Carly O’Neill – Exit Stage Left: Mid-career transitions of female stage managers in Australia


Carly O’Neill


Exit Stage Left: Mid-career transitions of female stage managers in Australia 

In the course of their work, stage managers are across many different elements of the performance making process – however, at its most fundamental, the key function of the stage manager in the realisation of live performance is the management of change (Ionazzi 1992). Stage managers are critical participants in the Australian live performance industry that generated $2.2 billion in revenue in 2019 (Live Performance Australia 2019) and Australian census data indicate that this industry is being serviced by a disproportionately young, female workforce (ABS 2011). This paper will discuss the findings of a study that characterised the career transition experiences of professional female stage managers in Australia and explored the variety of career development challenges experienced during mid-career and prompt premature exits from the profession. The research presents the experiences of professional female stage managers who have worked within Australia’s peak performing arts companies (AMPAG 2019) and makes recommendations regarding workforce retention strategies, educational models, psychological and social support mechanisms and organisational and sectoral strategies that will lead to increased sustainability within the profession. One of the key findings of the study was that the precarious nature of the work is one of the major factors that drives stage managers out of the profession, and this has never been more relevant in light of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on those working in the production arts.

Carly O’Neill is the Lecturer in Stage Management within the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Technical Production) at QUT. She has 20 years’ experience as a professional freelance stage manager working across most live performance genres, with particular specialisations in classical and contemporary music, and ballet and contemporary dance. Carly was the Senior Stage Manager at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre from 2004 – 2013 and has extensive regional, national and international touring experience. Carly has been the lecturer in stage management at QUT since 2009 and was Technical Production coordinator from 2012 – 2014. She is currently the Study Area Coordinator for the BFA (Technical Production) and continues to freelance as a stage manager and show-caller.