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What is a company manager?

12 May 2020

According to The Stage the role of a company manager can be summed up as:
‘…not only do they have the responsibility of keeping the actors [read: performing artists at WNO] in line, they, as the name suggests, support the whole company. They are the ‘go to’ person for everyone…If there is a problem, the company manager sorts it out.’

At Welsh National Opera our company managers are the link between the touring company, the crew, the singers, the orchestra and the other staff that head out on the road; the rest of the company left behind in Cardiff, and the venues’ teams, both front of house and backstage. WNO’s distinctive Company Manager, Ian Douglas, with his omnipresent bow tie, is ably supported by Sarah Cannon-Jones as Deputy Company Manager. On tour they are the face of the Company and keep an overview of everything.

What you (probably) didn’t know the role encompassed:
Logistics on a large scale for foreign tours: whether it is transport and flights, or visas and accommodation, for the whole Company. Not to mention managing people on and off planes and coaches. Then on a smaller scale, arranging our pre-performance talks – from when to where; liaising between WNO’s Marketing department, Dramaturg, Planning department and the teams at the venues.

Company managers procure everything from security passes to accommodation for guest artists; this can include walking around towns, arms full of umbrellas, for those venues where we have outside changing rooms so everyone fits in.

With responsibility for physical and pastoral care of artists, they do everything from accompanying artists to hospital (which always seems to happen in costume); to being at the end of phone, 24/7; to the provision of tea and coffee; ensuring they’re warm, or cool, enough; even filling up tubs of hot water from urns in venues where there is no water for people to be able to wash off heavy stage make up.

They ensure there’s a cast available and ready to sing for every performance; calling up cover artists at short notice when needed and making announcements to the audience about any changes. At a 2006 performance of The Flying Dutchman in Bristol, Ian had to make the easiest announcement of his career: announcing that Sir Bryn Terfel was going on as cover.

A part of the role is looking after tickets – arranging them for guest artists and families, and handing them out on the night. Also helping venues to deal with latecomers and any ticketing queries. They also arrange opening night drinks and give out the vouchers, which makes them suddenly very popular.

A myriad of other logistic tasks includes being postman between venue and WNO’s office; acting as stage door keeper in smaller venues; booking piano and harpsichord tuners; even cleaning.

Essentially a company manager’s key skills are: quick thinking, common sense and being able to build relationships with everyone at every venue. It’s a role where you can never say ‘that’s not our job’, or as Sarah put it: ‘If someone doesn’t know who to ask [then being a company manager means] being the person to ask’.