Interview: Anna Lambert on Freelance Stage Management, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Tonnes of Stationery

12:00 pm


It's always a wonderful, fuzzy feeling inside when one of your oldest friends ends up in the career they always dreamed of in school. Anna is that friend for me and I have nothing but pride for her and her work. She always managed to stay cool, calm, and collected when we worked together backstage at our upper school's annual musicals, and I just knew it was the job for her. She was one of the first people to pop into my head when I was toying with the idea of this interview series as stage management seems like a career you don't hear a lot about, but has so many facets to it that people would find interesting. In our interview we chat about Lin-Manuel Miranda (our number one topic of any conversation we have), her journey to becoming a freelance stage manager, and how crying is pretty much always the best solution to a stress problem. Enjoy!

Magic & Musings:

Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Anna! First of all, for any readers who don’t know your background, tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do. What does your job actually entail?

Anna Lambert:

I work as a freelance stage manager, usually as an assistant stage manager. The stage management team is the team that works backstage on theatre productions, and the assistant stage manager (A.K.A ASM) is usually running the stage during the performance with a stage manager, and during rehearsals we source props, research, and do whatever needs to be done really! Deputy stage managers (DSM) are in rehearsals the whole time and work closer with the actors and director, and then calls the lighting and sound cues during the show. The whole team works closely together and have to be able to communicate well. A lot of the time I work on a comedy show as a technical stage manager – and it's just me! I run the sound and lighting for the performances and generally organise etc. - but that is a whole different kettle of fish. It's all quite complicated! Different companies work differently too – so it can be quite difficult to explain... Basically, stage managers are part of the creative team and you usually don't know about them in a performance until sh*t hits the fan...

Magic & Musings:

When did you first get stage management and why? Did you study it formally or come across it in another way? 

Anna Lambert:

I got into stage management when I was in school. I was supposed to be helping for the wardrobe and make-up for our annual school musical when the director needed extra people to swap to the stage crew team. My friend and I were happy to move across and I've never looked back. I studied Stage Management at the Birmingham School of Acting after finishing my A-Levels and now have a BA (Hons) Stage Management degree.

Magic & Musings:

Of all of the productions you’ve worked on, which are you the happiest with and why?

Anna Lambert:

Probably all of the productions I've done with The Thinking Drinkers. I worked with them at the Edinburgh Fringe festival after I graduated university, which was one of my first professional jobs. Fast forward almost 3 years and we're preparing for our 4th Fringe together and our third completely new show. It's been really interesting to watch how the new shows develop, especially because The Thinking Drinkers are drinks journalists! Part of the show involves giving out free drinks during the performance – which the audience obviously love – and I get to enjoy a bit now and then too! It's a great comedy show and I'm proud of how well the show does, getting more and more popular every year. I'm the technical stage manager so I have to deal with all of the technical side of things as well as liaising with venues and helping with props and set. It's difficult doing it alone but also I fun challenge!


Magic & Musings:
What is your favourite aspect about working in stage management? What is your least favourite or do you find the most difficult?

Anna Lambert:
I love being a part of a well-received production; making the audience happy is our main goal as a theatre company. Being a part of a great team always makes you feel good and I've made some great friends working on productions. My least favourite thing is having to talk to lots of different people all the time. I'm a massive introvert which is probably not the best attribute for someone in the theatre industry... I'm social and open with people once I've known them for a while but having to introduce myself and remember lots of people's names and faces is quite the challenge. Looking for work every few weeks is difficult too; it gets a bit soul-destroying when you have so many jobs fall through too...

Magic & Musings:
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively?

Anna Lambert:
Cry to start with, I'm an emotional wreck 95% of the time. Then maybe try and clear my head - listen to a podcast, play a video game or watch some of my favourite YouTubers. I'll try and do something different and creative – that I usually fail miserably at – and then I'll focus on the things I can do. I'll sort my spreadsheets out for my taxes, go through my stationery, or bake a cake. Just do something productive and try and get myself back on track! I'm not very good at getting myself out of a creative rut but I have a great support system around me that usually helps me. I love my friends and family!


Magic & Musings:
I can imagine that stage management can get quite high-pressure at times. How do you keep yourself cool, calm, and collected in these situations? How do you stay organised?

Anna Lambert:
The best way to keep cool, calm and collected is to just bottle it up and rant about it later when you're away from the situation! I'm usually bottom of the chain of command. I'm fairly early in my career so I generally am the Assistant Stage Manager, with a Deputy Stage Manager, Stage Manager and a Company/Production Stage Manager at the top. It's only stressful and high-pressure at the end of rehearsals, during the technical rehearsal sessions and previews. This is because the hours are long for everyone which puts the entire company on edge a bit. Opening night and then 'press night' are two big reliefs for us as it means the most stressful bits are over! Being organised is the most important trait of being a stage manager. It involves a lot of lists, spreadsheets, and various bits of stationery. We love stationery and notebooks in stage management world, mainly because we have to write EVERYTHING down, because directors usually forget what they've said or asked for. Someone has to keep all the conversations together.

Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out working in this field?

Anna Lambert:
How hard it is to get work! I'm always applying for jobs and having interviews. At the moment I'm in a bit of a lull and have no planned work until July which sucks. I just have to keep applying for jobs and hoping. I'm not great in interviews either which is bad as I'm having them almost every month... 

Magic & Musings:
Onto a fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song? 

Anna Lambert:
I've been really rubbish at keeping up with my reading recently but I got Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge for Christmas and it's really moving. Horrible and terrifying, but a really interesting read. It's about Saturday 23rd November 2013 in America, and 10 gun-related deaths of children which didn't make national news. Not a very happy read though... A film – that would have to be Moana. I've always loved Disney films and Lin-Manuel Miranda is a modern day musical Shakespeare. I just love it so much! Which would lead me to music – anything by Lin-Manuel Miranda! Specific non-Lin songs would be Paramore's new song 'Hard Times' and 'Open Your Eyes' by Austin Hargrave (A.K.A PeanutButterGamer) and Yungtown from YouTube. It's an amazing song written about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and I would recommend it for anyone who loves the Zelda series and the new game!


Magic & Musings:
Thank you for being a part of my interview series, Anna! Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work? 

Anna Lambert:
Thanks for all the questions, Megan! It's nice when people are interested in what I do because most of the time we're a bit invisible in the stage management world, until something goes wrong! If people want to find out more about me you can check out my StageJobsPro profile which is basically an online CV. Also, check out the Stage Management Association and Equity Stage Management if you're interested in our world! Both have very responsive Twitter accounts @SMAssoc and @EquitySM. Don't forget to celebrate International Stage Management Day every year on 10th October!

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