As SF Ballet’s stage manager, I often get asked what it takes to perform this job for a theater or ballet company. Many stage managers have a degree in stage management–either a bachelor’s or a master’s. I have a degree in theater from University of Washington. At U of W, I spent three years gaining hands-on stage management experience calling a large number of the graduate program productions, so I felt like I was off to a great start. After working with a number of companies, including Pacific Northwest Ballet, I joined SF Ballet in 2005.
During the Ballet’s repertory season, my job includes setting up the studios for all rehearsals, taping the studio floors so that dancers know where sets will be positioned on stage, running all the rehearsals on stage, and running all performances. I wear a headset so that I can talk to the light board, the folks manning the follow spots, the carpenters, the assistant stage manager, and the fly rail. Running the shows includes calling the half-hour break, the “on stage” call and all other announcements, as well as telling the conductor when to go to the pit. It also entails calling every spot, lighting, and scenery cue for the show.
For each performance, I stand down stage right (to the left for the audience), right behind the wall. I have monitors of the stage (low-light and color), the conductor, and the computer monitor of the light board. I read music so I’m able to follow the ballet through the music score. Not all stage managers are able to and it’s not imperative, but I like to use the score as a road map–sort of like driving. For me, the music is the backbone of what holds a ballet together.
When you come to the Opera House to see SF Ballet perform, it’s usually my voice you hear right before curtain, asking you (hopefully nicely!) to turn off your cell phone. During the off-season, when there’s no company members around, I’m busy with paperwork, making copies of videos for choreographers and dancers, and looking toward the season calendar to see what ballets are coming in and what preparation might be needed.