The Non-Linear Life of a Stage Manager

This has easily been the weirdest year of my stage management career. There are a lot of moments when I’m walking around the circus wondering “how did I get here?”

If you’re thinking of a career in stage management, you should be aware it’s really not a linear pursuit. It’s kind of like buying a giant carpet bag and over the years you throw more and more crap into it and with each job, you have more stuff you can pull out of the carpet bag to help you too.

Profound analogy, right?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this carpet bag of skills lately because while I still have a lot to learn and improve on in my job, for the most part, I really do have all the skills to succeed at it.

I use a lot of cruise ship skills here. I use my weekly schedule template form from ships here. I use some of the endless, ridiculous safety training skills they made me do when they were in OSHA overload. When we had a surprise aerial inspection and I nearly had a nervous breakdown, I reminded myself that crap like this, for exactly the same type of equipment, used to happen all the time on ships, and I was always ok at passing the inspections. I also worked with a wide variety of departments to get things done for the show on ships – from purchasing departments to maintenance and facilities managers to culinary.

Performance Directing

One of my favorite pictures from BAC rehearsals. We look so serious. (Photo Credit: Maike Shultz)

I also use quite a few skills from my past life working with a circus, but that’s not all that surprising.

I have a few difficult performers and pull memories out of my carpet bag of skills about how I’ve worked with difficult people before. One of the operas I worked on and a performance this year both had people with similar… particular… temperaments.

During tech when we were short staffed and there were just way too many projects to reasonably handle, I pulled skills out of my carpet bag from college, which I’m pretty sure was the last time I made masking, and wildly underpaid Off-Broadway gigs, and a few other “little shows that could.”

I’m always surprised at how little nothing gigs along the way wind up helping me out later in my career.

2017 started out with finishing up FAME. Stage managing a national tour of a musical was on my stage management bucket list, so it was a high point in my career.

Stage Managing FAME

FAME: Where the wings on one of the venues were so small, they crammed me in a nearby dressing room to call the show.

From there, I was supposed to go out on a really well paying tour with an old company I worked for and it fell through 12 hours before I was supposed to fly out. 12 hours. I’ve heard stories about this happening to people in the past, but in 14 years of stage managing, it was the first time I had a job fall through at the last minute.

So two months of being an unemployed stage manager was a fairly low point in my career.

From there, I picked up these two tiny shows. A three week gig doing a musical in Hilton Head, South Carolina. It was the lowest amount of money I’d made stage managing in 12 years. Oddly enough, it wound up being my first time working with Equity actors (further proof that union is flawed – lowest amount of money in twelve years on a union gig). So that was at least another skill for the carpet bag and I’ve gotten three other job offers from working with that director.

Then I ASMed an opera for about a month, which was a lot of fun. I really like Roanoke, Virginia. I learned a lot more about opera. I got to work with one of the best sopranos in America and she’s a really delightful human. One of our other leads was a Broadway performer stretching his wings in a different direction. The Maestro is a regular at the Metropolitan Opera. I was so confused.


Backstage waiting for a cue with Opera Roanoke (Photo Credit: Michael Wilson)

From the depths of the unemployment low point and then the delightfully weird and wonderful Virginia opera, I picked up another gig on my stage management bucket list, Sleep No More, which was essentially a nightmare experience.

So… high point in crossing another goal off the stage management bucket list but low point because it was a really miserable gig.

On a whim because of a friend’s Facebook post, I applied for this gig I have now. It all happened over the course of about 4 days that my life went from plodding along sadly at Sleep No More to working for the circus again. It’s my favorite job I’ve ever had and I actually get paid well.

2017 has definitely been the craziest stage management year of them all. So if you’re currently in one of your career low points, know it could all turn around just as easily in a few months.

2 thoughts on “The Non-Linear Life of a Stage Manager

  1. Your posts always inspire me! I love the thought of a carpet bag of skills and am going to try and think of my own varied skills that way too!

    Glad to hear that your 2017 has culminated in such a positive way!

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