• December 4, 2023

Curtain call

For drama fans who don’t fancy life in the spotlight, why not consider a career backstage? We find out more about life in the wings from Jemma Milne, a Queen Margaret University graduate who’s now working as an assistant stage manager on Shrek the Musical in London’s West End…

What does a stage manager do?

A stage manager is in charge of the general rehearsing and running of a performance. During rehearsals they make sure that the director, choreographer or musical supervisor has everything that they require to run their rehearsals, whether that be props, technical equipment, set pieces or any costume elements. During the show the stage manager watches the cast on stage and oversees all the technical elements of the show – they are basically the manager of the show, so anything that happens from the curtain up to the curtain down would be managed by the stage manager and their team.

Where did you train?

I studied Theatre Production at Queen Margaret University specialising in stage management. It was a varied course covering all aspects of technical theatre from set design and construction to prop making. It was a three-year course, which allowed us to put our learning into practice by stage managing several shows within those three years. I graduated in the summer of 2008.

Did you do much work experience?

During my time at university I worked front of house at the Edinburgh Playhouse. We were lucky to get so many large-scale musicals and I made the effort to get work experience backstage on some of these productions. From then I wrote to nearly every production in
London’s West End and I got work experience on several shows.

Which shows have you worked on since graduating?

I was an ASM (assistant stage manager) dep, which is covering for staff holidays or sickness. I worked on Legally Blonde, The Lion King, Mamma Mia and Dirty Dancing in the West End before getting my first full-time job as ASM book cover on White Christmas the musical. I got my biggest break so far in March 2011 when I was offered ASM book cover on Shrek the Musical.

What’s the best bit about your job?

It doesn’t happen very often but sometimes little things go wrong in the show – I enjoy being able to think of solutions to get ourselves out of situations that we don’t normally find ourselves in. Being surrounded by friends every night too, there is never a dull moment backstage!

Any advice for aspiring SMs?

Go out and get as much work experience as you can and make the most of it while you’re there. Every show is different so there is always something new to learn. Try and see as much theatre as you can and don’t rule out anything. It’s hard work but very rewarding and lots of fun. Keep focused and determined on what you want and just go for it.

Shrek The Musical is on at Theatre Royal Drury Lane. For tickets, please call 0844 871 8810 or visit www.shrekthemusical.co.uk.

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