Year of the Stage Manager 2020

I received what I considered a writer’s prompt just a minute ago when I opened my email from AEA Vice President and Stage Manager Ira Mont. He encouraged us to share a story in celebration of February 16, 1920, when Stage Managers and Assistant Stage Managers were first recognized as members of Actors Equity Association and thereafter written into the various contracts which we still follow today. Why? Because an ASM squawked after his show closed and he argued successfully that the producers owed him two week’s pay.

Ira encouraged us to share a story about stage managers in honor of this Centennial celebration. Nineteen of us gathered for a Centennial Photo of Los Angeles Stage Managers at the urging and organization of Pat Loeb (top row, third from left). It was a beautiful day in Griffith Park, and when I arrived (at 9:30 for the 10:00AM photo), I noted wryly that I was not the first to arrive. Are we surprised? Stage Managers tend to be at least thirty minutes early. Amy Pell, Zoya Kachadurian and Mary K Klinger had beat me there. Soon, there were 19 of us accompanied by three husbands, a baby and a dog (not people-friendly, we were warned, but baby-obsessed).

Have you ever watched a group of stage managers organize themselves for a picture? There we were, half of us up on benches around the picnic table (I noted that all of us who climbed up were over 50 or maybe even 60 – see? Risking life and limb for glory and recognition!) when two more stage managers arrived, one sporting a wheelchair, when there arose a cry – NOT ACCESSIBLE! And off across the grass we gamboled, to a more appropriate spot.

In honor of Ira’s query and our Centennial, I wanted to #credityourstagemanagers specifically some of the people enshrined in the photo above taken this morning at Griffith Park.

Jimmie McDermott (red shirt) and Mary K Klinger (blue floral print, silver mane of hair) were my mentors when I started as a PA at the Taper thirty odd years ago. From the two of them, I learned that though the work we do as Stage Managers is important, it is only one facet of a rich and fulfilling life – it is also play; Jimmie taught me to laugh and to be wicked. Mary taught me first my place as a PA and then many many years later, that stage management could be taught in a classroom and taught well and individually. Mary Michele Miner, top row, second from left, in the green shirt and sunglasses taught me candor and expediency. Once, I ASMed for her for a gala event at the Taper during which, Founding Artistic Director Gordon Davidson rode onto the stage on an elephant. At one point, I went up to her while she was juggling metaphorical balls of fire as one does during a gala, and I asked, “What would you like me to do?” She turned and said brusquely, “Run the deck.” This meant making sure the elephant had done its business outside before coming onstage with the Artistic Director on its back. Not every job we do as stage managers is glamorous. We do shovel some shit along the way. And learn to do so autonomously. It is probably the skill that is most marketable for stage managers. I’ve got it printed on my business card: “I shovel, then wash my hands and am ready for the next job.”

Many of my family of stage managers from about 30 years ago. L to R. Front Row, Tami Toon, Lisa Jo Snodgrass, Robin Veith, me, Mary Michele Miner. Second Row L. to R., Jonathan Barlow Lee, Mary K Klinger, Gordon Davidson, Susie Walsh, Jimmie McDermott, Rear Row, L. to R. Frank Bayer, David Franklin
Twenty or so years later at Mary K’s Teaching Retirement Party, L. to. R. Jonathan Barlow Lee, Mary K Klinger, Neila Lee, Mary Michele Miner, Jimmie McDermott

There are some others in today’s picture I don’t know well, so can’t speak to their skills or practices, but there are a few that I can. Jennifer Sarvas, 2nd row far left, green shirt, was a student at USC when I began working there in Spring 2005. At the time that I arrived, Dean Madeline Puzo had arranged for about 14 acting students to be a part of CTG’s Ahmanson production of Dead End. We realized the value of a PA assignment for one of our stage management students, when Jennifer, a senior approached me about whether I could help arrange that. She went on to PA at the Taper the following year, and has had strong career since then, while taking stints on various other production and stage management roles around Los Angeles.

Taylor Anne Cullen (top row 2nd from right) graduated more recently and has worked steadily since graduating, most recently with the Antaeus Company. She has a buoyant personality and an exuberance combined with a level of organization which makes directors hunger to have her in the room.

I’m sure that every one of those stage managers in the picture have equally rich histories to those I’ve recounted. I met Christina, fourth from the left on the bottom row, a recent graduate of Yale’s graduate program, currently in Los Angeles to do an internship at Disney. Jake Perri, top row, far left, stage managing for Parson’s Nose Theatre Company in Pasadena for the past two years. Pat Loeb, top row, three from the left, currently overseeing Lady Day at the Emerson Bar and Grill, directed by Wren Brown and currently playing at Ebony Repertory Company.

Stage Managers are fiercely loyal, achingly discrete, hard-working, optimistic organizers of people, props, information and time. We are entrusted with maintaining the artistic intentions of the entire creative team once they’ve left the building, and our work is part scout leader, disciplinarian, therapist and magician. If you don’t remember or retain what my mentors have taught me about humor, appropriateness and autonomy, it can become a brutal path or profession. In order to be a stage manager, you must love it all.

You can’t forget the life part. So, after our photo op this morning, Michele and I walked up the hill and began our hike, passing first, this happy Clown effecting her character transformation in her car. We stepped carefully past a rattlesnake on the trail, and paused in the shade of a tree to admire the downhill path ahead of us.

I always loved being a stage manager until I knew that it was time to do something else. I’ve always loved and appreciated knowing stage managers. On this 100th birthday for us, I raise a glass to the stage managers here in Los Angeles who were doing other things to mark the anniversary and to stage managers everywhere.

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