Who Arranges for Obama to See Hamilton?

Special Features   Who Helps Run a Show Night After Night?
 
It takes a village to put on a show, so we investigated the theatre jobs behind the lesser known titles in your Playbill.
Jeremy Shamos, Kate Jennings Grant, David Furr, Andrea Martin and Campbell Scott in <i>Noises Off</i>
Jeremy Shamos, Kate Jennings Grant, David Furr, Andrea Martin and Campbell Scott in Noises Off Joan Marcus

In the third installment of our look at theatre jobs you didn’t know existed, we spoke to even more theatre professionals (and attended panels on stage and company management at BroadwayCon) to find out exactly what they do.

General Manager: ”At its core it’s a supervisory position dealing with every particular aspect of the show,” says Baseline Theatrical’s Andy Jones, general manager of Hamilton. “I oversee everybody in a way. I essentially want to make sure that whatever everybody would like to have happen can happen creatively and artistically and financially.” The general manager is, to quote Hamilton, the producer’s “right-hand man”—negotiating and executing contracts, preparing a show budget and overseeing daily operations.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and the company of <i>Hamilton</i>
Lin-Manuel Miranda and the company of Hamilton Joan Marcus

Jones gets to the office around 10 AM, though he’s been on his phone and e-mail for a few hours before that. There is no such thing as a typical day in the life of a general manager because no two days are the same. The job is 24/7 and involves solving problems before they arise. For Hamilton, that currently means figuring out when actors are going on vacations or shooting pilots or going to be away for any other reason and ensuring there are always enough swings and understudies to cover. The number of swings the show started out with wasn’t enough, so Jones had to hire more people.

A new show requires some trial and error. Jones’s first management role was on Rent, in 2007, over 10 years into the show’s Broadway run. “[That’s when] you are into a little bit of a routine, if there’s ever such a thing in live theatre,” he says. “When you’re building something from the ground up, like we are with Hamilton, we’re experiencing a lot of things for the first time, like what happens when we have an understudy go on for the first time who we’ve never seen in the role.”

The biggest and most unexpected issue for Jones so far with Hamilton has been the Ham4Ham ticket lottery. Since hundreds of people have been attending nightly, they created an online lottery so he and his team could have a few months to evaluate how to make the in-person lottery safer.

Jones loves what he does because he influences every piece of the production, from casting to ad meetings to marketing to coordinating with the Secret Service so the President could see Hamilton to arranging their recent televised Grammy performance. “I never actually sit and watch any of the shows I work on, but I can stand in the back of the house and realize I played just a tiny part in getting all the right people in the room to make the thing happen, and, for me, that’s a great feeling,” he says.

Company Manager: During tech rehearsals and previews, the general manager is at the theatre every day, but once a show is open, they work more from the office. Jones tries to get to the theatre once a week. The rest of the time, he relies on his company manager, Brig Berney, to be his eyes and ears at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. “The company manager handles the day-to-day business affairs of the show,” says Jones. That includes balancing the budget, paying the bills (including processing payroll) and writing insurance claims.

In_The_Heights_HR.jpg
Lin-Manuel Miranda and cast in In the Heights Joan Marcus

Like general managers, company managers work around the clock and serve as liaison between the actors, crew, theatre house staff and the general manager’s office. During this year’s Storm Jonas, when Broadway shows canceled performances, company managers informed their actors and crew—and some patrons who were already arriving—the show wasn’t happening. They also ensured their casts were safe and found accommodations for those who couldn’t get home.

Sometimes the job involves helping young performers who have never worked on Broadway before, which was Berney’s experience on Rent, In the Heights and now Hamilton. “You’re explaining [to the company] how to budget your stamina, how to pace yourself, how to talk to the press, how to turn negatives into positives, how to deal with fans at the stage doors,” says Berney. “At Hamilton, at the first preview, I gave everybody a Sharpie and a little thing of Purell.”

Stage Manager: “Anything that happens offstage falls into our lap,” says Rina Saltzman, company manager for An American in Paris. “Anything that happens onstage, for the most part, in terms of the physical production and running the show, falls into the stage manager’s lap. We are partners with stage management. Those are our closest partners in working in the theatere.” Stage managers schedule rehearsals, run understudy rehearsals and call a show (say the lighting, set and sound cues via a headset as the show plays every night).

“A day in the life at Wicked, like any long-running show is rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal,” says Marybeth Abel, stage manager at Wicked for eight years. Long-running shows constantly replace actors or need temporary replacements for actors on vacation. They frequently have to put people into a split track—when an actor plays two (or three or four) roles at the same time because there are more actors out than understudies to fill in.

Company Manager Rina Saltzman
Company Manager Rina Saltzman Nikka Graff Lanzarone

Stage managers are the communicators during a performance, especially when something goes wrong. If an actor sustains an injury, for example, the stage manager assesses the situation and determines the course of action for that injured person and the show. If you’ve ever been at a show that had to stop for a technical malfunction or injury, you’ve heard the stage manager’s voice telling the audience the show will “hold.”

“One thing that makes being a stage manager really fun for me is: I like sharpening pencils. I like taking down the set, measuring the ground plan. A scale rule gets me excited. Filling water bottles can be fun for me,” confides Justin Scribner, stage manager for the upcoming The Crucible. But there is also creative and artistic fulfillment. At times, stage managers fill a directorial role, like during understudy rehearsals. “There is an art to communication and to facilitating a room that is creative and loving and exciting,” Scribner says.

Comedy Stunt Coordinator: Michael Frayn’s Noises Off offers a comic behind-the-scenes look at putting on a door-slamming farce where everything goes wrong. In order to ensure the farcical elements would be funny and safe, Roundabout Theatre Company hired Lorenzo Pisoni as comedy stunt coordinator. Pisoni works primarily as an actor now, but he started his career as a circus performer in his parents’ Pickle Family Circus in San Francisco. He calls upon his clown background for this job. “Basically, my job was to create the physical comedy elements with the actors and the director, Jeremy Herrin, and make sure that they were repeatable night after night,” says Pisoni. A key player in Noises Off, you won’t see this title listed in other Playbills this season—although shows like School of Rock and 2012’s One Man, Two Guvnors, employed a physical comedy director.

One of the first things that Pisoni and Herrin talked about was the epic stair fall performed by David Furr. They decided that Furr’s character would destroy the set through the fall, so Pisoni worked with set designer Derek McLane before choreographing it step by step. “I’ve done a lot of stair falls. I know the toll it takes on your body and the tricks you do to make it look like you’re falling down the stairs without really falling down the stairs. We just tried to put all that in there, so that when David goes to do the fall, he doesn’t really have to worry,” Pisoni says.

Not all of the things he worked on were big, showy tricks. The play consists of many intricate moments that all have to be executed perfectly for the comedy to work, so Pisoni collaborated with Herrin to make small actions funny, like shuffling a bottle of whiskey between actors or walking through a door.

If Pisoni doesn’t work as a comedy stunt coordinator again soon, he’ll take lessons from Noises Off into his acting career. “There’s a certain amount of openness that I will take to the next acting job, for sure. We found so many things because everyone was open to it,” he says. “Also, the simplicity of the joke is key. If it gets too complicated, you’ll lose people. And that’s something I’m very proud of with this production.”

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