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?