From The Stage Manager’s Booth – An Interview with Elisabeth Bragale

QDF met with Elisabeth Bragale, Production Stage Manager for Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society’s production of Heathers: The Musical at McGill University to talk about the role and the challenges of a Stage Manager. Here is an interview from a unique perspective of a production team member that is far too often over looked: the Stage Manager.

[QDF] Tell us, what is your role as Stage Manager during a production?

[ELISABETH] During the rehearsal process, I am expected to be at every single rehearsal as I am responsible for taking blocking notes in my Prompt Book and other production notes from the rehearsals. I also help with scheduling rehearsals. For example, if actors have issues attending a rehearsal, they have to come to me. I am basically the main liaison between the actors, designers, and the director. During the show, I am in charge of scheduling and running our tech week, which is when all the pieces of the show come together. I also insure the show runs smoothly during the performances. I sit in the booth and call the all the cues – lighting, sound, set change, etc – over my headset.

[QDF] What is your favourite part about stage managing?

[ELISABETH] I enjoy seeing all the pieces of the show coming together. I always think of every show, and specially musicals, as a giant puzzle. When preparing a show, you see the actors learning their blocking, their songs, their dance moves, and, at the same time, all the designers working on the set, lighting, and sound designs. I love tech week when everyone from the different departments come together and, collectively, figure out how all these little pieces fit together to create the show. It can be very stressful at times, but it is such a satisfying feeling to see the final product at the end of the day.

[QDF] What drew you to this position?

[ELISABETH] I started doing technical theatre at summer camp when I was around 10 years old. I learned about set design, set building, lighting design, etc. When I reached high school, I was working as a lighting designer for a school production, and was really impressed by our stage manager. I asked her about her role, and as she was explaining the tasks of a Stage Manager, I thought to myself: I can do that. I am well organized and I love all of the technical elements of a production. In addition, I have experience in all of these tech aspects, including costume and make-up, which not a lot of Stage Managers I’ve met have. From there on, I knew I wanted to be a Stage Manager. I started as an Assistant Stage Manager for my theatre community, the Wildwood Summer Theatre, in my hometown, and then grew to finally become one today. It’s been an adventurous four years working as a Production Stage Manager and Assistant Stage Manager for various productions and events.

[QDF] What skills a stage manager must possess?

[ELISABETH] You definitely need to be organized and confident because you are in charge of everything that goes on in the show. You have to make sure the actors respect you by being firm but also friendly with them because they tend to get really excited and talkative. Therefore, you need to have strong organizational skills, to be firm and friendly, and also to have a lot of energy. People say that stage managers just seem to be endless balls of energy and it’s true. We have to be energetic because there is so much going on when working on a show that we have to stay focused; we have to be the energy of the show. I’ve been told that my energy is infectious, so I try my best to keep it up and be the example for my team and my actors. I also believe it’s important for stage managers to understand situations from an actor’s point of view. Before pursuing technical theater, I myself was an actor for many years, so I understand their side of the production. Especially during tech week, everything is “hurry up and wait” and that can be so boring for the actors. In my opinion, a good stage manager is relatable and has at least a basic knowledge of every piece of the creative side of the production – from the different technical aspects to the actor’s perspective.

[QDF] How important it is to have a stage manager in a production?

[ELISABETH] In my opinion, a show can’t run without a stage manager. I’ve done shows without a stage manager as a lighting operator where I had to cue my own lighting cues, and it can be very hard. You need to have one focal point that knows everything about the show and the technical requirements. The stage manager is that focal point of a production.

[QDF] What are your top pet peeves with actors?

[ELISABETH] I don’t have that many pet peeves, but things actors do that get to me:

  1. Having their phones on them during rehearsal (specially their iPhone when you are in a show set in the 80’s)
  2. Talking while we’re trying to work during rehearsals
  3. Showing up late (because I do have actors who are always perpetually late)
  4. Eating in costumes (actors always think they can get away with that, but they can’t)

[QDF] What can you tell us about Heathers: The Musical and why should people come see the show?

[ELISABETH] Heathers was originally a movie that was adapted in 2010 into an off-Broadway show. It is a very fun and energetic show where the audience is laughing throughout. There is so much colour in the show and I’m not just talking about the lighting! The actors come from all sorts of background, from professionals who performed on the West End to semi-professionals and a lot of exchange students from Europe. The show itself is so fun and exciting while having an incredible message people don’t

necessarily get until they’ve watched it in its entirety. It tackles bullying, teenage angst, teen suicide, mental illness, struggling with sexuality, and growing-up “beautifully.” The music is extremely catchy, I find myself listening to songs like “Big Fun” and “Candy Store” as I walk to classes. This is a show you don’t want to miss out on!

Thank you to Elisabeth Bragale who answered QDF’s questions. Heathers: The Musical runs until January 28th at the Moyse Hall at McGill. More info here.

QDF Musings is striving to hear different perspectives from theatre creative teams: designers, stage managers, producers and technicians.  We want to hear how their work contributes to the overall success of a productionThank you for reading and please subscribe to The QDF Musings for more insightful interviews and articles.

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