Maxine Glorsky: A Life in Stage Management

by Lisa Mulcahy
Maxine Glorsky
Maxine Glorsky

When it comes to creative and technical accomplishments, Maxine Glorsky has an impressive list to reflect back upon. Glorsky has been a highly regarded dance stage manager for many companies for decades. Her seminal work includes SM duties for Lar Lubovitch since 1970, as well as the Juilliard Dance Repertory since 1998. Her list of credits include the Martha Graham Dance Company, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, the Maria Benitez Spanish Dance Company, and numerous other dance companies extending to modern, ballet, and ethnic disciplines. She has also worked in opera with the Dallas Civic Opera, among other companies. Early in her career, Glorsky also worked in lighting design, and assisted masters such as Jean Rosenthal as well as Jules Fisher. Her Broadway stage production credits include the 1973 production of Seesaw, as assistant to Fisher, as well as assisting Rosenthal on both 1967’s Illya Darling and 1966’s The Apple Tree

This fall, Glorsky’s work at the top of her profession was recognized when she was awarded a Del Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award in the Art of Stage Management from the Stage Managers’ Association (SMA). Lar Lubovitch, who introduced Glorsky at the awards ceremony, paid her and her fellow SMs the following tribute: “Stage managers are the unheralded heroes of theater. They hold more things in their heads at once than any 10 people put together. They are masters of logic; psychologists by nature; mommies and daddies when necessary; and stoics at a time of crisis. They are the antidote to chaos. The best of them have the rare ability to extinguish the flames of hysteria that frequently rise in the unstable characters known as ‘artists’ who rely on them for things beyond the call of duty.” This speaks volumes about the way Glorsky has always approached her work—with keen insight and utter professionalism.

Glorsky, who also shares her hard earned wisdom and skills of her life's work as a guest teacher, recently talked with SD about her work philosophy and shared her advice for young professional stage managers seeking to have distinguished careers of their own. 

Driven by Creativity

Glorsky was first captivated by the arts as a young teenager, when she first saw dance performances. “I remember being in junior high school and seeing dancers depict scenes from the Bible,” she recalls. “Just seeing dance on television, and in a theatrical setting, I became very smitten with the art form. I began to take dance classes because I was so inspired. I think what I responded to most, in seeing dance and studying dance, was the idea of seeing a human being trying to be a perfect being. Dance, to me, represented the whole rainbow of experience in that way.”

“I was first introduced to stage management in my late teens, when I was doing a work scholarship at Jacob’s Pillow in the Berkshires in Massachusetts,” Glorsky says. “I don’t think I thought to myself, at 18 years old, ‘I want a career doing this’. My work as a dancer, and as part of the performing arts, I thought of as a passion as opposed to a career.” Yet she had the sense of adventure to learn the craft. “There weren’t schools for learning things like stage management at that time,” Glorsky explains. “I think when you don’t go to school for something, but you want to do it, you just go with what’s happening and learn hands-on as you go.” 

Also, the way she was raised gave her the self-belief she needed to forge ahead as a professional. “My father looked at things in an entrepreneurial way, and my mother was practical in the way that she thought. That mix was good for me to learn from. As I worked with artistic creators of stage pieces, too, I learned so much from these iconoclastic people. Again, the one thing I started with was passion, but then I focused on doing the work. I worked all the time, and I worked hard.”

Developing a Work Ethic

Glorsky believes that a good stage manager needs a number of key essential qualities and skills to be successful. “Later in life, doing my work as a stage manager, I saw the importance of, and realized how good it is to be a team player,” she says. “I’ve been alone on jobs where I basically have had to do anything—from all the technical tasks to the creative ones. Going here and going there. It’s just too much. When you develop a relationship with a team of people who are skilled at their work, your work gets better. Especially when everyone is respectful of each other. Respect is a quality a good stage manager always needs to have. You need to always be giving respect to your colleagues, and getting respect back from them, too.” Another crucial trait a good SM needs is the ability to focus on the micro, according to Glorsky. “You need to always be focused on the details of the job you’re doing. An attention to detail is extremely important as a stage manager—that’s what makes everything else work.”

Glorsky advises all young stage managers to park their egos at the door as they head into work. “Don’t expect to be praised,” she says, plain and simple. “I’ve seen so many stage managers who can’t work if their head is not being patted constantly. That is not a good deal for you, and it’s not a good deal for the show you’re working on. So, you need to approach your job never expecting to be praised in the first place. When you do a good job on something as you stage manage a show, I think you need to feel good about it inside. I worked as a dancer with the greatest Russian dancers, for instance. Praise was not a part of their training, so if you were looking for any approval from them, you were simply never going to get it. You had to rely on getting that approval from yourself. And it’s also important not be intimidated by great artists that you work with. Baryshnikov and Nureyev were dancers and people to me. They would go to class every day and work hard, just like any dancer. So, you learn to talk to them as people. Great artists are people, not gods, and you always need to remember that to do your job well.”

That sense of confidence also helped Glorsky avoid feeling intimated when taking on challenging work. “Sometimes when you take a job, the fear factor sets in,” she observes. “I learned from greats like Martha Graham that you don’t give into that fear. Every job is a new experience. You’re always going to be looking at a whole different landscape every time you start work, so you just have to go forward and push fear aside.” Glorsky also recommends being more selective as you develop credits and a good reputation as a stage manager. “If you can do it economically, I always say don’t take a job if you don’t like the work,” she advises. “I have a friend who can work with anyone. That’s great and necessary for some people in some situations. But I think once you can choose the work you take on, it should be work you do with people you like working with.”

It’s the Collaboration that Counts

At the Del Hughes Awards, Glorsky received a very special kind of accolade that speaks volumes about the enduring value of the relationships she built with her many collaborators. “When I received my lifetime achievement award, it was wonderful that that so many of my colleagues showed up for me,” she says. In the end, their support is proof of the respect she’s earned over all of her years of excellent work. As Glorsky sums it up: “Seeing them, and hearing from people that I’ve worked with over the years, is, I think, the proudest moment of my career.”