Stage Manager Appreciation
Santa Fe University of Art and Design’s Performing Arts program is highly regarded as one of the top rated in the country, pushing out fresh and finely tuned actors each year. However, it seems there is less publicity for the students who choose a path behind the scenes in facets of technical theater. These students are introduced to the workings of the industry very quickly, from assistant stage managing, to lighting shows, to maintaining the general order of the process and the actors involved. They don’t see the same publicity as those who find their place on stage— and they are completely content with that fact.
Currently, only a handful of technical theater majors focus their time on stage management, five of whom are graduating this year. One such student is Reagan Roby, a senior in the technical theater program. Roby has been stage managing for three years, recognizing quickly her first year as an acting major that she was strongly drawn to a different path. For her, the stage management process is nothing short of rewarding, though it does have setbacks for those who can’t handle the pressure.
“Basically, you are a communication specialist for everything,” Roby says. “Pre-auditions, pre-rehearsal, you’re organizing auditions, talking to the director and designers. Then, you go into auditions, you get to see everything and how it’s going, and from there you schedule each rehearsal and fitting.”
From that point, stage managers are present for each rehearsal to call the show cue by cue, running it as well as adding notes from the director about blocking or lights. In all of this delicate work, stage managers remain in the shadows behind the scenes from the beginning to the end the show.
“When I’m running the shows, the audience sees my name in the program as the stage manager, but they don’t know I’m doing everything upstairs,” Roby says. “When I walk out after the show, I walk through everyone, thinking ‘They have no idea what I did!’, and I don’t mind it.”
These feelings are shared between students who stage manage, it seems. Heather Campbell, a senior technical theater major, also brings up communication as the most important side of her job with a production. Unlike Roby, Campbell has been participating in stage management since her freshman year of high school, confidently stating, “I never really looked back.”
Campbell acknowledges the lack of outside credit given to the stage managers of shows, though she remains very optimistic about her chosen field, quoting a former stage manager at SFUAD who defined the job as “…a living conduit, they are the person who one person gives information to, and they disperse it to everyone else.” This definition extends to Roby’s comment about being a ‘communication specialist’, as stage managers must have the ability to relay information between the director, the cast and the crew, all while finding a middle ground for each party. Still, these students remain in the background of the production, experiencing a radically different final product than actors or other technical theater majors.
“It’s always hard. My family doesn’t visit me when I have a show, and they never really get what I do,” Campbell says. “It’s difficult to explain what exactly I do to do this, since a stage manager is the only person whose work you don’t see in a production. I could give you a binder five inches thick but showing that to someone and then having them see the play, it’s impossible to explain how the binder turns into what they saw.”
Though some may not understand, acting students strongly recognize the weight of duties stage managers carry out for productions they are cast in. Senior acting major Joey Gilbert expresses her appreciation with excitement, stating first that she is always prepared to talk up stage managers. “They’re responsible for so much in our department and are extremely hardworking, just dedicated to what they do,” Gilbert gushes. “Coming from an actor’s perspective, I couldn’t be more thankful for them.”
It sounds like a very taxing artistic track, but the underlying sentiment amongst them is one of great satisfaction with the work they perform. This is reflected by the growth of the concentration, as Chair of the Performing Arts Department Laura Fine Hawkes confirms the arrival of a new stage management instructor in the near future in order to continue the tireless education of these dedicated students.
Stage managers may not stand in the spotlight, but their conductive and illuminating nature fails to falter. As Campbell proudly states, “As long as it goes smoothly, I know I did a good job, and that’s all that matters.”