Theatre students on the set of The Dr. Oz Show

Theatre Students Visit Television Sets in NYC for Stage Management Course

May 7, 2018

In a TV stage management course offered this spring, taught by industry expert Jim Semmelman, Columbia students observed stage managers first-hand on the sets of hit shows like The View, Dr. Oz, Good Morning America, and Megyn Kelly Today


We talked with Professor Semmelman and students Alison Simone '19 and Morgan Leigh Beach '19 about this experience.



What are the main things that students learned from observing stage managers on television sets?


Jim: After my introductory class of stage managing in television where I go over the similarities and dissimilarity between theatre and television stage managers...go over the language and verbiage used in television....cameras, camera shots, etc.. It's time to watch a TV stage manager in action. It really helps solidify all that was revealed in the first lecture. It also helps the students to ask questions in the moment. They get a chance to ask questions of the stage manager themselves. I also open up the possibility of the students shadowing me where I am currently working.


Why do you think this class is an important part of a stage manager's education?


Ali: The Columbia Stage Management Concentration focuses on an array of topics. Michael Passaro has structured the arc of our semesters to cover the vast possibilities open to stage managers. The through line of this program is shaping stage management students into CEOs or COOs, ready to take on any area of management when we graduate. "Stage Management for Television" fits directly into this mission. By learning about the differences between stage managing for theatre and television, we are shaped into more diverse, qualified stage managers better able to enter both industries.


Morgan:  I think its extremely important for stage managers to be aware of the other mediums in which their skill set can be applicable and valuable. Show business can be difficult to maintain a steady career, it's worth knowing that there are a variety of different ways in which you can utilize your skills.



What's the main difference between stage managing on live TV versus theatre?


Alison: "Stage Manager" is a broad term, that is applied differently across a variety of industries. When I think of a stage manager, my mind immediately jumps to a person dressed in black in the dark of a theatre. For several sectors, this isn’t the case at all. I would say the largest difference between television versus theatre is the responsibilities during the performance. In theatre, the stage managers are all doing different jobs, be it running the deck or calling the show, and the team is usually scattered around the theater. In television, the stage managers are all on the deck, directing the talent towards a particular camera.

Morgan: There are so many differences between these two methods of stage management.  The biggest difference is that the stage manager doesn't call the show per se. They are very much involved in facilitating technical elements with the crew and running rehearsal. During the live taping, they are more involved in wrangling talent and keeping time.



What did you think of visiting the sets of these hit shows? was any one particularly exciting?


AlisonThe View was especially interesting because of the sheer number of cameras used to film the show. When we walked in, it was daunting to see that the audience surrounded ¾ of the stage, similar to a thrust stage with a curved downstage edge used in the theatre. I was curious as to how the stage managers would navigate the set and help each of the women look into the correct cameras. As an added plus, I was called onstage to dance with some of my fellow audience members—I look at it as my 15 seconds of fame!


Morgan:  I really enjoyed Good Morning America.  We had some really good times with the stage managers and got to witness a taping in two different locations in several different styles. It was exciting to see.

Some pictures of the students on set can be found below.