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PM, TD, SM… what’s the difference?!

June 13, 2011

I am an AEA Stage Manager by trade, and have (accidentally) had some experience with being a Technical Director and Production Manager.  Often, the job I am hired to do is not the job I end up doing.  Now, thankfully, I have a union to back me when I say “that’s not actually my job…” But, being in the part of my career where a majority of my work comes in Off-Off Broadway Showcases or Off-Broadway Workshops & Staged Readings, I often end up running the sound & light boards and am occasionally part of productions that aren’t fully staffed.

When I am part of a production that isn’t fully staffed, the SM is looked upon to be the TD and/or PM as well as the typical SM duties.  Certain productions (with really nice, young companies) I’m much more willing to allow the lines to blur for the good of the production and honestly don’t mind offering additional services if I’m able.  Other productions (with cheapskate, rude producers) I’m more likely to say “that’s not my job.”  But in either scenario, there is usually someone along the way that’s ignorant of who is supposed to do what.  So, I’d like to describe the “ideal” job description in a successful theatre company:

PRODUCTION MANAGER N. [Person] responsible for realizing the visions of the producer and the director or choreographer within constraints of technical possibility. (source)  The PM begins with a budget lump sum that will include all material costs, techie salaries, transportation, petty cash, and every single thing money could be spent on to execute the necessary set, props, lights, sound, stage management, projections, run crew, costumes & make-up.  The PM next goes through the script and notes any special effects or needs and determines the salary breakdown of that budget & how many employees he will have to hire.  Designers/Stage Management are usually hired by the PM in conjunction with the Artistic Director & Director hired for the piece.  Crew is usually first offered to the Designers/Stage Management’s suggestions and then an open hiring or the theatre’s freelance list.  The Production Manager calls the first production meeting once all staff is hired (note: director, artistic director, designers, and senior stage management are usually the only “requirements” at said meetings).  At the first production meeting, designers come with their first-draft designs (having already with the director) and the PM can distribute the remaining budget as necessary within the department.  It is the PM’s job to schedule and run as many production meetings as necessary throughout pre-production and rehearsals and make sure that communication is clear between all departments and that the designers are executing their craft on schedule and in a way that benefits the production (i.e. make sure the designers are caught up on any changes that would be noted in rehearsal reports).  The PM’s “last day” is Opening Night and will oversee the TD on any repairs needed throughout the run.

TECHNICAL DIRECTOR N. [Person whose] job is to make sure the technical equipment in the theatre is functional, maintained and safe; The technical director is responsible for the overall organization of the technical production process. (source) Whereas it is the PM’s job to ensure that all departments are completing the designs, it is the TD’s job to execute the designs and make sure that all is made safely under a strict quality control.  For example, the TD will make sure that the Master Carpenter purchases the correct type of wood to be the most effective and safe for the design, and work with the Designer if a design element is impossible or impractical due to safety or budget.  The TD will also arrange that speakers that are hung in places the Sound Designer needs, and they don’t affect the plot given by the Lighting Designer.  The TD  works closely with the PM to ensure all aspects of production are completed safely, efficiently, and on budget.  The TD is responsible for any repairs that are necessary to the set/lights/sound once the show is opened, and is also in charge of strike once the show closes.

STAGE MANAGER N. [Person] one who has overall responsibility for organizing & coordinating a theatrical production; as well as the smooth execution of the production. (source)  During Pre-Production & Rehearsals, the SM is overall the liaison between the Director and Designers/PM/TD (via daily rehearsal reports).  The SM is also in charge of distributing all necessary information to the actors, insuring the actors safety, and that AEA rules are observed by whatever code the production is under.  The SM runs rehearsals, takes down blocking, and notes any tech issues that come up in rehearsals (i.e. there will be a quick change for an actor who exits Stage Right and has 28 seconds to enter Stage Left between scenes 2 & 3).  The SM schedules necessary Designer Runs and assists the PM in the production meeting that follows.  The SM’s primary responsibility is the actors’ safety and the SM is their spokesperson at the meetings.  Usually before Tech, a Paper Tech is scheduled with Sound, Light, Projections, and the Director and they go through the script with the Stage Manager, who marks the Call Script with every cue in its proper place (in pencil, they always change but a Paper Tech gives you a head start).  Ideally, a Dry Tech (a tech in the space going through the show without actors) happens shortly after the Paper Tech. The SM runs Tech, schedules breaks, and takes care that the actors are integrated into the space with the tech elements safely.  Once the show opens, the SM gives daily Performance Reports, noting if a brush-up rehearsal is necessary or if maintenance needs to be done.  The SM holds the brush-ups after the show is open to maintain the original direction of the piece. The SM also gives the actors blocking and line notes if  there are consistent problems in performances.

So Actors, Producers, Readers who aren’t as savvy in the Techie World, those are the job descriptions of Production Manager, Technical Director, and Stage Manager.  Have you ever been hired for one thing, and ended up doing a something totally different?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 15, 2011 12:10 am

    Awesome! I’m the new managing director of a young company here in NYC (http://www.seeingplacetheater.com), and we’re in the process of restructuring our staff. I’m excited to show this to our artistic director! 🙂

    • The Practical Artist permalink
      June 22, 2011 2:30 pm

      Glad this will help!

  2. June 17, 2011 1:15 pm

    Thank you! This is great info.

  3. The Restless Dramaturg permalink
    June 21, 2011 11:06 am

    Amazing! Any theatre person can relate to this. Dramaturgs are constantly restructuring their job descriptions for different projects, but there is a line to be drawn for sure. There is a tendency to be piegonholed as an “assistant” in a production environment (getting everyone coffee and sandwiches is not in the Dramaturg’s list of duties). Just because you CAN do the jobs of many different people does not mean that you always should. Sometimes it can take you away from your own work and that can prove to be more damaging to a production than having a decaffinated director. Never be afraid to say “that’s not my job” as long as it really isn’t.

  4. The Practical Artist permalink
    June 22, 2011 2:31 pm

    True Story! “For the Good of the Project” only gets you so far if you’re stretched so thin trying to do multiple positions!

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