Arranging rehearsal spaces, meetings, costume fittings and sourcing for rehearsal props — these are some tasks stage management trainee Jasmine Leong handles, sometimes on the same day.

She is learning the ropes in a Workforce Skills Qualification Stage Management Training Programme (SMTP) under the auspices of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.

The 25-year-old joined the 12-month programme in September last year after graduating with an honours degree in arts management from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA).

But her interest in stage management goes back to the time when she studied the subject and basic sound and lighting during her diploma course at NAFA.

She got a foot in the door on a freelance basis, first as backstage crew, then through her network in the industry, as an assistant stage manager and stage manager.

Ms Leong, who worked on the Singapore Dance Theatre’s The Nutcracker and Cinderella, says: “Although I gained some hands-on experience, I felt that I was still lacking in knowledge and skills, especially in the technical aspects of the job. So I decided to join the programme to understand the technical theatre industry better.”

On-the-job training

Over the last 11 months, she has undergone classroom training held during office hours, and at least three two- to four-week attachments to productions of Esplanade and those of other local arts companies.

During these attachments, she is typically involved from the time rehearsals kick off to the end of the run of the production, and 12-hour shifts are quite the norm.

She says: “At my recent attachment as an assistant stage manager, although rehearsals started at 2pm, I was out of the house by 11am to source for props.

“The nature of the job is such that when we are assigned to shows, the working hours can be long. But there is also an appropriate ratio of off days in between productions, allowing us to rest and recuperate.”

During rehearsals, she helped the stage manager with the props and learned the show cues for scene changes and how to simulate actual scene changes.

At the end of each day, she also had to complete rehearsal reports to update the set, lighting, sound and wardrobe departments on what had happened earlier in the day.

“These reports act as a form of communication between the different departments, and a platform to raise issues which will affect them,” she explains.

On top of all these, she also attends weekly production meetings with the director and designers in the creative team.

The attachments have given her exposure to different genres of productions, including outdoor shows, concerts, ballet performances, musicals and children’s shows.

Classroom and workshop training, meanwhile, have equipped her with knowledge in health and safety, first aid and dance stage management.

Learning journey

The training period has equipped her to face and manage the challenges in the performing arts sector, one of which is mastering her tendency to panic.

“The biggest challenge is having the confidence in myself to continue with the show even when I have made a mistake.

“It usually happens in the technical rehearsal week when everyone is stressed out and tired from the long hours and lack of sleep, and tend to flare up easily,” she says.

And she used to be affected by others’ comments of her, but she now knows better.

She says: “As time passed, I learnt not to take criticisms personally because everyone is just concerned about getting the show to run perfectly. Also, it is better to make mistakes during rehearsal than for them to happen during the show.”

Next month, Ms Leong will graduate from the inaugural programme and serve her bond at Esplanade.

To those interested in the programme, she advises: “Be prepared to endure the irregular work schedules and long hours, and come with an open mind to learn as much as you can from the trainers, mentors and seniors in the industry.”