SM Magic: Shadowing Backstage at The Tempest

by Lindsay Warnick
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University of Iowa stage managers at Chicago Shakespeare TheaterI added another item to my list of “coolest theatre experiences EVAR” when I shadowed backstage at Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of The Tempest. A surprising and very exciting opportunity.  When I arrived I was immediately led through a series of passcoded doors and hallways before being dropped off onstage with some crew guys while I waited for the Assistant Stage Manager.

There was a man painted with white make-up presetting his props and a giant bowl of water on stage.  The theatre was lit with tiny little lights strung about the audience.  This production is filled with magic and the crew handed me the ASM’s cell phone. When she returned (I would “just know her” when I saw her) I was supposed to ask her to think of her cell phone and mysteriously pull it out with a dramatic, “Is this your phone!?” I did give it to her, but I didn’t do any magic tricks.

The ASM I shadowed was Carrie Taylor.  After signing a blood contract and swearing to keep the magic a secret, we changed into our blacks. I was given a headset and a run sheet.  For the next 2 ½ hours I was Carrie’s shadow- literally- right behind her every moment to stay out of the cast and crews way.  Being able to experience The Tempest first hand from backstage was an incredible opportunity.  I was able to listen to Production Stage Manager, Deb Acker, call the cues and listen in on the crew’s interactions during the show. I got to watch parts of the show from the house, from backstage, and from behind the curtain box, watch the crew carry out cues, and see just exactly how they pulled off some of those tricks. It was the first time I had been backstage at an Equity house and the first time I had really gotten to interact with Equity Stage Managers on the job.

I certainly don’t want to downplay what I took away from my shadowing experience from an educational and stage management perspective, but the truth is I took away a whole lot more than that. I felt comfortable and welcomed and a general enthusiasm at having a student stage manager backstage.  Every single person I met made an effort to talk to me, ask me questions, and showed an interest in who I am and what I wanted. It was an invaluable experience to meet so many new people, network with people in my field, and to observe how others perform their stage management duties.  The general consensus was that shadows are welcome. Only good things can come from a shadowing experience so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask a company for the opportunity.