November 2013

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November 2013

News & Notices

Threadgill Named Distinguished Achiever in Management

Janet Gramza Communications Associate

Susan Threadgill

Susan Threadgill

In her last conversation with her mentor, Susan Threadgill, Vice-Commissioner Tayneshia Jefferson gave her a gift. "She called to tell me she was nominating me for a Distinguished Achievement Award," Ms. Threadgill said. "It was a really nice conversation."

Days later, Tayneshia Jefferson died of a brain aneurism at 41. So it was with bittersweet joy that her mentor learned she'll receive the USITT Distinguished Achievement Award in Management at USITT's 2014 Annual Conference & Stage Expo in Fort Worth next March.

There were many "baby birds" whose careers Susan Threadgill helped take flight, according to the nomination letter.

"It is Susan's mentorship and her style of mentoring that has left the most indelible mark on our industry," Ms. Jefferson wrote. "Whether it was taping out a floor or learning to call an opera by spending act after act watching her call from over her shoulder, Susan's methodology instilled in those who worked with her the skills and the connections that would afford them the ability to build stellar careers."

At 53, Susan Threadgill is director of production for the Office of University Events at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin. Before taking that job in 2010, she was stage manager for the Austin Lyric Opera for 22 years. She also freelanced for the Austin Symphony, Zilker Theatre Productions, and Conspirare, and served as production stage manager for the UT Performing Arts Center.

"Susan has elevated the level of management performance and redefined what it meant to be a stage manager for an entire city," Ms. Jefferson wrote.

Management wasn't Ms. Threadgill's first goal; she pursued theatre to become a playwright. "I wrote a novel when I was 13, and no one has ever seen that – nor will they," she said.

She attended Southern Methodist University for a three-year dual-major in creative writing and theatre. "Robert Chambers, then technical director at SMU, said, 'You are really organized. Maybe you should think about stage management,'" she recalled. "And I said, 'What's that?'"

She soon found she enjoyed overseeing the different elements to bring a production together. "I enjoy problem-solving, and I don't know if it's OCD or what, but I do like everything in its place," she said.

The gravy for her was calling shows, conducting a live orchestra of technicians awaiting her light, sound, or deck cues via headset. That meant having the trust and respect of all involved.

Her first chance to "fly free" came as an undergraduate assistant stage manager who stepped in last-minute when the grad student manager dropped out right before tech week. The play was The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan, and Ms. Threadgill did fine.

Shortly thereafter, a UT student stage manager at the then-new Austin Lyric Opera left the project during tech week – and Ms. Threadgill took over. The opera was Albert Herring by Benjamin Britten.

"It was great music, but pretty difficult, and that night was probably the worst rehearsal I called in my career," she said. "So I asked the director for tapes of the music – which at that time was on cassettes – and the next day I listened to it for six hours until I was like, 'OK, I get it.' The next night wasn't perfect, but it was strides better."

As a woman manager, she got some pushback from male stagehands until they saw how she worked. "Once the word got out about how I run things on headset, the tech crews knew I would advocate for them, so eventually more guys would step up to assist me because they knew I had their back," she said.

As a teacher and mentor, she is known for generosity in sharing her knowledge, arranging for students to shadow professional stage managers – including her – and even handing them jobs she's too busy to tackle.

Ms. Threadgill's best management advice is, "Make yourself as marketable as possible." That means developing organizational, communication, and management skills, maybe learn a foreign language, and definitely learn to read music – even if you don't work in opera.

"Music is important because all theatre is rhythmical," she said. "Even if it's not a musical, you need to be in tune with the rhythm of what the actor is doing. You need to be riding that wave because, if you're not, your cues are going to be wrong."