Updated: Mar 7, 2019
Freelance Stage Manager / Bookworm
Rachel Darwood works tirelessly as a freelance Stage Manager (and has worked on several Librarian Theatre tours). I've seen her keep her head when everyone around her is losing theirs, endure some of the most taxing theatre digs, and even calmly tape her ear back together after a lamp fell on her head. This week I wanted to look behind the bright lights of theatre and get a glimpse of what life is like for those in the wings.
Rachel: I predominantly work as a stage manager, which is a rather broad term for a very specific job. Stage Managers usually oversee a team of Assistant and Deputy Stage Managers, but I normally work on jobs where I am the only person in the Stage Management team, so I end up doing three jobs myself. In the current economic climate, there isn't a lot of money in theatre, so companies have smaller budgets and smaller teams - but huge hearts and vision.
Big scale projects are exciting but the smaller companies tend to be rougher around the edges and produce more alternative theatre, working dynamically within communities in unusual spaces.
"It's so easy to feel like you're never doing enough when emails are forever waiting in your back pocket"
Kelly: How did your journey into theatre begin, and what were your initial inspirations?
Rachel: I've always found theatres to be magical spaces. At school I got involved in backstage work and became fascinated with the secret mechanisms that kept the shows going; the silent workforce driving productions on. I got onto the Stage Management course at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance and made some great contacts there, contacts who have been vital for getting work - a lot of the time it really is a case of who you know. And I think it would be really difficult to work in this industry without a strong support network of family and friends.
Kelly: Librarian Theatre were exploring mental health a lot through our show Alice in the Cuckoo's Nest. Is it a struggle to maintain your mental well-being as a freelancer?
Rachel: Learning how to balance my time and to maintain a healthy personal life has definitely been a journey in itself. It's so easy to feel like you're never doing enough; when emails are forever waiting in your back pocket, or coming in from producers at 2am, it takes willpower to switch off from 'work mode' and allow myself time off. Training to be a Stage Manager instils a sense of “I have to be strong, I am the pillar holding everything together” - but I now make a point of saying to myself “I need to put myself first, I need to listen to my needs and switch off before I become overworked”. It's in those spaces that I rebuild my energy reserves. In any profession, you need space between work and play, and as a freelancer, when every email is a potential new job, that's not something that comes easily. Self-care is something that you have to learn, and work hard to maintain.
There is so much psychology involved in the job, it's not just about moving heavy set and arranging schedules, it's taking the time to understand the other creatives you're working with so you know what they need, and when to let a situation play out or when to intervene.
"Small things like having fresh lemons at the ready for when actors need a little pick-me-up have become an essential part of my toolkit"
Kelly: So you're learning and practicing empathy?
Rachel: Exactly. Rehearsal spaces can be quite emotional, at times volatile, places, with time and budget pressures to stick to, and often emotive, difficult material to digest. Actors and directors alike often need a neutral person in the room who they trust not to lose their head when things get heated. Small things - like having fresh lemons at the ready for when actors need a little pick-me-up - have become an essential part of my toolkit for dealing with the occasionally hot and heavy rehearsal space.
Kelly: How do you feel gender effects your area of work?
Rachel: Personally I think as long as you are good at your job, I don't care if you're a team of women or men. However I have encountered individuals who don't feel the same as I do. A few years ago, I received feedback from two female producers who interviewed me. They said that I looked too flimsy, that I wouldn't be able to climb a ladder and I wouldn't be able to carry heavy things. Anyone who's worked with me knows that couldn't be further from the truth, but the frustrating thing was that I wasn't given the opportunity to prove them wrong. But on a positive note, in the years I've been working professionally, I have seen more and more women taking on traditionally male roles of crewing and technical work.
Kelly: Where do you see the Rachel Darwood of the future?
Rachel: I find long-term planning difficult as I have no idea what will come up.
"But I'd like to keep working on passionate, big-hearted theatre with dreams to change the world."
I have a dream of one day setting up a bookshop – it seems like a nice way to grow old, but I often don't know where I'll be next month, so I tend to take each day as it comes.
Find out more about Rachel and her work at