You asked; Lisa-Marie Shuster (seen on The Fonz’s right, in pink) answers. Lisa-Marie was one of our assistant stage managers for Tosca last November, and she will return to the Florentine to work for Elmer Gantry this March.
1. What do you think of Milwaukee, is this your first time here?
I was in Milwaukee last season for Madama Butterfly. I really like the town. We don’t have very much free time, but I never have trouble filling it with interesting things to do around the city. During Tosca, I got to visit the Milwaukee Art Museum for the first time. It was very impressive! I also think Milwaukee has EXCELLENT restaurants.
2. Can you describe the job of an ASM?
Our main responsibility as stage managers is to share the information that develops in rehearsal with the rest of the production team not present. We also create an environment where the singers, director and other artists can feel comfortable to create their art.
3. Did you have to get a special degree or what kind of special training do ASMs/PSMs need?
Well, you don’t HAVE to have a special degree or training to be a stage manager. That said, I happen to have a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts in Stage Management. It does seem to take a person of a certain temperament to really enjoy the job. Overall, experience is key and colleges can provide an excellent environment for gaining it.
4. Is stage managing an opera different from a play or other live performance?
I’ve done a lot of work in musical and non-musical theater and the biggest difference I’ve found in opera is the complete dependence on the score. You really have to be able to read music in opera. There are other subtleties in the way things are done. For example, in musical theater, ASMs are not responsible for cuing the actors on stage.
5. What is a typical day during production like for you?
During rehearsals, we arrive early to prep the space before each rehearsal. This can include everything from light cleaning and setting up props and set pieces to getting the coffee ready. Once rehearsals begin, we observe the staging and take notes about entrances and exits and track costumes and props throughout the show. Following rehearsal we clean up and set up for the next day and gather as a team to discuss the day’s work to make sure we are all on the same page.
6. What do you do during a performance?
Backstage during a show, I am responsible for making sure everyone is where they need to be when they need to be there. It sounds simple, but you never know what might happen and having someone dedicated to this task can prevent show-stopping catastrophes.
7. How did you get interested in stage management?
I started in college by volunteering for a student production. I had very little idea of what I was doing, but everyone involved seemed pleased with my work. I kept at it because I really enjoy being at the center of a production. We are one of the few positions that get to work with everyone involved on a show.
8. What do you like to do outside the theater/rehearsal hall?
I love exploring the cities I’m working in and I always have a few books on hand for any downtime.
9. Were all the flames/candles in Tosca real?
The votives used in Act I were battery-operated LED votives. The taper candles in Act II were real wax candles with live flame as was the lantern in Act III. We had to take special precautions backstage to include multiple people keeping watch on the live flames at all times.
10. What was in the glass that Scarpia and Tosca drank?
The singers requested a mixture of water, currant juice and diet Coke.
11. What was used for the blood and were the weapons real?
The guns were real stage mock-ups specially built for theatrical use only. The letter opener Tosca used to stab Scarpia was a beautiful antique that our awesome Technical Director found. It was dulled to help the singers feel comfortable using it on stage.