Author Topic: Stage Management History?  (Read 15241 times)

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PSMKay

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Stage Management History?
« on: Sep 25, 2007, 08:59 am »
 ....attempting to find out....This is a general question.  Has anyone seen or heard of any articles or texts detailing the history of Stage management?  How did the position originate?  Who was considered to be the first stage manager?

BMarie_SM

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Re: Stage Management History?
« Reply #1 on: Jul 23, 2012, 03:04 pm »
Ok PSMKay, so I know you posted this YEARS ago...but for those who may be reading the boards now (and if you're still interested):

Stage Management came about in the 18th/19th century with the rise of technology. This was a changing time for theatre. Before the job of the stage manager was handled by actor-managers or theatre-managers, later director-managers. The term "Stage Manager", as with the term "director" came later in the process, long after people had been doing the jobs we associate with such a title. It is perhaps easiest to explain this transition as the change from smaller companies into larger businesses (though that is way too oversimplified). But basically, with more technology productions became more complex, started to involve more people, people started to specialize and, hence, the birth of stage managers.

In tracking the history of the stage manager one might consider the move from outdoor theatre to indoor theatre. The original 'stage managers' would have acted much more like company managers or production managers. As lighting technology, use of electricity in theatre, and such grew, it became necessary to have someone to manage those aspects only (calling the show, board ops etc.) Titles, jobs, necessary employees started to shift. No longer could your playwright, also be your lead actor, producer, director, and stage manager (as you might have seen in the 17th century and before). Obviously this way of operating was solidified with the creation of theatre unions, as it became a more honorable profession.

Though for many of us, myself included, you may feel like an old fashion director-playwright-manager or such when working in educational theatre or very small companies.

I think a good modern analogy of how the stage manager came about can be seen with dramaturgs/literary managers today. In the dramaturgy world, we often talk about how even if there is no official "Dramaturg" in the room, someone is doing the work of a dramaturg. Therefore, before dramaturgy/literary management took a big upswing in popularity, there were many actor-dramaturgs, director-dramaturgs, and stage manager-dramaturgs, who may not even have called themselves dramaturgs! Now, the word is more commonly used in the theatre world, but many productions still go up featuring the work of a dramaturg, but no person holding that title.

I'm not sure who is credited with first being called "stage manager", though I believe it would be hard to actually track since 'managers' of some sort or another were pretty typical throughout theatrical history.

_____

All of this is my own knowledge through my training as a theatre practitioner, much of which I learned in college taking History of Theatre courses. I have read numerous stage management texts, but referring back now I cannot find any citations. I would be interested to learn more if anyone else has any sources.  :)
-Brianna
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http://briannamarie.yolasite.com/

PSMKay

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Re: Stage Management History?
« Reply #2 on: Jul 23, 2012, 07:23 pm »
Right. Thanks, this is a great starting point. That's what I was told too, but it is entirely anecdotal. I believe that's the account in the Fazio textbook. My college classes didn't really speak much to the history of stage management, only the history of production as a business in general. The story that you relate is the logical one if you have any knowledge of how performance evolved, but without first hand sources I simply cannot believe it to be more than wishful thinking.

What I want are the first hand sources, names and dates, specific details. My personal belief is that yes, there probably was an evolution as you relate above. And yes, the progression you state makes sense. The story you give is what I was told as well, but only through tertiary sources at best. I have never seen proof, which leads me to believe that it's urban legend at best.

It would, of course, be difficult to track, but when you find the first person to fill the role and receive credit for stage managing, you'll find the liminal point in history to start seeking what came before. What I really want is a well-researched and heavily footnoted thesis. If I had stayed in the craft it probably would have been my own Ph.D thesis but the world had other plans for me.

BMarie_SM

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Re: Stage Management History?
« Reply #3 on: Jul 23, 2012, 11:44 pm »
Interesting...the dramaturg in me now wants to investigate this further. I agree, everything we are told and taught is 'he said, she said' through secondary sources. But then I wonder, what are the primary sources? It would be quite a dig but not undoable. But that would just be proving what we already believe - the point in the evolution of theatrical history that the term 'stage manager' came into use.

However, the way you speak of it makes it seem like there is some other history? Do you have a counter-thesis to the proposed evolution? I agree, it is general but also logical. Somewhere stage managers popped up. If this evolution is, as you put it, an 'urban legend' then what do you think is more likely the truth?

Also, you talk about finding the point before. Then are you speaking of something bigger than just the term 'stage manager'? I personally would argue there has always been stage managers. (Someone had to make sure the Greek actors showed up!  :P) I think the idea of discussing the history of the term is a way narrowing the history of the duties aka the duties becoming an acknowledge role/profession. To track the duties of a stage manager would be a whole different issue, since they have always existed in some way. So then how significant is the first one to be called "stage manager" really?

Also, I know my studies have been severally bias towards European and American history. What about other cultures?

This is very interesting and I would love to see some primary sources. Imagine reading about stage managers of long ago...we can't be the first to be curious. This would indeed be a great thesis topic - I wonder if anyone has investigated it before. Hmmm....



Post Merge: Jul 24, 2012, 01:06 am
Ok, so I think we should give this a crack. There has been a lot of debate online about the subject but no one seems to have gotten anywhere (other than agree with the standard logic we are taught).

I was able to dig up the name "Maud Gill", who is often credited as being the first female stage manager (perhaps just in England though, there doesn't seem to be a reliable source). I found this tidbit :

Quote
"Peggy Dear (obituary April 20) was, indeed, a pioneer of women in stage management. However, the first woman stage manager in this country was Maud Gill, who took over the post at the Birmingham repertory theatre in 1917. She left a fascinating and entertaining account of her experiences in her autobiography See the Players. She was told that a woman ought not to be put in charge of stagehands because "working men" would not take orders from her, but she decided that, since mothers had been keeping order in the home since the beginning of time, the way to go about it was to treat them as a mother would treat her family. It worked." (http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2001/may/07/guardianobituaries)

I skimmed my History of Theatre text (Brockett, Oscar G. History of the Theatre. 7th Edition. 1995.) and am amazed to find not one mention of stage management! There was no mention in the index so I looked at the general Theatre Management mentions, which all mostly refer to what we would consider producing or artistic directing aka arts administration.

However, I did find this juicy statistic : 17th-19th centuries saw theatrical troupes gaining support and growing. By the late 18th century some troupes employed more than 200 people, including stage hands, maintenance personnel, and prompters.

By this point there most likely should have been stage managers - interesting though how the text does not name them as such.

I think, perhaps, the key will be looking into the history of technical theatre - of stage hands. We understand the actor-manager and director-stage manager theory. What we need is the moment somebody gave the stage hands a boss that functioned backstage as well as in management (really the stage managers power to walk on both sides of the curtain).

One forum post suggested the key to unlocking the mystery would be in old tax returns - who first filed their occupation as a 'stage manager'. This is a good idea, and perhaps could be useful but I don't think it would guarantee the first stage manager who most likely was working freelance well before tax records we have (though you never know).

I think a great way to track this would be in gathering old playbills and show notices - track how they mention production staff. Again not a sure fire way...

The hunt is on. I just graduated this May, I'm going to see if I can still get into my library database which would give us some primary sources. See what I can dig up.  ::)
« Last Edit: Jul 24, 2012, 01:06 am by BMarie_SM »
-Brianna
Stage Manager - Dramaturg - Director
http://briannamarie.yolasite.com/

BLee

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Re: Stage Management History?
« Reply #4 on: Jul 24, 2012, 01:22 am »
Another method of seeking the development of "stage manager" as a position is to track one of our most identifiable tools: the prompt book. The Folgers library has a wonderful record of prompt books (http://www.folger.edu/Content/Whats-On/Folger-Exhibitions/Past-Exhibitions/David-Garrick/What-is-a-Promptbook/) that certainly suggests the roots of our position as a stage prompter.
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PSMKay

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Re: Stage Management History?
« Reply #5 on: Jul 24, 2012, 03:18 am »
Good heavens are they still using Brockett after all this time? I'm amazed at how many of the texts I used in the mid-90's are still in use in college-level training.

Anyhow back on topic, yes, it would take a combination of tax returns and playbills, certainly, and newspapers from assorted eras, and possibly correspondence from assorted playwrights and directors. We know that there's mention of a prompter in G&S's era, there are prompt scripts so that part of the role had emerged already.

Brianna speaks of the Greeks and of non-western emergence of a stage manager. If you want a counter-thesis, very well. The stage manager may not have evolved but sidestepped into theatre from liturgy. After all, I was an acolyte in my church growing up, and I can attest that what I did during the service had a lot in common with a sort of stagehand/ASM position. There are altar boys, altar guilds - a whole bustle of "backstage" folk working to coordinate a church service. If one could see the stage manager anecdotally emerging from the role of the actor-manager, then one could just as likely see someone who performed a similar function in the church stepping in to coordinate a large production of, say, mystery plays.

Keeping a troupe of social outcasts together on the road is one thing, and requires a certain type of skill, but coordinating an entire town to perform something like the York Mystery Cycle year after year would mandate something more akin to what we do, I would think, and the skill set might already be in place from working in the church. An analogue could possibly be found in performative experiences from non-western cultures - shamanic rituals, eastern operas & spiritual shadow puppetry, etc - how is the backstage structured for these? (Of course, there's no guarantee that we evolved from a similar structure, but one could argue that history repeats itself and performers the world over still need organizing.)

But really, couldn't you see it as  ... troupe pulls through a town where they do regular performances of their own. The fellow who puts together the annual shows takes one look at the merrie bande and says *tsk* "oh no, here, let me show you what I've learned from getting 500 people to show up for choir practice." The organizer, being of fine Christian mettle, will not run away to join the travellers so they appoint one of their own to serve the same role going forward. No? Maybe?

It's such a hodgepodge of a role that it certainly evolved based on tradition, but how did this particular hodgepodge of tasks become so very consistent from theatre to theatre? And while chasing that particular train of thought, how did the two very disparate roles of Stage Manager and ASM evolve into their current forms?

Prompters have been needed since the dawn of scripted drama, but the "boss of backstage" part required backstage tech to evolve to the point where a boss was needed. Somehow it did grow from small travelling troupes to the 200+ member companies that Brianna speaks of from the 18th c, but at what point did the manager emerge from the mess? (One would suppose early one, given performers' needs to boss others about and stand out from the crowd!)

And what about the whole "maintains the show after the director departs" bit? I'd think that requires mass media first - the contract with the audience, the promise that what you see tonight is pretty much the same as what your brother saw last night, rather than extemporaneous speech. Were they all separate roles at one point, consolidated into the stage manager position to save on cash? Were our stage managerly ancestors such go-getters that they simply stood up and said "well, sure, I'll do it!" every time a new backstage demand came along?

So yes, I'm seeking something bigger than just the term. I mean, finding the first use of the term is great, and will be an excellent piece of trivia, but it also serves as the transition point. My bet is that the more exciting parts of the development of the craft happened immediately before the emergence of the actual job title.  The first "stage manager" of record serves only as a boundary around which is the territory for prime exploration. I guess I'm looking for a legitimate origin story.

BLee, the article you link to is lovely, it definitely shows that in Garrick's time the prompt-book was created by the actor-director and then handed off to the prompter, who therefore took a far more passive role than that of a modern SM. English stage management roles have developed quite differently from American ones - I can see in the Garrick books the beginnings of the English traditions, and certainly opera traditions, but American stage management seems further removed. I'm thinking the greater distances and different entertainment styles in the US (Variety shows, burlesque, magicians etc) may have nudged us in a different direction early on.

Brianna, I'd be interested to see what else you can dig up. I don't have access to much out here although in theory I have lifetime access to the Ivy Libraries if I needed it.

Samazon

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Re: Stage Management History?
« Reply #6 on: Jul 24, 2012, 03:51 am »
Thank you for reviving this thread! I saw it a few months ago when beginning a paper on how and why SMs were included in AEA for a college class but could not find it again while doing more research a few weeks ago.

As for particulars, I do have a mention of SMs and prompters in a document entitled "Boston Museum Rules and Regulations, 1880". In rule 9, it states, "The stage manager's and prompter's tables are strictly private. All business will be transacted in the stage manager's office." While I am aware that this is a very recent account, it is a good starting point for the investigation.

In terms of non-primary documents, I have found several listings for SMs and ASMs on IBDB, but I'm hesitant to rely completely on this as I'm not sure of their reliability. Also, I've found mention that Ludwig Kronek was credited as SM to George II, Duke of Sax Meningen, but his role seemed to be more of a director rather than an SM.

I know these do not form a complete origin story (or even come close) but I'm currently during more research into the role. At this point, I'm researching records of managers as they seem to have performed some of the tasks of modern SMs. I'll let you know if I find more.
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PSMKay

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Re: Stage Management History?
« Reply #7 on: Jul 24, 2012, 04:01 pm »
I wonder if we don't need to pay some attention to the role of Assistant Director in these investigations. After all, if you look at the role of AD in high opera it contains a lot of the tasks that are normally assigned to the SM in straight shows & musicals.

Y'know, Tom Kelly spoke a bit about the origins of the SMA in his chat with us a few years back. Let me see if there's anything worthwhile in the old transcript.

LCSM

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Re: Stage Management History?
« Reply #8 on: Jul 24, 2012, 05:25 pm »
Another method of seeking the development of "stage manager" as a position is to track one of our most identifiable tools: the prompt book. The Folgers library has a wonderful record of prompt books (http://www.folger.edu/Content/Whats-On/Folger-Exhibitions/Past-Exhibitions/David-Garrick/What-is-a-Promptbook/) that certainly suggests the roots of our position as a stage prompter.

I love looking at old prompt books. The Victoria and Albert have quite a few in their collection, as well and a whack of old theatre paperwork:
 
http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/p/prompt-book-for-radamisto-by-george-friedrich-handel/
 
http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/d/doyly-carte-prompt-books/

Rhynn

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Re: Stage Management History?
« Reply #9 on: Nov 04, 2012, 12:30 am »
Linda Apperson references the following book in her book Stage Managing and Theater Etiquette:

Townsend, Stephen.  Short Account of the Amateur Dramatic Club of St. Bartholomews Hospital.  London:  Knight Publications, 1888.
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