Stage management is a sub-discipline of stagecraft.
Although a somewhat fluid line of work, in essence the stage management team (which can consist of a production stage manager, several assistant stage managers, and any number of production assistants) is responsible for organizing the production, communicating across different disciplines (e.g., between the director and the backstage crew, or the actors and production management), and keeping everything running smoothly. This refers not only to seamless management of the technical aspects of a production, but of the human aspects as well.
The responsibilities of stage management
The responsibilities and duties of stage management vary depending on the setting of a production, i.e., rehearsals or performance, and the type of production being presented (theatre, dance, and music). Typically in theatre, the stage manager acts as an adjunct to the director in rehearsal, recording the blocking and seeing that cast members stay on script, have necessary props, and follow the blocking. As the lighting, sound, and set change cues are developed, the stage manager meticulously records the timing of each as it relates to the script and other aspects of the performance. The stage manager also ascertains that the lighting and sound cues are taken at the right time. As an example, a typical lighting cue would be "lights 38, stand by" (or in the UK, "stand by lx cue 38"), with the light board operator replying, "Lights" (in the UK, "standing by"), and in turn the stage manager's "lights 38, go" ("LX cue 38, go") setting everything in motion at the appropriate time.
Once the house opens, the stage manager essentially takes control, calling the cues for all transitions (this is known as "calling the show" or being "on the book", the book being the script in which the cues and blocking are written), as well as acting as communications hub for the cast and crew. In a large production, a team of stage managers will work each performance; one will be responsible for calling the show, and others will be backstage ensuring that actors and crew are ready to perform their duties.
In the United States
Professional stage managers in the United States are represented by the Actors' Equity Association and have several prescribed responsibilities. In addition to maintaining the prompt book and calling the performances, Equity stage managers are responsible for helping establish the show's rehearsal schedule and then ensuring that rehearsals run on time; Equity has strict rules for how long rehearsals can last and when breaks must be taken. After a show opens, the stage manager is also responsible for calling brush-up, put in and understudies rehearsals to make sure that the show's quality is maintained. There is an unwritten (but heavily relied upon) agreement that stage managers are responsible for making coffee at the start of every rehearsal day. Under AEA rules, Stage Managers are not allowed to handle the cast or crew's paychecks, contracts, or closing notices, nor are they allowed to order food for the company.
In Britain, professional stage managers are represented by the British union Equity, which also represents performers. The division of a British stage management team varies according to the type of production, but can consist of stage manager (overseeing the smooth running of the show, scene changes and so on), deputy stage manager (commonly called DSM, doing the job of an American stage manager, as above) and assistant stage manager (commonly called ASM, generally working in the props and scene change area of the show, sometimes operating sound (recorded or live) or lighting as well). A fringe theatre show may employ one stage manager to carry out the tasks of an entire team. A West End theatre show in London might employ multiple stage managers, DSMs and ASMs. The Royal National Theatre in London divides the work of a stage management team in a slightly different way to regional theatres.
Show Control based venues
Many live shows around the world are produced with the forehand knowledge that they will have a very long run, often measured in years. These are usually known quantities that are very expensive productions and have a guaranteed audience because of their location. Typically, they are on cruise ships, in theme parks, Las Vegas or destination resorts such as Branson, Missouri. These shows warrant very long range development and planning and use stage managers to run almost all technical elements in the show, without benefit of many of the other traditional crew members, such as sound, lighting and rigging operators. In these cases, show control systems are installed and connected to all other technical systems in the theatre, which are specifically designed to be controlled by show control and to operate safely with minimal supervision. Stage managers working these shows usually have the additional responsibility for programming the show control system, and often the other control systems as well.