The following piece is written by SMA member Michael Ghysels who had the wonderful opportunity of observing Matthew Stern call the production of “Finding Neverland” on Broadway.
I have been an SMA member for a year and I’ll say it until the cows come home, no organization has helped me or been more beneficial as a young stage manager. As a member, the networking is endless and there are opportunities you can’t get anywhere else. Case in point, Matthew Stern was gracious enough to let me shadow him at “Finding Neverland”. I first met him at the Holiday party last year and since my colleague shadowed him last year, I jumped at the opportunity and asked him. I felt shadowing a Broadway stage manager was exactly what I needed at this point in my career. The experience did not disappoint.
I felt blessed to shadow Matt. He has the stamina and the “it” factor a stage manager needs in order to be successful in this business. By that I mean he has a great personality, strong people skills, and all the other skills necessary to be an exceptional stage manager. He was very active during the show and conversed with me a lot instead of sitting silent for two and a half hours. And like any organized stage manager he was prepared for me. The entire crew knew I was coming and there was a chair already set up in the area where he called the show, which was above orchestra left about 25 feet up. He and the SM team welcomed me the second I walked into the Lunt-Fontanne. I got to hang out in the office pre-show with the PSM and other SM.
During the show I took a lot of mental notes. Matt was showing me all the equipment used to call the show. I asked a lot of questions and really studied the four monitors in front of me as Matt called the cues. I took note of his script and how the cues were written, especially cues that required counting in beats for big dance numbers. Since I saw the show last year I was very curious to see how a tech heavy show like “Finding Neverland” is called. I learned it’s not so much how many light cues there are in a big musical number but all the safety precautions a stage manager has to consider as well. This was the case with the finale for Act One. In the number “Stronger” the lead James M. Barrie is provoked by his alter ego which happens to be the inspiration for Captain Hook. Act One ends in the discovery that Peter Pan is about to take off. So there is a pirate ship that has to be presented on stage. I learned that confirming with the backstage crew that the mast set piece is ready to be lifted (can’t call the cue until they are ready), wait until all clear and confirm with the fly master to bring in the drape for the mainsail is key to pull off a number like this successfully.
Another moment I thought was done differently when watching from the audience was near the finale where (SPOILER ALERT) the mother dies. The company is singing this beautiful song and she is lifted up in the air, but there are magical sparkles flying around her. How they actually did it is that there is a circle of fans center stage coming from the orchestra pit and the actress who plays Peter Pan in the play (and starts the show) throws this glitter material at Laura Michelle Kelly (who plays the mother) and the fans go on. The moment is the show is very emotional and watching this from behind the scenes was even more powerful.
I know other Broadway stage managers, whom I’ve asked to shadow them and they have declined due to reasons like I’m not a student anymore. You’d be hard pressed to find another organization for stage managers who are more willing to provide someone with the experience described above. This is one of the many benefits of being an SMA member. The SMA really cares about their members with the intention to open the gates for young stage managers.[maxbutton id=”3″]