How I was “brought up”: a Stage Manager’s musings

images.jpeg“That’s the way I was brought up.” This was a quote from a friend and fellow Stage Manager, Kenny McGee, referring to coming up as a young stage manager in the professional theatre. This statement has stuck with me; “That’s the way I was brought up.” Assistants like Kenny and I, people of a certain age you might say, had the opportunity to work with the Stage Managers of the Golden Age of Stage Managing in this business. They had such specific styles and were all so wildly diverse and elegant in their own way. Masters of the craft like Steven Zweigbaum who had experiences that resulted in many a new rule in the Equity Agreement after his time with David Merrick on the original 42nd Street. Working with Steven came with an amazing array of theatre stories; I could sit and listen for hours. He was a stage manager before the British invasion (the big one in the 80’s) when Stage Managers really managed the entire show. There weren’t teams of residents and associates that did this and maintained that. You had a dance captain or two and had to develop a fierce relationship with the director. Beverley Randolph was another major force in the Stage Manager kingdom, she was the broad of the boards, and insisted in being the boss in the room. Talk about the Golden Age of Broadway; know a guy called Jerome Robbins? Bev did, as well as Hal Prince & James Lapine. You look down her resume and you see many directors who frequented her Stage Manager styling. As Bev’s assistant you did things her way, period, full stop. She had her own elegance and style as a stage manager that was irrefutable and she did it all in pumps and pearls! So hold off on that bra burning…its not at all necessary. Peter Lawrence, this is a fella that has done them big and small. Everyone who has had the good fortune to work with Peter from Assistants to Producers know they are in good hands; he’s a man of the theatre. When you worked for these Stage Managers you made sure your T’s were crossed and the bathrooms were clean, even if you had to do them yourself. It was a matter of respect and hard work. You weren’t positioning yourself to be the next Production Stage Manager for X, Y and Z, you didn’t dare. The director may not even realize you were part of the team because we were just there to do our job for the PSM.

When Kenny made this statement about how he was brought up he was specifically talking about him being raised that if a stage manager has to stand up during a rehearsal you as an assistant are not doing your job. I have never heard this in my life, but it makes sense. I was always there for the PSM and always felt awkward if the director addressed me personally with a question. For those of you who know me, this might be hard to believe. I have a big personality, but even with my personality and humor in tact I always defaulted to the Stage Manager and what he or she needed me to do to get a production up and running. In fact over the years I worked for a few PSM’s on Summer Stock productions, short Tours and Regionally that I couldn’t even tell you who the director was off the top of my head, but be sure I could tell you how that PSM liked a room to run.

Absolutely no disrespect intended to my contemporaries who are several years my junior, but I wonder if they think about how they were “brought up”.  They zipped through the process; they went from theatre school or Master’s programs to Production Assistant to Production Stage Manager in what seems to be a blink of an eye. They are often reputed to be very good Stage Managers, but I wonder if they realize what those Golden Age Stage Managers did without the benefit of internet, computers, cell phones and swarms of Residents and Associates.

Now as I am a PSM I get a little frustrated that I cannot run a room like these masters of the stage did… every director knows everyone on my team and their contributions. Maybe I spent too many years assisting or maybe not… maybe this is my style, my pumps and pearls as it were. I’m not really sure, but I do know one thing I am proud of “the way I was brought up”; an observer, a proud assistant, a support system. Granted I was never the best assistant, almost every PSM has given me a talking to, but I listen and I learn. That’s the way I was “brought up”!



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