|"Perhaps, therefore, ideal stage managers need not only be calm and meticulous professionals who know their craft, but masochists who feel pride in rising above impossible odds."|
- Peter Hall, Director of National Theater, England
Before I worked in film, I worked in theater, and my first real experience was as a minor actor in an ensemble play about Michael Servitas and the Protestant Reformation. It was a very long play. One reviewer said he felt like he had sat through the Protestant Reformation. It was done at a hot theater in summer and we wore heavy clothing, but it was there that I discovered the joys of stage managing through meeting Nancy Juliber.
I've told the entire story before, so I will spare long-time readers a complete recount. Suffice to say that Nancy took me on as an ASM on her next play, and I went on to stage manage probably close to a hundred small, Off-Broadway and so-far-off-Broadway-you-couldn't-find-them-with-a-map plays. Some were done with some of the best "downtown" companies and actors and directors.
Every play asked for a bio. As stage manager, you realize that nobody but your family cares about your bio. I always kept it brief. Sometimes it would be just one line - the line that would end all my bios in theater as stage manager and later as director and even the few times I got back to the stage as an actor.
This play is dedicated to Nancy.
I must admit that part of this was my own sense of humor. I loved the fact that if anyone bothered to read my bio, they might wonder who Nancy was. A lost love? The sister I lost as a child? My high school English teacher who inspired me to a life in the theater? At least, I hoped they wondered. More likely, they never gave it a thought.
However, in part, it was a sincere tribute. Nancy taught me how to stage manage, and later got me my first film production office job as assistant office production coordinator on a feature and showed me how to do that. I have talked lots about mentors, but no one contributed more to the direction of my career toward the production side more than Nancy. Indeed, stage managing prepared me for film production in many ways, from understanding how to protect and care for actors, how to make directors feel that subtle suggestions were, in fact, their ideas, and how to remain calm in the middle of storms. All of these skills helped me as First AD and, later, line producer and producer.
“It’s too hard. It’s too complex. It’s too much of a task. It’s going to always lack. There will always be a kind of failure. We have to find a beauty in that.”
The characterizations were very much spot on, with just the right touch of existentialism and dramatic license. I also especially loved the director, played by the always wonderful Bruce McKenzie ( featured at the front of the stage above). Directors are often portrayed as fierce dictators. This director is much more what I remember, a benevolent despot who, in the end, is being blown around by the forces around him just as much as anyone else.
World-weary cynic that he is, he asks:
“With the playwright gone, where’s that little nimbus of panic and criticism right over by my right shoulder? How am I to know that I’m getting everything very subtly wrong?”
I would dedicate this post to him. Or to Gibson.
Except it's dedicated to Nancy.