::Interview with Cheryl Mintz::
Production Stage Manager of A Christmas Carol
What does a Stage Manager do, anyway?
The Production Stage Manager is the organizational nucleus of a theatrical production. The Production Stage Manager is also the right hand to the Director.
As a stage manager, I am involved in pre-production, setting up the rehearsal hall with my staff, coordinating and running the rehearsals with the Director, making sure all the departments of the theater know what’s going on in rehearsal and helping them meet our needs. Once a show moves into the theater, the Stage Management Team runs the technical rehearsals. Throughout the preview process [performances for audiences before the official opening of the show] we run the performances, as well as coordinate and run any rehearsals. Once the show has opened, generally the Director leaves, and it’s up to the Production Stage Manager to maintain the Director’s artistic integrity and artistic vision.
A big part of a Production Stage Manager’s job during performances is “calling the show.” What does “calling the show” mean, exactly?
During the technical rehearsals the Production Stage Manager coordinates the technical needs of the production with lighting, sound, the rail (which makes the scenery fly in and out), the winches (which track scenery on and off), the special effects and the stage crew. Backstage, many people wear headsets or takes their cue from a cue light. So when I “call the show,” I coordinate all the cueing. If everyone on the production operated their scenery or pressed the button on the computer to change the lights when they thought it was the right time, there’d be a train wreck! But a stage manager, by “calling the show,” choreographs the backstage world of the show. I’m taking the director’s vision and making it happen technically. So basically, I say, “Sound Cue WWW, Rail Cue 38, Light Cue 385, Winch Cue U and Tombstone Down, GO!” and when I say “GO” everybody executes their cue, and it happens all together
Do you have a favorite section of A Christmas Carol that you like to “call”?
I have three favorite chunks. I just love calling the Fezziwig Dance because it is our “Broadway” moment. But what I truly love are my duets with Scrooge: when Scrooge is in the streets of London reacting to the Ghost of Marley, which segues directly into him entering his bedroom, undressing and reacting to all the effects that happen around him, and again at the end of Act I, when he goes to sleep back in his bedroom, and Christmas Present arrives. First of all, I enjoy putting those scenes together because it’s always fun for Michael and me to help the new Scrooges do those sections. It’s also exciting because there are a lot of technical elements that involve his safety. I just love clicking into the mind of whoever the Scrooge is and being his scene partner. Scrooge is alone on stage, I’m calling all the effects and cues and he’s reacting to, and making them happen at just the right moment.
How do you put the show back together each year?
Archiving Christmas Carol each year is incredibly important, because each year we build on what we learned from the year before. We’re not coming in each year and trying to reinvent the wheel. We take everything off the shelf, all of our paperwork, all of our archives, and use them as a basis to remount. It’s very important that we take excellent notes so that the information is there for next year.
Could you describe these “archives” more specifically?
We bring in a professional Video Archivist who records the production from a single camera. Each season a production book is kept with all the actors blocking and stage management has photographs of everything – how backstage is set up and how the rehearsal hall is set up. There are other ways to archive a production, and every department has their own way of keeping track of the show from year to year. For example, the Costume Department has a “Costume Bible,” down to exactly where every piece of fabric and every button was originally purchased in New York. So if they ever have to rebuild a costume from scratch they have swatches and examples of every costume along with photos of the costume on the actors and the original costume sketches that Jess Goldstein designed. And also in terms of archiving, the Stage Management archives have running sheets that are given out to our twenty-plus crew members. The master for A Christmas Carol, is over 35 pages long. And we’re talking small type! So the paperwork grows each year, because each year we build on our knowledge.
As a Production Stage Manager, you are used to working on new plays. What’s the experience of working on a show like A Christmas Carol that is recreated year after year?
When I first came to this show twelve years ago, the archives were incomplete and fragmented because in the first three years of the production at McCarter there had been four different Production Stage Mangers. I knew I was coming into a machine that worked due to McCarter’s terrific stage crew and was figured out to an extent, so I didn’t want to come in and change everything in terms of “doing it my way.” I had to come to it the first year, conquer it, become part of the machine, and understand how everything worked before I could then go the next step in my second year and really polish the archives and production calling script.At the same time, even though we have the show so well archived, what’s very important is reinventing it. We really want to give the new cast members the feeling that they’re discovering their roles, and not just being plugged in to a show that already exists. We don’t want them to feel like they’re at an understudy rehearsal. And that starts with the five and six year-old kids who are playing the beggar children, all the way up to Scrooge.
As the Production Stage Manager, what role do you take in creating a festive atmosphere backstage?
During the rehearsal process, we do things that are fun for the kids – which are ultimately fun for the adults – such as “Wacky Shirt Day,” “Silly Hat Day” and “Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day:” everyone shows up wearing pajamas that day, and we take group pictures! Usually Hannukah falls during tech or early in the performance process. We light the candles and celebrate Hannukah each evening, and the invitation extends to all company members, whoever wants to come and participate. Michael has this ritual every year of singing a Hannukah song and dancing through the halls with the company. And then, come Christmastime we always turn the “Company Dinner” into a Christmas Party—oh I’m forgetting, and Secret Santa
Don’t forget! It’s the best part!
…which is the centerpiece of fun. Secret Santa—everyone just loves it, and it usually goes on for a week of, and at the Christmas Party everyone exchanges their final gift. Everything just gets wild during Secret Santa. It’s very festive and I’d say 99 % of the companies and crews over the last twelve years have participated in Secret Santa. Also, what has become a trend for many years among the adults is decorating dressing rooms. Everybody tries to out-do each other, even though we’re here for 3 weeks of performances. So it’s very fun, it’s very festive, and the festivity reaches everyone, even the parents and siblings of the Young Ensemble!
What makes Christmas Carol special to you?
The whole year is spent doing classic productions and world premieres from scratch, to return each year to a big Broadway-style production each year uses a whole different set of stage management skills. I always find A Christmas Carol refreshing.