Inside Look: Syracuse Stage SM Apprenticeship

The following article continues a series devoted to stage management training programs (undergrad, grad, internships, etc.) across the country from the perspective of current stage managers who attended them. – Hope Rose Kelly (Editor-in-Chief)

Syracuse Stage – Syracuse, NY

Stage Management Apprentice 2013-2014

By Paula R. Clarkson

Syracuse Stage is a LORT C Regional Theatre located in Syracuse, NY. The season spans from about August-May, typically including six shows of incredible variety. Two people are hired for the Stage Management Apprenticeship position, who typically alternate shows, so one of you is in rehearsal while the other is in performance. The theatre also operates extremely closely with the Syracuse University Drama Department with many of those students interning on shows and, in some cases, even cast.

Being an Equity house, all rehearsals and performances are subject to the Equity rulebook, which is very helpful to learn for someone hoping to join the union. We rehearsed 6 days a week, usually in a 10:00am-6:00pm type of schedule. A week of tech would lead into a brief Preview period, and then the show would open. Runs were usually about a month, with seven shows a week as standard, including Student Matinees and specialty performances for the hearing and vision impaired.

I originally found Syracuse Stage while hunting for a large regional LORT theatre that had a good diversity to its season. Personally, I enjoy everything from new musicals to Shakespeare, but would prefer not to do the same genre month after month. Syracuse Stage seemed to have a real emphasis on doing works that were not only entertaining, but could really challenge their audiences and enrich their community. On top of that, I was excited about the connection to Syracuse University. This partnership was one of the very few that I came across, and since I knew I wanted to teach one day, it really seemed like the ideal opportunity.

The interview process was a pleasure. Even if I had not ended up with the job, I would still look back on that conversation very fondly. Stuart, the PSM at Syracuse Stage, was warm, funny and truly wanted to get to know me as a person. I didn’t feel like any of the questions he asked me were a test and he genuinely seemed to appreciate my interest in his theatre. I had been lucky enough to have a few different interviews but after speaking with Stuart, there wasn’t anywhere I wanted to be more. He was open about his timeline for interviewing others and I heard back about getting the position within the timeframe that he communicated. I was thrilled.

The position itself did not disappoint. A lot of season-long internships or apprenticeships that I’d looked at put you in a Production Assistant type of role, where you are assisting the SM and ASM. But as great as some of them looked, I felt confident that I wanted to go somewhere where I would have more responsibility than making coffee and doing line notes. At Syracuse Stage, it is only the PSM and the Apprentice throughout rehearsals. I did all the backstage tracking for the shows I worked, including props, costumes, live flame, everything. I created the backstage crew tracks, and oversaw the crew when they were added at tech. All the shows were different, really giving me the chance to grow and work on different skill sets. As I’d hoped, some shows had SM Interns from the University, so I was learning, while also teaching others. It was a lot of responsibility but never unfulfilling. Stuart, who is also a professor for the Syracuse University Drama Department, is an excellent teacher. Even in the throes of a 10 out of 12, he made himself available for questions or help if I needed it.

The perks of Syracuse Stage were also arguably the best of anywhere that I applied. While they do not offer housing, I was paid enough to pay my rent and utilities with under half of what I made a month – about two paychecks. That left the next two paychecks free for me to use for whatever other means I needed to. Being a college town, it was not hard to find a cheap place near the theater to live. There are also buses in and out of Syracuse to Boston, Ithaca, New York City, and tons of other places. I had a car, but there is a public transportation system that I know works just fine for those who do not have a way to get around on their own.

I found a community of artists at Syracuse Stage that I have rarely found elsewhere. Not only was everyone unbelievably dedicated to putting on high quality shows, but they really support and like each other. It was extremely rare for me to not spend my day off with the friends I had made from work. Having been out of the program for 6 months now, I am still in constant contact with the people I met and I expect them to be friends of mine throughout my life and career.

Writing this reminds me of how much I miss being there and working with all those amazing people. I am currently finishing my first semester at the Yale School of Drama focusing in Stage Management and I know that I would not be here without the year I spent with Syracuse Stage. It taught me an immeasurable amount about regional theatre, challenged me to take risks, helped me gain confidence and solidified my decision that Stage Management was what I wanted to do with my life.

I would recommend the Apprenticeship to anyone who is ready to take the next step in terms of responsibility on an SM team, is interested in regional theatre, and truly wants to be involved in art that is relevant and thought provoking.

A Stage Manager’s China Experience by Anthony Bullock

Wuzhen Theatre Festival venue

Wuzhen Theatre Festival venue“So who wants to go to China in two weeks?” This was what the Production Manager, David York, said as he walked into the stage management office at McCarter Theatre. I of course, sheepishly raised my hand.  The journey was to The Wuzhen Theatre Festival in China with The Goodman Theatre’s production of “The White Snake” by Mary Zimmerman.

One of The Goodman’s stage managers had to pull out of going to China so they were looking for a replacement. Last season I was lucky enough to be the ASM on “The White Snake” while it was here at McCarter and from the raise of my hand, the ball was set into motion for me to get to China.

As I hadn’t worked on the show in over a year I started watching the archival recording to help familiarize myself back with the show. I had received the run sheets from the PSM at The Goodman, Joe Drummond, and tried to really hone back in on the backstage running of the show. “The White Snake” is a huge ensemble piece, with tons of quick changes and many handoffs of props and scenic elements. Studying and re-learning the show would be a key element to the success of putting the show up in China.

I didn’t get to meet The Goodman production staff until we all landed in the town of Wuzhen. We were lucky enough that two of the crew members who had run the show before at The Goodman were able to join us in China. The rest of the crew was from Taiwan and mainland China, and most spoke very limited English. To run the show we need 11 crew members backstage, and only 5 of those were from The Goodman. I had to completely rework the run sheets, despite my earlier preparations, to give certain run crew tracks to certain members.

What shouldn’t have been such a shock to us all is that theatre is theatre no matter where you are. Our local run crew was beyond amazing! There aren’t words to describe, despite the language barrier, how much they understood and cared about the show in such a brief timeline. We only had a scheduled day and a half of tech for our 4 shows. To be able to fully let them work and follow along with such passion played a tremendous part in letting me help out on the tragedy that struck.

During the last 5 minutes of our final dress before a performance that night, one of the lead actresses tripped in the aisle of the house and broke her wrist. She was rushed to the hospital and it was quickly determined that we would not preform that night. In China, they have what is called “keeping face” and to cancel a show, both culturally and financially, is a huge detriment to the festival. The company of actors, along with Mary, brainstormed a possible solution so we could still perform our other shows that week.

What transpired was another actress, Emily Knapp, in the ensemble would take the role of the injured actress and the other ensemble women would fill in the other roles. By chance, Mary Zimmerman’s assistant had also previously been an actor in the piece here at McCarter so he got put into the show as well. We rehearsed through the entire show that night with the new acting tracks and then did a final run through the next morning.

During these rehearsals I was in constant communication with Emily who was stepping up to the part and really working with her to focus on what is onstage and not worry about the backstage traffic. When she wasn’t on stage I was going over her lines with her and reminding her of quick changes. I was able to devote this time to her due to the amazing local crew who also stepped up even more after what had happened and really embraced the ensemble nature of the show.

We finally opened the show to a great big house and even added a performance to help the festival in the loss of the original performance. Watching everyone really care and the passion people put into this show was my biggest takeaway from the experience. No matter where you are, theatre is theatre. Here is something I posted right after the opening night performance and I feel it really captures my experience:

“Tonight was beyond full of reasons why I love what I do. Joining with other artists and technicians from half way across the world to create a passion we share. Celebrating our differences while incorporating them to make each moment be beyond our birthplaces, but about the thing we love the most. I am beyond honored to be working with this brilliant company, both from the USA, China, and Taiwan, who strive and push for nothing but greatness, not from each other, but within ourselves. This is why it is called “theatre magic”, to grow, to see, and to live… ‪#‎whitesnakechina2014

Highlights from the SMA Webinar on Mentoring

The following report contains highlights from the SMA Webinar on Mentoring that took place January 12, 2015 7pm-8pm EST

Panelists:Mandy Berry – Professional Production/Stage Manager & Vice Chair, Stage Managers’ Association (SMA), Ryan Kirk – President, Tinc Productions & Chief Executive Officer/Founder, Propared

Moderator: Eric deLima Rubb – Marketing/Creative Director, Propared & Blue Man, Blue Man Group

Participants:90 RSVPs from SMA & Propared email database & members.

46 attendees.

 

HIGH LEVEL OVERVIEW OF MENTORING

Formal definition of Mentoring: someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person.

How do you define mentoring?

Mandy:I see mentoring as an organic entity and relationship and I have had lots of mentors in various places in my career. Thinking of who has mentored me in my career- are people who I watch and see that I want to be them in 2 years, 5 years or 10 years so how do I get there and how do I get there and how do learn so much from this person.

Ryan: Felt that his career path from the bottom rung of stage management and being an electrician and working his way up and how to teach and learn and how he has done many multiple job roles.  This allows us to mentor as we go and to be mentored by others as we come up this path.

How do you practice mentoring?

Mandy:By assessing those around me, making sure my team is up to speed with those around me and who has what skills and knowledge base.

Ryan: Bringing in younger generation of employees and freelancers to jobs and doing workshops and continuing education opportunities.

How is it practiced in the corporate world?

Formal Process with in a corporate structure that make it easy to start in a position of mentee and/or intern and then you move up to your position. Which creates longevity with in a company.

Why it doesn’t work this way in the live event world?

Ryan:Lack of longevity of jobs. Very transient industry and time frame is short term. There is no “water cooler” mentality to go and share ideas and training.

Mandy: There is no department for the stage managers so how do you go to find the people you need or who you want to be.

PERSONAL STORIES/LEARNING

Mandy:Working a corporate event 8 years ago and the production coordinator was a stage manager for trade shows and I was not interested in that at the time and spent 3 weeks on this job site and yet never sat down with this person to ask about his work and how to work in that type of industry and now 8 years later having done a few trade show corporate events I think back to that event and how perhaps I could been further along in my career than I am now.

Ryan:Important to show his work process from start to finish. Sharing the work flow and paper work with those around them so they see the process from start to finish.

Ryan:Learns the most from his assistant at Tinc who brings lots of new ideas to the table, as well as his youngest employee who gives an amazing perspective on the software. Letting go of hierarchy to learn from everyone.

Mandy: Being able to take advantage of whatever opportunities that are presented. After leaving Cirque I just emailed every stage manager in Vegas and I few to Vegas and watched their teams for the shows.  Assessing my contacts and realizing that I knew stage managers on Broadway so I emailed and tried to get in and shadow several shows and with in that being able to open opportunities out of my emailing my friends.

Eric: “Teaching by perspective sharing” How do we do the best job we share our ideas and ask questions and get feedback from those around us.

ACTION STEPS TO MOVE YOU

We are all responsible for our jobs and career paths. We control our attitudes and it is upon ourselves to take steps to move forward.

·         invite junior professionals to sit in on high level meetings

·         encourage questions

·         Set aside time to discuss the event or your process

·         remember what your real job is. It isn’t paperwork, its communication, is managing people, its leading a team and being led by others. Lift your head out of the book and look at people!

·         every connection is an opportunity to engage beyond the job site.

·         Teach as you go.

For mentees:

·         Learn from everyone you meet/work with. Not just in your industry/genre

·         Ask questions

·         Hand out business cards

·         Remember who you worked with on what job, take notes.

·         Always re-iterate in your connection making process how you know someone and through who.

·         Available resources

SMA/Benefits:

·         Job postings emailed to you

·         Networking opportunities

·         Operation Observations/Mentoring Opportunities

·         Ask a Stage Manager Forum

·         Articles – About other mentoring/internship opportunities, stories of other stage managers and tips of the trade

·         Drink Nights

Other networking opportunities (e.g. LinkedIn groups, unions, social media sites, etc.)

mentoring@stagemanagers.org

And take a look at the article in the following link about getting a mentor: https://studypaycheck.wordpress.com/2015/01/11/3-reasons-to-get-a-mentor/

Inside Look: The Wilma Theater SM Internship

The following article continues a series devoted to stage management training programs (undergrad, grad, internships, etc.) across the country from the perspective of current stage managers who attended them. – Hope Rose Kelly (Editor-in-Chief)

The Wilma Theater – Philadelphia, PA

Stage Management Fellowship 2012-13

By Leonard Luvera

When I was searching for a job, I had a checklist list of essentials that I wanted to make sure were fulfilled: first and foremost a season-long position with good pay, summers free to travel and do summer stock, housing opportunities, a city with other theaters close by (I wanted to have the option of seeing other theaters and being involved in a larger theater-based community while making professional contacts with whoever I could), and a staff and production team that was adventurous and would help me grow professionally. I found that The Wilma Theater fulfilled this criteria.

The Wilma Fellowship pays $300 a week. You have the opportunity to be housed in the actor/artist apartments for a small rent fee in exchange for completing some simple company management tasks to keep up the building: taking out weekly trash, washing and replacing linens when artists move out, restocking apartments with essentials when new artists move in, and reporting problems/damages to the production manager and operations manager. The artist housing is located just three blocks from the theater so the commute to work was very easy. Rent was cheaper than finding a similar apartment in the otherwise expensive area. The apartment is right in the middle of center city, amid great nightlife, restaurants, other theaters, and beautiful parks. Because of these benefits, I found it to be a worthwhile alternative to finding my own housing in the city.

The Wilma was at the top of my list because I know they produce shows that challenge the actors, the production team, and the audience. Blanka Zizka, the Artistic Director, is fantastic to work with for this reason. She tests and inspires all who work with her. Blanka focuses on the actor’s process and the show’s evolution, which is far more exciting and engaging than only working towards a perfect product. She once reminded me that theater, like life, should be about the journey, not the destination, and has an incredibly inviting and relaxed demeanor and she made me feel as much a part of the production as she was. I had heard of The Wilma’s reputation and Blanka’s artistic philosophies because I went to school in Philadelphia. She promoted principles that I learned at Temple University; ones that I had grown to believe in. How could I not want to apply to an institution like that?

The application process consisted of sending in a cover letter, resume, and three references to Anne Holmes, the Eductation Director. First round interviews are held with Anne and the Wilma’s resident stage manager, Patreshettarlini (Pat) Adams. My interview took place via Skype, but I know they also do in-person interviews as well. After applicants are whittled down, a second in-person interview is conducted. As part of my interview at the theater, I had the opportunity to meet the Wilma production staff, attend a production department meeting, and was given a tour of the building and theater spaces. Eventually, only one candidate is offered the position each year.

If I remember correctly, Pat did not prefer phone interviews because she believes face-to-face conversations are best. This was a small but very important glimpse into the Wilma culture and our future relationship; it showed me that she was not just searching for a person to work for her, but instead was interested in getting to know me,and how I would work with her and in the existing theater infrastructure.

Throughout the year, I found her radiant personality made working with her like working with a best friend; she and I grew to become close friends in addition to coworkers. Her infectious laugh, young spirit, and overall positive attitude created a thriving environment for everyone around her. She fosters a warm and inviting atmosphere for people around her to feel safe to play and grow. As a veteran of the Wilma’s history, she has seen the company grow and develop, she showed me that finding a professional family to grow with was important for her, and I soon realized that I craved the same thing.

The Wilma’s mainstage season consists of four plays, for which the SM fellow functions as the sole assistant under Pat. Throughout the three-week rehearsal process, typical duties included creating the run book, creating preset lists, tracking all props and costumes, noting entrances and exits, and being on book when needed. At times, it would have been great to have another ASM in the rehearsal room to help cover some of the responsibilities. Not because the work didn’t get done, but because splitting up tasks would have made an even more thorough and organized experience for the artists.

Though rehearsals included the typical script work and blocking, a lot of early rehearsal time was spent playing and developing characters outside of the script. This is not to say that the final product was haphazardly stitched together at the end of the rehearsal process. The show as a whole usually took its shape in the final week of rehearsal on stage and throughout tech.

For this reason, technical rehearsals can feel long and challenging. For many of the shows, tech days consist of three of four hours of dry-tech time when actors are not present (giving the designers and director the opportunity to pre-cue) followed by a meal break. Then tech resumes with actors for an additional ten hours with a second meal break in the middle. Although these days can be a formidable challenge for anyone not properly prepared, it is ultimately a smart way to tech. It gave me the time to properly assign backstage duties for the show and work out transitions, which were usually very involved and needed precise timing. Additionally, lights, sound, props, and scenic elements had the time to be perfected and actors felt safe and secure while working on the set. After a dress rehearsal and almost a week of previews and extra rehearsals, the show opens for a four-week run.

The Wilma houses the dance company BalletX, a contemporary ballet ensemble that performs two shows in the midst of the Wilma’s season. Additionally, depending on how the season is laid out, there may be a few groups that rent the theater space for events, other shows, etc. For shows like these, I had the opportunity to ASM or SM for the various groups (a great complement to the work I was already doing).

I would advise that applicants have a professional internship under his or her belt before applying. The Wilma Fellowship is not for people who have only worked in college-level theater. Rather, it is for people who are sure stage management is the path they want to be on. Although there is a collaborative nature to theater, there are many times that you need to be self-sufficient and have prior knowledge of ASMing: how to run a desk, delegate effectively to others, etc. Not having this knowledge can be detrimental to the production.

Since leaving The Wilma, I have ASMed at other Philadelphia area theaters and am currently working at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, Rhode Island. After I finished the fellowship, I felt completely ready for these then-terrifying “real world” jobs. I grew immensely working at the Wilma, professionally and as a person. I gained a deep respect for the craft of making theater and discovered how I as a stage manager fit into the process.  Working with a dedicated staff who cares deeply about each other and the work they produce made me proud to work in this business; I have never seen a more tight-knit family of coworkers. This fellowship was truly inspiring.