I’ll admit it—I’m no Broadway actor. Far from it, actually. However, barring the requisite, all-consuming feeling of stage fright, something about pouring my heart out in front of an audience somehow really appeals to me.
So, imagine my surprise and skepticism when I got an email from our very own Drama Department asking me to be the Assistant Stage Manager for one of its productions. Stage managing? What was that? The more I thought about it, though, the more I became convinced that I might as well give it a go.
The first week was actually quite comical. I’m not a drama major and I’ve never done anything in the field before but act, so I spent a lot of time learning as I went (who knew the CDF had so many hidden rooms?). After much trial and error, I started to catch on. By the time our tech week rolled around, I was juggling costumes and scripts like it was no big deal.
Here’s how a typical day in the life as a stage manager looked for me:
On our first full day of tech rehearsal, my alarm goes off at around 9 a.m. I take my time walking across campus to the Powerhouse Theater, since I know most of my day will be spent hunkered inside, calling out lines and furiously typing acting notes. When I arrive, I spread my things across an entire row of audience seats, open my laptop and get to work.
My first take is to make a Tech Report, which is basically a written map of attendance, scheduling and all things that need to get done on the technical side of the show. The report has to be modified and edited as the day goes on to accommodate new events or issues, but overall this is a pretty straightforward task.
Once that’s pulled up and ready to go, it’s time for my favorite part of the day: helping take care of Obi-Wan, an easily excitable, fluffy dog who also happens to belong to our director. Though dog-sitting isn’t actually listed as part of the Assistant Stage Manager’s job, I certainly am not opposed to periodically taking Obi outside to do laps around the CDF Quad. In fact, I’m pretty enthused about doing so.
So, after coming back inside and making sure the dog is asleep somewhere away from the stage, I get back to the show itself and start taking attendance. When everyone is ready to go, we begin hour one of our stop-and-go run while tech groups work in close coordination with actors. Around this time is when I start to go into full “mom mode,” running around with cups of tea and nagging everyone to stay hydrated and to stretch their legs outside during our short Breaks.
When I’m not darting around the theater like this, I sit in the audience glued to the script in case anyone needs to call for a line. Every time one of the actors gets through a lengthy monologue without needing any reminders, I silently throw my hands up and cheer for them.
I even get to occasionally fulfill my acting dreams throughout the day. If we’re missing a cast member for a portion of the afternoon, I’ll stand in for the sake of lighting design and, as a result, experience the best of both worlds.
By the time 6 p.m. rolls around, we’re all running on empty. My laptop is low on charge, the actors are napping onstage each time we pause for lights and sound, and we’re all talking about what’s for dinner at the Deece. When we finally break for our two-hour time out, I gather up my makeshift camp in the audience seats and reunite with my non-theater friends for dinner. Though I’ve been sitting in one place for most of the past eight hours, I can’t help but put my head down in the middle of the Deece, worn out from the workday.
At 8 p.m., instead of going back to the Powerhouse to continue rehearsing like we normally would, the cast and crew instead find our way to the Martel Theater, where Actors From the London Stage are performing “The Taming of the Shrew.”
It’s refreshing to watch an already polished performance with professional actors bounding back and forth across the stage. All I can think, though, is how much work it would be to stage manage a show like that!
When the performance wraps up, I amble back to my room and watch the stars for a while outside the dorms. I send out the Tech Report I’ve been working on all day to the Drama Department, put my laptop away and promptly fall asleep—ready to do it all over again the next day!