The Story Behind the Theatre; The Stage Manager and the Company Manager
New York City is the theater capital of the world Riverside radio W. RTR brings you the story behind the theater. Long before you hear about a new play is in production. Two members of a theater stuff have been hard at work even before the first rehearsal call the stage manager has already fulfilled part of his job. Does the production gathers pre-opening momentum. The company manager joins of the show. These two stay with the production longer than most members of the staff performing the duties which people play and peak performance. What these duties are we learn tonight in a talk with John Cornell and Rollo BRUGUIERE.
Here is our backstage. JR The word manager seems to pop up with increasing frequency in the lineup of most any kind of a theatrical production. Usually for instance there is a production stage manager a stage manager a company manager a general manager a production manager and then of course the inevitable assistant managers in each and every one of the previously named categories. And then with the heavy duties placed upon a producer and the director it might almost seem that so much management is not absolutely essential. However I think over the years everyone has seen how the complexities of a production are never ending and ever increasing and usually the case is that before a show opens every manager in every area is fervently wishing that the staff of the show is at least twice as large. Also as far as these various managers are concerned. After a show is open and is hopefully running its these very managers who stay with it and keep the show going while the producer and the director
are off working on other projects. So to begin to delve into some of these production complexities John actually just when does a stage manager start functioning its really even weeks before a show begins casting is and its often weeks and sometimes months before a show starts casting the stage manager is. Generally almost the first person hired by the producer well is he on salary right away and sort of runs the office to set up casting this kind of thing. It varies from producer to producer. Actually he is not officially on salary until a few days before the production goes into rehearsal. There is a certain pre-production period required by equity it's two weeks with a musical in one week with these dramatic put away but usually there is a retainer if he is actually working much in advance with the rehearsal date but a stage manager might be called upon to almost contribute or donate his services and for some
weeks before he is in he does and he is tied up he is committed to the production usually many weeks before it starts rehearsal and he is officially on salary but is the production committed to him. Do we do it. Does a producer ever pull that kind of trick or he'll use a stage manager until let's say a contract is due to begin and then bring in someone else. I don't think that that is usual procedure. It occasionally happens and has happened to me that I have spent many weeks working on a production which never finally raised the necessary money to go ahead. And that is simply last time. And then Ron In contrast a company manager really isn't needed until the show is actually in rehearsal not the company manager but the general manager write functions. Before the even before the stage managers work begins he says he has to start sending letters to backers but of course that's General Manager not company manager and the company managers actually need it he starts a week on
salary before rehearsal and then specifically then let's say during a rehearsal period what does a company manager have to get in line and organize getting in line reservations for the hotels out of town lining up the theaters lining up the transportation for the scenery to New Haven and Boston and back to New York and lining up the theater that they're going to open and we are. And don't forget the advertising all the advertising which is this is all under the category of the company manager right. Well are there any specific areas where a company manager and a stage manager traditionally work together or are the jobs really completely exclusive of each other or are there certain adjacent areas. Well I think that they are very adjacent and most stage managers work in close cooperation of the company. Sure but they can be roughly said that the company manager's job is in front of the curtain and the stage manager's job is back of it. Really the delegation of authority of course is of vital importance to the staff of any show from the top
on down and wouldn't be safe to generalize really and say that the director delegates authority to the stage manager and the producer to the company manager in other words your boss is the director and your boss is the producer is this my boss is the general manager the general head general manager who in turn is responsible to the producer. However I am at all performances of the of the play or musical or whatever we're doing for the general manager is in his office and shows up once in a while. So the hierarchy goes producer general manager company that's right and adjacent to the company manager is the stage manager. But actually your order of authority really would be more a director and then stage manager within it. Well I think one has to distinguish a little bit between the function of the stage manager in rehearsal and the function of the stage manager after opening during rehearsal. He is the executive arm of the producer He coordinates the activities of the creative. Function of the putting the play
on the stage after opening when the captains and the Kings have all gone home. He becomes another person whose job that is to keep the level of performance up. Rehearse the understudies very often hire and replace replacements and do many of the jobs that he never even touches during rehearsal. It really is a double function. Yes but during the rehearsal period it's the stage manager really that has the answer to practically any question is is the stage manager shows where the answer is No. But his job is coordination of the efforts of other people and when he's asked a question if he can't answer he supposed to know where to find the answer. Well our as far as a stage manager is concerned then once the show is running let's say are the technical people such as the light man on the prop man in the grips and the like directly under the control of the stage manager and so far as cues and running procedure of the show and the light
they are directly under the stage managers far as taking cues are concerned. Of course this is a ticklish relationship of boss to worker so to speak and is usually founded upon tact. I think that probably the greatest asset a stage manager can have is tact in dealing with the acting company on the one hand and the technicians on the other hand to keep everything running smoothly. Well do you ever find difficulty in let's say a crossing Union lines in other words you belong to one union but you're having to in effect give orders to someone who's belonging to another or does this bother people generally. It has happened but I don't think that it does generally. Everybody recognises that someone has to be the person who says Go and such authority is generally looked generally given to the stage manager and accepted by all of the other unions. And actually if anything goes wrong the fingers are put on the stage manager anyway.
So yes in the old time theatre the stage manager was always the house carpenter. He was responsible for putting the show on and it was still a term you find involved full houses and occasionally out of town at all times theatres the stage manager is that is the carpenter right not in our present day terminology where the stage manager is generally over and above the other. Union employees backstage we sense that he says Do it now right. We mean at that time there was no such term a stage manager at somebody's house coffee house carpenter put together that I noticed that many you know out of town stage you still know he was called your users very frequently see it was a telephone number on the board refers to the stage manager who is the house concert operator I've never heard of that. Well Ron I want to show is ready to move out of town for its tryout for example and you've got the room set and you know what theater is going to be played and what
areas does the company manager cover or is it generally sort of assistant to the general manager once you're out of town and box office seeing that nobody in the box office is selling tickets on the side or checking the advertising in the newspapers. I have actually seen company Niger's out with tapes measuring the size of the print to really be correct the billing. That's not ours. Track star it's a very crude has to be X number of inches or not smaller than somebody else's. But then this is another interesting point that Ron how much at the beck and call of the star must a company manager be for instance you were on 24 hours a day. In other words anything they want done you are the one that is what I'm doing. I'm the one. Well John how far can a stage manager extend his authority in regards to discipline backstage in other words this is the final word even to the point of well it's a firing
an actor for flagrant disregard of standard rules. Well this is very hard to say actually under the present union conditions it is very difficult to fire or even discipline anybody without prior reference to the union. And among the actors Actors Equity and it's virtually impossible to fire a musician or a stagehand. I remember one case where a stagehand was quite incompetent. You happen to be a flyman and registering complaint with the union every placement was son of Ron who had only one arm has it. But you say firing now there is a difference you mean instantaneous firing you can always of course give you can always you know I was providing it in writing and usually got as assigned by the general manager rather than the stage manager. In cases of chorus replacements or
something like that the stage manager accepts it and and gives normal notices. But it is usually a function of the general knowledge of the company Nizer rather than the stage manager but does it also have to be for a good and specific reason or can you just say your performance is falling off. You can but you never do. You always give us a specific group. There is a reason and I don't think that jobs backstage are that much in jeopardy. It is very rare that anyone is fired except for the most outrageous reasons. Or was it. Betsy got Furstenberg a couple years ago that on stage but was an alum. I think in another actor's drinking water on stage and this created such an unusual unprofessional kind of thing to do that is so unusual that it's hardly worth mentioning. There are a few people who are antic in this way but they are usually
the nonprofessionals or the freaks when occasion encounters in the business most of the actors are hardworking and very concerned about keeping their jobs and doing a good job. Well how about things like emergency stage manager. I would imagine would have to make certain emergency decisions such as holding the curtain for some reason or making a last minute cast substitution if somebody falls down the stairs and breaks a leg. This this is of course one of the major functions of the stage manager after opening and particularly on a musical where it is. I should say more of the rule than the exception. To have somebody out we hardly ever play a big musical with the entire cast present. And that means that when you arrive at the theater at night you usually find waiting for you unnoticed and so on so is not going to be there tonight. And this is the stage managers function to make the necessary substitutions
and prepare in conjunction with the chorus captain. Usually these are chorus drugs and yes they have to be switched around and they often involve dangerous situations lefse and slides and catches and things like that. And in this area we have to be very careful of the health and condition of the actor involved. We have to make substitutions if the actor feels ill or dizzy in a hazardous situation. I have heard that as a matter fact I'm one of the big musicals last season. There was about a week running when there were at least five out of the chorus every single night and unfortunately not the same five. That's very often the case it's happened to me many times even more than that. And you find this out usually only when you arrive at the theater. I get to 7:30 yourself. Yes occasionally you learn earlier and particularly if an actor has a very unusual function such as acrobatic
dancing or something of this nature. He is more conscientious about calling in and puts a chorus performer is entitled to one day off a month and he doesn't have to give notice of what day that's going to be. And most chorus performers take advantage of this once a month vacation and you find them off they don't do NOT get docked for that one day. Well as it sometimes happened that you might even almost have to cut a certain segment of the dance for a certain evening let's say. Or are these things covered very very rarely and only in the very early days of production because of practically every contingency is arranged for an advance between the choreographer the director and the chorus capturing the stage manager. Almost anybody can be out of the show and it will still play. Except the stuff will either. I played several performances of the King and I was both Gertrude Lawrence and you will bring her out
and hardly any money was given back at the box office about $15 I think. Well that is it. I was at. Night if you want as a matter of fact when they came out to announce that he Davis wasn't there and the producer as he announced it made it almost sound like as a concession as a favor being very pleasant. He would refund anyone's money if they had come especially to see Bette Davis must they make this offer if it stars out. Well they must return the money since the star has been advertised as appearing in a few stars not in the production that evening they're required to. They have to know something offered to they have to yes the money must have been very often and in a very big hit such as the king you know which I just mentioned. The audience would rather see the understudy or in that case stand guys then wait another six months for tickets on the other night or on a company manager have any kind of involvement whatsoever with the artistic enders he mainly paid for his because it isn't his head business said nothing to do with the artistic to the creative Other than
paying the bills. That's creative I don't have time to just take but a signature So in other words it would not behoove him whatsoever to step into any of the artistic areas of the show even as far as advice or unless he's asked for advice. I think Stage Managers very often seek and welcome the advice of the company manager who sees the performance from the front door off from the stage no extra eyes and when things begin to slip or are small errors take place. Often the company knows you will see them before the stage manager and he tells the stage manager and is then corrected. Yes of the production slipping by all means the company manager should be on his toes. Ron wants a show is established on Broadway. Doesn't the company manager's job become pretty routine. Yeah it's a routine job going to the theater every night standing in the box office seeing if there is anything that has to be done backstage any requirement any bills that become the stage manager has for him.
Giving House seats out for a hitch there's a great deal more for a company manager to do on the road than there are long lines settled on Broadway. Yes but in contrast when a show establishes itself in New York isn't that when the stage managers responsibility and work becomes a great deal more than during the tryout when there's all the it's the point at which is job changes. He's very busy during rehearsals because of his coordinating function he has to keep all kinds of time charts and keep track of you and you know hours and avoid penalty hours from the stagehands Voigt and observe rest periods for the actors and all that sort of thing. It is after the play opens that his immediately immediate responsibility takes over he becomes a more creative person than he is to rehearsal. Well then after the show is open and is a hit like the King and I. How
about. You mentioned this briefly before but we didn't go into it brush up rehearsals for understudies and the actual casting of understudies and replacements. How much does a stage manager do this on his own. Does he run brush up rehearsals and does he actually cast understudies or is it always in conjunction with all of the director could frequently be out of town. The director frequently is out of town and it is I should say uncommon for the director to pay much attention to the understudies. This is usually the sme a set them in the beginning but is usually the function of the stage manager to rehearse them. Then he may also rehearse the replacements although depending upon the importance of the of the part or the interest of the director the director may do that. It's again a question of tact you have your work. You take over if the director doesn't wish to do so him self. But if a director were out of town and let's say an original understudy got another job
with the natural order of authority before the stage manager to cast another understudy. Yes it would in. Again with a referral to the general manager because there would probably be a salary situation involved which would which the stage manager would not normally settle or even enter into it artistically artistically the stage manager would rehearse and very probably cast. Understudy and all but important we've replaced one of these understudy rehearsals you have a complete cast what once or twice a week of understudies that do come in and run the show. You don't usually have a complete cast you have one understudy may cover several different postures but you you have enough of the company that you can run a complete rehearsal on a musical It is customary to run the first act one weakness I connected next week regularly on an on a regular weekly
basis. Well I would imagine just holding a consistently high level production pattern for a longer and run hit must be a big job in itself for a stage manager and again we touched on this briefly but didn't really go into it. What choices or responsibilities does a stage manager have if he sees that the show is beginning to fall apart or beginning to become sloppy. Well it is his responsibility to do something about it and whether this means simply going in talking to the. People involved or holding a rehearsal is his decision. He may do either very often you can correct sloppiness by merely talking to the people involved. And here again the stage manager works very closely on a musical with the conductor. Because the conductor time as they say is highly sensitive to the quality of the performance and he is almost the first person to notice a slipping of
sharpness and acuity in the production. Well an estate manager would take it upon himself to let's say for lack of better word sense you're saying anyone other than a big star if they were just getting careless in a performance or tell them that. Oh yes yes and I think the stage manager stage manager does tell a star give a start no emphatically he does yes. Your station manager usually has a very close relationship with the star and part of the function of the stage manager is there's an old saying in the theatre that after the first three or four weeks you have a rehearsal to take out the improvements as well as you for instance actually give notes to Miss Lawrence who is probably one of the biggest stars existing in her day. Yes she always came to the theatre very early about 6:30 and she expected me to come in and chat with her for half an hour or so before nearly every performance so I could find out. She had such a taxing role that she felt out of touch with the rest of the company and it bothered her and she depended on me to
let her know what was happening. New babies and their actors. This is an argument so well Ron is a company manager's job. Again General lising usually an end unto itself or do most company managers at least out of your experience have an eye on producing or moving on from company I think most of them have been moving mostly to producing. I don't know where you go from Other than that as to the general manager opening your own office taking on responsibilities numerous production one time and cars with better experience could you get for producing them as that kind of that is your own engine. Well then John stage managing actually is one of the best training areas for a potential director isn't it in fact happened. Many directors begun as stage managers. That's the normal stepping stone of course there are many stage managers who have subsequently become producers as well. The late Bobby Griffith is one of them. Is it usual or exceptional. For instance for the Broadway stage manager to take over the direction of a touring company of the
same show or take the bus and truck to work I should say more often than not it it depends on the circumstances and the reliance that the producer puts in the stage manager. Couldn't the stage manager or company manager become experienced and well very highly proficient and yet never actually work a Broadway show but rather keep busy with industrials and tours and in production offices and. Oh very definitely. So first I don't have to stay in alone. You know there's a great deal of activity in these areas and there's becoming more and more activity for professional people in the academics that are yes there are many many academic theatres being built around the country and also community theaters and you can't really have a nucleus of professionals you know. And if only they would do this more really in the management line by management again I mean like a good business manager or a company manage your professional stage manager and director your amateur talent find that seems to be what those
theatres exist for. But the solid management of them seems to be where they so frequently fall down. I believe that this that the arena managers have actually provided a school for years and years you certainly know there is Association I took the course myself. I just going to say how do you become a company man I don't need this and I said grow up. But it's fortunately I opened variety one day and I saw an advertisement for a musical arena theaters and they were offering a course I took it became its business manager and then on to company manager. That's very rare to find such a course. I think both company manager on the stage manager you merely have to be in the right place at the right time so there is no other. You know straight dramatic show I know there are many more in a musical. How many assistance will the stage manager usually have one or two one usually one and two on a musical. Oh if it comes down to one for each side of the
stage any upon the number of cues and so on by the assistants usually in the show doing a small part in a musical I think they are in the musicals English side going to assist and almost always says it comes from the chorus and his principal function is to call the half hour and the seams and one of the problems that a stage manager has really is that he never gets to see how another stage manager operates. It isn't like an actor going to see his rival actors and that is true when they're working. Well actually I think it is. I hate to stop but we must as far as management backstage in front of the House is concerned we can leave things quite thoroughly unhappily in both your hands. Thank you very much for being with us. Thank you I was been a pleasure to be here. Pleasure. The story behind the theater today the stage about the company about it your. Junior our host for these backstage visits has been talking with John Cornell out
about their roles of stage about a company about a joke. Behind the actor on the sets stand prop and stage hands electrician's costume fitters and other indispensable though unseen members of a production stop. Our next programme Lyle Di junior takes the microphone backstage to talk with these craftsmen in the minutes before the curtain goes up on a performance of old Dad Poor Dad at the Phoenix Theatre in New York. Listen next week when from New York City the theatre capital of the world Riverside radio again brings you the story behind the theater. Close. To. Where you stand recorded by Riverside radio W. RTR in cooperation with the Equity Library theater under a gratin aid from the National Association of educational
- The Story Behind the Theatre
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- The Story Behind the Theatre is a twelve part program produced by WRVR Riverside Radio. Each week, Lyle Die Jr. of the Equity Library Theater addresses a specific aspect of theater production and interviews two people working in the New York City theater industry. The series seeks to explain the many factors involved in producing a piece of theater by talking with playwrights, producers, directors, and other industry professionals.
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 63-15-7 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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- APA: The Story Behind the Theatre; The Stage Manager and the Company Manager. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-xd0qwx7d