Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

The Stage Managers tool kit

Techie Talk is proud to welcome our first guest author; Lois Dawson is a stage manager based in Canada. In this article Lois talks us through her stage management kit, what it consists of and where you can obtain some of the items. It demonstrates someone who has years of experience and I’m sure many people will find this a very interesting and informative read.


The Stage Managers toolkit

One of the first things I do when I start prep on a new show is re-stock my stage management kit with everything I’ll need for that show. I’ve been building and refining my kit for a little over 5 years now. I thought I’d share what I keep in it as a starting point for other stage managers. If you notice that I’m missing something that you consider invaluable, please let me know – I’m always updating!

While I am a freelance stage manager the majority of my work for the past 2 and a half years has been for the Pacific Theatre, a relatively small theatre company in Vancouver that has its own space. I share that because it partially defines what is in my kit, I don’t have to have every sort of tool with me because there is a full set of tools backstage that I can access at any time (heck, I arranged them on the peg board back there in the first place). I also don’t need to have a full set of tape because the theatre has all the kinds I would need. This summer when I did outdoor shows with Project X my kit contained things that you don’t need except for outdoors: sunscreen, bug spray, etc.

My first kit was a little neon green fishing tackle box that didn’t hold much more than a few pencils, erasers, and a stapler. Then I upgraded to one of those big black tool boxes with a tray in the top. It served me well, but when it broke this past summer I knew that whatever I replaced it with would need to have better organisational capabilities. I wanted everything to have a place as opposed to just being thrown in.

I found my new kit in the scrap-booking section of Walmart. It was blue, green, and brown and cost about $35 (You can see it on the Walmart website here). On a whim I popped over to the tools section and found the exact same tool kit but in brown & grey and it was $10 cheaper. It may not be quite as funky, but the price was definitely right. I picked this particular model because of the three removable trays, each of which has dividers you can rearrange based on your needs. Two of the trays are about 3 inches deep and the top one is about an inch and a half deep. On the top of the kit is an approx 5 inch deep free area.

In the top removable tray I keep the following items:

Contents of the top tray

Contents of the top tray

  • 3 – 4×6 Bright coloured lined post it notes.
  • 10 pkgs Post-it flags in various colours (I’ve tried using store brands, but they are much harder to write on. Since I use these for writing cues into my book I always go with the brand name).
  • 1 staple remover.
  • Extra staples (both in regular silver and in bright colours).
  • Elastic bands in various sizes.
  • Binder clips in 3/4 inch, 1 1/4 inch, & 2 inch.
  • Paper clips.
  • Push pins.

In the second removable tray:

Contents of the second tray

Contents of the second tray

  • Mechanical pencils (I recommend the cheapest you can buy – they disappear at an alarming rate).
  • Highlighters (I’m a big fan of the miniature ones since more can fit in my kit).
  • RSVP brand pens in blue, black, red, purple, & green (I am very picky about my pens. I find that these write very smoothly and have a good dark ink that doesn’t quickly fade – beneficial for notes).
  • A handful of white erasers (I’m a fan of the Staedtler brand, but others swear by different brands. Either way, a white eraser works great for ever-changing blocking notations).
  • White out.
  • Stapler.
  • Scissors (2 pair because I always find that scissors walk off)
  • Glue stick

In the third (bottom) tray:

Contents of the bottom tray

Contents of the bottom tray

  • Mini Sharpies in 12 fantastic colours.
  • Dry-erase markers (I use a small white board to display the daily schedule in the rehearsal hall).
  • 12 felt pens (great for sign making!).
  • Pencil sharpener.
  • Chalk.
  • Batteries – AA, AAA, C, D, 9Volt.
  • Post-it flags (I use these wider ones to mark each scene).
  • Mini-mag flashlight (with R80 gel to blue it out for backstage).
  • Wrench (with bungee strap for adjusting lights that are losing focus. I keep my own wrench because I like the ones with grips on them and I have yet to work for a theatre that has wrenches like that).
  • Multi-head screw driver.

Top of Kit

Contents of the lid

Contents of the lid

In the top open section of my kit are all of the odd-ball things. I have grand intentions of finding containers to hold the various items that are currently in the ziploc bags, but that has yet to happen.

The first Ziploc bag is my wardrobe kit. It contains:

  • Clear nail polish.
  • Needles of various sizes.
  • 5 colours of thread (changed with each show, but always black & white).
  • Safety pins.
  • Cloth measuring tape.
  • Mini lint roller.
  • Tide to go pen.
  • Glasses repair kit.
  • Extra buttons.
  • Extra hooks/eyes.
  • Extra snaps.

The second Ziploc bag is my first aid kit:

  • Plasters (in the regular skin tone as well as “fun” ones, and a variety of sizes).
  • Polysporin.
  • Tylenol.
  • Ibuprofen.
  • Q-tips.
  • Vaseline.
  • Gravol.
  • Halls.
  • A large cloth triangle bandage.
  • Water proof cloth tape.
  • First aid scissors.
  • Sterile swabs.

The third Ziploc bag is is the “hygiene” kit: Open Kit

  • Contact solution.
  • Visine.
  • Listerine fresh-strips.
  • Lip chap.
  • Hand cream.
  • Toothpaste.
  • An extra toothbrush (when I give this out I ask for it to be replaced).
  • Hand sanitizer.
  • Nail clippers.
  • Hair elastics.
  • A couple of tampons.
  • A couple of pads.
  • Dental floss.

Additional items in the top of the kit:

  • Birthday candles.
  • Hole reinforcements.
  • Ice pack (the kind you just snap and its instantly cold).
  • Tape measure (30 foot minimum – long enough to mark out sets with).
  • Gum.
  • 2- 4×4 Super Sticky, recycled, unlined post it notes.
  • Calculator.
  • Blank labels (can be used as name tags as well as for labelling).
  • Blank CDs with hard cases.
  • A handful of small chocolates.
  • A stopwatch.

You may have noticed that a lot of my stationary items (staples, paper clips, push-pins, etc) are wacky colours as opposed to plain silver. I am a big believer that making theatre should be fun, and sometimes a neon band-aid with a Disney princess on it can make a day surprisingly more fun.

When I started on this article, I put out a call on Twitter to see what others considered invaluable – here are a few of their responses:

  • A_mandolin: @SMLois tide pen. clear nail polish. sticky tack. safety pins. hair elastics. white chalk. cheap reading glasses from Shoppers. USB drive.
  • Travisbedard: @SMLois liquorice altoids for…Cast and crew?
  • dloehr: @SMLois An iPod or iPhone with a backup playlist of SFX, just in case.
  • jordanmechano: @SMLois Those little finger condoms are very useful. Hell, even regular condoms, depending on the show

About the author

Lois Dawson

Lois Dawson

Lois has been attending theatre since she was a child: Community productions, school productions, church productions and once in a while a professional production. During high school Lois became hooked on theatre, specifically the work that happened behind the scenes.

Since graduation from Trinity Western University Lois spent time as the resident stage manager at the Pacific Theatre in Vancouver as well as working as a freelance stage manager, lighting designer, lighting technician, props mistress, & sound programmer. In stage management Lois found the perfect melding of her love for theatre and passion for organizing both things and people.

Lois has her own blog which you can find at www.loisbackstage.com and also on Twitter @SMLois


  1. Hello —

    Just wanted to let you know that this article made my day. I am an aspiring stage manager, and I am re-making my kit for a show a start next week. This article is very helpful, particularly the pictures. Thank you!!


  2. This article was so helpful…it really helped me to define what I need! THANKS!

  3. Awesome post, im using it im my intro to tech class today.

  4. Hi! I was wondering if I could ask you a couple questions about Stage Management and your experiences with the field. I love to hear from you!

  5. This article helps me. I’m also an aspiring stage manager. I making my kit right now. So thank you.

  6. I haven’t been a stage manager in many years, but my old kit, a fishing tackle box, still sits in a cubby hole of one of my desks at home (the one I’m sitting at now, as a matter of fact). It was nice to be reminded of those days.

    I used to collect free pencils everywhere I went, sharpen them and keep them in my kit as “actor pencils.’ They could chew them, twist them in their hair, etc., and I didn’t have to worry about getting them back in the shame condition as I gave them out.

    I particularly like the idea of using flags to write in cues before the show opens.

  7. Great article! I’ll be sure to use it if I ever get to put together my own kit!
    In addition though I always find it helpful to have: hair ties, safety pins, bobby pins!, some tie line, tea bags, honey, …

  8. Hi! I’m a high school stage manager and I’m working on building a kit that’s going to reside in our theater permanently. I loved this list! I would also think about including Gaffer’s tape as well as some spike tape just in case.

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