Finding Stage Management History

by Jennifer Leigh Sears Scheier
Bibliographies of Stage Management Handbooks. Photo by Jennifer Leigh Sears Scheier
Bibliographies of Stage Management Handbooks. Photo by Jennifer Leigh Sears Scheier

Students often ask, “So where do you find resources for stage management history?” Usually this question is paired with an explanation of a final project or paper they are working on and are reaching out to me in hopes that I can point them in the right direction.

I would be lying if I said this work was easy or that everyday was a thrilling adventure. I would also be lying if I told you that my resources were never dull and always exciting. While I can’t pretend that I’ve never fallen asleep reading one of these books, there are moments of clarity and understanding that more than make up for the dull rote work associated with my research.

I started this research 10 years ago. While my focus and interests have changed over time, there are a few standard ways I look for additional research.

Bibliographies are one of my go-to resources. Want to know more about stage management? Find your favorite stage management handbook and flip to the back of the book. Most will have some sort of bibliography listing out other words that they consulted. Figure out what books your work (paper, project, etc.) is responding to or in conversation. I have stumbled upon and have added countless stage management handbooks and guidebooks to my reading list because of the bibliographies in books I’m reading. 

Promptbooks. The most elusive but the holy grail of my research. Elusive because in most library records, the promptbook is organized by playwright and script title. If you are VERY lucky, they may give a brief description on what is included in on the promptbook. Rarely the record will indicate that it is the stage manager’s copy with full detail on the blocking, cueing, and notations to a specific production. While the system is currently flawed, libraries and librarians are constantly working to update the records they have to be more specific as to what is included with the book. As a result, I spend way too much time pouring over original promptbooks, trying to decide their usefulness to my project and what notes to record so that I can call upon the information at a later date. Find your local library, look up “promptbooks”, “prompt-books”, and “prompt books” to see what you can find. You would be surprised at the random places I have found a fully inscribed stage manager’s copy of a script.

One of my favorite (albeit time consuming) ways to find new resources is by searching for keywords in library catalogs and historical newspaper databases. Worldcat, Hathitrust, and Proquest are a few of my favorites. This method doesn’t give me a plethora of information—I might have to skim 50 articles before finding a concrete reference to the stage manager or prompter—however, the gems it does provide often serve as a catalyst for new or different catchphrases, names, events, or places.

So, for those of you who have been bitten by the research bug—persistence is everything. There will be some days where you find nothing… and other days where the whole world changes.

©Jennifer Leigh Sears Scheier. All Rights Reserved.