A Life In The Theatre
The Stage Manager
Julie A. Richardson
Also see other installments:
Choreographer | Director of Marketing | The Sound Designer | Associate Producer & Company Manager | Scenic Designer | Director of Volunteers | Director of Education | Director | Performing Arts Fundraiser | Executive Artistic Director | Costume Designer
This is the ninth installment in a series of interviews with theatre professionals in non-performing careers. Theatre Arts Management is a growing concern as many theatres come and go every year. Several universities have added a Theatre Arts Management degree to their curriculum. With a huge entertainment industry that brings so much directly to us via television and the Internet, it can be a challenge to motivate audiences to come to view live theatre instead. What brings business professionals to find a home for their skills in the performing arts?
Julie A. Richardson
Julie A. Richardson has served as Production Stage Manager for theatres such as the Seaside Music Theater, the Orlando Shakespeare Festival, the American Stage, Blue Jacket and The Lost Colony. She was staff Stage Manager for the Actors Theatre of Louisville and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival (including two tours), the Alliance Theatre and the Dallas Theatre Center. She has been a freelance stage manager throughout the Southeast, served as Director of Auditions for the South Eastern Theater Conference (SETC) for fifteen years and is a proud member of the Actors Equity Association.
Julie worked as the PSM for The Lost Colony from 1992-1995, returning in 2006, where she had the honor of working with Lynn Redgrave. Julie was the Production Stage Manager for the Maltz Jupiter Theatre (the Old Burt Reynold's Theater) in Jupiter, Florida the last three winter seasons. There she had the opportunity to work with Jiri Zizka, Brad Ellis and George Faison on The Tin Pan Alley Rag written by Mark Saltzman, which received three Carbonell Awards in 2007. She also served as the PSM for the premiere of Stand By Your Man: The Tammy Wynette Story at the Ryman Auditorium and Bass Performance Hall directed by Gabriel Barrie.
Julie has returned to The Blowing Rock Stage Company after being away for several years. She has just moved back to Boone after working across the Southeast. This fall she worked with Theater Emory in Atlanta on a series named The Trojan Wars. This past summer she served as the PSM for Seaside Music Theater's Gillespy space where she did the musical Silver Screen Serenade and a new work by Stephen Schwartz and David Stern called Snap Shots.
John Lariviere: What does a stage manager do?
Julie A. Richardson: We schedule rehearsals with directors, choreographers and music directors. Read the script, and make lists (many lists!), talk to the set designer to understand how the set works, so specific questions that come up in rehearsals can be addressed properly. Make a production book (maybe two), create blocking pages for the production book, take daily notes in rehearsals, and get them to all departments. We work with the ASM on prop tracking, scene shifts and other items that fall in their area. We run production meetings (in some venues), set up fittings with the costume shop, communicate with the actors before they come to the venue, and then make them feel comfortable in the rehearsal process. We make coffee, sweep floors, administrate first aid, give directions to the grocery stores, banks and post offices. We tape out the floor plan for rehearsals, take blocking notation, note technical cues in the script, run technical rehearsals, make sure the set is safe with the technical director (or deck manger), and meet with the light and sound designers to place cueing in production book for tech. We maintain the director's vision through the run of a show, produce a nightly report for each performance, conduct replacement or understudy rehearsals, adapt the show if an actor is injured ( or ill) or becomes injured during a performance, insure audience safety and anything else that may fall on a stage manager depending on the venue.
JL: What made you go into theatre stage management?
JAR: When I was in college my Technical Director suggested I try stage management when I was the shop foreman for the theater. He experienced my organizational skills as I managed the shop and the "Introduction To Theater" students that came in to work for class credit. He also recognized my ability to multi-task and keep several 'balls' in the air. I was leaning toward being a Lighting Designer before he joined the teaching staff at Appalachian State University.
JL: What experience/training do you have that has best prepared you to be a stage manager?
JAR: My college training prepared me along with some of my first professional jobs (non union). I had the good fortune of going to a university that had a small number of students, so the education was more hands on, had more communication with the professors and more opportunities to work on shows in all areas. We had to work in every area, including box office, marketing and making costumes (which was not my forte - you can't hit the pedal of a machine like you drive a car!). Also, I made the decision to go out and work in my area to see if that is where I wanted to go. I spent fall-spring in Memphis at Playhouse On the Square and summers at the outdoor drama Horn In The West in my hometown. I served as PSM for Playhouse on the Square for five years, and five summers as PSM for Horn In The West. My first job at Horn In The West was as a General Tech, that moved up to Props Mistress, then to PSM/TD and eventually PSM/Assistant Director. I became a union member when I went to work for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in their new home in Montgomery.
JL: What are the differences between stage managing Equity vs. non-union, and professional vs. education productions?
JAR: Oh my - let's see, non-union can work far more hours in rehearsals, have costume fittings whenever they want, and tech until the cows come home (or until no one can think clearly and coffee can not help.). People have regular jobs and are not always available for rehearsals. Unions help keep the hours a little more sane, and that's your only job.
In education-based productions the hours are more limited because the students have to go to their classes and pass them. Some also have jobs in order to be able to go to school. You have more weeks of rehearsals and have to consider conflicts (even fall and spring breaks!) when making out the schedules. I do some work for a university that uses both professionals and students, so all the above comes into play. We run the rehearsals under union rules, and the students get to mentor and experience the process. It's a good experience, but heavens, the emails that come and go.
JL: I understand you have done a good deal of outdoor drama. What is the difference between stage managing indoor vs. outdoor productions?
JAR: Indoor verses outdoor? Well, weather for one thing! You live by the weather channel when you work outside. If it looks like rain, you start figuring out what can be changed that day to still work the scenes and keep the director on task. I have worked in several outdoor dramas and each has its own formula as to how it goes together. You are dealing with a script that has been in place for years and are basically recreating blocking according to what was done in the past. Sometimes you have a new director who wants to know 'how it was last year (or years)' but wants to also give their take on what they see or have read. Also new actors in roles that have been played by many throughout the years bring new thoughts to the table. It's always nice to see new takes on old thoughts.
Replacements! When you work outside, injuries and illness can sometimes come right before a show or during the show - and, of course, the show must go on. Covering all the blocking, scene shifts and lines can come quick and furious on the outdoor drama stage (a small two-person scene is on stage while backstage, the ASMs and you are covering the next scene and getting costumes on the replacement if need be, covering or cutting a fight bit or dance partner). This also includes animals - having a horse misbehave or just get loose and wander on stage. Indoor, your environment is more controlled but you can still have mishaps on and off stage. Being a quick thinker is a plus.
JL: What are your greatest challenges and greatest rewards as a stage manager?
JAR: Theatres' attempts to save money sometimes result in shortened rehearsal periods. What used to be three weeks, now is two. It can be challenging to get all of the technical aspects for which a stage manager is responsible fine-tuned in the time allotted, allowing for all the adjustments and changes required by the specific needs of the production and the requests of the designers. The greatest reward is the audience applause and the smiles on the faces of the cast at curtain call - knowing that I did my job, and was part of the team that made it all possible.
JL: Do you have any stories of the most enjoyable and/or most difficult productions you have stage managed?
JAR: I had the opportunity to work with director Peter Flynn and music director Helen Gregory on Man of La Mancha at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. They worked so smoothly together as a team that it was truly a joy. Peter Flynn was a real actors' director, and their team work showed in the final product as the show has received several Carbonell nominations. That is an enjoyable experience that sticks out in my mind right now.
Difficult production experiences? Well, in 2006 I went back to stage manage at The Lost Colony. Many outdoor dramas are formulaic in design, and we had a new director that year. They knew the show as they had seen it, but didn't know the show - all the sequences and back stage action needed to keep the show flowing. A director's gift is their vision and fresh outlook, and it was difficult to honor the organic vision of this director where it conflicted with the formula of the show.
JL: What your goals for the future?
JAR: To continue working in Equity theatre, while mentoring young professionals for their own future in theatre, whether educational or professional, on stage or backstage. They are the future of the performing arts we all need to keep alive.
See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.
-- John Lariviere