Side note: If you are negotiating regarding your kit and you have a master list of what’s in your kit and the cost to replace it, it doesn’t hurt to bring that to the negotiations to give the producer an idea of what you may be asking for. If I have an especially kind producer too, I may hit them up to update all the medication in my kit at the top of a run too. Listing expiration dates of medication in your kit on the master sheet doesn’t hurt either.

Tip #4: Write to companies explaining your job and ask for free samples or coupons. This is mostly helpful for medication. Different stage managers take different stances on providing medication for their cast because, really, who are you to provide medicine (you know, the same way a school nurse can’t do a whole lot with medication). Personally, I always stock aspirin, Imodium AD, Peptobismal, Tums and a non-aspirin headache medicine. And once one person’s got a cold, I add some Day-Quil into the mix too.

What to Put in a Stage Management Kit

Kit space is at a premium – you always want the small, travel sized item anyway.

Tip #5: If you have a local hardware or stationary store, go ask to see the manager with a list of supplies you’d like from them – scale ruler, pencils, note cards, pencils, crescent wrench, pencils, small flashlight, etc. (did I mention pencils?) and ask if they would consider donating it to the production in exchange for program credit (clear this with your producer first, but often it’s the type of thing they don’t have a problem with).

By picking up things bit by bit, it keeps the cost down – especially when you’re just starting out and funding your own kit. It might seem like a pain, but having a SM kit makes life so. much. easier.

The one item I recommend that you don’t go the cheap route is the actual box you put it all in. I bought a terrific Plano tackle box back in college. 10 years later, it’s still my SM kit and it has flown all over the world with me.

Finally, one final caveat, your SM kit should NEVER replace a theater’s first aid kit. All performance venues are responsible for providing a safe working environment, and that includes providing a first aid kit. While my kit certainly does have several first aid basics, it’s mostly for convenience sake. You should always know where the first aid kit is in your theater and what’s in it!

Happy stage managing!

18 thoughts on “How to Stock a Stage Management Kit on a Budget

  1. This is honestly one of the best websites I’ve found regarding Stage Management. I’m going to be majoring in it in college starting this fall and have so many small anxieties that your posts are making disappear. I might even consider starting to pick up a few odds and ends for my official SM kit now! I just wanted to thank you for truly catering to such a strange but delightful and rewarding career path. Even if the cost that goes along with it is a bit daunting, it’s still comforting to know that I have all your experiences at my disposal when the time for post college and internship endeavors occurs. Thank you so much.

    • Wow – thanks so much for the comment! It really made my night. And I hope my occasional grumbling and bitterness doesn’t entirely dissuade you – it’s good to know it’s a tough profession you’re picking, but it’s definitely rewarding!

  2. And on the medical side – once upon a time, while traveling through Canada, I got myself a supply of “ACC.” Aspirin, caffeine and codeine. It does take the edge of pain off, but just get enough (100 tabs) as the stuff does chemically break down over time.

  3. Pingback: Week End Round Up #27 - Debt Discipline

      • I see it now. Is yours the 7771?
        The 7771 on Amazon has 4, shorter organizer boxes, compared to the 3 you have.
        The new model may not work as well for storage since they are not as tall, but plano makes so many other styles that could work…

        • I don’t think they make exactly mine anymore and this is the closest I could find. It appears slightly taller, actually, and has a little more storage on the top than mine. I think the compartment when you open the top is a little deeper on the one side to accommodate the extra organizer box.

          • Thanks! You got a good one! I love these Plano boxes, but there are a lot of models are variations for my OCD… :)

            I’m working on buying a road box of some sort. I found this amazing (and affordable!) modular system at Home Depot:

            The entire set comes out to be $130 which is a steal! $20 more if you want the basket, which is great for loadouts.
            It’s Pelican box like, and extremely durable. I’m going to wait for a holiday when they bundle it all for $100.

  4. this seems like a great guide, but the link to Lawrence stern’s guide is broken, it only leads me to an amazon error page with the sad puppy. if you can find another link, i’d love to read it!

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