Thank You, Places...Production Stage Manager CECILIA LIGHTHALL
What's a stage manager? What do they do? What's their job? Seriously. Perhaps no job in the theater is as hard to define as that of a production stage manager and it's that blend of mystery, fear and total dependence that makes actors, directors, crew members, producers - you name it! - hold a really great stage manager in total awe and to revile someone who is (how do you say it, without offending anyone?) less than stellar in their position?
According to Wikipedia, "Stage management is the practice of organizing and coordinating a theatrical production. It encompasses a variety of activities, including organizing the production and coordinating communications between various personnel (e.g., between director and backstage crew, or actors and production management)." And that's a pretty good definition, to be sure.
However, it doesn't quite do justice to the amazing stage managers who can make a good production a great one. As they ride herd over everyone connected to a show, while maintaining the integrity of what has been created, the stage manager's responsibilities are many and varied, and by the wave of a hand or the pointed gesticulation of a colored marker or highlighter, they can work miracles that oftentimes save a production from certain failure.
Yet despite their magical powers and all the wizardry they can summon at any particular moment, stage managers seldom get the attention, the adulation or the respect they so richly deserve...because they are simply so good at their job that they seamlessly move from one task to the next, one project to the next that they don't call attention to their awesomeness.
With this - our latest regular feature - we hope to rectify that and shine the spotlight on the individuals who make the shows run with the precision of a Swiss timepiece. Thank You, Places... is our opportunity to edify the theater-goer by introducing you to some of the best production stage managers to be found on the planet.
Today, we introduce you to PSM Cecilia Lighthall, one of Tennessee's finest:
What was your first stage management gig? And your most recent assignment? My first SM assignment in college was Selkie. I had been an ASM before that. But, that was my first one as lead. My first professional show was Cabaret at Chaffin's Barn in 2004. My most recent show was Posterity with Nashville Repertory Theatre.
How did you get into stage managing to begin with? I got into stage management in college. A friend of mine asked me to ASM something they were working on and I agreed. I loved it. I was hooked to the headset.
What's the biggest misconception most people have about stage managers? I think some people think stage managers don't "do" much because they don't see what we do. It isn't necessarily tangible. People management, trouble shooting, and calling a show are not things people can quantify.
What's your favorite "the show must go on" moment? Oh, boy. There are so many. I have run shows throwing up in a bucket between my legs. I have run a show with a concussion after falling down stairs. I have run a show from the bathroom while suffering from morning sickness while pregnant. Scenic and technical elements occasionally go awry and we just go with it. We all do whatever it takes to make the show happen. I have seen actors perform with broKen Bones, illness, split pants, and over fire alarms! During opening night for Posterity - at the very beginning of the show - the door on set just would not open. It had worked fine before the show, so we had no explanation. The TD was trying to figure out how to get the door off during an upcoming blackout. However, he was wearing a white t-shirt. (Since he wasn't intending to be backstage that night). Without really thinking about it, I took my black shirt off, flipped it inside out, put it on him, and sent him on during the blackout. Now, I had a tank top on, so it wasn't like I was nude or anything. But, I am not sure it would have mattered. In that moment, it was more important that the show get fixed than my modesty. The TD and I felt very bonded after that night. We laugh about it now.
How do you prepare for a new production? Preparing for a show is both mental and physical. And it varies based on what the show and company are asking of you. But, it all starts with a script for me. Reading it, dissecting it, making lists of props, changes, trouble spots, areas I will anticipate heavy tech cues, etc. It is really about getting familiar with the story and the scenes so you can be ready for any questions or conversation that pops up about it. Then starts the paperwork. Blocking pages, contact sheets, schedules, line note forms, and prop lists all neatly organized into your production binder. Taping out the set, making the rehearsal space ready for actors, and communicating with everyone involved in the production rounds out the prep week. This is not an exhaustive list, and not all of these are required for each production. So, maybe the actual first thing we do to prep for a show is "be flexible"!
What's the most outlandish thing ever asked of you as a stage manager? Hmm...that is an interesting question. If I were ever asked to do something that was so outlandish that I felt it was inappropriate or unsafe, then I wouldn't do it and leave the production. But, that has never been the case. So, I guess the oddest request would be when I was working in New York City. A company I was stage managing for asked me to become a NYC Fire Guard. They paid for me to take the classes and the test. That was cheaper than paying another Fire Guard to be there every night, which is required in NYC. I didn't mind, since I didn't have to pay for it. And I had the final safety say for another aspect of our show. I kept up my certification the rest of my time in New York.