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 were unofficial paths within the major that a student could choose to follow or not; Stage Management being one. The B.A took 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 main stage theaters and 5 studios, one of which is a small 50 seat theater. There are 6 main stage 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 main stages include 3 plays, 2 musicals and 1 opera. Every other year a play was replaced by a dance show. As a stage manager you would be assigned to a production in addition to your daily classes. If you entered the program as a freshman you would shadow an SM team during the fall semester and be a Production Assistant in the Spring. As a sophomore you would be assigned as a PA again or you may become an Assistant Stage Manager depending on your abilities and skills. Junior year you would usually be an ASM or 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 were guaranteed. Other than the initial shadow assignment all positions were based on merit and performance. At Ithaca there is an Instructor called the Stage Management Production Mentor. They would teach the class “Stage Management I” held every fall semester and also be responsible for reviewing your performance at the end of the show. The reviews were important but fairly relaxed. Everyone you interacted with, student and professor, would be able to submit an evaluation of your skills to the SM Mentor anonymously and then the mentor shared the evaluations in the student’s review in a constructive and educational way with a focus on how to improve on mistakes.

One of the amazing things about Ithaca’s Theatre Department was that every rehearsal, tech and performance was 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 would be held 7pm – 10pm, Monday to Friday with a 5 hour rehearsal on either Saturday or Sunday. Tech usually started on a Thursday and went from 7pm – 11pm, Friday was 7pm – 11pm and then there was usually a 10 out of 12 on Saturday or Sunday and then Monday was 7pm-11pm with First preview on Tuesday night.

I felt that the Ithaca College SM program required 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 was always there to answer questions and supervised tech but you were also expected to be independent and hold your own. You must run the rehearsal room and production meetings and the performances were 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 was equal parts education and experience and students had 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. 

Opera Stage Management 101 – Part Four: Timing the Score

Timings in Score

Timings

One advantage of stage managing an opera is that the timing of a show doesn’t tend to vary much once it’s set. When a show has dialogue, that’s where you’ll find more wildly varying run times for a scene or production. Spoken text could come out faster one day than another, and audience reaction time certainly can change a performance from afternoon to evening, whether it’s filled with laughter or a quiet audience. However, even in a musical, the songs rarely change their timing. Think about a tap number in 42nd Street. If the music was faster or slower on a given night (which does happen), either the dance steps couldn’t fit in and the dancers would be worn out if too fast, or the opposite, the longer notes would be even longer, and singers could run out of breath, and the dance would seem “sloggish.” Dialogue is not common in opera (though certainly present for some), so once the tempo of a given piece is set, it really won’t change too much from day to day. Also, there are some pretty standard tempi for some of the more-produced operas. Stage managers can use this to our advantage.

During prep, see if you can find out which recording your maestro/conductor prefers of your opera, assuming there is one. You’ll either get a definitive answer or “oh, I haven’t even listed to a recording for a long time” if it’s a standard opera. Also, if it’s a remount by a given director, you may have a chance to simply watch a past recording. If no one can lead you to a specific recording, see if anything is available on YouTube or CD. (If you’re less familiar with opera, see if you can phone-a-friend for recommendations.) I like YouTube, because I can also get a sense of the scale of a production at the same time, or which characters are singing what – of course knowing that my production may be vastly different.

For stage management, it’s standard to then take timings into your score. (If you haven’t read my blog post on preparing your score, do that first!) Thirty seconds apart is very common, though I prefer to start with fifteen seconds. The primary advantage to this is that if I miss one, it’s a lot easier to go back and catch what I missed! I will also record where I am in the given recording I am using, listing perhaps a track number from a CD, or a timing from a video – especially if they let the recording run during the orchestra tune or similar, prior to the actual start, or kept the same video going after intermission. You really want to record the timing from the top of each Act, rather than starting over for each song, but both are helpful. When we get to the first sing-through, I will make an attempt to re-time the songs, though this can be trickier if they stop and start. I am now a huge fan of colored erasable pens (as mentioned in a previous blog), and this is one more use for them.

This image shows several colors. I started with red for the timings, based off a recording of a previous mounting of the same production. Green shows the start timing of a recording from Minnesota of the same production, which we also referred to quite a bit. We then decided to add some cuts that weren’t present in the original, so the first red timing has “WAS” written with it (to find on the recording). The new timings have rectangles drawn around for “finality” for the rest of my team to copy. Blue was from when I timed a sing-through – a zero at the top of the song, and blue with parentheses to show where we hit 30 seconds during the sing-through.

Though not used a lot, sometimes I will take time during prep and make myself a document of how long each section of the opera takes. This can be used to know if you have time to run the number again before a break, for example, or even begin to have a rough idea of quick change needs. Eventually, the timings will be very important for the backstage running paperwork, especially the Who/What/Where and First Entrance Timings documents that are rather standard for opera. It will also be used for all those Places calls you’ll need to start planning. Taking the timings also gives you one more chance to familiarize yourself with reading the opera score before rehearsals. You may not have another real chance to time the show in one go other than the last night in the rehearsal room; as discussed previously, opera is often rehearsed very piecemeal with a single room run prior to tech.

Erin Joy Swank is a Denver-based freelance stage manager who works in a wide variety of genres. As of this writing, she is spending her second summer in Evansville, Indiana, as New Harmony Theatre’s Production Stage Manager.

Opera Stage Management 101 – Part Three: Setting Up Your Score

DP Trio Cropped

If this is the first blog you’re reading of this series, I recommend you go back and read parts one and two, as the vocabulary builds off the words explained there. As I like to point out, there is no one way to stage manage, and what you will encounter will vary with every production. Here are some samples of how *I* have organized my score, which you may find helpful.

Highlighting the Score

I like to set myself up to follow along with the music as easily as possible. If I’m distracted by someone asking me a question, then look back at the score, I want the quickest guidelines to help me find my place again. I was taught to use highlighters, and I’ve taken that concept and run with it. Now that Pilot/Frixion makes erasable highlighters, my world is even better. (I order them online to get the Japanese pack with even more colors.)

After making sure I have the same score that the rest of the production staff will be using (see previous posts), I next take a look at the character list and assign a color to each one. I go for stereotypical colors – the lead female is pink, the lead male as her romantic interest is blue – and move on from there. If there’s a featured third character onstage a lot with them, like the title character in Don Pasquale, I’ll assign that person yellow to round out the near-primary-color layout. From there, I’ll try to assign rainbow colors in order for voice types. Often, the mezzo-soprano is orange and the bass purple. You may, of course, run out of colors, so look for those who are never onstage together to double up. Alternately, you can use colored pencils for more variations in color. Make yourself a cheat sheet with these colors; I’ve even started making that list part of my back page when calling an opera.

Double-sided vs. Single-sided

Some opera stage managers use doublesided scores, some use single sided. It depends how much blocking you want to record, really, as well as how many pieces of paper you want to carry around. I come from a musical theatre background, and am usually a one-script caller (same script for both blocking and show cues). If I am the calling stage manager, I’ll usually use a single-sided score. However, if I’m the ASM backstage, calling entrance cues, I don’t want to carry around all that weight. I’ll use a double-sided score for that. If you have the advantage of Adobe Acrobat (paid, not free), adjusting the margins before printing is helpful as well. (Tip: adjust your margins via Tools > Edit PDF > Header & Footer, then under Appearance Options select “Shrink document to avoid overwriting the document’s text and graphic.”) It’s not as easy to do this with a reduction feature on a copier, but can be done.

What Music Occurs Simultaneously?

In opera scores, how quickly you need to turn the page depends on both the speed of the music and the number of people singing at once. Principals will usually get their own staff (plural: staves) to follow, represented by 5 lines with pitches. Chorus members may be doubled up like a hymnal, with women’s voices together in one (treble clef), men in another (bass clef). Additionally, the pianist will have treble and bass clef staves. To indicate everything is sung at once, there will be a vertical line drawn to the left of multiple staves, signifying a single system. I like to break these up visually. One version is to use a big orange bracket.

If I combine Don Pasquale’s yellow highlighting with an orange bracket for the piano, I can see the entire system that is sung at once:

You’ll also notice that I’ve highlighted the number 12 in a big box. This is a rehearsal number, providing a great guidepost in the middle of a piece. In this case, during rehearsal we could say, “We’re starting at one before Rehearsal 12,” and everyone following along knows exactly where we’ll begin. If the singer is off book, the Maestro will inform them it’s one measure before “Zitto!…parmi…”

Don Pasquale is the only one singing on this page, so I only highlighted the yellow one time. I could also choose to do every “P” in the margin as well, and perhaps forego the orange brackets on this page. It’s all whatever helps your brain best follow along. You’ll also notice the “8:00” marking in red. That’s a timing I took. More on that later.

Here’s an example where Dr. Malatesta now joins in on the singing (when Don Pasquale has been singing for a while). Malatesta is in green.

In the next sample, Malatesta is now singing by himself. The green was bright enough for me, so I decided that was enough to separate the systems for my eyes. Also, if I’ve looked away and he’s now singing by himself, I can quickly scan to where there’s no yellow (for Pasquale) on the page. Starting to see the benefit?

Next are two different examples of when three are singing. The lead female Norina has now joined. I played around with this script/score whether I liked the orange brackets or not.

By 100 pages into the script, I’d come up with a newer system that is currently my favorite: using an erasable pen and a straight edge to mark the separation. This actually seems cleanest to me and will likely be how I next mark times there are three or more singing. When two are singing, sometimes just character highlight is enough for me. It’s your score, see what works for you!

At the end of the scene, after the singers cut off, you may have a musical playout that suddenly takes much less space per system.

Marking Cuts

Be sure to clearly mark the musical cuts you’ve been given, too.

Sample beginning of a cut

If it’s a common/standard optional cut, your score may be marked with “vi” to indicate the starting location.

The end of a cut

Similarly, this may be notated by “de” if standard.

If your music has any repeats or codas, I highly recommend printing yourself extras of these pages and crossing out (or cropping) any extraneous measures.

Although all this highlighting and marking up the score takes time, the sooner you can do it, the easier it will make some of your other jobs. It also gives you a visual sense of the progression of the show. If instead of the title of the piece, you’re told “we’re going to skip to Norina’s aria,” you can now page forward to a bunch of pink marks as an option.

You won’t be nearly as daunted following along either. I recently coached fellow stage manager Peggy Samuels on the phone and online (many states apart physically) for her first opera. At the end, I received the following message from her, used with her permission:

“First opera done.  The biggest help was highlighting the bars.  Having to follow Italian music for 3 hours is exhausting.”

Erin Joy Swank is a Denver-based freelance stage manager who works in a wide variety of genres. As of this writing, she is spending her second summer in Evansville, Indiana, as New Harmony Theatre’s Production Stage Manager.

Opera Stage Management 101 – Part Two: The Personnel

Don Pasquale Personaggi

As discussed in the first installment of this blog series, there are generally speaking a lot more people involved in an opera as compared to a musical. Today we focus on the differences in titles and duties, including a few that are not present in musical theatre.

The character list (in Italian and English) of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale

Conductor/ Maestro

In musical theatre, you likely had a music director, who might have deferred to the director on “final calls” for the artistic side, and may even have been forgotten during notes sessions of a rehearsal. In opera, the conductor is generally a more powerful figure. As a term of respect, the honorific title of Maestro is used. (The feminine Maestra is an option, though many women prefer the original term, similar to using actor for all genders instead of specifying actress.) When in doubt, use Maestro both in person and when discussing him/her to others out of respect, rather than their given name. There are of course many exceptions to this, but better safe than sorry when you’re starting out.

Stage Director

You’re likely used to the director running things in a musical or play. I’m not quite sure why the added word is included here – perhaps to contrast to the music director, sometimes still a term used in opera companies? The stage director still decides the pictures and overall concept of the show, though you may be surprised a bit by the deference given to the conductor. Also, if the company engages an assistant stage director, then the stage manager’s role can really change. Assistant directors (and often the stage director if no assistant is on contract) are the ones to keep track of all blocking (stage movement). I still tend to record as much as I can, especially movement patterns to call spotlights later, and certainly the tracking of props and costume elements involved. However, there are so many other factors usually in an opera, that it’s often a relief to not follow every single small detail of blocking. It also may mean that you’re even less on the stage director’s radar to be told about changes he/she makes, however.

The Performers/Artists

In musical theatre, you generally call them actors. The stereotype is that there isn’t much acting in opera. While I find that acting has gotten more attention in recent decades, it’s certainly not the main focus – the music is. As a result, you’ll want to start using some other terms like singers, performers or artists when referring to your group of people onstage. There are also subdivisions including:

Principals

These are your lead roles – and yes, I doublechecked the spelling vs. principles. Principals typically have their own rehearsals during daytime hours. Their solo numbers are called arias, which are often preceded by a conversational (and frequently expositional) piece with limited underscoring called a recitative or recit. Different voice types tend to be typecast to play certain kinds of roles:

  • Soprano – the highest female voice; generally plays the love interest and may very well end up dead by the end of the opera
  • Mezzo-Soprano – what you likely called “alto” in the past; rarely plays leading roles (except Carmen), but is more likely to be seen as the best friend, a witch, or in a pants role playing a young boy, if she gets a principal role at all; alto voices still exist in opera, but are technically lower voices than the ones that are usually heard
  • Tenor – the highest male voice; generally plays the hero and/or romantic interest (note, countertenors sing especially high)
  • Baritone – often considered the “easiest to listen to,” this male mid-range voice often represents the father figure or best friend
  • Bass – the lowest male voice; often plays the villain

Comprimario

These are the featured/supporting roles in an opera. If a company has a young artists program, comprimario (cohm-pree-MAH-ree-oh) roles may be filled from this pool, or from the chorus for a smaller production, especially if it’s only a few lines.

Chorus

Similar to the chorus in a musical, the chorus both sings as well as fills out the stage picture. Opera choristers tend to have day jobs, and their rehearsals are limited to usually 2 or 3 times a week, with a schedule set way in advance of the stage manager coming on board. They often have been rehearsing the music for a month or more in advance, led by their chorus master. Many operas also have a children’s chorus that is separate from the adult chorus.

Supernumeraries

Often shortened to “supers,” these are the non-singing extras of the opera world. They may be costumed as servants, spearcarriers, members of the clergy or other appropriate characters to add to the scene. Many times, they are your do-ers for scene shifts that need to happen in view of the audience, or are used to carry in a royal person on a litter. Some make a career out of being in show after show with a company, but others may be first timers, hired because they needed a bodybuilder or a child to fit the production’s need….or they gave a large donation at the last opera gala fundraiser. Professional dancers or trained fight combatants may also be used. Supers are often not given a score nor know any of the language being sung. As a result, they rely heavily on stage management to know when it’s their turn. They may or may not rehearse the same nights as the Chorus.

Covers

Covers are the understudies of the opera world. Some may be guaranteed performances, especially if the company has family or student matinee performances.  Some may be vocal covers, who would only cover the role musically but not physically go onstage, particularly if the original singer needs to mark during tech. Study covers may be assigned from a young artists program as an educational opportunity to learn the role for future use, but not for any performance at the moment. If a cover has another role in the opera, especially as a chorus member, alternate plans may need to be made should he or she perform as a principal.

Assistant Stage Managers

This role is likely the most different in scope in comparison to musical theatre. In addition to tracking all of the backstage production elements, assistant stage managers cue entrances for performers, and may fill in for anyone missing from a given rehearsal for blocking purposes. More on this later.

Scheduler

In large opera companies, especially those in festival formats, the scheduler takes on the daily call part of a normal theatre stage manager’s job. After receiving a rehearsal schedule request from the stage manager of each production (in conjunction with the stage director), the scheduler puts the entire company’s daily schedule together for distribution, including wig and costume fittings, vocal coachings, any young artist program classes, and more.

Coaches

These members of the music staff may or may not be directly involved with rehearsal, especially if part of a larger festival format. Any singer may have vocal coaching sessions, which could focus on diction, pronunciation and interpretation.

Répétiteur

Learn to say this word (reh-peh-ti-TUER), and you’ll instantly gain a bit more respect, in my opinion. Even in the musical theatre word, “accompanist” is a term that is used but can actually come across as derogatory. Just as I and others don’t like being called a “techie” as a sophomoric term – do you call the performers “acties”? – pianists prefer to be called pianists or this fancy word. In opera (as in musical theatre), these musicians are in the rehearsal hall representing an entire orchestra. On occasion, they may continue playing piano or harpsichord for performances, especially during recitatives.

Orchestra Manager

Consider this person as somewhat the stage manager of the orchestra. The conductor usually hands the cut list over to the orchestra manager, who then makes sure that all orchestral parts are marked with notations of measures that are being skipped for this particular production. He or she is also in charge of all rehearsal hours for the musicians and determining start and stop times. You’ll want to make sure your own watch is synced to theirs (often atomic time), as well as what length of time they were told was budgeted for a given rehearsal. If your running time is close to going into overtime, the company may choose to have an “orchestra start time” that is different than the published curtain time, taking into account holding the house and the length of your preshow speech. Communication is key with this person. During tech, they are also the “keeper” of the orchestra break time, and will often start the tuning when the clock hits the prediscussed moment, regardless of other tech readiness, as to not waste any minutes of precious orchestra time. They will also watch to make sure the orchestra gets the break and other stipulations required in their contracts as to the physical setup of the orchestra space.

Penguins

This is one of my favorite opera terms, and generally only used in preparation for the end of opening night. Opera bows are often longer than musical theatre stage managers are used to having. The chorus master will often come out on stage with the chorus to take a bow. (If the chorus isn’t used in the final act of production, this may even happen partway through the opera, after their last act.) During bows, the conductor will make his or her way up from the pit to be pulled onstage by the lead female towards the end. Opening night, the stage director and designers also take a bow. As they were originally mostly men in tuxedos, the term “penguin bows” began to be used to indicate this group of people.

You can find many additional opera terms on the Opera America website.

Erin Joy Swank is a Denver-based freelance stage manager who works in a wide variety of genres. This summer she will return to Evansville, Indiana, as New Harmony Theatre’s Production Stage Manager.

Opera Stage Management 101 – Part One: Generalities

Pasquale Closeup reduced

Closeup of opera musical score
Closeup of the Ricordi translation of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale in a stage manager’s score

One thing I’ve learned over my 20-plus-year career in stage management is that there is no one way to do things. There are different cultures within each company including things like who will run the production meeting. The SM Survey has proved that we do not all call cues or set up our books the same way. That said, I’ve enjoyed working in many different genres, and there are some generalities that make stage managing an opera different than stage managing a musical. When you come from the musical theatre world (like I did), some of those differences can be jarring, confusing…or just weird. It certainly can be daunting. This blog series has been formulating in my mind for a while now, and I thought I’d share some of the tips I’ve picked up over the last decade or so. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Today’s post will start with some of the generalities.

The Score

Typically, the music is given the most importance in an opera production, and instead of a script, you use a musical score. Stage managers usually call off a piano reduction, combining the major elements of a full orchestra, whereas in musical theatre you might call off the libretto (text without the music). In a later post, I’ll give you some tips on how to set yours up to your best use. One of the first things you’ll need to do is track down which version/edition is the primary one your team will be using. Because the majority of operas were written centuries ago in another language, find out whether you might be using the Schirmer or the Ricordi translation, for example. Because of public domain, quite a few of them can be found online via IMSLP.org, if you want to look at it ahead of time or aren’t provided one. If English lyrics are printed, yet you are performing it in the original language, be aware that the translations are often done with liberty and may not be taken word for word. While not critical, literal translations can be helpful for things like understanding jokes or prop handoff timing. Most of the time, a stage manager can get by with English lyrics, along with the original language. You need not know Italian or French to stage manage it (or even to sing it), but you’ll often recognize some word bases similar to your native tongue, as well as get to know more words the more you work in the genre. I’m still looking for a single Italian opera where someone doesn’t cry out, “Pietà!” at some point during the narrative.

A Lot in a Little Amount of Time

Opera is big. Generally speaking, operas involve the most people onstage (choruses of 30 don’t make anyone blink an eye), behind the scenes, and in the orchestra pit. Organizing everything happens on a much bigger scale than your standard “straight” play, along the lines of the largest scale musicals or bigger. However, the rehearsal timeline for an opera production tends to occur in less time than other genres, and is often done in a fairly piecemeal format. Many singers make careers out of performing the same roles at multiple places, and the expectation is that they will arrive to the first rehearsal with the music already learned. The first singthrough is therefore more about setting tempi (the plural of tempo, the speed of the music), breaths, and confirming cuts in the music. Rehearsals can be split between various groups of people, and you may not get everyone in the same rehearsal hall until the final room run before tech. Because the voice is so important, schedules are made around not wearing out vocal cords* or stamina. (Another big difference – the majority of operas do not amplify sound with microphones, other than for playback monitors.) Things are often marked (sung softly and/or down an octave), so stage management really needs to be able to read the music to follow along, especially during technical rehearsals onstage. Finally, with a full orchestra you add many more people, often with union rules for length of service. You may only get all of your elements together on one or two evenings for three hours before you open (using just piano for the larger portion of a short tech process). Stage management is about pulling all of these puzzle pieces together and helping others fill in the gaps from having separate rehearsals – even if that means filling in physically for missing performers, if it affects the staging. On the plus (and weird to me) side, once you finally get everyone together, you end up being called to work much less. The opera standard is to have a day off the day before opening, and performances are rarely two days in a row, let alone a two-show day like most musical theatre. Vocal rest is a much-appreciated/expected thing. If you’re used to working in musical theatre, the days between are bonus days for stage management, even if you end up working on paperwork to catch up. Oh yes, the paperwork. More on that in another blog.

Remounts/Rentals

Because opera is big and takes a lot to put together, as well as the time constraints to do it, production designs are often re-used for many years. You may have a set (or full rental package including props and/or costumes) that was built many years ago, or a director who is known for his or her updated time period and concept for a given classic title. As a stage manager, figuring out what all those pieces are, whether they all arrived (or will arrive), and how they are all to be used can be an extra challenge, very much dependent on the paperwork that may or may not accompany it. Hopefully you have a strong technical director, production manager, prop master, and costume coordinator to help divvy up the responsibilities for your venue.

Places Calls and Cueing of Entrances

This is probably the biggest, strangest difference when you come from a non-opera background: Why the heck can’t the performers (not actors – more on that in our next post) get themselves onstage? Well, by the time you get to the final room run, it may be only the first time the chorus has ever been in the same room with the leads. They hopefully have figured out by now that their first scene they exit stage left, and the second one they enter stage right….but they have no real understanding that there are 25 minutes for them to make the crossover. During that time, they likely have a costume change, perhaps even a wig change, and they’ve been downstairs in their dressing room. The music has been piping through the system, but it might be repetitive and it’s quite likely it’s in another language, or perhaps it’s being marked and you can’t even tell who’s onstage at the moment. The chorus may never have been given this music either. To help keep things rolling along, the stage manager marks places calls in their score, generally five minutes or so before an entrance. In the middle of calling all light cues and other duties, the stage manager will turn on the backstage paging system and say a variant of, “This is a places call for Mr. Smith. Places, please for Mr. Smith.” (Depending on the need, a side of the stage may added and/or a description of a group of people instead of individual names.) Assistant stage managers will often then put a secondary places call in their scores at the two-minute mark, and ask for the singer to be paged again if not visible on deck. Yes, in opera, the standard is that people are ready and waiting a lot earlier. If I call two minutes for top of act places in theatre, I often have antsy actors wondering why I called them so early, especially if we have to hold the house or the curtain speech goes long. In opera, two minutes is late.

In addition to getting the performers to the stage, assistant stage managers help cue them for actual entrances. Some principals will take their cues on their own (for better or for worse), but an assistant stage manager is ultimately the source for the correct entrance timing. The width of the set and masking legs can change entrance timing from the rehearsal hall, and with so many people involved, it’s often easier for the director to simply say, “bring them all on a measure earlier.” The ASM then moves their cue in their score, and it’s easily adjusted.

Scene Shifts Can Be Long and Awkward

One of my least favorite opera traditions is the pause (often pronounced POW-zuh). In the musical theatre world, we do “in-one” scenes while a scene shift is happening upstage behind the drop. Changes happen fluidly, as quietly as possible, and blackouts between scenes are often just long enough for the curtain to rise. I still remember being stunned during my first opera upon learning that between two scenes we were going to bring in the curtain, raise the houselights a little, and expect the audience to just sit there during a long scene shift….which folks were truly excited when we were able to complete in under four minutes. Really??? With the use of supertitles (the screen used for translations above the stage) or similar, you can give the audience a little instruction to stay seated, which helps. However, I’m a fan of the productions that do a little something more with the break between acts/scenes. I still think the standard “orchestra tune” prior to a show is a bit awkward as many musicals don’t do it – and I generally still have trouble telling when they’re done. However, when an additional tune is included in one of these pauses as well, the length isn’t quite as obvious. Meanwhile, my favorite recent pause “fix” occurred during Chuck Hudson’s Don Pasquale. He set the opera in the glamorous age of Hollywood, with the title character as essentially a Norma Desmond-type, a silent movie star who never made it to colorized talkies. Black and white films were projected during the pauses (with piano underscoring a la the silent film era) depicting Pasquale’s rise and fall. It did mean our scene shifts had definite target end times (two minutes each, which could be a struggle if we had an issue backstage), but the audience was entertained while we changed the scenery.

In our next installment, we’ll take a look at some of the people involved in putting together an opera.

*Yes, it’s vocal cords, not vocal chords. I’ve certainly typed that wrong in my past.

Erin Joy Swank is a Denver-based freelance stage manager who works in a wide variety of genres. This summer she will return to Evansville, Indiana, as New Harmony Theatre’s Production Stage Manager.

Inside Look: Emerson College BFA 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)

Emerson College – Boston, MA

BFA Stage & Production Management – 2013-2017

By Jessica Kemp

I come from a very small town in Upstate New York – the Adirondacks. My big sister introduced me to the world of théâtre and dance, but I eventually fell into stage management after I watched a scene change in a community theatre production of The Sound of Music take five minutes and cringed. I never fully committed to any trade. I balanced dance, stage management, vocal performances, and acting throughout my high school years. When it came time for me to think about life after high school, I had no clue, which is perfectly normal! I knew I wanted a small college. Large groups of people overwhelm me and I enjoyed my small hometown class size. The thought of a huge campus that took 30 minutes just to walk across terrified me and because of dance, I learn better in a one-on-one situation. My years of school and dance also made me realize that I’m a tactile learner and I have never been one to enjoy down-time for more than a few days.

EMERSON COLLEGE – THE SCHOOL IN A SNAPSHOT.

Emerson College is a small “liberal arts” college in Boston Proper with roughly 4,000 students on its campus. I say “liberal arts” because the BFA Stage & Production Management track itself is really a conservatory. The campus is the size of two blocks along Boylston St. with a Los Angeles campus and a castle in the Netherlands where you can study abroad. There are a few main schools within the college: Visual Media Arts (aka film); Writing, Literature, Publishing; Journalism; Communication Studies; Communication Sciences & Disorders; Political Communications; Marketing Communication; Liberal and Interdisciplinary Studies; and the Performing Arts. The BFA Stage & Production Management major lives within Performing Arts and all Performing Arts majors are Fine Arts majors – there is no BA option. Most students are undergrads but there are a few masters programs in each school. You can create your own major (called IDIP) if you don’t find a perfect fit and even dip into Entrepreneurial Studies. Emerson can fund your great new business and help you get started.

The culture at Emerson is to always be on the go – there isn’t a lot of down-time, and most people at Emerson like it that way: have an internship, be in five student organizations, go all the way in a class project, hold a job, study. I found that most people here have set their goals very, very high; they come in knowing what they want to do. There is a lot of creative energy. It’s exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.

It is difficult, as a performing arts major, to transcend and break into any other schools or fields, but extra-curricular activities are in abundance and minors are relatively achievable. You can work at a radio station or on live-broadcast TV shows put on by students, be in an a capella group, help with student-produced films. I chose to minor in American Sign Language. The Emerson Experience is what you make of it. No two Emerson educations are exactly alike.

BFA STAGE & PRODUCTION MANAGEMENT – AN OVERVIEW.

Emerson College has a tremendous technical theatre program. It’s not something I, or my beloved colleagues, quite realized until we went out into the real world. Below are some of the highlights of the college, the BFA Stage & Production Management degree, and other opportunities available to you at Emerson.

The Woman in Charge of the Program. The Stage & Production Management department is headed by our fearless leader, Debra Acquavella (from here-on Deb). She is an artist with a vast wealth of knowledge in regional and commercial theatre which will benefit your education.

Classes. You are required to take four stage management classes, one production stage management class, one arts management class, and some craft classes to learn what carpenters, electricians, and stitchers do on a daily basis. The Performing Arts department requires that you take a few overview theatre classes and that’s where you’ll meet your fellow acting, directing, and technical theatre majors. As you see, this major is highly stage management skewed, but the production management class is taught by a real-life production manager who comes in on his day off to teach and you work alongside a production manager daily.

Emerson Stage. Emerson Stage is its own little beast. Based off of the LORT model, Emerson Stage is a “company” that produces theatre all year round so students can gain practical experience. The General Manager, Assistant to the General Manager, Production Manager, and directors are all staff members. Students learn how to create theatre through Emerson Stage with assignments and guidance from an advisor. Though involved every year, Stage & Production Management students receive credit for these Emerson Stage shows junior and senior year – and they are involved in both stage management and production management capacities (we call these production management positions production supervisors). You start from the bottom in both tracks and work your way up to stage manage and/or production manage your senior year. Emerson Stage produces a variety of work which gives students access to classic plays, a fall musical/revue, a spring musical, and a spring month-long festival of new works by student and professional playwrights. When Stage & Production Management students receive class credit for the productions you will meet with Deb once a week in a class called Production Projects. In Production Projects, you discuss challenges within your own show as well as your classmates. Deb will encourage you to work in the props department on one of these shows, and some Stage & Production Management students have even gained experience in the sound and lighting departments. The more experience you get in each field, the more it will aid you as a stage manager.

Student Theater Organizations. Alongside Emerson Stage, some people find their theatre communities through student theater organizations. These are completely student produced works, where anybody can dabble in any field. Journalism majors can audition, marketing majors can be in a dance troupe, and a stage manager can try their hand at lighting design. It’s really quite incredible to see the work done for and by your peers. These are extremely low budget productions that tech in a few hours and are open for a couple of performances. You are not tied to a supervisor/advisor in these organizations, and your first year at Emerson you will need permission from Deb to participate in a production or stage management capacity. This isn’t as cruel as it sounds. The first year of college is a lot, this program is a lot of time and effort, and these student productions will take you by storm if you aren’t prepared. She wants to make sure you have the groundwork laid out for your own mental and physical health before you explore student theatre.

The Theatres & Rehearsal Space. Emerson has a surprising amount of room for such a small campus. Emerson calls six theaters home, and has nine studio/rehearsal spaces and countless private practice rooms across its campus. The Greene Theater is your traditional 100-seat proscenium theater, the Semel Theater holds a bit more and is a ¾ thrust. The Jackie Liebergott Black Box molds to whatever shape the designer and director decide. The majority of Emerson Stage productions will happen on these stages. Student theater organizations will produce most of their work in the Cabaret (the Cab), which is a smaller black box theater. The Paramount and Majestic Theatres are the largest stages and have the largest houses, but are kept busy throughout the year with ArtsEmerson productions. Emerson Stage traditionally puts up one show in the Paramount and one in the Majestic each year. Emerson College also owns The Emerson Colonial Theater, which, in its heyday, was home to many Broadway tryouts (Bob Fosse tap danced on the table – there’s still a chip). In 2018, the Ambassador Theatre Group will have a lease on The Colonial opening with Moulin Rouge. 

Internships and Outside Work. A large portion of your education will be outside of the Emerson bubble. While it isn’t required, you will most likely obtain an internship or outside experience of some kind in the Greater Boston area. Some of these experiences are paid and some of them aren’t. During my time at Emerson, my classmates worked at Huntington Theatre Company, American Repertory Theater, Actors Shakespeare Project, Central Square Theatre, Speakeasy Stage Company, Lyric Stage Company… the list goes on. These opportunities are invaluable, attainable, and encouraged. This business is incredibly small and someone with a connection to Emerson works at each one of these amazing companies. You will also be encouraged to do theater in the summer by way of internships or jobs, but it is important to remember that these are not necessary. While they are great for your career and you will come back to the fall semester having grown so much, your mental health is also important. If you need the summer off, you need the summer off.

Studying Abroad. You can certainly study abroad, but as a Stage & Production Management student, you have to prepare ahead of time for this. The most popular place to study abroad is in the Netherlands. Emerson owns a castle called Kasteel Well. In this program, you are in Europe for a fall, spring, or summer semester, and you travel to different places on the weekend. Food is not offered at the castle on weekends, basically encouraging you to go elsewhere. For those who went, I know it drastically changed their lives. They forged new friendships and learned more about themselves than they ever thought possible.

Stage & Production Management students can only attend the fall semester of their sophomore year. This is just the way it works out given all the different classes you have to take to earn your degree. I did know a student who went in the summer session, but class selection is extremely limited. Here’s the other catch: it’s a lottery system. A certain percentage of Performing Arts, Journalism, WLP (and so forth) students are selected to go at random. I was number two on the wait list when I left my freshman year. If people had dropped out, I could have gone. The college also encourages you to have $6,000 set aside for your semester, so get that second job now.

Another popular place to study away from Boston is Emerson Los Angeles. This is our Los Angeles campus that typically gets you an internship in the film industry. A Stage & Production Management student was the first to go in my time there and she worked as an executive assistant. If you’re interested in the west coast, the film industry, or want to find other ways to develop leadership skills, I highly recommend this. There are, of course, other places to study abroad!

The ProArts Consortium. This is an incredible opportunity that I, honestly, never took advantage of. At the most basic level, a bunch of art schools in Boston got together and said, “Sure! We’ll take some students from your school if you take some students from our school for a class and still have those credits count. Why not?” This means that if you’re interested in taking dance classes at Boston Conservatory/Berklee, you most likely can. A classmate of mine took a bookmaking class at MassArt.

THE APPLICATION PROCESS.

The Application. Emerson holds their application on the CommonApp and will require some supplemental materials. There is the opportunity to apply for their Honors Program there as well, which requires more writing. You will apply to the school and schedule an interview separately.

The Interview. Emerson College has an interview process. You must be accepted into the school and accepted into the program separately. Deb travels to different cities throughout the year and conducts interviews in NYC, Chicago, and Boston. You can even phone in internationally to speak with her. You’ll have to come to your interview with a 1” portfolio of your work, including pictures and any documents that you’ve worked on. Don’t bring in an entire prompt book, but bring in some complicated blocking pages if you have them. Did you make a calendar? Put that in too.

Deb’s interview stuck out amongst the rest of the other colleges. It was the first interview I had that wasn’t in a sterile room. Her office has personality, and her bookshelves show history. Deb doesn’t just look to see what you already know. She just wants you to succeed. In fact, she’ll breeze through your portfolio and then set it aside to talk to you. She looks to see if you’re a good fit for the school and for her department. She wants to get to know you, not just your work, in those few short minutes. Freshman year, her students will start from different spots on the path but her goal is to get you all walking together down that yellow brick road. You will work one-on-one with this woman for four years. Interview her as much as she does you. Just be yourself walking into that room, because that’s what she wants to see

How about those Standardized Tests? Academics are important to get into the college. Emerson doesn’t expect you to have a 4.0 in high school, but they do expect you to care about your studies. So study for those SATs and study before your tests. You can apply to be a part of the Honors Program, which cuts your tuition in half. If you choose this, you must write a thesis in order to graduate and will take classes that are only held for Honors students

OKAY, OKAY. BUT FOR REAL. ARE THERE ANY CONS?

Like all schools, of course there are. My main concern with the college is that I believe they are looking to expand their student population. There are more students than the college and its facilities can currently hold, and that causes extra stress on everyone. The student to professor ratio is increasing while the classrooms themselves are staying the same size, so it’s a tight squeeze most of the time.

Without a doubt. While everyone at some point has some issues with the college – this will happen anywhere you go – the education I received at Emerson is incomparable. This program is strong and there will be no need for you to attend a graduate school, though an apprenticeship after graduation isn’t a bad idea just to break into the industry. As alumni, we emerge ready to jump into the field and ready to swim. The program boasts of alums continually working on and off Broadway (Miss Saigon, The Band’s Visit, Sleep No More), Cirque De Soleil’s Michael Jackson One in Las Vegas, tours like Rent and The Book of Mormon, TV live productions (Peter Pan), regional theaters all over the country, and so much more. The fact that you are able to take hold of your own education while at school truly means that you are able to take hold of your future.

Deb and the rest of the Performing Arts faculty really do care about each and every one of their students. Personal connections are made over the course of four years that won’t go away. The program not only focuses on your career, but also on your life. The trust and support you gain and create with your classmates will continue to grow after you leave Emerson. Their successes are my successes, too. I found the second family I didn’t know I needed.

Jessica Kemp is currently a Stage Management Apprentice at Actors Theatre of Louisville where she is now overcoming her childhood fear working on a fun new number called “Little Bunny Foo Foo”.

Inside Look: Williamstown Theatre Festival 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)

Williamstown Theatre Festival – Williamstown, MA

Stage Management Intern 2015 & 2016

By Allison Kelly

I worked as a Stage Management Intern at Williamstown Theatre Festival for two summer seasons. Each season lasted from mid June to late August in Williamstown, Massachusetts on the Williams College campus. A few participants each summer would start in mid/late May in NYC and begin prepping and rehearsing a show there for about a week and a half before traveling to Williamstown.

This was an unpaid internship. You are responsible for your transportation, food, etc. My first summer I paid $500 for housing to stay in the campus dorms (which is basically required for interns). However, as a returnee my second summer, my housing fee for the dorms was waived.  If you work in New York at all you are responsible for your housing there.  The dorms are all single bed rooms with community bath shared between the “pod” of rooms (about 4-6 rooms). There is a shared kitchen and living space in each building.

The Stage Management department was comprised of 14-15 interns, a Resident PSM, a Resident ASM, and 4-5 more AEA SMs. SM interns tended to be current undergrad students or those who had just graduated. The Resident PSM is the head of the department and handles hiring the whole department, scheduling, doing all the things and PSMing two Main Stage shows. The Resident ASM helps the PSM and is the ASM on those 2 Main Stage shows. Other AEA SMs come in to stage manage the rest of the AEA shows of the summer. As interns we served as ASMs and PAs on the AEA shows and could SM, ASM, and PA non-eq shows and other events. The rest of the festival is pretty large as well between the other departments’ interns, staff, and the apprentices – it’s a crazy amount of people to make the festival happen. It’s a blast to get to meet and work with so many people.

As a stage management intern typically (but not always) you work on at least one AEA show and one non-eq show as well as various small projects. WTF has two stages, the Main Stage and the Nikos where its AEA shows perform. For those productions SM interns serve as ASMs and PAs to the AEA SM. On these productions you work on a typical AEA rehearsal and performance schedule. Sometimes this overlaps with other events you might have in the evenings or day off depending on your assignments. Tech is very quick, usually 2 or 3 days, then a few days of previews and rehearsals before opening. The AEA shows are a great experience because it allows you to work closely with AEA SMs and learn from them and all others in the room. WTF does a lot of new works so job duties can be managing script changes, prop and costume tracking, line notes/being on book, maintaining hospitality supplies, etc. It is almost exactly like working professionally but you are expected to ask more questions if you need to.

Non-eq shows usually followed AEA rehearsal schedules but tech and performances were a little quicker. These productions usually featured the Non-Eq company and apprentices. (Non-eq company: actors whose only job this summer is to be in shows and so they have the most time. Usually post undergrad or current grad students. Apprentices: actors who come to the festival to act but also work a lot as crew for various departments. They are usually overworked and tired, but they are a fun and talented group.) The non-eq shows give stage management interns the chance to be the PSM in addition to ASM and PA. Additionally, there are lots of one or two night events and readings that stage management helps with.

Other elements of your experience include a more official educational element, workshops on paperwork, unions, tour life, networking, etc. Because the internship is unpaid it has to have an education element which is done through workshops mostly lead by the Resident PSM but often features the other AEA SMs. (The quality of these can depend on how the leader prepares for them.) WTF is also good at the work hard, play hard element of summer stock. Play includes finding swimming holes, BBQs, opening parties and galas, more parties, and lip dub videos. There are a lot of late nights working but there are even more late nights of having fun with tons of amazing people.

The greatest part of the program was the incredible friendships I made. Working so hard with these people created incredible bonds for all of us which helps with your networking for future jobs. The interns I worked with my two summers at Williamstown are constantly helping each other find work, acting as a support system in this crazy industry, and the people I talk to everyday years later. This festival does a great job giving you the chance to start networking with the people there with you that summer, however it also opens you up to a large number of WTF alumni. If you are interested in working in New York this program is incredible because the AEA SMs are usually NYC based SMs which can help open doors if you do well over the summer. My AEA show transferred to Off-Broadway and the SM of that brought me back as the PA because of the work I had done the previous summer. The Resident PSM brought one of the interns on as a PA on Broadway. Nearly everyone in NYC has heard of this festival and knows the quality it creates and that helps when looking for work. I can easily say WTF has helped me find plenty of work since graduating from college.