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8 Qs on Stage Management with Jacqui Findlay

Are you excited by the prospect of being on your toes in a dynamic & creative work space? If yes, you could train to be a stage manager. We spoke to Jacqui Findlay of Birmingham City University about what it takes to be a stage manager and what the programme at BCU offers.
BY Skendha Singh |   30-06-2017

It is not easy to define what a stage manager does. But, a great stage manager is someone who ensures that all the pieces of a theatrical production fit and work smoothly together as a creative whole. A stage manager makes the difference between a good and a great performance. It is an exciting and dynamic role to play.

BrainGain magazine spoke to Jacqui Findlay, Programme Director for Stage Management - BA (Hons) and Birmingham Conservatoire Production Manager, Birmingham City University. She talked about the life of a stage manager, what it takes to make a great one, and what sets the BCU programme apart from others. Edited excerpts from the conversation are below:

  1. The UK has a particularly vibrant culture in theatre & live performance. In that context, what makes Birmingham a great place to study theatre & the dramatic arts?

    Being located in the centre of the country, we are firmly placed on the touring circuit with a vast selection of theatres in the city and surrounding region. Whether it is large, smash hit tours such as ‘Miss Saigon’ that come to Birmingham Hippodrome, new plays that are produced at Birmingham Rep, or smaller companies which tour to the Midlands Arts Centre, they all provide students with contacts and opportunities for work experience alongside the shows that the Birmingham Conservatoire produce in external venues.
  2. Please tell us about the Birmingham Conservatoire and its connection to the university?

    The recently merged Birmingham School of Acting and Birmingham Conservatoire both have excellent reputations for producing highly talented graduates; the Conservatoire’s Acting Department courses ranked fourth out of 87 institutions in the Drama and Dance category this year in The Guardian’s University Guide.

    From September 2017, we will open the door to our new £57 million teaching and performance facility, which is the first of its kind in the digital age and will be the perfect fusion of the traditional and the contemporary.

    Students who study with us have the benefit of close one-to-one traditional conservatoire training, alongside the additional support and facilities that any other large major university would have.
  3. How did you bring your experience of different genres – Shakespeare, contemporary dance, opera & panto, to bear on the content & structure of the stage management programme at Birmingham City University?

    When writing the Stage Management course, we looked at the variety of experience within the teaching team had, and felt that to be competitive and employable graduates, each student must have a strong core knowledge in all areas and genres of production to then build on and specialise in Stage Management. Many shows will require a very similar approach and support, but students then need to be aware of specific show needs and be flexible in their approach to providing those.
  4. What, according to you, distinguishes the BCU programme from others?

    We produce a large number of shows each academic year and students work on them right from the second week of the course. They build up from Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) to Deputy Stage Manager (DSM) and then finally take on full stage managerment responsibilities in their third year. Stage managing is a practical skill and what better way to learn but as part of a production team which includes professional directors, as well as lighting and sound designers.

    We also have a very successful placement module with students working for six to eight weeks at theatres such as Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Opera House, Birmingham Rep, Birmingham Opera Company and Birmingham Royal Ballet, to name but a few.
  5. Please describe for us a typical day in the life of a student of the stage management programme.

    The Production department has their own dedicated space which includes, props department, wardrobe department, scenic stores and workshop, as well as teaching and office space.

    Students arrive here in the morning and have classes in modules such as Practical Stage Management, Technical Theatre, Props, Costume and Scenic Design and they then attend production meetings for the current shows before splitting off into specialist allocations within the department.

    Therefore, second year DSMs will head to rehearsals with the director and cast, while Stage Managers (SMs) might be arranging costume fittings or paint calls with the first year ASMs.

    Once we head into theatre we do 12 hour days including technical and dress rehearsals, ensuring everything is ready for opening night performance. It can be long hours but we’re only representing the hard work and dedication that is required in the industry.
  6. What are the skills you believe to be essential to succeeding in a creative field like theatre & the performing arts?

    Strong organisation and communication is a must! You are liaising with the director, the cast, the creatives and the production department, as well as the rest of the stage management team. Budgets can be tight, and time even more so, but it is the SM that is the central cog to ensure everything is running smoothly. Stage Managers also must be level headed and able to think on their feet quickly to problem solve during a live performance.
  7. What do graduates typically go on to do?

    With many of them going onto freelance jobs, it’s not always easy to keep track of them! Some have joined number one touring shows, others have set off on international tours and there have been some that have gone onto cruise ships. Some have taken on further master’s level studies in specialist areas such as set design, while others have secured technician roles in high profile venues.
  8. Is there anything you would like to share with prospective international students?

    The Stage Management course at Birmingham Conservatoire is an exciting and challenging place to study; no two days are the same as every show and every director bring new challenges to resolve. The fast-paced and practical nature of the course is a true representation of what it is like to work in the industry, so upon graduation, students are fully prepared to venture into the competitive world of work.



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