Thank You, Places...Production Stage Manager SUZANNE SPOONER-FAULK
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 Suzanne Spooner-Faulk, known as "Spoonie" to her friends, family and legions of admirers, one of Tennessee's finest:
What was your first stage management gig? And your most recent? The first show I stage managed was my junior year of college in 1995 (Wesleyan College, Macon, Georgia). It was a production of a play called Mrs. California by Doris Baizle. Most recently, I stage managed My Fair Lady at the Keeton Theatre. Currently, I'm working on Mary Poppins at the Keeton.
How did you get into stage managing to begin with? I was on a theatre scholarship in college and one of the requirements was that you work on every production, either onstage or backstage. Stage managing was a rite of passage that all scholarship recipients had to do.
What's the biggest misconception most people have about stage managers? I think the biggest misconception is that stage managers are mean and nasty. A stage manager's job is to ensure that the show runs as smoothly as possible. Unfortunately, that sometimes involves being stern with adrenaline pumped performers. I try to have a sense of humor in my approach & refer to myself as Captain Buzzkill.
What's your favorite "the show must go on" moment? There have been quite a few. I've snuck on stage to strike or place essential props that were forgotten I've hidden under a hatch door to change out a dead mic pack (terrifying an actor in the process). I've had a main curtain break during a show that we had to open by hand. I had a show where the light board died at intermission and we had to run the entire second act with one row of florescent lights and a spot. My favorite would have to be during White Christmas. We were having really strange weather and we were under a tornado watch. The sirens went off in the middle of the second act & I had to hold the show. The audience had to evacuate to the basement and I moved the cast to a little area by the green room. The sirens stopped after about 20 minutes and we picked the show up where we left off. So, the show went on...it just took a few minutes.
How do you prepare for a new production? Even before auditions or rehearsals start? I'll do research on the show to get a rough idea of what I'm going to be dealing with backstage in regard to set pieces, props and cast size. Backstage is kind of like a big puzzle and I try to make all of it work and fit as efficiently and effectively as possible. The sooner I can get that in my head the better.
What's the most outlandish thing ever asked of you as a stage manager?
If you don't work in theatre, some parts of my job might seem outlandish, but it's just a typical day for me. To date there hasn't been anything too outlandish asked of me. I guess I've been lucky. I'm sure it's just a matter of time.