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Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Drama

Kentuckians in Theater

Stage Manager Rebecca C. Monroe
New York, NY

Who Rebecca Monroe has worked as a stage manager for musicals, “straight” (non-musical) plays, and ballet and opera productions throughout the United States, including on Broadway in New York City, where she served as stage manager for the hit revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song. She received a bachelor’s degree in English from Vassar College, where she pursued her love of Shakespeare. While spending her junior year in England, Monroe attended productions at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in the Bard’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon. Hoping to become a dramaturg—a professional who assists with the research and interpretation of plays—she continued her studies at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, where she first had the opportunity to work as an assistant stage manager. Monroe’s first job as production stage manager was at Horse Cave Theatre (now known as the Kentucky Repertory Theatre at Horse Cave), where she worked in 1992 and 1993.

What “A stage manager is the liaison—the communications route—between all the different departments: the actors, the director, the technical departments. The stage manager executes for the director his or her vision of the play. The director leaves once the show is open, and the stage manager is responsible for maintaining the artistic integrity of the director. I’m a pretty unusual stage manager in that I do everything—ballet, Broadway, straight plays, opera.”

When “On Broadway, you start during the development of the play, from the very first reading of the script by the cast. Before you get into rehearsals, they have pre-production. The stage manager keeps track of production numbers, costume and set logistics, and props; puts together contact sheets with phone numbers of cast and crew; and generally figures out how to do things most efficiently. The stage manager also directs understudies (actors who must be prepared to substitute for regular cast members) in understudy rehearsals and takes care of some of the finances.... During the run of a show, the stage manager or an assistant stage manager ‘calls the show’—gives the cues for light changes—throughout the show and maintains everyday technical stuff such as making sure any damage to the set gets fixed. Before every performance, I check in on my headset with every department head and make sure that everyone is ready to start. I talk to the light board engineer, the person mixing the sound, the orchestra conductor, the men on the rail [‘flymen,’ who raise and lower parts of the set], follow spots, and house manager.

“The schedule depends on what step of the process you’re in. When we’re in rehearsal, I work from 9:00 in the morning until around 7:00 at night, and then I work on paperwork related to the show. When we’re in the theater doing tech [technical rehearsals], I work from 8:00 in the morning until midnight or 1:00 am. During previews, we’re rehearsing during the day and performing at night. Once the show is open, I get to the theater about two hours before a performance. We also do matinees, weekends, and promotions, like the Today show.”

Where “I work in rehearsal halls and theaters. In some places, you don’t have a rehearsal hall at all.”

How “I work with everyone connected to a production. When I do opera, it’s helpful to speak a foreign language. I have high school French and some Italian. When you’re stage-managing an opera, it helps to be able to read music. During a musical, I’m counting off ‘bumps,’ not following the musical score.”

Why “I love the craziness of backstage. I love being with the performers and realizing when you’re coming close to bringing it all together—that adrenaline when the show’s new. I like the camaraderie of theater. I would really love to be able to work in a foreign country, like an opera festival in Italy or at the Globe Theater in London.”

Getting There “Don’t specialize in theater early on. Go out and be well-rounded first. I’m glad I had a liberal arts background. I have a big ‘inner encyclopedia’ with historical references that can help a director. Stage-managing is something you learn by doing, so you should go out and have the experience. Go intern at Horse Cave Theatre or anyplace you can go—professional or community theater. I have fond memories of Horse Cave. They were willing to take a chance on me.”

About the photo: Monroe is pictured stage-managing a production of Flower Drum Song at the Virginia Theatre in New York City. Here’s her description of what you see: “I am at the ‘calling desk’ from which a stage manager runs the show. My left hand is on a cue switch for automation, and I am speaking into the paging system. Directly above the cuing switches is a panel for the stage manager’s headset contacts: Light Board Operator, Followspots, Deck, Sound, etc. On top you see three monitors. The left one is a side view of the stage (important on some shows for the safety of the performers and big moving set pieces), the middle one is a view of the whole stage, and the one on the right is a monitor of the conductor, whom I have to follow carefully. On the back of the desk you’ll see a red drum—that was one of the Flower Drums for the show.”

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