What are the responsibilities of an Assistant Stage Manager?
No singer goes onstage without being cued by an Assistant Stage Manager or Stage Manager. That’s different than theater (and musical theater) because in theater, actors are not cued on stage.
Why the difference?
My guess—and this is a guess—is that a long time ago, performers were coming in from different countries, they didn’t all speak the same language, and the rehearsal period was so short that they didn’t necessarily know their colleagues’ vocal parts. So they needed somebody to make sure they got on stage on time. That’s my guess.
Someone needs to know the whole thing.
That’s us. The big picture. It totally boils down to supporting your colleagues. And making sure your onstage singing colleagues have everything they need to sing the best show they possibly can.
I know the singers appreciate it…
They’re awesome. They are such a great group of people. All of the singers are so supportive of each other. The attitude is “we’ll help you, we’ll get through this together.” Sometimes I think it’s like summer camp for singers and stage managers.
Which shows are you working?
This time I am working on Rheingold and Götterdämmerung. This is the first time I’ve focused on Götterdämmerung, so that’s exciting.
Yasmine Kiss, photo
I know stage managers use a score to follow along with the opera. Is it ever tricky to keep track?
I’m finding the more tired I am the more visual information I need from my score. So I’m going crazy with my highlighter. This green mark means I need to say “go” to someone. In one section of Götterdämmerung, for instance, they say “Heil!” four times, and if you lose your concentration, and haven’t counted the “Heils,” you’re hosed. Everyone’s score is different. You have to figure out what works for you. Some assistant stage managers scores are really spare in their cueing/markings. They’re like haiku. Mine, on this show, is not a haiku; it’s more “in your face.”
Are you also responsible for the props?
Before everyone goes onstage, we literally say: “Do you have your prop?” I’d say to Siegfried before he enters in Act I: “You’ve got your Nothung, you’ve got your Nothung holder, you’ve got your Tarnhelm, you’ve got your baldric, you’ve got the ring….” Every time someone walks onstage you have to make sure they have their prop because all of the props are very important. If Freia doesn’t have her apple bag? Well, there we go. That’d be the end of Rheingold, thanks very much.
What challenges are particular to the Ring?
Big scenery, long rehearsal period, and not necessarily a challenge but a plus is working with so many artists and so many stage managers. Knowing how to play well with others is a huge part of it.
Do you have a favorite scene?
One of the great things about working with Stephen Wadsworth is that there is such an intellectual and dramaturgical approach to the piece. There’s often a lot of discussion within the rehearsal process of: Why are you doing this? Why is your character on this journey? What is their process? That is always very exciting for me to listen to. It creates a deeper understanding of what’s happening in the scene for me. I think Rheingold Scene 4 is one of my favorite scenes and also the scene with the Three Norns. I love that scene. That scene in particular is why I wanted to do Götterdämmerung this time around. The three women have such good acting skills, and they know what their characters are feeling. They each have a different journey; you can see that journey in the studio. It’s just thrilling to be in the room with those three women and Stephen and the Associate Directors. You think, “Wow, it doesn’t get better than this.”
Do you ever wish you could watch from the audience or do you like being backstage?
I have seen all of them once from the audience. I like being able to do both, though it’s hard sometimes to shut off my brain about what’s happening backstage.
Do you have a favorite Ring character?
Everyone calls me Erda. Since 1995 I’ve always been the oldest member on the stage manager staff. So I think people think I’m the voice of reason, the all-knowledgeable one. Do I identify with Erda? That’s a very good question. I don’t know.
You’ve been a part of this tradition for many years now. How do you describe the ride that is Seattle Opera’s Ring?
On one hand, there are little benchmarks. When the big banner went up on the side of the opera house, I thought about how we’re going to be a part of something that’s bigger than ourselves, and that’s exciting. It’s fun to be the flavor of the city for a few short weeks.
I am also finding myself very emotionally full during this whole process. Every person involved in the Ring has probably experienced great joy in their lives—people getting married—and also great sorrow. I think about the things that are benchmarks in my life during the Ring and how I feel about those things when I am doing this project once again.