Changing Roles

This is the point in the process where a director hands the show over to the stage manager and rides off into the sunset. Professional directors and even lots of community theatre directors will watch opening night, but after the final dress rehearsal they are done.

The stage manager at that point keeps things on time, the actors in line and makes sure that the production is run and looks the way the director intended. The stage manager usually has little to no creative input (unless asked directly by the director) but is in complete control backstage once the show opens.

Since I am not most directors and I am a TOTAL control freak, when I hand the show over to the stage manager tonight, I will be the one I hand it to! I really enjoy being a stage manager and with the way I have staged the show, keeping everyone on time at the start and at intermission is really about all I have to deal with. And I love this cast so much, how could I leave??

In actuality, I had honestly decided I wanted to hand the show over, watch opening night and then retreat back to my hermit lifestyle. I told Tim this summer that it might be difficult to just walk away, but I wanted to try. Reading Facebook posts of other directors wishing their cast well as they left for the beach seemed like an enviable goal.

I asked someone who had expressed interest in learning to stage manage (she had even watched Tim do tech at another production so as to begin her education) if she would like to fill this spot. I assured her it would be an easy play with which to begin her stage managing career.

She agreed to stage manage way back in August, but told me that she was pregnant, her baby due in December. That would mean her child would be 2 months old when the play opened. And she already had a two year old. And she’s a doctor. In the back of my mind I knew this would never happen, but every month or so, she and I would communicate. She kept on assuring me that it would work.

About a month before we were to begin rehearsals, she emailed to say that she just couldn’t do it. I was not a bit surprised and completely understood.

I then asked a friend who has been very curious about the theatre, often asking insightful questions about the process involved. I had asked her to stage manage a show last year, but family responsibilities had stopped her. I thought maybe now she had more time and might want to try.

My friend listened and quizzed me about the job and I thought it might work out. When I sent her the rehearsal schedule, she replied that she had no idea we worked so long and so much on these productions and she just could not commit to something this involved right now. Her reaction is actually why I decided to blog about this process. I realized that most people don’t know how much goes into one of these shows.

I had been working on the show all along, and more and more I realized that I could just handle this with a little help at a couple of rehearsals, so here I am. I am not retreating back to my hermit lifestyle, nor am I heading to the beach. I am heading backstage where I again will never get to see my work with the audience and will be moving around in the dark, behind the scenes where I honestly would rather be.

Being a director is a bit like being the mom of the group, being stage manager is totally like being the theatre mom. Keeping everything running, making sure people are where they are supposed to be on time, dressed appropriately and ready to go.

It means setting things up at the beginning of the show, picking up afterwards. It means worrying that everyone is happy and healthy. It includes filling bottles and fixing the food for stage. It means not only knowing your own job but everyone else’s so you can coordinate between the sound booth, the box office, the house manager and the cast.

As director I have almost learned everyone’s lines- not the way they know them but enough to recognize without looking when a line is left out or mixed up. I know when everyone is supposed to enter, exit, change clothes, or pick up a prop. I have made discoveries about each and every character and wondered why each one says what they say, how they are feeling and what their motivation is.

As an actor you discover your character, create your character, embody your character. You know the other characters by how your character relates to them. You create your own world. As director I have been a small part of creating all of the characters and I have tried to make sure that they relate to each other and compliment each other. I have tried to tell a cohesive story where each character is unique yet comes together with the others to make all of this make sense. Now, as stage manager, I have to nurture the cast and be there for them so that they can do what the director has pulled together.

I have grown to love this cast. Although I knew most of them from before, I added a couple of new people (well, new to me) and they have all worked together beautifully. I am so grateful for how the process has come together and everyone has collaborated with me and each other. I am glad I am not just watching from the audience and then walking away. I think it might have broken my heart.

I never feel like I did enough, if my choices were right, if I could have tried harder, interjected more. I am never sure if the actors feel supported enough or smothered. Like being a mom, we are never sure until it is almost over if we did anything right, and even then we can’t really be sure. Our child turns out to be a good person and seems to still like us, we take that as a win. The cast puts on a play that the audience gets, laughs at, thinks about and the actors don’t seem to hate you, so you take it as success. But you never feel sure that you did it “right”, whatever that is.

As with most things in life, all you can do is your best at the time. You learn, you grow, you try again. After every show I say I am done, this is my last theatre endeavor. I pray to just get through this unscathed and I promise to gracefully retire. And then a new script comes across my desk and a new vision forms. I get the itch to go back to the theatre after a week or two of recovery after a show.

I guess that is what passion is- the push and pull that is almost beyond our control. The frustration of not being sure and yet the all consuming desire to try again. The realization that art is never perfect, but is always perfect in its own way. The desire to create more even as you are exhausted with what you have done so far.

I am moving from director to stage manager tonight, but I don’t guess I’ll ever move away from the theatre. I just keep changing roles.

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Marietta is a graduate of the University of Montevallo with a BFA in musical theater. She has been performing for over 50 years on the stage and continues to perform, direct and teach. Marietta is married to Tim, has a son named Jon, and a cat named Penny.