Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
Hello! My name is Antonia Collins and I am a professional Company Stage Manager for theatre shows and live events and an Educator of Stage Management.
What does your job involve? Give us the typical outline of a day?
It depends what I am working on. If I’m stage managing then its different if we are in rehearsal or if the show is already open but my main concern is always making sure that everything runs smoothly for my cast and director/writer/producer. In rehearsal I make sure that the rehearsal room is ready and suitable. I will go out and source props alongside my Assistant SM and I will make sure that all information from that day’s rehearsal goes to the right people via the rehearsal report written by my Deputy SM. I spend a lot of time communicating with different people about the show we are creating, in an attempt to prevent small issues becoming larger ones. I will help navigate press and publicity requests and (most importantly) I make sure everyone has a lunch break!
Once the show is up and running, my job is to make sure the company are happy and fit so they can give their best performance. I also work alongside the venue we are performing in to make sure the audience have the best experience possible as well.
What’s great about your job?
The people. I love being part of an amazing team and pulling together to create an amazing show.
What are the bits you don’t like or find challenging?
I prefer it when we are all seen as equal, that we all have an important part to play. Unfortunately that is not always the case and some people see stage managers as secondary to the performers. I have been lucky enough to mainly work with people who see me as a collaborator not a tea maker!
What are the highlights of your career to date?
Oh that is such a difficult question to answer. I have been able to travel a lot because of work and I am really grateful for that as I love meeting new people and finding new ways of working. We lived in Hong Kong for two years which was an incredible experience.
Show wise I am probably most proud of ‘Rent’ at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. For a drama school it was an incredible production. And then I have just worked on a brilliant new play called On Bear Ridge that was produced by National Theatre Wales and the Royal Court. That was a joy too.
I was also fortunate to work with a company called GDS developing their Stage Manager’s Console back in 2010 and seeing that prompt desk installed in venues across the world has been amazing.
You founded and run the Bamboo Manager Project. Can you tell us what it’s about?
It started out as a support network for stage managers I had either taught or worked with and came from the fact that people message me all the time asking for advice on what we might describe as ‘soft skill’ issues such as challenging directors, team dynamics and how to look after your mental health when working.
In August 2019 I completed an MSc in Digital Education with the University of Edinburgh that was taught exclusively online. I was blown away by the quality of the course and how flexible it was. I became increasingly convinced that I could teach Stage Management in the same way and so our online Stage Management courses were born!
Why did you first want to set it up?
I think going to drama school is an amazing thing to do but for many people it is not a realistic option for many reasons, and I wanted to provide an alternative way of learning. Our courses are online with group Skype sessions as well as quizzes and assignments – they are very interactive!
Wonderful! And where did the name come from?
I was teaching masters students a number of years ago and I asked them to think of advice they would give to a young stage manager. One of them said ‘be like bamboo’. The student explained that they thought as stage managers we should be flexible, adaptable and sustainable just like bamboo. I was really influenced by that thought and the student agreed I could borrow their idea.
Years later when I started The Bamboo Manager Project I knew straight away what I would call it and the concept of being flexible, adaptable and sustainable is still at the heart of everything we do.
Why would you recommend this course for a young person?
Yes absolutely! We currently have three Stage Management courses available starting from the absolute basics going through to the main course which will give you all the information you need to start your stage management journey.
What are some of the advantages of remote learning?
The fact that it fits in with the rest of your life. You can work on it at your own pace and at a time of day that suits you. All you need is access to a computer and the internet.
And what are some of the challenges, do you think?
I think there can be challenges of feeling a bit remote but hopefully that doesn’t happen with students on our courses because of the group calls. And I am always able to schedule chats when needed.
Has the course changed over the years, based on feedback?
Yes definitely. The way I teach has changed since I first started in education in 2000 and being a professional practitioner means I alter what I teach to reflect contemporary practice. There is no point in me teaching things that are out of date or irrelevant to modern stage management.
What was your career path into this job? Have you also worked outside the arts?
From a small child I knew I wanted to work in theatre and I was able to join a local youth theatre at 15 where I discovered the role of the stage manager. Everything about stage management appealed to me - the people, creating a show, the organisational skills - and so I researched going to drama school. After drama school I worked straight away and climbed the ladder quite quickly. I later got into teaching stage management and have been able to do the two things together, each informing the other.
Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?
I think the greatest challenge has been working internationally with people from very different backgrounds and cultures to mine. However I always do my research and try and understand the culture I am stepping into and any ‘rules’ that I should be aware of to keep things running smoothly.
Have you noticed any changes in the industry? If so, what?
The technology. When I started out, there was no internet and now I wouldn’t want to do my job without it! I love how technology can support our working practice and my phone certainly makes my job much easier than it used to be!
You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say?
Do what you love. You can’t love everything all the time but life is so much better when you love your job. And I would also say find the joy in everything – you can choose whether you enjoy your job or not. And if you really hate it, then get out.
Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job?
Find a way to try it out either through a community theatre group or a young people’s theatre group first before you decide on your next step. Stage Management is not for everyone. We are mainly unseen and unknown and often unthanked. But for the right person it is the best job in the world.
If you are interested in a career in stage management, check out The Bamboo Manager Project to see how you could take part in online learning.