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Stage Management History?

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 ....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?

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.  :)

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.

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 amOk, 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." ( newbielink: [nonactive])
--- End quote ---

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.  ::)

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 ( that certainly suggests the roots of our position as a stage prompter.


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