Q&A@22 is an insider’s view of the work and the magic it takes to produce theater. Each show we will ask a member of the cast or crew questions about their approach to their particular theatrical craft.
Our Fifth Q&A@22 is with Kate Matseur, the Recording Secretary on the Playhouse 22 Executive Board, Prop Mistress, and a member of the Box Office Committee. She has been stage-managing forever, starting at the Playhouse 14 years ago. Some recent productions include: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Villagers Theatre (NJACT Perry Nominee), Jewtopia here at the Playhouse (NJACT Perry Nominee), and Godspell at Somerset Valley Playhouse. Kate is also involved in other facets of the theater, including producing (which she will be doing for both Black Box Productions this season), props, as she did for As Bees In Honey Drown in our last season, as well as acting, singing and dancing. She was last seen on stage here at the Playhouse as Brenda, A Pinkette, The Hooker and a No-name Council Girl in Hairspray, as various characters in As Bees in Honey Drown, and as Velma in The Odd Couple – Female Version, our opening show here in our new theater. She is also the School Administrator and Board President for Modern Motion Dance School in Somerset, NJ; a non-profit dance school that is accessible to all and where they encourage both kids and adults to have good, clean fun!
How did you become interested in stage management?
It was actually a fluke. I grew up in a very theatrical family and when my dad, Pete Matseur, was in Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat at Playhouse 22 back in 1996, the stage manager needed an assistant stage manager. So my dad suggested me and I was brought in. The stage manager ended up being sick for a couple shows, and therefore I stepped in as stage manager. And that was it – I had been bit by the stage managing bug! My type A personality and organization skills really thrived and I found that I really liked ‘managing’ in general.
What are a stage manager’s responsibilities during the audition process, rehearsals and performances?
There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes to be a great stage manager. For auditions, you need to make sure that you are on the same page as the director(s), are prepared for auditions, such as having audition sheets, sides, etc., have your script organized (if possible), and have somewhat of a good understanding of the script so that you are valuable during the audition process. During auditions, you are the director(s) go-to organization person; making sure everyone is seen, keeping them on track as to who can be let go when, etc. I also tend to schedule out the callbacks so that people don’t end up having to be there for hours, making each person a packet with their sides, songs (if applicable), and their time slots to ensure it doesn’t turn into chaos. During rehearsals, once a rehearsals has been mapped out, there are the basics: taking blocking, making sure rehearsals start on time, communicating with the actors on conflicts, and being active in all rehearsals. Once the show begins to come together, you start working on cue sheets for the run of the show, and working on scene changes as set pieces are added to the mix. Tech week is where a stage manager’s true skills come out. This is when you take what the actors are doing and what scene changes, lighting changes, sound cues, orchestral cues, etc. need to be worked in and where, and the best way to go about all of it to be the least invasive and distracting. Once the show goes up, you have a ton of responsibilities, where an amazing stage crew can really come in handy. You have to make sure your actors are all in the building, as well as all crew and orchestra (if applicable), give calls as to how long until the show goes up, make sure microphone checks are done as well as vocal warm ups, and make sure your actors are in good condition, comfortable, have toilette paper and paper towels and anything else they may need. Then there is making sure your set is pre-set with everything needed for the top of the show, all props are in their places on prop tables off stage, and that you get the audience in and seated so that the show can start on time. Then, depending on the size of the show, you call cues, make sure actors are in their places for their entrances, and make sure all scene changes go well, as well as staying apprised of what is going on on stage at all times in case anything goes astray and must be handled on the fly.
Do you read through the script ahead of time for stage management duties or does that come from the rehearsal process?
I do try to read the script before rehearsals start, although sometimes it is better to just have an overview and wait for the read-thru; the chosen cast members can then really show you the script versus just reading it!
How do you deal with difficult (tardy, loud, etc) actors?
The idea is to make sure that you are to the point and consistent. Setting guidelines at the beginning of the rehearsal process is key. And, there is no need to be nasty. But, it is very important for a stage manger to earn the respect of the cast and crew early on. Then, when there are issues that need to be addressed, such as tardiness, loudness, etc., they will know you are addressing it for the betterment of the show, and not just to be rude and/or pulling a power trip on them. It can be difficult sometimes because you become very close with your cast over the 6-8 week rehearsal period and then the run of the show, so sometimes addressing these issues can be hard, but you cannot let them go unresolved; no matter what, you are there to do a job and do it to the best of your abilities, in the most respectful way.
Tell one funny story about what goes on backstage, with no need to name names.
You would be amazed at what goes on behind the scenes of a show, especially once the adrenaline is going and scene changes are back to back. I was recently doing a show where I was taking a smaller wagon with actors on it off stage one way while a huge constructed house was coming on to the stage from the other side. This house was so large that it took between 6 to 10 people to move it, depending who was in/on the structure, and it had 4 walls, so you could not see through it. For some reason, the house was coming on a lot faster than normal, and all of a sudden, I was stuck between the two set pieces, seeing my life flash before my eyes. I even screamed a little (thank goodness it was covered by the orchestra), and the one crew member that could see me tried to slow it down, but the other 6 people moving the structure could not see me…I don’t think I’ve ever moved a set piece off stage faster.