Welcome to the New Stage Management History Blog

by Jennifer Leigh Sears Scheier

After posting two articles on SD’s SM Kit blog curated by David J. McGraw, I am incredibly excited to join the Stage Directions’ family, with my very own blog, SM History.  Check back often, as I’ll be posting information about the projects that I’m working on and other fun facts that I find along the way. But before we get to the historical stuff… let me introduce myself, my journey, and what information you can look forward to.

On a cool November evening in 2009, a fellow graduate stage manager and I sat in my living room reading several articles titled "What the Stage Manager Does" and "The Tricks of the Stage Manager’s Trade" for our University of Iowa graduate seminar. Both articles almost perfectly described stage management today, and yet, the articles dated to the 1920s. This realization sparked a sudden and unquenchable curiosity, causing me to wonder, ‘"How long has the stage manager been an entity in theater?" and, "Have the responsibilities of the stage manager ever changed?"

The next two years were dedicated to researching and writing my MFA thesis, which strayed from the usual production-focused thesis to an academically-focused thesis. The summer of 2010 was spent touring research libraries and by March 2011, a final draft titled "History of Stage Management: The Role of the Prompter in American Theatre, 1750-1850" was approved and submitted for graduation. 

After graduation, I stage managed my way across the country, eventually landing in San Diego. I freelanced as a stage manager, primarily in southern California and Tennessee, and in both theater and opera. In 2012, I joined the Actors’ Equity Association. I worked for Long Beach Opera, Knoxville Opera, Lamb’s Players Theatre, San Diego Rep, Nashville Rep, and many others. After five years of freelance work, I decided to return to academia to continue my search for the history of the stage manager. 

As a second-year PhD student at the University of Illinois, I have been very fortunate in my research. With access to AEA’s 1912-1930 council meeting minutes, and AEA’s 1912-1940 Equity News publications, I tackled when stage mangers were first included in the union. In spring 2017, I researched calling techniques from 1850-1930, digging up old photographs, newspapers, and the earliest stage management handbook that I’ve found: Amateur Stage Management by Charles S. Parsons in 1931. (This is the earliest handbook with stage management in the title.) Over the summer, I wrestled with the inherent visible and invisible labor performed by prompters and stage managers, that continue to play a role in theater today.  This semester, I’ll be examining a murder trial, set in 1899 where-in an actress shot the stage manager twice just before the curtain bell to begin the show. 

My dissertation topic and argument will take some time to research, design, and articulate, and will most likely change ten times before its finished, but I can promise it will be a historical view on stage management, most likely focused on the 19th century. This could mean an elongated look on the way labor has played out over time, or it could be a spotlight on prominent female prompters/stage managers and the gendered labor of stage management, or it could be a documentary history, narrating the changes that occurred over the late 19th century and lingered into the early 20th century. The exciting news is that I’ll be sharing my journey, so stay-tuned to follow along! 

If at any point, you have any questions about my research, or would like to share words of encouragement or concern, please feel free to reach out to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..