Reflexively Developed Conceptions of Contemporary English-Speaking Stage Management Practice

PhD by Publication

Smalley, Michael. 2022. Reflexively Developed Conceptions of Contemporary English-Speaking Stage Management Practice. PhD by Publication Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.

Reflexively Developed Conceptions of Contemporary English-Speaking Stage Management Practice

TypePhD by Publication
AuthorSmalley, Michael
1. FirstA/Pr Rebecca Scollen
2. SecondProf Andrew Hickey
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages398
PublisherUniversity of Southern Queensland
Place of PublicationAustralia
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

The field of stage management encompasses a diverse set of practices. This diversity stems from different approaches to stage management historically, geographically, generically and individually. Yet, stage management literature still largely consists of 'instruction manuals' describing the individual stage manager's approach. That more substantive contributions to the literature have not surfaced is notable, given that it has been more than a generation since Schneider identified this lacuna (1997, p. vii). Inspired by reflexive approaches to research (Davies, 2008), this project sought to capture some of this diversity through the thematic analysis of more than twenty 'semi-structured life world interviews' (Kvale and Brinkman, 2007) with leading stage managers in Australia, the UK, and the USA.

This thesis seeks to broaden the scope of stage management research in two key ways: first, through the induction of data which represents multiple perspectives of stage management. Second, through the analysis of the data informed by critical frameworks which are commonly deployed in researching other areas of technical theatre practice. This process revealed three conceptualisations of stage management practice: stage management as administration, stage management as management, and stage management as scenography.

Because scenographic stage management is the conception which is least acknowledged in the extant literature, a thorough explanation of how stage management functions as scenography is offered as a point of focus in this study. This explanation casts the stage manager in the role of the communication designer for productions of live performance. In this role, stage management can be seen as analogous to other design practices in the industry which are already acknowledged as scenographic. As a result, this research provides the first description of how stage management is centrally concerned with the 'manipulation and orchestration of the performance environment' to use McKinney and Butterworth's definition of scenography (2009, p. 4).

Broadening the scope of thinking about stage management in this manner has many implications. It can better inform the decision making processes of stage managers. By offering an increased understanding of the creative agency of stage management, and demonstrating its parallels with other technical theatre art forms to stage managers and other theatre makers, possibilities for enhanced collaboration and pedagogy arise. By considering the field of stage management with reference to the critical frameworks and according to methodologies that have been applied to other aspects of performance, stage management practice can be identified as a site for cross-disciplinary research from fields as diverse as pedagogy, phenomenology, cultural studies, management theory, distributed cognition, semiotics, and scenography. The connections between stage management and these disciplines are all elucidated from the empirical evidence derived from the interviews with leading stage managers. It is envisaged that such further research will reflexively benefit both stage management and these broader fields.

Outlining these three conceptions of stage management, and advocating for a holistic approach to stage management which blends all three, represents major contribution of the this research to the field. It offers stage management a new way to articulate its rationale and describe it in terms that renders this 'invisible' practice accessible to other theatre makers and researchers from cognate disciplines.

KeywordsStage management, scenography, communication design, distributed cognition, relational semiotics, reflexivity
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020360403. Drama, theatre and performance studies
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Byline AffiliationsSchool of Creative Arts
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