Stage managers are highly skilled professionals who ensure theatrical productions stay on track, from the planning stages through rehearsals and performances until the show closes and tear-down is complete. The Actors' Equity Association, or AEA, provides a professional organization for stage managers and actors, governing the wages, working conditions and other quality of work and life factors for equity stage managers. You must qualify to join the AEA based on your work experience and employment, but there are a few different routes to qualification.
Take high school or college-level courses in theatrical production and stage management. Stage managers must understand all aspects of production work, including acting, directing, design, stage carpentry, lighting, sound, costumes and props. As the liaison between all of these departments, you must understand each area's needs and communicate them clearly to others.
Take courses or teach yourself time management and organizational skills. Organization is a key factor for stage managers, who must keep meetings, rehearsals and productions on schedule at all times.
Apply for internships at qualified equity theatres or with qualified equity touring shows. Ask the production manager where you apply if the production is qualified for the AEA Equity Membership Candidate program. As a stage manager in training, you can work on equity productions without being a member of the AEA.
Accumulate 50 weeks of equity production work in a qualified theatre or production. This qualifies you to register for the AEA as a stage manager. You do not have to work 50 consecutive weeks, but they do need to be 50 full-time weeks total.
Contact your local AEA office to receive the appropriate membership paperwork, or have your production manager do this for you (see "Resources").
Fill in the AEA membership paperwork, including all supporting documentation for your equity work, and pay all necessary dues to join the association within five years of completing your 50 weeks. You must have AEA membership to work on an equity production after you meet the membership requirements. If you choose not to work on equity productions for five years after you meet the 50-week requirement, you must begin your training again.
You may also join AEA as a stage manager if hired as a professional for an equity production. Talk to the production manager about membership, as it is the producer's responsibility to get you an equity card in this situation.
Membership in qualified unions, such as the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, can reduce your qualification period to 25 weeks instead of 50.