The Role of the Deputy Stage Manager

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While you’re sitting in the auditorium waiting for the play to begin, perhaps you are reading through the programme to find out where the play is set and how many scenes there are. After you have looked down the cast list to see if there is anybody you recognize maybe you also read down the list of technical crew and wonder, what is a deputy stage manager’s job?

The role of the deputy stage manager [DSM] is extremely varied, having one foot with backstage crew and one foot with the director and actors attending every rehearsal and performance. I have been a deputy stage manager here for over 10 years. Let me take you through the whole process right from the first rehearsal to the 1st performance on opening night.

Week 1: The FIRST rehearsal
As the director works through the play guiding the actors around the rehearsal room explaining their moves and actions, the DSM is recording everything in the script so that there is an accurate record of everything an actor does in the play from when they enter the door, where they stand, sit down in the chair, pick up a glass etc to when they finally exit. This documentation continues throughout the rehearsals recording any changes that are made right up to opening night.

There is also other vital information that must be recorded in every play’s script. This might be when there’s a knock at the door, when a piece of scenery is moved, when a telephone is rung or when a gunshot occurs – the list is endless.

During the rehearsals
The reason for this painstaking recording of everything that happens during the play is to help the actors during the rehearsals to remember their actions and moves and to try and create a rehearsal that is as close to the final performance as possible.

Week six: The actors and crew move into the theatre
During the week before the play opens, the actors and crew move into the theatre and onto the stage. On the Thursday evening the role of the DSM is to help coordinate the technical rehearsal. The whole team works painstakingly through the production, creating the lighting for each scene, the sound effects and music, the opening of the performance, the timing of scenery changes and any other special effects, for example, costume changes, the flying of scenery and cloths; in fact everything that creates the performance you’re watching tonight is eventually controlled by the DSM. The director and technical crew must make a decision about the timing of all these cues and this must be recorded in the script used by the deputy stage manager.

Dress rehearsals
We then have three dress rehearsals which are coordinated by the stage manager and DSM. The aim is to create a performance that runs smoothly with all aspects of the production coordinated to happen at exactly the correct moment in the script or at a particular moment determined by an actor’s action.

The first performance
It’s Monday night and there is always great excitement and anticipation backstage. As you look at the stage tonight the deputy stage manager is standing on the left-hand side of the stage just out of view calling the actors and crew to the stage for the start of the performance. When everybody is in the auditorium and every actor and member of the technical team are ready the stage manager gives permission for the deputy stage manager to start the performance.

The DSM gives the first cues to the technicians in the sound and lighting box behind the window at the rear of the auditorium. The lights dim, the music begins and, after seven weeks of hard work in rehearsal, the first performance is finally underway. The DSM then follows the script, cueing the lighting changes, sound effects, music, scene changes and also speaking to the dressing rooms to let the actors know that their entrances are approaching.

Hopefully everything will go smoothly or at least if something goes amiss we trust you won’t notice. Almost before we know it, the DSM is giving the final cues and the first performance is over. Just six more performances to go!

During my time as a deputy stage manager I have been responsible for cueing graves to be opened, gunshots, glitter to fall, the set to revolve, telephones to ring, dead bodies to be flown out of vans, large walnuts containing goblins to be pushed onto stage and apples to fall from trees. What a wonderful hobby.

Andy Mear