Without stage managers the show would not go on. Yet they are the most unsung of theatrical professionals. Believing they should have a chance to shine, this is the next in a series of Q & A articles with Southland stage managers with the spotlight on Dale Alan Cooke currently working at A Noise Within.
Q. How did you become a stage manager?
I had been an actor and voice-over artist. I pulled out of the business and went through a period of just working a sales job.
At the time, a friend asked me to run a spotlight for a show she was doing at the Colony Theatre in Burbank. It was fun and they asked me to do it again and then asked me to run sound. During all this I watched the stage manager and thought, “I can do that!” I rushed out and bought all the books I could find on stage management. I talked to people in the business. I watched and learned. I had been on withdrawal from Actors’ Equity but rejoined when I was hired by the Colony to be ASM on a musical. During that show the stage manager had to leave and I took over as stage manager. They then hired me as stage manager for their very next production. I have never looked back.
Q. Do you have a favorite show you stage managed? Tell me about it.
They are all very special to me. I can find good in any production. Sometimes my favorite part is the group of actors. Sometimes it’s the director. Sometimes the venue. Sometimes it’s the play itself. And most of the time it’s a blend of all of those.
Q. What is the strangest thing you encountered while stage managing a show?
It could be the method actor who insisted the director and myself only enter his house, which of course in the rehearsal room was just tape on the floor, through his tape-on-the-floor front door.
Or…the actor’s dog that was tied up backstage during a children’s show and the leash was just long enough for it to poke it’s head through the curtains. The kids loved it.
Or…the man in the front row who was texting and I shined a laser on his phone and he didn’t know where it was coming from. He got the hint and put his phone away.
Q. Do you have any funny stage managing memories that you cherish?
Recently I was in a green room standing next to the coffee machine and an actor said to me, “I don’t normally drink coffee. The coffee is absolutely horrible. Undrinkable. Can it be made with tea?” I was thinking if he doesn’t drink coffee why is he complaining about this coffee? I wanted to say, “Just make it yourself.” But I decided on a more gentle approach and said, “I don’t make the coffee.” His eyes widened and he said, “But you are the stage manager!” We paused and looked at each other with puzzled furled brows. Then it struck us…he was talking about the prop coffee he drank onstage and I was talking about the coffee in the green room! We had ourselves a jolly good laugh and I told him I would take care of that immediately!
Q. What do you like best about stage managing?
I really like the glamour, the glitz, the fame, the fashions, the…wait! I must be thinking of something else!
The best thing about any production is the teamwork. When egos are left at the door and everyone approaches his or her part of the process knowing this is a jigsaw puzzle and all the pieces have to fit together easily — then we have teamwork, which produces a complete, satisfying whole, without one element overriding any other.
My wife, Adryan Russ, wrote a song called Making It Happen, about a cleaning lady who mops the floor of the orchestra pit. In the song the lady sings, “I’ll make the floor so clean and neat, every player will feel it in his feet. When the orchestra plays, they’ll be terrific. Whether they know it or not, my mop helped a lot in making it happen.” That’s the best part of stage managing. Each of us doing our little part to make the whole show just a little bit better.
What is your current (or next) project? Tell me about it.
For the past eight years I have stage managed many of the family friendly interactive children’s shows for Storybook Theatre at Theatre West. Currently the show is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs playing through February every Saturday at 1 pm. I have to take some Saturdays off because my other gig has been at A Noise Within. I’ve just closed Desire Under the Elms and was asked back to stage manage Noises Off in their beautiful new venue in Pasadena.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to say?
Thanks for letting some of us “unsung heroes”sing a little bit. Much of the time audience members do not know what stage managers do. Those who do know appreciate the long hours, hard work and dedication we provide. I do it for them. I do it for the show. I do it so a little bit more enjoyment can be had by the final member of our team – the audience.
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