Stanley Huang details the ups and downs of being a stage manager.
BY JO TAN
Published on 19 July 2016
BY JO TAN
Some years back, Stanley Huang didn’t know how he could be involved in theatre. “I’ve been interested in the stage since I was in primary school, but I have a fear of auditioning,” he laughs. Then he made friends in the industry who roped him into front-of-house duties, and later, stage management. He’s now served as stage manager for over a decade, heading dozens of productions, including massive-scaled musicals involving hundreds of people.
Pretty impressive for someone below 30, considering the responsibility that comes with being a stage manager: assisting the director and other creatives during rehearsals, and being in charge of the entire show during the actual performance where stage managers trigger all technical cues and give instructions to the cast and crew.
While stage managers are generally considered part of the crew rather than the creatives, Huang believes the job entails artistry as well. “When calling light and sound cues, I need to make decisions involving some creativity. Have I given one scene a sufficient moment before transitioning to the next? And if anything goes wrong, I must make snap decisions that will solve problems while still upholding the artistic integrity.”
In any case, ‘cast’ and ‘creatives’ are merely labels to Huang — he’s performed bit parts while crewing for productions like W!ld Rice’s Romeo and Juliet, and doesn’t believe in segregation in general. “I like making friends with people from different fields. Everybody is coming together to make a show. I think of my job as being a friend who helps and trusts everyone to do what they need to, rather than trying to ‘manage’ them.”
Yet stage-managing hasn’t always been a breeze. Huang briefly quit a few years ago to become a property agent. “I tend to invest a lot in shows. Sometimes the renumeration doesn’t equate to time given. Designers, writers and actors don’t have to follow the show the whole time, they can dabble in other projects. But stage managers have to attend pre-production meetings; be in rehearsal through the whole process; then we supervise the bump-in of the set, and stay after the show has closed for the tear-down. A project fee can seem reasonable, but if you factor in the actual hours, it sometimes doesn’t add up.
“These days, I choose my projects carefully, which gives me time to try other things. I’ll be producing a show starring Audrey Luo at the end of the year. I’m also getting my higher diploma in psychology, knowledge I hope to apply to writing and/or directing plays in future.
“Maybe I could have persevered as a property agent, but there’s always this magic that draws me back to theatre. Watching something grow from an idea on paper to a full production while being there every step of the way.”