Shadowing “Finding Neverland”

finding-neverlandThe 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.

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SMA at the 2016 BC/EFA Flea Market

Madison Youngblood and Michael Ghysels volunteering at the SMA table.

On Sunday, September 25th, the SMA manned a table across from the Jacobs Theatre at the BC/EFA Flea Market during some glorious autumn weather. Board Member Dan Zittel headed the table with assistance from Bill Hare (Treasurer) and his wife, Hope Rose Kelly (2nd Vice Chair) and SMA members Jana Lynn, Evelyn Pummer, Michael Ghysels, Sally Garone, Zoya Kachadurian, Stephanie Armitage, Diane Trulock, and Madison Youngblood. The SMA table sold show jackets, t-shirts, playbills, CDs, and misc show memorabilia. The coconuts from “Spamalot” were a hit and was bought by a very excited young thespian. Another find was Robert Simonson’s “Performance of the Century” – a book about the history of the Actors’ Equity Association which contains info about various AEA stage managers including Dan Zittel.

Dan Zittel showing his entry in “Performance of the Century”.

Sixty-eight tables from Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, theatre owners and producers, merchandise and marketing firms, unions and guilds, and concessionaires raised $395,601 of the grand total which was $782,081. The SMA table raised $1,863 of that.

Looking ahead to next year, we are seeking a NYC-based SMA member to spearhead and coordinate the table for the next Flea Market. The duties involved are seeking volunteers to set up, man the table, and strike at the end of day. If interested and for further info, please contact Mandy Berry at[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Words of Wisdom by Margie Price


My recent interviews with candidates for the ASM positions at my theatre yielded so many bits of wisdom, reminders of what not to do, what energies not to let in; the power that theatre has to transform & set us down a new path.  Often these conversations felt like mini-Master Classes & I wanted to share some of what my younger colleagues had to say. ~Margie Price (Lansdowne, PA)


You don’t need a Philosophy Degree to cultivate a degree in thinking.

Take the work seriously but don’t take yourself seriously.

Take your own advice.

It can be hard to motivate someone if they don’t understand the task.

Be a collaborative leader.

Create a United Front within the Stage Management team.

Being five minutes early is ON TIME; being “on time” is late.

Be firm but also listen.

Bake cookies!

Practice Tough Love: show respect and don’t sugar coat.

Care about the Work, the People & the Production.

The work is not easy but it should be fun.

Remember that you are working with People.  Build personal bonds.

In your script, document any character notes that you hear between Director & Actor during rehearsal.

Find creative solutions.

Seek to understand how much hands-on guidance an assistant or crew member actually needs.

When you witness negative energy in the workplace find a way to confront the people involved and help to improve the workplace environment

“Never yell” ~ Tom Kelly

Always have paper & pencil handy.  Post blank paper & pencil in wings of rehearsal hall & stage for actors to write down notes during run-throughs that they need to address.

Ask questions.

Be a strategic planner.

Know the strengths of the individuals you are working with.

Understand when a situation is out of your control and ride it out until the situation can be reassessed.

Remember that you are in control of your senses.  Remember to breathe.

Do the job to the best of your ability.

Don’t try to do everything.

Remember to take your day off.  Go for a hike.


To Emulate:

  • Mediator – able to discuss delicate situation, remain neutral & seek compromise that is best for production
  • Poise during tech
  • Having confidence in knowing the goals and the path to those goals
  • Trouble shooting calmly
  • Being able to connect with each person you work with
  • Having a knack for remembering details without having to look back in notes
  • Foresight


To Avoid:

  • Being easy to panic
  • Not finding a way to balance a laid-back director’s style & time management of the room
  • Being forgetful
  • Not sending out schedules in a timely manner
  • Talking to adults like they were children
  • Meanness; Drama; Controlling & Bossy
  • Letting issues pile up until circumstances come crashing down & burn out sets in
  • Micro-managing
  • Being two-faced
  • Coming across as scattered or frayed