True Story: I’m a Stage Manager for an Opera Company


This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things.  This is the story of Lisa and her work as a stage manager for an opera company in L.A.
Tell us a bit about yourself!

I’m in my late twenties and grew up in Ohio. I lived on the east coast for a while before coming to Los Angeles where I currently live and work as a stage manager in opera.  When I’m not in rehearsal or backstage, I love reading, exploring my city, cleaning or organizing and relaxing with my boyfriend and Greyhound.

How did you become interested in stage management?
I started stage managing in college.  I was a journalism major, but took a lot of theater classes because I’d always loved the performing arts.  One day in class someone announced they needed a stage manager for a production of new works by graduate playwrights.  I volunteered and learned as I went, but really enjoyed it.  The feedback I got from the experience was positive and I was hooked.

How many years of school did you attend to get this job?
I first earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis in Management and then went on to earn my Master of Fine Arts in Stage Management from the Yale School of Drama, for a total of seven years.
Can you tell us about an average day at work?
My average day varies depending on where we are in the production process. Most shows begin with a one-week prep time that has a 9-to-5 schedule. This is when the production staff familiarizes themselves with the opera and the particular production they are doing.Once studio rehearsals start, I go to work around noon and don’t get home until close to 11:00pm.  Rehearsals on stage are incredibly expensive for a opera company so it is critical that the stage managers do as much as possible to prepare the crew, staff and cast to work efficiently and effectively in the limited amount of time available.  It is not uncommon for these days start at 9:30am and last until close to midnight.  Once a show opens, it is typically performed two to three times a week because it is so demanding on the singers. On the day of a performance, I usually arrive two to three hours before the show begins to complete preshow checks and prepare for the performance.  Afterward, the production staff meets to go over notes from the performance.  Days between performances can include brush-up rehearsals and finalizing archival paperwork for the production.

Do you particularly love opera?  Would you be interested in doing stage management for any other types of performances?
I actually started stage managing in theater and musicals and came to opera fairly late in my career and I do love it. There is something about the scale of the performances that is so appealing.  Even when an opera is small, it’s complex because of the many different components: singers, orchestra, designers, chorus, dancers, actors, crew, directors.  I have seen and worked on some incredible pieces of theater in my life, however, if I’m working six days a week, twelve hours a day on something, I much prefer music to play a major role.

What are the biggest challenges of your job?
My job is about 99.9% communication.  It can be so frustrating when you think you are being explicit in reports or emails only to have people explode when they read it because they misunderstand something.

The biggest rewards?
For better or for worse, I truly feel I was put on this earth to be a stage manager.   There are times I lament the lack of certainty and security that working as a freelancer in the arts provides, but at the end of the day, I know there’s nothing else I would rather be doing long-term and I am grateful for every opportunity given to me.

What advice would you give to others interested in getting into stage management?
I recommend taking every opportunity to work with other stage managers or at least to observe them.  If you keep an open mind, in every instance you’ll learn something you can adopt in your own work.

 

Do you guys have any questions for Lisa?  Would any of you like to work in the theater?

8 Comments

Kate Barry

I'm a stage manager, too! Not in a huge company like this, but we have similar stories. I find that I both love it at hate it at the same time, and that's kind of fun for me. We stage managers really make the show go on.

carryondancingdoll.blogspot.com

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Samarkand

This is a weird coincidence. I'm just looking at a page for a bachelor in stage managing and weighing my options. It would mean the world to me if you could answer me! (My email is jc.jensen@hotmail.com)
I'm really considering becoming a stage manger. I've done theatre all my life, but don't want to be an actress. I love theatre and dance and music and the arts in general. I've been stage managing big productions done by the school where we have rented the local theatre. I loved it.

I was considering studying in england.
Is there no way to become a full time employed stage manager? Do you earn a enough to support yourself?
Would a bachelor in stage managing at for instance LIPA be enough?

Sincerely
– Johanna

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Ashley

As a musician who's been in the pit… we appreciate you for taking care of us, too! good read, thank you 🙂

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Marie

I agree, stage managers are under appreciated! In fact, for certain aspects of the job, doing it well means it's not even noticed. I've been a musician for many community theater musicals, and I'm impressed with the stage managers who seem to juggle everything (many, many things) gracefully. It's so much fun when everything pulls together and at the end of the day you put on a good show. Thanks for sharing.

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Kiri

So great to see a another stage manager telling their story.

I agree with you entire, Lisa, I can't imagine doing anything other than stage management (except, possibly, circus rigging) for the rest of my life. I've just come off a week's work experience with the Legally Blonde tour, and if I could I'd absolutely be continuing with them once they leave Bristol.

@Johanna I actually did my stage management course in the UK, so I'm happy to discuss the different colleges and whatnot with you. Just quickly the best courses seem to be at CSSD, RSAMD, RADA and RWCMD. It's more than possible to be employed full time in stage management, it's more that the jobs tend to be short term (most contracts are at most a year long), and you can definitely earn enough to live on, as long as you don't mind being fairly frugal. If there's anything else you want to know about studying stage management in the UK feel free to drop me an email eiranea[at]gmail[dot]com

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