Today the term stage manager (Afrikaans: formerly toneelmeester (form the Dutch), later referred to as a verhoogbestuurder) refers to the person literally responsible for co-ordinating and managing all the activities (i.e. sets, lighting, sound, props, communication between departments, performers, management, etc.) that take place on and behind the stage during rehearsals and the production. In this sense s/he supports the director, actors, designers, stage crew and technicians, making sure that the production runs smoothly, and may often s/he act as the director's representative during performances, especially on tour.
While the activity of "managing activities on the stage" has itself has been a part of the theatre since its very origins, the term "stage manager" only came into in 18th century in England. This seems to have come about because companies now increasingly hired someone other than actors and a playwright to direct or manage the stage set-up and activities. As theatre practice increased in complexity, notably in the 19th century, the stage manager's responsibilities were eventually split into two more clearly defined positions, that of: (1) a director of actors and the overall presentation of a play - a creative responsibility greatly affected by the emergence of new ideas about the very nature of performance, generated by such movements as the Meiningen Company, founded in Germany by the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, and most notably by Konstantin Stanislavski) and (2) that of a technical stage manager, increasingly important in the light of the many new technologies introduced into venues and performances.
At times the term thus occurs somewhat ambiguously in 19th century bills and programmes, and for want of better information appears to have a different and wider meaning in the period, possibly also encompassing some more creative responsibilities, such as those we today assume to belong to the director of a play. For example, in South Africa, the Shakespearean actor/manager Thomas Brazier is on occasion referred to as the "Stage Manager" for productions of Shakespeare plays by the Le Roy and Duret company in late 1868, and in this case F.C.L. Bosman (1980, p. 236) suggests that their success could probably be ascribed to the competence of Brazier's "stage management". (The older equivalent Afrikaans term - toneelmeester - is also found with this rather ambiguous meaning in programmes and articles about 19th and even early 20th century theatre, notably productions by touring companies.)
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