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Meet our new Stage Management Trainee

Carmen Palmer is the new Stage Management Trainee at State Theatre Company South Australia, in a program presented in association with Adelaide College of the Arts and generously supported by Australian Executor Trustees. The program is designed to give emerging theatre professionals valuable real-world experience in the industry.

carmen palmer

When Carmen Palmer chose Drama as a Year 12 subject in 2020, she never imagined that the final production would be performed over Zoom. But in an unprecedented year of pandemic-related lockdowns, the students at Balaklava High School, like thousands around the country, took their performance online.

“[Things] looked a bit different to what we were expecting, because of COVID,” says Carmen, Stage Manager for the school’s performance of The Secret Garden. Actors performed from separate screens, with cues sent by Stage Managers via chat for sound effects and Zoom-background scene changes.

It’s just one of the challenges facing the next generation of theatre professionals. With COVID-related closures and postponements, budding Stage Managers have fewer opportunities than ever to learn the practical, hands-on skills needed to produce theatre.

Now, Carmen is the new Stage Management Trainee at State Theatre Company South Australia in a brand new program presented in association with Adelaide College of the Arts and generously supported by Australian Executor Trustees, through a grant designed to support the company’s creative future.

For emerging Stage Managers, it’s an invaluable opportunity to hone their skills in a real-world, professional theatre company.

“With stage management, you can only do so much learning [in the classroom],” says Carmen. “Eventually, being on the job and having that experience is where you’re going to gain most of your skills.”

Since graduating high school, Carmen has moved from Zoom to the rehearsal room to complete a Certificate III in Live Production and Technical Services. She now studies Certificate IV in Stage Management while completing the year-long traineeship with State Theatre Company South Australia.

“When this opportunity came up, it was a pretty big deal,” she says. While there are existing opportunities for students to undertake work experience, the Stage Management Traineeship significantly increases a student’s prospects to build a career in the arts.

Students like Carmen can work on large-scale professional productions, learn from seasoned theatre-makers and develop skills over a longer time period.

Right now, Carmen is working in the stage management team on Eureka Day and is preparing for Girl From the North Country in State Theatre’s 2022 season.

Tasks include sourcing or creating props, running meetings and scheduling. During the rehearsal period, Stage Managers work closely with the director, actors and creative team. “That’s all part of the fun of it – you never know what you’re going to be asked to do,” says Carmen.

“A Stage Manager is the back-bone of a production,” she says. “They’re the main communication tool for all departments.” Stage Managers liaise with wardrobe and costume design, and set and lighting design throughout the rehearsal period.

Once the show bumps into the theatre, the fun really begins. “When the audience sees the lighting [shift], that’s the Stage Manager behind the scenes calling that change,” says Carmen.

Every scene change, set change, and slightest adjustment to sound and music is meticulously planned and rehearsed by the team. And it’s all cued by the Stage Manager.

It might sound stressful – but the thrill of getting every element right is exhilarating.

“You have a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure, but weirdly enough I kind of like the responsibility that gets put on you as a Stage Manager,” says Carmen.

It probably helps that Carmen is no stranger to the stage. Having grown up in a family dedicated to the local theatre and orchestra in Balaklava, Carmen also acts, sings and plays multiple instruments.

But for Carmen, her true passion is behind the scenes. “I love connecting with people,” she says. “I think [stage managing] is a really unique role where you get to work closely with the actors… and the whole creative team.”