A life in the theatre: Deputy Stage Manager

Published August 10, 2015

One of the Official London Theatre team will never leave the cinema before the absolute last name has appeared on the roll call of people involved in making that film and it’s an attitude of respect that has creeped its way across the office; never more so than when we have a show programme in our hands. Cast your eyes down the list of company members and you’ll find a world of exciting and cryptic job titles, all of which you can guarantee will have played an absolutely vital part in putting on that production and, often, its continued success.

We wanted to find out more about the people listed below the star names and what exactly it is they do on a day to day basis to ensure London’s Theatreland remains the best in the world. So, in a new series of features, we’ll be taking you behind the scenes to discover what working in theatre entails.

To kick things off, long-time friend of Official London Theatre Nathan Matthews put into words what his life as Deputy Stage Manager at Mamma Mia! looks like. Is it glamorous? Do you just work three hours every night during the show and when exactly do you get to meet celebrities? Read on to find out and decide whether life as a Deputy Stage Manager would be for you.

The first thing I do every day is:

Check my emails. It’s sad but true. Mornings used to involve making a pot of coffee, but I’ve cut that out, so it’s a pint of water instead!

An average day for me involves:

If we’re in auditions or rehearsing (which we’ve been doing since February!) I’ll usually be at the theatre just before 10:00 to make sure everything is ready for the day. During auditions we make sure the auditionees are in the right place at the right times, try to settle their nerves and make sure they are as prepared as they can be. During rehearsals, we make sure the right cast members are at the rehearsal and that they have the set pieces, props and costumes they need.

Our new cast opened on 8 June and we then spent the next six weeks rehearsing understudies. We still have two more understudies to rehearse, but we’re taking a short break before we do that! Now that things have settled down, we’re usually only in for the show. For evening performances, we come in at 18:15 after the other technical departments have done their presets and make sure the stage is set and ready for the show. The cast then do a vocal and physical warm-up at 18:40 before we bring the front cloth in and hand the house over to the Theatre Manager at 19:10, when the audience begin taking their seats.

During the show, I sit on a platform in the stage right wing with lots of video monitors so I can see all angles of the stage as well as our Musical Director down in the pit. I call all the lighting cues and the scene changes, so that everything (hopefully) runs smoothly! I have a copy of the Mamma Mia! score and script with every cue written in it, which I follow. I wear a headset so I can communicate to all technical departments. Even our brilliant crew on stage wear tiny earpieces so I can speak to them!

On matinee days (Thursdays and Saturdays) we come in at 13:30 to make sure everything is ready before the cast do their warm-ups at 13:55. On Saturdays, I come in at about 11:30 to do all the cast timesheets. I keep a track of all the hours each of our 33 cast members work, so that they’re paid the right amount each week. Saturday mornings are all about spreadsheets!

The people I work with mostly are:

Our Stage Manager, Neil, and our Assistant Stage Managers, Morag and Paula. Neil and I have worked together for over seven years now, so we know each other quite well! The Stage Management team actually has to work closely with everyone in the building; from the creatives to our Company Manager, the cast, the musicians and all the technical departments.

The tool I can’t do without is:

My iPhone and my MacBook! I carry both with me everywhere! Years ago, Stage Managers would have to distribute mountains of paperwork on a daily basis, but now everything is done electronically. It’s made life so much easier.

The best part of my day is usually:

The finale at the end of the show. Our audiences get up on their feet every night without fail and sing along at the end of the show. It sounds cliché but seeing the smiling faces in the crowd and the arms waving in the air makes it feel like we’re putting on a pop concert in a stadium and there’s such a buzz in the theatre every night. It’s why we love doing what we do!

The worst part of my day is usually:

If we’ve been in for rehearsals, it’s actually the gap between rehearsals and the show. It’s when you stop working that you start to get tired!

I usually finish work at:

The show finishes just after 22:15. I usually leave the theatre at around 22:30. On weeknights I usually head straight home, but I can be found in the roof bar at Century on a Saturday night having an espresso martini!

The most glamorous part of my job is:

Contrary to popular belief, working in theatre isn’t particularly glamorous! There are a lot of people working in a relatively small space backstage and with all the stage lights on it can get quite hot! However, I’ve been amazingly lucky during my time at Mamma Mia! and have gotten to do some amazing things. I looked after Benny Andersson and his accordion when Mamma Mia! performed at the Olivier Awards in 2014! I got to hang out backstage with a whole host of stars at BBC Radio 2’s Thank You For The Music concert in Hyde Park. I’ve been to the This Morning studio a few times (it’s one of my favourite TV shows, so it’s quite a big deal for me). Top of my list though was probably the day I met Kylie! She came to see the show a few years ago and came backstage at the interval to say hi! She was so lovely and we could see all five feet of her dancing like mad during the finale!

The least showbiz part of my job is:

Most of it, to be honest! It can sometimes be very long hours and we work six days a week. It’s not glamorous in the slightest. But I wouldn’t change it for the world!

My work mantra is:

‘Living the dream’. Ask anyone in the theatre what phrase I say the most and it’ll be their immediate response. When someone asks you how you are when you get to work, ‘Fine thanks’ is such a boring response. ‘Living the dream’ is much more theatrical!

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

Don’t! Then when you realise that you want to anyway despite everyone telling you not to, go and get as much experience as you possibly can. Go and see shows at your local theatre, and if you’re old enough, write to the Stage Manager there to ask for work experience. There are lots of drama schools now offering formal training, so if you’re serious about getting into the industry, it’s a great way to learn in a supportive environment. I did a degree in Stage Management & Technical Theatre at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and I always recommend it to anyone that does work experience with us. Lots of people get into the industry without any formal training, which is absolutely fine too. As long as you have the required qualities, a decent amount of knowledge and a lot of patience, you can succeed without the formal qualifications. Lastly, I recommend that people go and see as much theatre as they can. Once you’re working, it can sometimes feel like a busman’s holiday, but I think it’s really important to know what’s happening in the industry around you, especially if you’re working on a long-running show.

Want to know more? Watch Mamma Mia!’s Stage Management video above.

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" I’ve been amazingly lucky during my time at Mamma Mia! and have gotten to do some amazing things. I looked after Benny Andersson and his accordion when Mamma Mia! performed at the Olivier Awards in 2014!"