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Betwixt and between … an authoritative voice

If you will forgive me for starting my article with a somewhat tired simile, I tend to look at theatre like an antique watch. There are near endless individual parts and cogs and, by and large, a watch can still stylistically function if one of these is broken or missing. It will not, however, still tell time.

Theatre is much the same. You can put on a show without lights, or sound, or a director, or even a stage, and while it is still theatre (or a watch, to extend the simile slightly), there is something definitely missing, and the overall product suffers.

I suppose that is where I come in as a stage manager. I function, for lack of a better term, as the small gold chain that keeps time, silently moving the cogs that eventually, through the glory that is modern machinery, move the hands that make the timepiece worn around your wrist identifiable as a watch.

No doubt by now I have probably caused more confusion than I have alleviated. As a stage manager, it is my job to make sure that others are doing theirs. That is not to say that I am a foreman, and I am there solely to crack the whip. Theatre is constantly changing in the rehearsal process. Like any creative medium, things change on an almost hourly basis. There have been times that in the minutes it took me to locate a prop for a director, he has decided in fact not to use it. Due to the fact that the designers, technicians and crew of a show are most often in the early stages of a rehearsal process, it is my job to keep them apprised of the changes that take place.

I’m sort of ashamed that I am not articulate enough to fully describe what I do in rehearsal. I make it sound like I’m a secretary taking minutes at a meeting, which in all honesty is a part of it. There is another more abstract portion of my job as well, which is me toeing the line between giving the director all the time and creative freedom he needs, and pushing the process along, knowing full well that we have only a short period of time to get the show ready for an audience. In addition to this task, I have to look out for myself, and get mentally prepared for tech rehearsal.

Tech rehearsal is the only time in the process of theatre that actually focuses on the stage manager, and allows him (me) time to work with the show. It is in these few days that the show goes from what was rehearsed to what is the finished product that you as a patron would see on the stage.

Over the course of two to three very long days, the lights and sound and deck shifts and scene changes and whatever else are added in around the actors, doggedly trying their best to maintain and hold the performance that they have crafted in the confines of the rehearsal hall over the past few weeks. It is always long, it is almost always arduous, and the best description I can give you for it is the phrase “Hurry up and wait.”

That being said, those long days are when I would guess most stage managers feel the most at home and at their most creative and, generally, the closest to the artistic process; in tech, we get to “call the show” for the first time. Calling a show is our own private form of art, and while I would say it is one of the simplest and least important parts of our job, it is also the most visible and probably the most satisfying.

In order to be a stage manager, I think some part of you has to be a little controlling, and when you acknowledge that, there really isn’t a better feeling in the world than having someone hit a button exactly every time you tell him to.

Once the show opens, the stage manager’s role changes drastically. While over the course of the rehearsal, our goal is to facilitate every change that is made, and make sure all others do their best to do so as well, once the show opens we become almost the exact opposite. It becomes our goal and purpose to prevent the change and fluidity that is inherent in a live theatre performance done over the course of weeks or months.

The director will leave after opening night, and leave me with a product that he (hopefully) views as his exact vision. The stage manager becomes his eyes and ears. While the show will naturally grow, it must also be sheared and pruned every once in a while. The last thing you want is for a director to come back to see the piece he put together, and not recognize the product being presented as his own.

I suppose if I had to talk about my personal interest in stage management, it would be due to this liminal quality inherent in my position. I am constantly changing my role, from an overseer to an artistic companion, a technician to a coach. I make changes happen, I keep things the same. I remain behind the scenes, but what I do is visible during every public performance. I am betwixt and between, but I am an authoritative voice. I don’t think I could do this any other way.

The indefatigable JR Goldberg is stage manager for "Forever Plaid," his first show at Proctors arts and entertainment complex. A Troy resident, JR has worked previously at Capital Repertory Theatre, The Cleveland Playhouse, Cleveland Public Theatre and the Beck Center for Performing Arts. In October, he will return to Capital Repertory Theatre where he will stage manage the Theatre for Young Artists tour of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

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