A life in the theatre: Company Manager

Published December 7, 2015

In the latest in our series delving into the daily goings on in every theatre in London, we spoke to Les Misérables’ Hannah Shafran to find out exactly what the life of a Company Manager in the West End’s longest running musical entails. While the reputation of a Company Manager’s ability to juggle preceded the interview, we weren’t prepared for just how demanding this role is.

From dawn wake up calls and being escorted from Buckingham Palace in an ambulance to liaising with press requests and providing a friendly ear when a member of the cast is a bit…well… misérables, there’s never a dull moment for Shafran…

The first thing I do every day is:

Check my phone for overnight text messages or phone calls. I get contacted about anything from late night indigestion, dogs with hay fever at 04:00 and drunken ticket requests to more serious things like muggings or being taken ill.

An average day for me involves:

Dealing with phone calls, emails and texts during the day; mostly things like ticket requests, holiday requests, physio requests (or cancellations), train delays, cast members calling in sick etc.

Once I get to work I have to let everyone know who is off that evening and who is on, so that the dance captain can work out the details of the covering for that show. I catch up with the day’s emails, deal with scheduling rehearsals, events, press, holidays, power cuts (!), Health and Safety, Training, and sort out any issues that arise on a daily basis across every department backstage. If someone is upset or angry they sometimes come to see me and I’ll try to help them sort out whatever is upsetting them. I also look after the weekly payroll for everyone backstage.

We had the 30th Birthday Gala performance of Les Mis recently (which raised over £100,000 for Save The Children Syria), which took months of planning by a lot of people, so sometimes there are meetings to attend. Occasionally we have guests in to watch the performance and I’ll make sure they are looked after in the interval or maybe give them a post-show backstage tour. Every now and then we’ll do a press jaunt, which is always fun. I was on a show last year that went to Radio 2 to do Terry Wogan’s show on his 70th birthday! That was not such an average day in the office… Never a dull moment.

My place of work is:

A well-lit and comfortable office backstage in the theatre. I’m very lucky! It’s one of the few rooms with a sofa. It’s useful for when people are upset or injured, not just for me to sit on, honestly….  I always try to have some cut flowers and biscuits in the room, but it could do with a Mirror Ball or something sparkly.

The people I work with mostly are:

The cast and the Resident Director, as well as all backstage Heads of Departments, the Musical Director, the Theatre Manager and the Production Managers and Administrators at Cameron Mackintosh Ltd to ensure everyone is aware of what is going on that week that might affect them. It’s all about communication.

The kit I can’t do without is:

My iPhone and external battery, my black Collins week-to-a page diary, those disposable propelling pencils (I hate using pens) and my Nespresso machine at home. I honestly don’t think I could get out of bed some days if I didn’t have that!

The best part of my day is usually:

That moment at warm-up when Stage Management let you know the entire cast are actually in the building.

The worst part of my day is:

I hate having to tell anyone off, and I can’t bear it when someone is upset or hurt and there is nothing I can do to help make it better.

I usually finish work at:

22:30(ish) and then occasionally meet up with some friends for a wine and cheese thing. Mostly I go home to a cup of tea and The West Wing and pretend to be CJ Cregg.

The most glamorous part of my job is:

I’ve been really lucky to work in some amazing places and meet some wonderful people. I met Kylie a few years ago. She was SO lovely. I worked on We Will Rock You for a few years so I got to know Brian [May] and Roger [Taylor] quite well but I was always too shy to ask for a photo, so when I met Billy Idol a few years later I asked him for a photo. I looked absolutely terrified in it. I’ve never asked anyone since.

I did a gig outside Buckingham Palace with We Will Rock You, as part of the Beijing/London Olympics Handover party. We’d opened the concert and I had been given a ticket to watch the rest of the concert from the VIP area at the front, but as I was getting the cast back on the coach to the theatre, one of them split his head open so I spent the rest of the concert in the back of an ambulance with him instead! A few years later I did another gig in Buckingham Palace and I was so in awe of the place. The weather was beautiful and the stage was in the Palace garden, so we used some of the rooms in the back of the Palace as dressing rooms and offices. That was exceptional.

The least showbiz part of my job is:

I spend a lot of time sorting out broken dressing room furniture or blocked sinks. And air conditioning.

My work mantra is:

“Leave it with me.”

The advice I’d give to anyone wanting to do my job would be to:

Get a really good grounding in Stage Management first (or maybe a degree in psychology…).

To do this job, the attributes you have to have are:

To be a good listener, and it helps if you have a lot of patience. It’s quite a chaotic world so you do need to be quite organised and good at organising others. Also the ability to make a good cup of tea and have a laugh!

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"I hate having to tell anyone off, and I can’t bear it when someone is upset or hurt and there is nothing I can do to help make it better."