Tuesday, July 22, 2008

But What I Really Want to do is Stage Manage

The question I receive most frequently about my job is, "What exactly does a stage manager do?" As I begin to describe my various duties, most people's eyes glaze over as they nod and smile and think about their grocery list.

The fact is that the role of the stage manager changes with each production. Some plays require us to be diplomats while others need us to be Ms. Fix-it. When working with my assistant, Alexis Simpson on The Piano Lesson, we decided our job most resembles a safety net. We keep everything organized and running properly so the actors have a safe space in which to explore their characters. We are the first to arrive at rehearsals and performances and the last to leave. It's odd to do the same thing every night--sweep the stage, check the lights, put out the props, handle fight call--but it's that routine that ensures smooth running performances.

As for what makes a good stage manager, I'm not sure I know. Richard Ciccarone explains is well in an article on the Bay Area Magazine. And if you asked 100 stage managers what makes a good stage manager, you'd get 100 different answers. I think it's because we each bring something unique to the job.

Stage management is not a field most people aspire to when they are young. In fact, most high school students probably do not have a clear picture of what a stage manager is. Although, I think that's changing since a lot of colleges now have Stage Management majors. I'm not sure exactly what they learn in their classes but it's becoming more and more popular. I learned how to do it by doing it--in college, interning at Baltimore's Center Stage, working in community theater, and then finally in a Equity theater. For those who might not know, Stage Managers belong to Actor's Equity--the professional theater union that controls the working conditions of actors.

I fell in love with stage managing in college. During the summer of my freshman year, I interned at the Champlain Shakespeare Festival in Burlington, VT. Sadly, the Festival is no more. It gave me my first glimpse into professional theater. I had started college, at the University of Vermont, aspiring to be an actor. That summer, I assisted the stage manager on Romeo and Juliet and never wanted to do anything else. Ironically, after that summer, I was cast as Sandy in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, a rather large part. While I was passable in the role (at least I hope I was) I spent the entire production wishing I was the stage manager.

It's difficult to stage manage and have a family. It's six nights and week and all weekend long for two months at a time. But with a patient husband, good babysitters, and cocktails, it somehow all works out.

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