I have always been a lover of theatre, whether I’m behind the curtain or in front of it. In high school, I was president of the drama club and have acted in a variety of shows over the years. But by the time I moved onto campus in the fall, I couldn’t wait to get involved in what I hoped would be a slightly more professional theatre program. But not wanting to take on too much with an acting role my first semester, I decided to try something new. Opting out of auditioning for one of the upcoming plays, I signed up for stage management instead. Little did I know that this lesser time commitment would still envelop the majority of my life outside of schoolwork for two months of rehearsals and performances … But oh, what an interesting, glorious, and memorable two months they were.
The University’s theatre community provides a variety of options for students wishing to be involved with drama. The Opposite of People (TOOP) is a completely student-run theatre company that puts on several productions each year. In Between the Lines (IBTL) performs comedy improv and hosts weekly improv game nights open to all. But while TOOP and IBTL are based out of Drama House (Rochester’s theatre interest residence) the International Theatre Program (URITP) calls Todd Theatre home. Named for its home in Todd Union, URITP’s black box theatre is a truly magical place, transformed twice a semester for the theatre program’s annual four productions. This is where I found myself for 15+ hours a week from late October to mid December, experiencing and participating in the wondrous inner workings of a Todd production.
Getting involved with Todd was easy enough; I simply had to show up to auditions at the beginning of the semester, fill out a questionnaire, and undergo a brief interview about my theatre experience (not that it’s a requirement). I joined fifteen other new assistant stage managers (ASMs) in being assigned to one of that semester’s two plays and was asked to join the stage management class, taught by the theatre program’s incredible artistic director, Nigel Maister. Throughout the semester, I attended Nigel’s weekly classes where we learned about the logistics of stage management as well as technical theatre in general. I, along with six other ASMs, ended up a member of the stage management team for this year’s second play, Tony Kushner’s “A Bright Room Called Day,” the story of a group of artistic friends living in the politically tumultuous world of early 1930s Germany. I was given three rehearsal shifts a week during which my ASM partner and I would set up and clean up the stage area and set, record blocking (how the actors move in a given scene), be “on book” (ready to prompt the actors with their lines), and fulfill any of our production stage manager's requests (including Starbucks runs).
While ASMing during rehearsal was not always the most stimulating of activities, particularly when all blocking was recorded and the actors were comfortable with their lines, I continued to enjoy watching “Bright Room” come to life as our brilliant director helped the show to evolve into something truly wonderful. URITP, while employing much of its production staff permanently, also typically hires professional directors and designers for each given production. Rochester students involved in theatre therefore get the chance to work directly with these professionals, a unique opportunity that’s hard to find at comparable universities.
By the time tech week rolls around, each ASM is assigned to a different specialized job (costumes, props, lights, sound…). I was assigned to video and spent many hours on head set, finger poised, ready to cue video slides that were projected between each scene. During tech, I shared a table with our video designer as he worked on perfecting the video aspects of the show. While the long hours of tech are known for being grueling and even boring, I fared pretty well as our team somehow kept the atmosphere cheerful. In particular random bursts of song from the designers helped to keep things interesting. But when we finally concluded with an adequately teched show, our stage management team was back on its own and in control of every aspect of the production, save the acting.
Bright Room ran for two weeks, performed eight times for the University as well as the general Rochester community to enjoy. Clad only in black and armed with a head set and functional cuing finger I took my seat at the back of the theatre each night along with the light and sound board of ASMs and our PSM, in charge of giving us the “go” for each of our respective cues. By the final night, we had perfected the art of Bright Room tech, quickly responding to stand-by requests and clicking our cues in unison. Our success behind the scenes was matched by those on stage as each show was met with the ever validating glory of enthusiastic audience approval.
While I can’t say I’m sorry to take back some of my free time now that Bright Room has ended, I remain grateful for my experience this semester at Todd. The opportunity to learn about a different aspect of theatre and participate in such an amazing process is something I’ll always be glad I had the chance to be a part of. I made many wonderful friends by being involved at Todd with whom I shared a variety of hilarious if not unforgettable memories along the way. As of now I’m not sure of my future theatre plans as my passions are not contained to drama. But even if (however unlikely) I never attend another rehearsal, I will ever remain a theatre enthusiast and a loyal fan of Todd.