Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Want to break into the business? Listen to these Broadway pros.
Do you know the difference between a production manager and a stage manager? How can wearing either of these hats make you a valuable member of the theater community?
Students from Alonso and Blake High Schools got to learn all about these jobs through a teleconference yesterday at the Patel Conservatory with some of today’s top dogs in Broadway production.
Presented by the Broadway League’s Speakers Bureau, four of Broadway’s most sought-after stage and production managers spoke to students about what’s it’s like to be behind-the-scenes on major productions like Miss Saigon, Cats and Mary Poppins.
“You have to be aware of everything that’s going on at all times,” said Peter Wolf, whose stage manager credits include Grease, My Fair Lady and Miss Saigon. “From costumes, props, even the A/C in the building...you have to help resolve all the issues that may arise.”
The stage manager, he explained, does everything from rehearse the understudies to calling the cues during the show.
The production manager, as explained by Gene O’Donovan, production manager for Aurora Productions, organizes the technical end of the show from the design concept to the load out (when the sets arrive from the scene shop and get set up on the stage). The production manager bids out the construction of sets and is responsible for making any changes that the director may need. And there are usually changes based on what works and what doesn’t work in rehearsals.
The panel spoke to the students through a Skype conversation. The wonderful world of technology brought their expertise live from New York to the TECO Theater, where students were able to ask questions after the discussion. One student asked about their most challenging experience...
“Miss Saigon always had me on the edge of my seat,” said Wolf, who served as stage manager for five years on the touring production. “I never fully felt comfortable calling the cues because so much could go wrong.”
Whether working on plays or elaborate Broadway musicals, the panel agreed that being responsible for a set and calling cues for a hit Broadway show can be a lot of pressure. But it also has its up side.
“Being a part of live theater is intoxicating,” said James Fitzsimmons, stage manager for the current production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession. “It takes many people to come together collectively for a show to work. You feed off other people’s energy.”
Another thing they all agreed on: whether you want to be an actor or behind-the-scenes, it’s important to become familiar with all aspects of theater work.
Wolf started as an actor. "As an actor, there are so many people fighting for the same roles. But if you have special skills, like organizational skills, you may be suited for another role."
He filled in once as a production assistant at a summer stock theater, and then consistently got called on for that role. "I realized it's the right fit for me," he said.
The collective advice from the panel members to anyone who wants to break into the business is to make an effort to learn as much as possible about the industry, including production.
James Fitzsimmons said he got his start working off Broadway as a production assistant. He fetched coffee and mopped floors.
A graduate of New York University, he said, “I went to school for lighting design. I didn’t know about the tons of different outlets that were available working in theater...administration, marketing, business.”
Pay your dues in community theater and summer stock theaters and explore all your options, they said.
“Don’t limit yourself to one area,” said Wolf. “Know about costumes, sets, do everything that you can.”
Want to learn more? The Patel Conservatory has a Stage Management class starting Nov. 1. For more information, call the registrar at 222-1002.