The Art of Organization

by Lisa Mulcahy
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Ryan Cole, who currently serves as project manager at J.R. Clancy in Syracuse, NY, is not only good at planning complex projects for his company’s clients—he’s a trained expert at working out a show from top to bottom. Cole has been a technical director on regional productions including Spamalot, Romeo & Juliet, An Enemy of the People, and Ragtime. Cole recently spoke with Stage Directions about the path he took from school to working professionally. 

A Practical Outlook
Cole’s initial impetus to get involved in theater started pretty randomly. “When I didn’t make the soccer team in high school, I wanted to find another activity to do after school, so I decided to try my hand at the technical side of drama,” Cole remembers. “My drama teacher suggested I try working as an assistant tech director on a production. I really enjoyed the experience, and got interested in scenic design, too.” Cole continued to work on productions throughout high school; he decided to study technical theater arts in college at that point. “At Eastern Carolina University, I thought I might want to focus on stage management—until I got put on a running crew,” he recalls. “When I saw how the SM job really worked, I changed my mind. So, I headed to the set shop to hone my skills as a master carpenter. I did carpentry work subsequently for venues such as the Ohio Light Opera, then decided to go to Florida State University and change my direction toward getting an MFA in technical direction.”

At FSU, Cole focused on learning as many practical skills as possible. He immersed himself in the hands-on experience of tech directing as many shows as he could, building his knowledge by multitasking. 

From School to Career
Excelling at TD work got him thinking about how to translate his skills into different facets of professional work after finishing with school. “I thought being a theater consultant or project manager sounded interesting,” Cole says. “Through a rigging course I took, I learned about the work of Bridget Cox and Patrick Finn—they’d graduated from FSU, and were working for J.R. Clancy. I emailed Bridget and said, hey, I’d love to meet you. I talked to her and Patrick, and found out there was an available internship at the company in project management. I’d never done it before, but Bridget was interested in my prior experience, so I headed off to beautiful Syracuse, New York!”

Subsequently, Cole has flourished in his role at J.R. Clancy. J.R. Clancy designs, manufactures, and installs theatrical equipment for venues worldwide, with rigging as its specialty calling card. To this end, J.R. Clancy is known for its services, such as providing counterweights, stage hardware, and custom automation for virtually any house size imaginable. Cole balances an organized mindset with a realistic perspective. “I always just think, ‘how can we make what we want to achieve here happen quickly?’” he sums up. “What helps me is to always start a list, to break the problem down. Just focus on one task at a time.” An approach that has served Cole well through school and his career.  

Ryan Cole at JRC