by Candyce Columbus, LA Theater Examiner
Without stage managers the show would not go on. Yet they are the most unsung of theatrical professionals. Believing they should have a chance to shine, this is part of a series of Q & A articles with Southland stage managers. Next up is Terri Roberts who is currently stage managing the hit Bakersfield Mist at the Fountain Theatre.
How did you become a stage manager?
I fell into it by accident. Or not – depending on your point of view. In the fall of 2003 I set up and ran concessions for The Theatre @ Boston Court for their inaugural production of Romeo and Juliet, Antebellum New Orleans 1836. That led to me becoming a dresser for Juliet and the women, doing costume repairs, moving sets and props – generally pitching in wherever help was needed. The stage manager, Jennifer Scheffer, was impressed with my work, so the following fall she invited me to be her ASM for a new musical she was stage managing. It was an Equity gig, so I was eligible to join the union on my very first stage management job!
Do you have a favorite show you have stage managed?
There have been a few, actually, and for several different reasons (although the common denominator is the cast and/or director and designers. You just can’t beat working with really good, talented people!) However, The Ballad of Emmett Till at the Fountain Theatre holds a particularly tender place in my heart. Our dear Ben Bradley was just beginning rehearsals for it when he was murdered on New Year’s Day 2010. It was Ben who brought me into the Fountain in the first place, so when Stephen Sachs asked me if I would be willing to be the assistant stage manager, I immediately said “yes” – not only because I needed the work, but because it was something I could do to honor Ben. I only came into the show right before tech, but Shirley Jo Finney (who took over as director) and the cast and stage manager were incredibly welcoming and loving, and I bonded quickly with them. We were all connected both by the show (which was brilliant) and by the tragedy of losing Ben, so the whole thing was an extraordinarily personal, profound experience.
Do you have any funny stage managing memories that you cherish?
Well, it wasn’t funny while it was happening, but now…!
In late 2006 I was stage managing a show called Rockers at Theatre West. It had been cold and stormy all day, and during the show it began to rain. It was the first storm of the season, and it was a really heavy rain. About 15 minutes from the end of the show I started to hear a strange noise in the wall. It was rushing water, and the water was starting to pour into the booth through an opening in the wall.
I grabbed the small booth trashcan and stuck it under the flow of water, then snuck out of the booth and grabbed another trashcan from the lobby. I spent the last part of the show doing a wild, one-woman bucket brigade between the booth and the lobby bathrooms, carrying and dumping trash cans full of water to keep the booth from flooding while simultaneously trying to not disturb the audience (who were just a few feet in front of me), trying to call theatre staff for help on my cell phone, and trying to run the last few cues and get the show properly ended!
As soon as the show was over I was able to grab members of the cast and crew to help . . . the whole thing made for a great combined sense of drama, hilarity, accomplishment and teamwork!
What is your current project?
I’m currently stage managing Bakersfield Mist at the Fountain Theatre, which opened on 11 June – and we’re still running! Bakersfield Mist is a wonderfully fun show about the nature and perception of art, and the audience response to it has been unbelievable. This is my sixth show at the Fountain, and my second working with Stephen on a production he has both written and directed. (And hopefully, it won’t be my last!) We’re definitely closing on 18 December, so if you haven’t seen it yet, well, as Maude would say, what the *$#! are you waiting for?!
More info on Bakersfield Mist (323) 663-1525