Showcaller or DSM? Conference calls for a job title review

Howard Loxton

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The Stage Management Association Conference, which was held earlier in the month on 21 February, called for an urgent review of stage management job titles and hierarchy.

As Barbara Eifler, outgoing Executive Director of the Stage Management Association, organisers of the event, explained there has always been an assumption that stage managers start as Assistant Stage Managers, move on to Deputy Stage Managers and eventually become Stage Managers. A great DSM does not necessarily make a great stage manager, and, on the other hand, dedicated career DSMs and their experience are of great value to producers of hugely complicated and potentially technically dangerous shows in the West End they should not feel they have to, or are expected to, move on to become Stage Managers.”

The conference plenary session, entitled "Valuing Stage Management", asked for Equity and management associations to review the titles. They suggested Showcaller as an alternative for Deputy Stage Manager. Rather than scaling payments to job titles, the delegates' view was that hierarchical payments would be more appropriate, which would reward and recognise experience and scale within each job. This would reflect the value of the experienced ASM, Showcaller or Stage Manager over that of the novice, and the responsibility and breadth of each role depending on the scale and size of the show.

Stephen Spence, Equity Assistant General Secretary—Industrial & Organising, who was in attendance at the conference commented, "There is certainly a lot of food for thought there for us as the union representing stage managers. We need to consider the points raised by the conference and consult with our Stage Management Committee and the wider Equity stage management membership."”

RSC Executive Director Vikki Heywood, who was the keynote speaker, took an affectionate look back at her stage management roots and skills speaking to a conference of more than 150 stage managers and other members of the theatre industry. The afternoon's break-out sessions were packed to the rafters and revealed how much this event is needed. It looks like becoming an annual event following this successful inauguration.

It is hoped that some of the afternoon discussion will be reported later in more detail via the Stage Management Association web site, but more general readers might by amused by what Barbara Eifler dubbed the Stage Management Anthem, which provided a moment of relaxation for the delegates when sung, for the first time, by Beverley Klein. The words, by The Stage's "Backstage" co-editor A K Bennett-Hunter, are sung to the tune of "There's No Business Like Show Business". Below are just a couple of its several verses. You can hear the whole song on YouTube.

There's no management like stage management,
Like no management I know.
Every show you do is just outstanding
Everything you say about it true.
But the job you do is so demanding
When you're commanding the cast and crew.

There's no callers like show callers
They smile when they say "Go".
Even though the automation's up the spout
Or the dry ice is running out
You can always fix it 'cos you've got the clout
And you're running the show!
YES! You're running the show!