The Starting Point
Through the red doors of the angled, Center for the Arts building. Down the sloping hall, up the staircase. Right. Left. Right. A small room tucked in the corner, 226, known as the “tap box” hosts inner workings of a mainstage performance. Old wooden floors echo every foot fall, a black bar runs along one wall, and props for the The Bald Soprano rehearsal decorate the sparse space: purple couch, black door, stool, two chairs.1
“If you were to discover a new planet, what would you call it?” said Katie Spina ‘19, stage manager afor the production, creating a relaxed atmosphere with her “question of the day.”
“Pluto, so it can be a planet again,” said Kayla Kristofco ’20, assistant stage manager, a smile pulling at her lips.
Brydon Geisler ‘18, student director, arrives and everyone prepares for a long night. The focus is Mr. and Mrs. Martin, Ben Dawn-Cross ‘20 and Esther Kruman ’18 respectively. For two hours, Spina takes tedious notes while the actors run through a scene. She handles what others do not see, a liaison between every department that will help craft a performance. Reserving rehearsal spaces, sending countless emails, and taking notes on every line is all in a day’s work.
This isn’t her first go-round. Spina’s resume includes stage manager for a low-key production in the Red Doors, as well as the assistant stage manager for Muhlenberg’s The Pirates of Penzance in 2016.
The rehearsal plays like an old VHS tape: blurs of the same scene replaying, catching a moment not seen the first time. “Again!” Geisler presses pause, interjecting with a clipped bark. The actors rewind.
“Take out your pauses. Do more small gestures. It’s ‘then,’ not ‘so’!”
The Bald Soprano is an absurdist fiction, a mystery in meaning. Yet, the actors work hard, maybe harder in this case, to bring something, anything to the performance. And it shows. One rehearsal conveys the tone of the countdown until opening night. Tension hangs in the air. Everyone sags with the weight of the upcoming weeks.
After rehearsal, Kruman runs up to Geisler, her cream ruffled skirt swishing against her black shoes.
“Can you run lines with me now? I’m free until 10.”
After a night of repetition, she wants to get the lines just right. It seems almost absurd. But then again, the whole production is absurd.
When an audience sees a theatre production, they notice the actors’ exquisite display of emotion or the way the music moves and dips with the scene. When Katie Spina sees a theatre production, she notices the seamless transitions and the detailed lighting cues that supplement a performance.
It is Spina’s job to notice these minuscule details. We look on stage, she looks behind it
As a theatre and political science double major, she is not just a student, although that’s what one would assume with one glance. With red, wavy hair cut short and a gleaming nose ring, Spina looks like any other liberal arts student walking to class. But she also works behind closed doors of Muhlenberg’s New Voices, New Visions Mainstage productions. While the actors run lines and work through movements, she prepares intricacies that flawlessly weave a story together.
Actors receive a standing ovation and bouquets of flowers. Stage crew is graced with a raised hand from the performers at the end of a show, but rarely the audience recognizes it.
“Sometimes it’s sad. You do a lot and no one knows who you are,” Spina said. But the invisible identity doesn’t bother her.
“It’s nice to be involved in a way that’s not ‘out there.’”
Stage managers experience the same thing actors or directors do. A job well done. A performance that impacts people.
Stage managers are like superheroes. No one knows who they are. That doesn’t stop them from doing what they need to do.
The lights dim. Spina sits above, half-hidden in the darkness. Dressed in black, wearing a headset. She ensures every cue hits its mark, not taking a moment to sit back. The Martins and Smiths jump and yell as a stage clock’s hand twirls indefinitely, the notion of time — and its meaning — unknown. Somewhere in the madness, a fireman appears, whipping a hose around and around. The audience perches on the edge of their seats, breaths held. If they look away for a minute, they’ll miss everything and nothing.
What’s in it for the actors, the stage manager, the director? What is the payoff for months of labor, headaches, and search of meaning? Maybe it’s the laughter that roars from the audience throughout the play. Maybe it’s the applause that reverberates off the walls, bouncing back into the performers’ ears. Maybe there is an appreciation of nothing, the making of one’s own meaning. This fuels the actors. The ability to construct their own connection, weave their own tales.
When the performers bow to thunderous clapping and whistles, the long nights of rehearsal feel worth it. The frustration of understanding multi-dimensional meaning fades. They will never be in that particular moment, with that particular crew, in that particular character again. The cycle of roles will continue, many will pursue acting after graduation. But the play about nothing, the ability to find oneself through a role, as an actor or a crew member, will not be forgotten.
As the applause tapers off, Spina sits back with a smile.