USITT Stage Management Mentoring Experience – Part 1

Successful Mentoring experience provided by SMA Lifetime Member and Del Hughes honoree, Thomas Kelly

Thomas Kellywell known expert and author on the subject of theatrical stage management, spent two days in August with Brittany McMahon, one of the winners of the 2014 Find-A-Fellow contest. This USITT Fellows-sponsored initiative provided Ms. McMahon with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a one-on-one mentoring experience with one of the industries’ leaders. The following report from Tom provides some insight into what was an information-and interest-packed two days. This project is another strong testament to the critical work USITT’s Fellows continue to provide. Thanks to Tim Kelly, USITT Fellow for his leadership at the helm of this program.


Seldom have I had an experience turn out so well. Brittany was wonderful…she embodies the best of what I look for in a young stage manager. She was attentive to a wide variety of stage managers she met, polite, bright and personable…not in the cloying “network” type way, but honestly listening and getting what she could learn from all of us and applying it to some of her own background. The first day she spent with the stage managers and shows at the Tina Packer Playhouse Mainstage at Shakespeare & Company. The SMs were Hope Rose Kelly and Diane Healy, both of whom have been there a long time and who enjoy sharing the theatre and its workings with interested student/intern/mentees. Before the shows Brittany got to watch the stage managers run their fight and music rehearsals and then observe the half-hour backstage seeing the prep and preset and meet the actors, etc., and then be on headset for the shows (Henry IV and Midsummer Nights Dream). In the morning of that day, we did the “guided tour” which was given by the general manager of the company and included much history of the company as well as real backstage visits to rehearsals, shops, stages, and the overall facility. The second day we had a tour and opportunity to meet with the production manager and his assistant at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, shops, and backstage providing the opportunity to gain a bit of history and insight into a less classical and more “mainstream” type of theatre operation.


The rest of the day she spent at performances in the Bernstein Theatre at the Shakespeare & Company where she saw Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike, Durang’s new wonderfully funny play directed by Matthew Penn who was in attendance. Again she experienced it from the booth on headset and listened to the SM notes and thoughts on the show as well as watching the running of it. In the evening she saw a wildly inventive production of Julius Caesar, directed by Tina Packer who she got to meet, etc. The production was performed by seven actors switching roles (and, in the case of the lone female who played both Calpurnia and Portia, sexes, as she reappeared as various soldiers and servants throughout the play).


Between all these experiences, over meals and driving her around, we had ample time to discuss, listen, teach, advise, reminisce, etc., about being a stage manager and what she could look forward to in choosing it as a career. We talked about everything from cue lights to personal relationships with cast, crew, etc…unions, rules, paperwork, team building, creative scheduling, relationships, and communication with directors, management and designers and crew, etc., etc. Throughout, her questions and discussions gave me great hope that this particular in depth immersion was a great way to teach and mentor. I would love to continue being involved in future seasons. And Hope (Rose Kelly), the PSM, also liked the mentoring and sees it as a great idea for the future. We have both been active with the SMA over the years, and we agreed that this particular schedule and immersion was a fine-tuned version of what we have tried with SMA as “Operation Observation”…similarly allowing backstage access and shadowing opportunities but not nearly as much time for discussion and reflection on what has been observed.


Editors Capsule Note:   Report from Thomas Kelly and USITT about his mentoring weekend experience sponsored by the Fellows of USITT.  This summer he was matched up with Brittany McMahon, a winner of the 2014 Find A Fellow Contest. Winners of this contest have the opportunity to select a mentor and then have an all expenses paid trip to participate. Thomas Kelly is the second SMA member to do this, Chair Elynmarie Kazle participated with Kristen Sutter in December 2012.


Del Hughes Awards 2014 Press Release

The Stage Managers’ Association (NYC) (July 2, 2014) for immediate release. Elynmarie Kazle, the Chair of the Stage Managers’ Association, is pleased to announce the honorees for the 2014 Del Hughes Award for Lifetime Achievement and Excellence in the Art of Stage Management. On Monday, June 23rd, members and distinguished guests gathered to honor Thomas Kelly (NYC) Martha Knight (Washington, D.C.) and James (Jimmie) McDermott (Los Angeles) at a celebration in New York City at Connolly’s on 121 W. 45th Street. The Chair of the event was Janet Friedman and the Emcee was past SMA Chair, Richard Costabile.

Thomas Kelly has been a Stage Manager, Production Staging Supervisor, and a General Production Manager for over 50 years since going off to summer stock in 1962. He has had an active career both on and off Broadway, with his Broadway credits including Hair, The Wiz, Sugar Babies, Merchant of Venice, and Death of a Salesman (with Dustin Hoffman). He worked with Christopher Plummer on Cyrano! The Musical and with Tommy Tune’s productions of The Club and A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine. Tom has also worked in stock and regional theatres. As a Production Manager and Staging Supervisor, he has worked on such diverse productions as The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, MTV’s Unplugged series, and the Papal Mass in Central Park. He has managed installations and presentations including the first VHI Music/Fashion Awards, and at MTV and Between the Lions for WGBH. Tom has served as Production Manager for Center Line Studios, one of New York’s foremost scenery companies, and on the faculty of The State University of New York at Purchase.

Martha Knight (Stage Manager) has been a stage manager at The Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. for over 30 years and most recently on Other Desert Cities. Last season, she stage managed Long Day’s Journey Into Night in the Kreeger Theater and in the previous season At Home at The Zoo in the Kogod Cradle. Martha has worked on Broadway, off-Broadway and on national tours such as: Foxfire; Annie; Give ‘Em Hell, Harry!; Over Here!; and The Me Nobody Knows. This past summer, Martha received the ‘Broadway Salutes’ medal for 50 years of theatrical work. For the past 35+ years, she has been happily stage managing in the Washington area’s many theaters doing plays, musicals and free-lance productions; including 25 years of The Helen Hayes Awards. She proudly joined Actors’ Equity in 1962 at Musicarnival “under thebig, blue tent” in Cleveland, Ohio.

James McDermott: Jimmie has stage managed across the country and in the greater Los Angeles Area for organizations such as Center Theatre Group (Ahmanson, Mark Taper Forum, Kirk Douglas Theatres) the Geffen/Westwood Playhouse, Los Angeles Theatre Center, La Jolla Playhouse and South Coast Repertory. Jimmie is in his fourth five-year elected term on the Council of Actors’ Equity Association, a Vice Chair of the Western Board of Directors, Chairman of the Western Regional Stage Manager’s and LORT Committees. In 2001, he was the first Stage Manager to be named as the Outstanding Professional Stage Manager in whose name the USITT Outstanding Stage Manager Award was given. The 2013/2014 school year marks Jimmie’s 18th year on the faculty of Cal Arts.

The Del Hughes Award is regarded throughout the theatrical community as a crowning achievement for a stage manager’s career. The Del Hughes Award was created by Julie Hughes and Barry Moss, partners in a major casting office. This award honors Julie’s father who made a 50-year career of stage managing. The selection committee looks for recipients who exemplify the finest qualities of Stage Management: patience, diplomacy, organization and a sense of humor.

Phil Friedman, Bob Fosse’s stage manager, was the very first to be so honored.

The following Stage Managers have previously received this award: Phil Friedman, Fritz Holt, Bill Dodds, Ruth Mitchell , Anne Keefe, Anne Sullivan, Biff Liff, Morty Halpern, Alan Hall (2010), Porter Van Zandt (2010), Susie Cordon (2010), Joe Drummond (2011), Steve Zweigbaum (2011), Beverley Randolph (posthumously) (2011), Bob Bennett (2013), Peter Lawrence (2013) and Perry Silvey (2013).

The Stage Managers’ Association, founded in the fall of 1981, by and for stage managers, is a professional networking and educational organization for stage managers all across the United States. Among the activities of the Association are mentoring, job lisitngs, “Operation Observation”, and online educational forums. The SMA also helps raise funds annually for the causes supported by the Broadway Cares/EFA Flea Market.

For more information on the SMA visit: