November 2014

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November 2014

The Last Word:

FAF Winner Finds Management Priorities in Berkshires

Brittany McMahon Find a Fellow Winner

Photos Courtesy Brittany McMahon

Brittany McMahon, a graduate of Northwestern State University of Louisiana, won the Find a Fellow contest at the Fort Worth 2014 Conference & Stage Expo.

Her award, sponsored by the Fellows of the Institute, was a two-day mentoring session with an expert in her field of interest, Stage Management. Under the caring tutelage of author, educator, and seasoned professional stage manager, Thomas A. Kelly, Brittany experienced hands on opportunities at the Berkshire Theatre Festival and Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts.

There are many people to thank for making this experience possible, but Mr. Kelly and his colleagues are to be credited with making an enormous difference in Ms. McMahon's rising career path.

Watch for details about the 2015 Find a Fellow contest in the days leading up to the event. Below are Ms McMahon's impressions of her experience.

My time spent in the Berkshires with Tom Kelly can best be described as enlightening, eye opening, and ultimately inspiring. During my time, I enjoyed countless conversations with Tom ranging from personal experiences, to unions, developing relationships with cast/crew, scheduling, paperwork, and beyond. Over the course of two jam-packed days, I was able to fully immerse myself into one of the many worlds of professional theatre and have the rare opportunity to view the processes of shows I was not intimately involved in.

I would first like to say how thankful I am to the cast and crew of each production as well as the entire Shakespeare and Co. for letting me, a stranger, come into their world and view their work from the inside. I was granted access to every corner of the company including facility tours, fight calls, warm ups, and post show chats. This insider access allowed me to have a feeling of full immersion and, for an instant, it allowed me to be a part of the team.

On the first day, I enjoyed breakfast and theatrical conversation with Mr. Kelly. Our first stop was Shakespeare and Co. for a guided tour offered to the general public as an educational experience. It provided me with a background of the company as well as a view into its extensive facilities. After the tour, I jumped right into the thick of things and went on to the Tina Packer Playhouse. I was able to shadow and work with the stage management team where I was welcome to view fight call and music rehearsals, observe the set up and preshow duties, and ultimately view the show from the booth while listening in via headset. I had the pleasure of watching first, an adaptation of Henry IV and second an adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. While each show offered its own challenges and rewards, I really enjoyed the way Midsummer seamlessly adapted into the warm night and music of New Orleans in the '20s and '30s. For someone very familiar with Southern traditions after growing up in the Baton Rouge/New Orleans area, this show was a real treat.

On the second day, I was able to travel to the Berkshire Theatre Festival and meet with its production manager and his assistant, as well as receive a tour of their operations. This provided me with a view of a more traditional set up, since the facilities at Shakespeare & Co. are more attuned to classical works. After our tour of BTF, I spent the day immersed in the productions at the Bernstein Stage at Shakespeare & Co. This day ran much like the one before, where I was able to view the inner workings for Vania and Sonia and Masha and Spike as well as a unique and wonderfully executed adaptation of Julius Caesar.

Viewing all of these productions and their different management teams, who all have different styles, ultimately helped to further reinforce that there is no one way to accomplish things as a stage manager. You have to be willing to adapt yourself to the needs of your show and ultimately to the personalities you are working with. Most importantly, my time spent with these people made me understand that I am ready for the professional world. I am prepared. So often in university settings, students are badgered to be one type of thing, have the perfect looking paperwork, and ultimately focus on being "perfect" – whatever "perfect" is in our standard. In reality, you need to be organized, have paperwork that is accurate above looking perfect, and above all else be able to run the production without driving yourself insane in the process. I think that is the one thing that was not impressed upon me enough: you can have the potential to be the best stage manager in the world, but if you're driving yourself insane over the irrelevant details (i.e. making the format of your paperwork beautiful rather than focusing on the content, spending hours digitalizing a calling script that is going to change on an almost daily basis, etc.) then you are ultimately helping no one. It is far more important to make sure the show is actually being kept track of accurately than that your paperwork and binder look flawless and overdone.

Overall, this was an incredibly rewarding experience that has taught me much about the professional world. I was able to make connections with real people who are working in the real world. The knowledge I've gained over those two days is invaluable, and I have no doubt I will be utilizing it for the rest of my life. As for the wonderful people I met along my journey, I plan to keep in touch and hopefully see again – maybe next time in a working capacity! I cannot extend enough gratitude towards USITT for creating such a wonderful program for students to learn. I am now confident to go out and make a living for myself, doing what I've always loved.