Production Supervisor. Production Stage Manager.
The same thing, right?
Well, sort of. Steven Beckler, PSM for The Scarlet Pimpernel, makes a logical distinction between the two: "Once you leave a production, you can't be a Production Stage Manager, but you can still stay on as Production Supervisor."
That's how Beckler can continue to be the PS on Smokey Joe's Cafe while doing PSM duties at Pimpernel. He explains: "Once I leave a show, I still remain attached as supervisor. I'm still responsible for the ongoing maintenance of understudies, cast replacements, and anything involving the management and direction of the show. A PSM has the daily responsibility of maintaining the show technically and working with replacements, too. Then I'll come in for further work, and sometimes the director will also work on the show after that. Jerry Zaks gave me my start in the business, and he stays very close to his shows even after they're running for a long time. Not all directors maintain their shows, but he does." Beckler is a Zaks veteran, having gone from Guys & Dolls into Laughter On The 23rd Floor. "When I left Laughter," said Beckler, "Frank Marino took over as PSM, but I would still oversee and do work on it, and Zaks would do the finishing work."
Beckler also sees his duties as both PS and PSM as split between organizational/clerical and serving as a "surrogate director." On the night of the show, Beckler checks the pre-set, which he says is a mercifully minor job: "You've got incredibly seasoned professionals on tech who make my job awfully easy compared to what might go on Off-Broadway. Also, before curtain goes up, there's a lot of clerical stuff, notes with actors. It's more than just purely technical. You get replacements and understudies who may have never even worked with the director. So that's where a lot of my focus goes to. Right now I'm calling every performance; when the show opens, my assistant and second assistant will take over. I'll become the surrogate director at that point." Beckler's next assignment after Scarlet will be Walter Bobbie's staging of Footloose, a Madison Square Garden production probably coming to a legit Broadway house. Asked about Broadway opening nights -- of which he's enjoyed more than two dozen -- Beckler said he's not superstitious and therefore has no particular rituals or activities attached to it. "Opening nights I'm just happy to get there and get through it," Beckler said. "Actually, it's one of my least favorite nights because the audience is so overly responsive. It all feels fake to me. I prefer a real audience where they're not there to love every movement of the piece and be the Best Audience Ever. They can just enjoy the show on its own terms. With an opening night crowd, beats and moments you've rehearsed go out the window because the rhythm goes out the window."
Beckler's gloomy view of first nights was certainly borne out by an experience he had in Baltimore with The Octette Bridge Club. "A man died," recalled Beckler. "It was at the Mechanic Theatre. Apparently the guy was dead before the curtain went up. Ten minutes into the show, someone realized he wasn't breathing. We stopped the show. . . they cleared the body; producer Ken Waissman [now doing Street Corner Symphony] made a curtain speech. We then started all over again, but it wasn't a rollicking experience that evening."
Nevertheless, Beckler does have one good thing to say about opening nights: "I love the Gypsy Robe ritual..that's truly wonderful. It really means something because there's so much tradition there."