An authoritative figure who resembles a narrator as he guides the audience through the play, the Stage Manager is an unconventional character in the canon of dramatic literature. He is not simply a character in the play. As his name suggests, he could be considered a member of the crew staging the play as well. He exists simultaneously in two dramatic realms. At the beginning of Act I, he identifies the play and the playwright, and introduces the director, the producer, and the actors. Furthermore, every act begins and ends with the Stage Manager’s expositions and announcements. During each act, he frequently interrupts the play’s action for the purpose of cueing another scene, providing the audience with pertinent information, or commenting on what has just happened or what is about to happen. All of these functions suggest that even though the Stage Manager occupies center stage, he is neither an actor nor a character, but rather someone who works behind the scenes.
But while the Stage Manager occupies a position outside of the narrative action—that is, outside of the play’s central plot—he does occasionally assume the role of an inhabitant of Grover’s Corners. For example, in Act II, after narrating the action, cuing a flashback, and changing the set to prepare for the next scene, he steps directly into the plot and becomes Mr. Morgan, the drugstore owner who serves ice-cream sodas to Emily Webb and George Gibbs. The Stage Manager is just as adept at changing sets as he is at changing roles, and this versatility enables him to exist both within the world of Grover’s Corners and within the world that the audience occupies. Wilder deliberately makes the Stage Manager’s location in the play ambiguous, because it is precisely this ambiguity that allows the Stage Manager to bridge the gap between the audience and the characters onstage.
The Stage Manager essentially plays the role of the audience’s guide. He breaks through the fourth wall—the imaginary barrier between the audience and the action on the stage—to facilitate a dialogue between the audience and the content of the play. Indeed, through the Stage Manager, the interaction between the audience and the play actually becomes part of the content of the play itself. It is not clear whether the Stage Manager is a native of the town or an outsider who has been given a privileged view of Grover’s Corners. This ambiguity makes him both familiar and mysterious and ultimately gives him a metaphorical role in the play, hinting at the presence of a God. Although Our Town avoids discussion of religion, Wilder hints that a spiritual force or entity manages human life in much the same way that the Stage Manager dictates the flow of this play, or as the stage manager of any play dictates its dramatic production. In any case, the Stage Manager makes great demands on the members of the audience to be active participants in the play. His presence blatantly disobeys the theatrical convention that has traditionally separated the audience from the events onstage.