Inside Look: Weston Playhouse Stage Management Internship

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

Weston Playhouse Theatre Company – Weston, VT

Stage Management Internship – 2014

By Kyle P. Gillikin and Nicki Berger

This program takes place during the summer stock season and the length of the position was from the end of May until middle August. I interviewed for this position in person at SETC with the Production Manager and Associate Production Manager and then filled out an application following the interview and sent recommendation letters by email. This was a very quick process, due to the nature of  SETC. The position was compensated at $100.00 a week and housing was provided

The duties involved supporting the Stage Management team on 2 or 3 productions throughout the season during pre-production, rehearsal, tech, and performance weeks. Assisting with all rehearsal needs, creation of necessary paperwork, schedules, inter-departmental communications, attending production meetings, taking notes, and sometimes serving on show run crew backstage as needed.  In reality you act as an ASM on the children’s musical at their smaller venue and a second ASM for the mainstage musical under the Equity ASM and PSM. You also assist in the upkeep, cleanup and maintenance of work areas, rehearsal and performance spaces, office equipment, assist in other departments as assigned, attend intern meetings, provide support for special events or company projects as needed. There is an intern company of 24, two of which are Stage Management Interns.

Both of the productions I (Kyle) worked on were musicals. A smaller children’s musical with Weston’s young company (Schoolhouse Rock Live!) and on a mainstage musical (Mamma Mia!). However I was also able to work on a reunion concert they put on that season as part of their 80th anniversary. We rehearsed six days a week with one day off most weeks as well as attending any production and intern meetings as needed. The tech process involved two 10 of 12’s followed by two days of morning rehearsals and a preview performance later that day and the second day the rehearsal was followed by the opening performance. Both productions did eight shows a week.

This program offered a great opportunity to dive right in and start working with professionals in the industry while having the large teaching emphasis put into their intern program. You are able to go right into rehearsals for these productions, start working with the rest of the stage management team and learn from them. You can also earn EMC points for some of the work. This program also requires you to attend a weekly intern meeting, where we sit down with one or more of the artists that came in to work on a particular project and speak to them about their lives and/or a particular topic.

Highlights of the experience included living in the housing with a great group of people, a lot of which we are still friends with; being in beautiful Vermont, enjoying the views and being able to disconnect for a little bit; the close community the stage managers make among themselves – we had multiple nights of getting together, sharing a drink and talking for hours listening to everyone’s stories; they also offered a stage management round table to anyone who wished to participate; and getting to work with some great people, some of which will let you be in their infamous cabaret. Being around for the 80th celebration was amazing. There are so few theaters in America that have been running that long. We threw a parade, invited past performers out for a cabaret, and had a community celebration. The community and history of Weston is a big part of the experience and it was never celebrated more than at the 80th anniversary.

This program helped me (Kyle) learn how to be a better manager and how translatable all of my skills. Since leaving Weston I have been working as a stage manager for Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia – starting out there as an event operations stage manager and continuing on to be a show operations stage manager and area supervisor for the park. Almost every theater I have worked at since leaving Weston I have met another technician or performer who is part of the Weston family and it has created great conversations, instant bonding and networking. I’m (Nikki) currently working as a PA at Hartford Stage through connections I made at Weston.

We could recommend this program to anyone looking for more experience working at a professional Equity theatre. Mostly undergrad and grad students, due to the educational nature of this internship and how the people you work with want you to learn and succeed.

Inside Look: Ithaca College Stage Management

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

Ithaca College – Ithaca, NY

B.A. Theatre Studies – Concentration in Stage Management – 2013-2016

By Liza Miller

As a graduate of Ithaca College’s Theatre Arts Department I regularly implement my education in my work. Before I chose Ithaca, determined to become a stage manager, the only thing I had stage managed was my high school’s talent show. My high school was small and there was no theatre department, only a drama club. There were only two backstage crew and everyone else was an actor. I chose Ithaca College because it is located in Ithaca, New York – one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The city feels like the middle of nowhere but the mountains and the lake are breath taking and there is plenty of hiking. I chose the Department of Theatre Arts because everyone I met was friendly and bright and honestly in love with their school. So…lacking all knowledge of actual stage management ICTA accepted me with open arms and gave me the fundamental skills and practical experience required to succeed after graduation.

Ithaca Theatre Department has five majors. All of them are undergraduate degrees and when I went there (2013 – 2016) if you primarily focused on stage management you were a B.A. Theatre Studies major. You don’t graduate with a degree in stage management but there are unofficial paths within the major that a student can choose to follow or not; one of which is Stage Management. The B.A takes four years to complete and you must interview to be accepted into the major. When I applied I had to submit a resume, and a letter explaining why I wanted to be a B.A. I was then contacted by the department to set up an interview. One of the B.A. professors met with me, looked over what I submitted with my application and then asked me a few questions. I was very nervous (which was completely unnecessary) so I honestly don’t remember it very well.

Most class years have three to five stage managers but in my year there were ten by graduation. Ithaca has 2 mainstage theaters and 5 studios, one of which is a small 50 seat theater. There are 6 mainstage productions and an unbelievable amount of student produced productions every year. There are also productions and presentations connected to the directing, play writing and performance classes. The mainstages include; 3 plays, 2 musicals and 1 opera. Every other year a play is replaced by a dance show. As a stage manager you are assigned to a production in addition to your daily classes. If you enter the program as a freshman you will shadow an SM team during the fall semester and be a Production Assistant in the Spring. As a sophomore you will be assigned as a PA again or you may become an Assistant Stage Manager depending on your abilities and skills. Junior year you are usually an ASM or are a Production Stage Manager for one of the smaller shows in the studio theaters. Senior year most Stage Managers will PSM a mainstage show.

None of the assignments are guaranteed. Other than the initial shadow assignment all positions are based on merit and performance. At Ithaca there is an Instructor called the Stage Management Production Mentor. They teach the class “Stage Management I” held every fall semester and they are also responsible for reviewing your performance at the end of the show every SM is assigned to. The reviews are important but fairly relaxed. Everyone you interact with, student and professor, is able to submit an evaluation of your skills to the SM Mentor anonymously and then the mentor shares the evaluations in the student’s review in a constructive and educational way with a focus on how to improve not on mistakes.

One of the amazing things about Ithaca’s Theatre Department is that every rehearsal, tech and performance is run like an Equity level production. When I was a PA on my first Off-Broadway production I was happily surprised to find that everything I did as a PA in college was the same as what I needed to do in a professional production. The paperwork was the same, the breaks were the same and the responsibilities were the same. This goes for the ASM and PSM duties at Ithaca as well.

Ithaca College holds classes Monday to Friday so rehearsals are held 7pm – 10pm, Monday to Friday with a 5 hour rehearsal on either Saturday or Sunday. Tech usually starts on a Thursday and goes from 7pm – 11pm, Friday is 7pm – 11pm and then there is usually a 10 out of 12 on Saturday or Sunday and then Monday is 7pm-11pm with First preview on Tuesday night.

I felt that the Ithaca College SM program requires you to be self-motivated. They give you all the tools and experience you need to start and then they expect you to run with it. The SM mentor is always there to answer questions and supervises tech but you are also expected to be independent and hold your own. You must run the rehearsal room and production meetings and the performances are all on the stage managers. Though competitive, Ithaca was never hostile. I always felt that students had healthy respect for each other even in stressful situations. Professors were always rooting for their students and ready with an encouraging word or constructive criticism. I feel that the program is equal parts education and experience and students have the freedom to make mistakes in a professional setting.

Since graduation, Liza has worked in NYC at Classic Stage Company and Signature Theatre. As of 2018, she gained her card with Actors’ Equity Association.

Opera Stage Management 101 – Part Six: Piano Tech & Artist Takeover Day

Cueing Day Schedule Small

Part Six is in a little different format. Friday was a long day of tech, and I was also the one doing the Artist Takeover for the company’s Twitter feed. I really could only post when we were doing the light cueing, or at the end of the night because of my focus, but occasionally I’d grab a photo while walking past something in order to post it several hours later. Here’s a glimpse at my day. [Note, I’m having a little trouble embedding the Twitter photos on this website. If they aren’t immediately visible, either click through each photo link or view them in another compilation here.]

(Full disclosure – I took the above shot about 12:45p, and then wasn’t able to post it for another very busy five hours or so…)

Yep, Eeyore is making new friends. This shot was taken on a 15 minute break during Piano Tech.

When I got home, I was instant messaging with a friend who told me this STAGE RIGHT sign was actually painted as a scenic element for the film The Tooth Fairy, with The Rock. I haven’t investigated further to verify, but will ask around today. [Update: film title is actually The Game Plan.] He also told me another fun thing to look for in the theatre, so we’ll see if I find it.

I have SOOOOO much further to go with this cueing sequence, but I wanted to capture it since I had permission! Not terrible for the first time, definitely shows signs for improvement. My ASMs each give me a clear for “left” and “right” when singers are set on a piece. I can see it fine from front of house, but it will be a big white blob in the middle of my monitor when I’m calling from backstage.

We like this phrase…a lot. Opera singers don’t use microphones, but I do!

Erin Joy Swank is a Denver-based freelance stage manager – and past SMA Secretary, Vice Chair and Director-at-Large – who works in a wide variety of genres.

Opera Stage Management 101: Part Five – During Rehearsal

ASM blocking page DP Reduced

The previous blog posts (start here if this is your first time viewing the series) dealt with some generalities and then about prepping for a production. While there are many more details that I could go into, I’m jumping ahead to some of the differences in the rehearsal hall for an opera. The primary reason for this is that I’m just finishing up the first week of rehearsals for an opera, and it’s presently on my mind! Again, there is no one way to stage manage, and this article is only to give you an idea of some of the ways that I personally do things.

Music Rehearsals

Both musicals and operas tend to* start with working through the music first. This can sometimes take several days in a musical, depending on how prepared the actors are, including how well they sightread. In an opera setting, singers are expected to come fully prepared on the music, often having had private coachings on their own (or if local and comprimario/smaller roles, perhaps coachings from someone within the same opera company). The first sing-through then is more about setting tempi and assuring everyone agrees on the same cuts in the music, though a preliminary list of changes was already sent to all involved. Depending on the opera company, there may be an entire music department who deals with those changes, especially to transfer the information to the orchestra, but I dutifully note any changes in the daily report. As mentioned previously, placement in the music is notated with slashes in between, so the pictures below represent the following note, ‘CUT: 68/3/3/2 (after “Io stesso? E come?”) to 69/2/4 “In una canzonetta”.’

There will likely be just one day of music rehearsal before you start staging.

Tracking the Parts Not Sung

As you’re following along for the first time and they discuss cuts, you might hear the phrase, “Are we going to take the standard cut?” Opera can be repetitive, or have sections that aren’t as crucial to the story, so some cuts are done on a fairly regular basis, and are often marked by a “vi” and “de” as mentioned in three. Another common thing singers do is to not sing one set of repetitive words towards the end of an aria (solo). I like to mark these for myself, and tend to do it with a big parentheses, as often it’s leading up to a cue for myself at the end of the piece.

Tracking Where We Are

In addition to all the things I mentioned in Part Three: Setting Up Your Score, I also will help myself out by marking crucial musical moments. I’m working on Rossini right now, which can go by VERY fast at times, and can also have a whole bunch of people singing at once. I’ve started using my erasable blue Frixion pen to mark crucial landmarks. The picture below shows a big rest/breath everyone takes, a line only Figaro has, and then a line only the Count has.

You’ll also notice a fairly recent development to my stage managing style, the “GSP” handwritten in green with a rectangle, in the last measure. It’s my own acronym: “Good Starting Place!” I’ve started using these in musicals too, for times that seem to work for everyone to pick back up again. In this case, I’d ask Maestro to start at Rehearsal Number 90, and they would inform the cast what that meant for their lyrics.

Recording Blocking…Sort of

You may also notice that my score is double-sided. This is the first time I’ve not done a single sided script with blocking pages on the back. I have an assistant director whose job it is to record the exact blocking, and will run our cover (understudy) rehearsals, along with four (!) other people on our stage management team. I primarily need to get big picture things, so I’m opting to do half-sheet blocking pages when needed. I did a similar half-sheet when I was assistant stage manager on the last opera. I’m still tweaking things, but here are snapshots of the latest layouts.

As an ASM, I most cared about entrances, exits, and props, along with a general picture of who was positioned where:

As Stage Manager, I’ll be with the Assistant Director, Director, and Lighting Designer while we set light cues, and can help with the general layout of positions (but will default to the AD’s final notes), so I gave myself the groundplan and a place to take limited blocking. I also have a cheat sheet of the highlighter colors I used, along with Character and Singer’s Names, and a place to write a given prop or costume note for each. I also wanted a place to record tech elements. On this particular show, we have two Revolves (SR/SL – in this case at the 180 position), a Tracking Barber Unit (US) and three moving Staircases. I pre-printed the blocking/slip sheets per each look (this is #1.5), so was able to type those out at the bottom. I also have space to write in any other tech needs, like descriptions of light cues.

This first time I tried making these half sheets, I inadvertently had a “bad” hole punch, so my score ended up not in alignment with regular punched paper. It actually worked for me as an ASM, as my half sheets stuck up a quarter of an inch or so above the score. As I only had them in at big moments, I added some orange highlighter to the top (my go-to marking for “Chorus”), along with a note of which scene it was. This was actually a great “tab” for me as we jumped from Chorus entrance to entrance for their rehearsals.

* I say “tend to” because this time we actually had a venue conflict and started with staging on the first day, then concentrated on music the day we couldn’t be with all of our props, etc. It took a lot for our brains to adjust!

Erin Joy Swank is a Denver-based freelance stage manager – and past SMA Secretary, Vice Chair and Director-at-Large – who works in a wide variety of genres. 

How to tape a circle – Ruth’s Method

The taped out rehearsal room of “Tuck Everlasting” at Southeastern Summer Theatre Institute. Photo by Elynmarie Kazle

To tape a circle using this method, without string, chalk or plotting multiple points, you need two people, a roll of spike tape, and a metal tape measure (the almost square kind that locks and has a flat bottom, enabling it to stand up by itself.) The only two measurements you need are the coordinates of the center point of the circle, and the length of the circle’s radius.

Locate the center point of the circle and place a good size dot or an “X” on the floor. One person sits at the center of the circle holding the “zero” end of the tape measure on the center point. That person’s job is to hold it there, and allow the tape measure to pivot without kinking, bending, or moving the end off of the center point.

So, let’s say it’s a six foot diameter circle, with a three foot radius. The tape measure should be opened to just a few inches past three feet, and set flat on the floor. The “taper” kneels on the floor, puts down the end of the spike tape just under the tape measure, centered under the three foot mark and pulls out about another foot of spike tape. Then all the “taper” has to do is push the tape measure forward with a finger (or thumb) on the three foot mark and together the tape measure and pressure of the finger push the spike tape to the floor. Continue pushing the tape measure on top of the spike tape and extending the spike tape, always centered exactly under the three foot mark. If the person at the middle is allowing the tape measure to swivel with each push, yet keeping the zero end exactly on the center dot, and the “taper” keeps the spike tape aligned in the center of the three foot mark, you’ll have a perfect circle (and very sore knees) in no time at all. It takes some practice (and stamina) and smaller circles are somehow more difficult than larger ones, but I’ve used this technique for years with great success.

(Oh, the person in the center of the circle is also responsible for moral support, and must call out “What an amazing circle!” as often as they can!) This technique, is a one step process. And the circles look beautiful when you are finished!