Nikki is the stage manager for The Art of Living. Here, we asked her a few questions about musicals and being a stage manager.
Q: What do you like about working on musicals?
A: I love how musicals can take messages that may be difficult to convey in dialogue or seem a bit odd in dialogue, put those same messages to music and the audience gets drawn deeper into the story. I know there are some people who say things like, “No one just breaks out in song in real life” but most audiences accept this part of musical theatre as normal. Not only do they accept it, but the songs are what really draw them into the storyline, buy into the feelings of the characters, and bring them back to the shows they love years later.
Q: What is your favorite thing about community theater?
A: Community theatre is interesting because you never know who is going to audition: what new people you’ll meet or new skills you’ll discover from people you knew. Sometimes a person who you know or have seen on stage comes in and absolutely stuns the casting directors in their audition, and it’s an amazing gift that they are willing to put in all the work to do a show just for the joy of bringing a work to life for an audience! Or, someone comes in and wants to be on the crew and become such an integral part of the success of a show that you look back after and wonder how you ever did shows without them before.
Q: What got you started working in theater and how did you end up as a stage manager?
A: I got started in theatre in high school: my high school had a student-run drama club. Among my friends, one was stage managing, one was directing, and one was music directing. They asked me to join drama club my senior year and I thought, I’m not having much fun on the sports teams I’ve been part of so why not? I tried it out and have never looked back! Joy Demarse was our advisor and she was great at guiding the students without making the decisions for them. Keith Herkalo was our Technical Director and helped us make the magic happen backstage—and lent his talents onstage when needed too. In college, I worked in the theatre department for 3 years then stage managed for the Department of Performing Arts with 2 great friends my senior year. I also worked overhire crew for the Clemens Center, which is a roadhouse like the Flynn over in Burlington. Since I moved back to the area after college, I’ve been involved with several different community theatre groups and high school drama clubs because I can’t be away from shows for too long.
As for stage managing, I just fell into it. When I joined drama club in high school, I ended up as assistant stage manager, and the rest is history now!
Q: What’s your favorite show?
A: My favorite show is never consistently the same. I’ve got more of a top 10 list, but even those 10 don’t stay static! As I discover new shows, the list shifts or things happen in my life that make certain shows speak to me more in this moment. One of the ones that is consistent in my top 10 is Rent, which I’ve been privileged to stage manage in the Strand Theatre before it was completely renovated, and I would love to work on again.
Q: How did you get involved with The Art of Living?
A: I got involved with The Art of Living because I met Dan Gallagher when we worked on the play Next Fall together. During that show, I learned that he had written not one but two shows! Shortly after, I started asking to see the scripts. A local theatre group produced his play so I got to see it done by some actors I know. I was at the reader’s workshop and the attempted auditions when Dan first tried to stage the show, and I shared his frustration that this work was not attracting enough attention to get to the stage. When The Art of Living was finally staged at Clinton Community College, I wasn’t available to stage manage but when Dan and Vivienne Deane linked up to re-work the songs with original music, Dan asked if I would be interested in stage managing. I jumped at the chance and get more excited about the production each time we have a brainstorming session!
Q: What’s the biggest myth about stage managers?
A: I don’t know if there is a biggest myth about stage managers in general; for me personally, the biggest myth is that all stage managers run on coffee. I don’t drink coffee!
Q: What exactly does a stage manager do?
A: Stage managers do a lot of everything! Depending on the production and the rest of the technical team, a stage manager does everything from managing auditions, to tracking blocking and other technical notes in rehearsal reports, to ensuring the director’s vision is maintained once the production goes into tech rehearsals, to managing all the technical aspects during the performances. Good stage managers are also aware of things that might disrupt rehearsals, like schedule changes for cast members or things going on outside of rehearsal that impact people’s ability to focus on the show.
Q: Are there any particular challenges in stage managing a musical?
A: Stage managing a musical is a bigger task than stage managing a play: you’ve added 2 more directors to the production team (music director and choreographer) and given the cast even more to learn (and track in rehearsal reports!). Musicals usually have more technical needs than plays: scene changes, lighting and sound cues, costume changes, etc. For stage managers without a music background, musicals can be a bit more challenging, since some cues are sometimes based on the music rather than on a line or a visual.
Nikki has been working on the technical aspects of shows since 1999 locally and in the Elmira area. She credits her high school friends for starting her theatre addiction, and Joy Demarse and Keith Herkalo for starting her theatre education. While attending Elmira College, Nikki worked on a variety of plays, musicals, dance shows, and concerts, including working load-in/load-out crew and as a dresser for multiple traveling Broadway productions and Lord of the Dance. Locally, Nikki has stage managed and been involved in other technical work with Adirondack Regional Theatre, Peru Music Theatre, Essex Theatre Company, Willsboro Drama Club, Ausable Valley Players, Peru Drama Club, and Clinton Community College’s Drama Club. Favorite shows include running fly rail for Once Upon a Time with Elmira College’s Department of Theatre and Dance, being a dresser for the Broadway tour of Jekyll & Hyde, stage managing South Pacific starring Leslie & George Hearn at SUNY Plattsburgh, stage managing and assistant directing RENT with Essex Theatre Company in the pre-renovated Strand Theatre, stage managing “Next Fall” for the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts, and stage managing The Addams Family with Peru Drama Club. Nikki’s work life involves fundraising for Girl Scouts of Northeastern New York.