Inside JCPRD: Beyond the stage – managing magic

By April Kobetz

When you come see “Be More Chill” you’ll see the titles stage manager and assistant stage manager listed in the program. Have you ever wondered who these people are and what they do during a theater production? As a 20-year veteran stage manager myself, this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and while it’s impossible to distill everything about stage management down into one blog post (trust me, there have been many books written about stage management and I’ve read almost all of them!) I’d like to give you a glimpse into this amazing and vital team within a team.

The “Be More Chill” stage management team is led by Catherine Lewis, an experienced production stage manager as well as AP English teacher at Olathe North High School (talk about an overachiever, which is exactly the person you want in this role). Assistant stage managers Sophia Hillman and Joe Ceritelli round out the team. Sophia is one of Catherine’s students at Olathe North who will be following her musical- theater-loving heart to Wichita State’s music theater program next fall, and Joe is a software engineer at Garmin and theater “Jack of all Trades.” This talented trio is responsible for managing all aspects of the production – from auditions through the final curtain call.

So, what exactly does this team DO? During rehearsals and performances the stage management team must keep their minds focused on everything that happens on and off stage. Every prop, costume, set piece, and actor must be tracked so that the team knows exactly where each piece and person resides on and off stage at every moment of the show. This requires a lot of paperwork (so many spreadsheets) and detailed communication with the directing and design team. Let’s say that during a rehearsal the director asks an actor to pull a handkerchief out of his right pocket. It is then the stage manager’s job to notate and communicate that to the costume designer in the nightly rehearsal report. They also include notes about what size, color, pattern, and fabric the handkerchief should be made of so the designer can produce the exact piece the director envisions. Once performances begin it is the assistant stage manager’s responsibility to make sure that the handkerchief is always put in the proper pocket prior to the performance. And they do this for anywhere from 10-100 props, costumes, and set pieces per production!

Stage management is truly a team art form. “I love creating something as a team,” says Catherine. “As a stage manager I get to utilize my organizational skills and still be artistic.” During rehearsals Catherine creates the “Be More Chill” prompt script which contains everything about the show; all the actors’ movements, how scene changes work, special effects, costume changes, etc. Before technical rehearsals she receives a list of cues from the lighting, sound, and projection designers telling her when each lighting change or sound effect needs to happen and adds these to the prompt script. Using a headset to communicate with her crew, who are often scattered all over the theater, Catherine practices telling them when to do each cue. Practice makes perfect because she is responsible for calling upwards of 200 cues, perfectly, every time, so that audiences see the same show every night.

“Calling a show gives me the same sense of accomplishment as performing. It’s intense to integrate all of these elements: acting, directing, choreography, and design, and execute them the same way every performance.” Well, you hope it’s the same every performance, but that’s the joy of live theater, isn’t it?

Calling a show means that, “you have to be very in tune with your actors to make sure that you get the timing of cues just right,” Catherine said. “You’ve got to be prepared for anything to go wrong. You have to know exactly what could happen next and have several different scenarios ready in your head. There’s nothing more rewarding than the feeling of calling a perfect show, but it’s also a huge sense of accomplishment when something goes horribly wrong and our team is able to cover it so seamlessly that the audience never knows anything was amiss.”

Theatre in the Park is truly lucky to have such an amazing stage management team for our Kansas City premier of “Be More Chill!” Please make sure to give them an extra round of applause when you come see the show!

April Kobetz is the Administrative Assistant for Theatre in the Park.  A proud graduate of The University of Maryland Department of Theatre she has worked professionally as a stage manager in Chicago and Kansas City since 2005.  April has been a part of Theatre in the Park for over a decade as the Production Stage Manager for many shows including “Damn Yankees,” “Shrek,” and “Mary Poppins” before joining the TIP team full time in 2019.