Searching In Boxes

Well, as promised long ago, I have finally started to update my links section to list helpful arts related blogs and web resources. I have only gotten as far last March in my search for valuable links I have mentioned so there are more resource links, if not blog links, to come.

We have been cleaning out the technical director’s office these past two weeks because the clutter was threatening to consume students. We managed to free up about 400 cubic feet of space in the back of the office thus far. Since the piles of…valued possessions (*cough*) started migrating across the scene shop, the secretary started boxing books up to free up some maneuvering space.

It wasn’t until 2 days later I found out that the TD had told a student he would lend her his stage management book if he could find it at home. His book, of course, was not at home but in his office and I had been holding said book reminiscing about my stint as a stage manager years ago.

As I started searching through the boxes to find it, it occurred to me that it might be worth mentioning the book as a resource on the old blog here.

The book I was searching for was an old copy of Lawrence Stern’s Stage Management. It is the bible of stage management and was actually the first text on the subject.

Since it was first written, two other texts have come in to wide use, Thomas Kelly’s The Backstage Guide to Stage Management, and Daniel A. Ionazzi’s The Stage Management Handbook.

Now I haven’t read or used the Ionazzi or Kelly book, but about as many people swear by Kelly as they do for Stern. I know size doesn’t matter. But I have to ask–why the heck is the Stern book $60.00+ and the Kelly book with only 50 fewer pages is ~$20.00? I suspect it is because of the resources and forms in the Stern appendices, but still, geez.

All that aside, for those of you who don’t know, the stage manager is the linchpin of any performance. The director, designers, technicians, actors, etc create the product and the stage manager serves as quality control.

After rehearsals are through, the director and designers leave. The stage manager, having taken copious notes on everything that occurred during rehearsals, is in charge. The SM makes sure everything and everybody is where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to be doing at the exact time it is supposed to happen night after night. If things get sloppy, they must take steps to tighten things up.

If the performance is happening in a union house, they make sure things are being run according to union rules. (Though there is often another member of the cast who monitors the sitation from a different perspective.)

Essentially stage management is one of the toughest, most thankless jobs in the performing arts. If anyone is going to be the target of pent up frustrations, it is often the stage manager. I have done the job so I know.

Some times the person can be a power seeking jerk and deserves the ire directed her way. Other times, the person seems so unperturbable it is a little weird. I fell somewhere in between.

I never did find that book tonight. I will have to go back tomorrow and root around some more. I want this woman to do well as stage manager because she has dreams of getting outta here and working on the Mainland. She has really set herself apart from other students with her willingness to commit to doing thing well. We will all be proud to have her claim she learned her craft here.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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