With a Creative Perspective: Veteran Stage Manager Cheryl Mintz

by Lisa Mulchay
Stage Manager Cheryl Mintz
Stage Manager Cheryl Mintz
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Mintz’s incredible career span has given her a unique and practical sense of wisdom regarding the nuts and bolts of her craft. At the same time, she radiates a strong creative spirit, and remains committed to pursuing work that is meaningful to her on both intellectual and artistic levels.

Cheryl Mintz possesses the technical skills that have earned her a stellar reputation as one of the best stage managers in the business—yet she has the heart and mind of a true artist. Mintz is the resident stage manager of the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, and has been working on productions there for an astonishing 29 seasons. She has stage managed scores of productions and workshops and has collaborated with the crème de la crème of both American and international directors and playwrights. Her long collaboration with the McCarter’s artistic director and resident playwright, Emily Mann, has spanned 35 productions thus far; additionally, Mintz has stage managed many of McCarter’s world premiere productions including Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Marina Carr’s Phaedra Backwards, and John Guare’s Are You There, McPhee?.

Mintz’s additional credits include the Broadway run of Nilo Cruz’s Anna in the Tropics, the McCarter and Kennedy Center world premiere run of Emily Mann’s Mrs. Packard, the world premiere of The Brother/Sister Plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney, and the American premiere of the musical Take Flight by John Weidman, with music and lyrics by David Shire and Richard Maltby, Jr. Mintz has also collaborated numerous times with Maestro Gian Carlo Menotti and the Spoleto Festivals in USA and Italy, including her work most notably as associate director for Maestro Menotti’s final productions of Amahl and the Night Visitors, The Singing Child, Maria Golovin, The Telephone, and The Medium. During five seasons at Lincoln Center with the New York City Opera, Mintz stage managed 40 operas and musicals, three tours and three PBS telecasts. She has also worked with Opera New Jersey, Opera Festival of New Jersey, Baltimore Opera Company, National Grand Opera, NJPAC, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Intar, Williamstown Theatre Festival, The Kitchen, New York Theatre Workshop, and Yale Repertory Theatre. Mintz’s teaching credentials include master classes for: Yale School of Drama, The Juilliard School, Rutgers University/Mason Gross School of the Arts, Muhlenberg, University of Iowa, NYU, Rider University Department of Theatre, SUNY Stony Brook, and Princeton Day School. 

Determination from the Get-Go
A native of Oceanside, NY, Mintz loved theater from the very first time she tried her hand at it. “I think like many of us in the theater, I got drawn into this world through a wonderful high school drama program,” Mintz recalls. When it came time for college, “I auditioned to get into Stony Brook University, part of the SUNY system,” she says. “Even though I auditioned, I also knew I wanted to stage manage.” Mintz later attended Yale Drama School, getting an MFA. “You know, a lot of young people considering a career in the theater will say, ‘Why do I need college or grad school?’ Well, I am incredibly pro-education,” she stresses. “My education has been so important to who I am as an artist. Grad school was the best thing I could ever have done in order to succeed in my career.”

From the beginning, Mintz decided that her career track would be based on works of true, important meaning, and she has remained dedicated to this ideal. “So much of my resume is political theater,” Mintz remarks. “Working with Athol Fugard was such an important experience for me because he set a very high bar indeed. And subsequently, I never pursued the very commercial track of work—I preferred significant work, work that was incredibly complex and satisfying technically.”

Secrets of Success
So what process does Mintz recommend to stage managers eager to get a foot in the door? Work hard in the moment, of course—but be patient and persistent, too. “Opportunities don’t always pay off at first,” Mintz notes. “If you interview at a theater but don’t hear back or don’t get the position, you want to make sure that six months later, you’re updating that theater on what you’re doing. If you’ve hit it off very well with the people there, six months later may be the time your good impression pays off.”

And what qualities make the best SM, in Mintz’s informed opinion? “I like to see a cool bedside manner,” Mintz elaborates. “The stage managers I want to shepherd are respectful of the people they work with. Let’s say I get 40-50 applications for one position, what separates a person out of the pile is often how they use their summers. The work you do then, and how you build your resume in that way, can really set you apart. And you know, I need to see basic common sense and courtesy from applicants. When I get an application and the cover letter says, ‘Dear XYZ’, and the person addressed is not me or our intern coordinator, well, that doesn’t work for me. Also, no typos, please. And when I read, ‘I’ve done all the big musicals,’ if that’s not what we’re doing at our theater, then that doesn’t matter to me. You have to know a theater inside and out if you want to work there. It’s absolutely essential that you scrupulously research the organization you are applying to. You need to be able to tell me, why do you want to work at the McCarter? I also don’t want you to be a walking paperwork person as a stage manager. I want you to be an artist. I want to know, if you could be the artistic director of this theater, what would you choose to do? Which directors inspire you? Which playwrights inspire you? I’m looking to put an artist at my table.” 

Mintz’s dedication to helping the next generation of stage managers succeed has led her to take on association work as well. “During the first 20 years of my career I got very involved in the Stage Managers’ Association (SMA), 15 years as an executive board member and committee chair,” she says. “I also served on nominating and negotiating committees at Actors’ Equity. After a 10-year hiatus, I have taken on big committee work, being the chair of the Stage Managers’ Association Del Hughes Award committee and event, as well as returning to the board as a director-at-large. My committee involvement early in my career taught me so much about our union—it connected me with high level stage managers as well as my peers and opened up the business for me. Through the SMA, I always made sure I knew who the stage managers out there were so when I met them at an event, I knew about them and could have a smart conversation with them. I did my homework. Again, this loops back to networking. My being involved in the SMA now is about giving back, mentoring, and making sure we honor those senior stage managers in the field who deserve lifetime achievement recognition.”

Work that Satisfies 
Mintz also wishes that the stage managers she guides will enjoy the artistic satisfaction she has enjoyed. “A production stage manager can choose a theater that they want to commit to, and through that fulfill his or her artistic mission as a theater-maker—and feed his or her soul,” she points out. “That is what has kept me committed to McCarter for almost three decades. At the McCarter I am doing work I love; the type of work I do here is so satisfying. The McCarter’s reach, and of course Emily Mann’s work, has shaped two-thirds of my career. Emily’s mission to give a voice to the voiceless through political and testimonial theater, cultivate and open doors for diverse playwrights and directors, and create an artistic home that has brought the finest designers, collaborators, and actors to our theater has been extremely fulfilling to be at the center of. My partnership with Emily has been built on trust, love, and respect throughout the 35 productions we have done together. I strive to create a wonderful atmosphere in the rehearsal hall for directors to create in.

To do your best work? Know yourself, and don’t let others define you “It’s very smart not to get pigeon-holed as a stage manager,” Mintz concludes. “It can be very easy to get sucked into doing work that isn’t meaningful to you. It was important for me to believe in the work I was doing. It’s important to remember that, to know what kind of work matters to you.”