Musical Theatre Girl in an Opera World

by Katy McGlaughlin
Musical Theatre vs. Opera as a Stage Manager
Musical Theatre vs. Opera as a Stage Manager

This is my first summer working for an opera company – I am stage managing their musical but I have been surprised more than once because they treat the musical more like an opera than a musical.  

Some of the difference is just in the nomenclature, for example we have Covers instead of Understudies and the first orchestra rehearsals are called Orchestra Reads (which I initially thought meant that the cast would be called). We have both Piano Tech and Orchestra Tech before Orchestra Dress (which is final dress/possibly the only dress).  I have a Maestro not a music director, principals not leads, and the ensemble is a mix of young artists and apprentice singers.

Some of the difference is in expectation, the entire cast (including the covers) came in off book and knowing the music, but the boys looked like deer in headlights at the first choreography rehearsal and the phrase “don’t practice too much, we want it to look bad” has come out of the director/choreographers mouth more than once. Many of the young artists aren’t used to taking notes in the same way that MT choruses do and we have had significantly more principal only rehearsals. I am learning when the cast should be cued for entrances or called to the stage preceding a scene. Opera seems much more formal and stage managers seem to be accountable for even more things outside their control than in theatre (most notably entrances and props). An orchestra contractor handles the orchestra and while not on a union contract they are used to union standards, which is a whole other ball of wax. I enjoy not being responsible for tracking down late musicians but it is also hard to let go.

Some of the difference is scale. I have done big musicals before; I have never had the full orchestra (and technically I still haven’t, of our 30 musicians none of them is playing tuba).  Listening to the incredible sound of a full orchestra is mind blowing. In general the production staff is larger than I have seen at other summer companies. I have an assistant stage manager, a stage management apprentice, and a stage management intern, the company has an additional Stage Manager, and assistant stage manager, and each production has its own conductor, assistant conductor, and assistant director – I’ve encounter this at larger, regional houses but never on a short summer contract! I have had fairly consistent days off and haven’t rehearsed more than 6 hours in a day (except the first two days of tech coming in at 8 hours each.)

I am still finding the balance. Do I need to cue every entrance? (No, I have a fantastic opera ASM for the ensemble and the principals are on top of their own entrances) Am I expected to give ‘five minutes’ pages? (Preferred but to necessary) Should we have a preshow dance call? The company is neither Equity nor AGMA, and we have used a mix of the two sets of rules to run rehearsal. This experience has certainly made me want to dive deeper into the world of opera but I know I have more to learn as a musical theatre girl in this opera world!