Who needs 10 arms and the ability to see everything all at once? Stage managers!

September 5, 2023

Three headshots of Haley Baynard

Haley Baynard is a new student in theater and performance studies, who plans on pursuing a career in stage management. She says strong communication and leadership skills, and the ability to improvise and think quickly, are some of the traits of successful stage managers.

Sofia Liashcheva/UC Berkeley

What year are you, where are you from, and what are you majoring in?

I transferred from San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, California, which is where I’m from. I grew up with it right down the street from me. It’s an amazing community college. I'm majoring in theater and performance studies at UC Berkeley. 

What did you study at San Joaquin Delta College?

I was involved in the theater program. I did all my general ed online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I didn’t really have experience with general ed professors. But I did in-person instruction with the theater program there. The theater program was phenomenal. You could personalize which aspect of theater you wanted to focus on, so you could work on makeup, costumes, lighting or sound. You could also do stage management, which is my focus. I was able to work on so many shows there.

What are some of the shows that you worked on?

I think my favorite one that I ever worked on is Frankenstein. I was stage manager for that production. It was done in our studio theater, and it was alley staging, so that meant the audience sat on either side and looked at each other as it took place in the middle. I also worked on our summer musicals, Cinderella and You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. I stage managed those productions, as well.

Can you describe what goes into stage managing a theater production?

It's one of the most niche positions in theater. In a way, I feel like the secretary of the show. I'm in constant communication with the actors and the directors. I have to attend every rehearsal. I'm writing down blocking, I'm checking line notes, I send out reports at the end of the night to the whole production staff. I do agendas at the meetings. And then, when we get into actual show nights, the director steps back, and I'm the one calling the show, making sure actors are in places, and calling when lights and sound cues go. I'm also in constant communication with backstage and with the front of the house.

I love it. I'm not an actor, by any means. I did it in high school, and from there I went, “Yeah, tech is where I go.” But I love stage management. It's what I want to do professionally. I am stage managing a production, A Dream Play, at UC Berkeley this fall. It’s a student-run workshop by CC Miller. I'm super excited. It's a lot of work, but it's good stress, is what I like to say.

It sounds like you're just doing a thousand things at once. What do you think it takes to be a successful stage manager?

The main trait is professionalism. You have to be there for your actors and make them feel that they can trust you, because if they're having conflict with anything going on in the show, they have to be comfortable enough to come to you. But you also have to be in a position of listening to and being there for the director.

My stage management professor at Berkeley, Rebecca Ennals, explained it really well in our first lecture. She said, “It's a job of servitude, but servitude of being a leader.” It’s such a good way to put it, because you're leading the actors, and you're showing them kind of the etiquette that is meant to be followed during the show. But you also have to be great at communication, as you're communicating with everyone 24 hours a day. If an actor texts you at 1 a.m. with something that just happened, you have to be there to help them. 

During Frankenstein, a glass shattered on stage, and one of our actors was injured. I had to say, “OK, we need someone over here. We need to have first aid ready over here. We're going to hold this transition longer. We need to get ready to loop the sound so then the audience doesn't realize the transition is going longer.”

You just have to be able to think on your feet because stuff will go crazy, and you're the one who has to keep things running smoothly. So communication, leadership and the ability to improvise and think quickly are the big ones that come to mind.

How did you discover that you liked this type of work? I feel like a lot of people might not be able to handle it. I know I couldn’t!

There are not a lot of people who do stage management. At my community college, I was the only one who concentrated in it. So coming to Berkeley and meeting people who are also into it is such a new experience, because I'm like, “Oh, my gosh, there's other people who like this, too. What the heck?”

First, I started directing small projects just because I liked the idea of being in a leadership position and teaching people about theater. And I still greatly enjoy that. There weren't a lot of directing opportunities in high school, so then I started as an assistant stage manager, which is someone who assists the stage manager during the rehearsal process and is backstage with the actors during show nights. And then I went, “Oh, this is kind of cool. I'm kind of good at this. Maybe I should just keep doing this.” And it grew from there. 

What brought you to UC Berkeley?

UC Berkeley is just surrounded by so much theater culture that it kind of seems like a no-brainer to come here. It’s surrounded by a bunch of theaters. I live, like, 15 minutes from campus, and the Berkeley Playhouse is an even closer walk to my place. And I'm extremely excited to work on an upcoming show there — we're doing the musical Kinky Boots. It's very close to Berkeley Repertory Theater, which is known as one of the best theater companies in all of Northern California. Then, there is also the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival. I'm very happy with my decision to come here.

When you think about what you want to do after college or your ultimate dream when it comes to your career, what do you envision?

Stage management 100%. One option for stage management is to travel a lot — you'll find shows, and you'll travel around with them, and they'll put you up and they'll take care of you. And then there's also theater spaces that you can get hired at to be long term and just run all their shows there in the space. I'm not sure which one I'm specifically going for yet. I think I might travel around for a bit and then figure out where I want to plant my roots. But stage management professionally is definitely the big end-all dream. And I really think Berkeley and my community college are going to give me the stepping stones to do that.

Are there other areas of theater that you’re interested in, in addition to stage management?

I do have a secret love for lighting design. I’ve done costume design. I actually did a paid internship at my community college as a costume technician. I kind of morphed that into being props manager and organizing props.

I have found that if you want to be a good stage manager, you kind of need to take an intro class in everything, because if all of a sudden someone can't be there, or you're in the middle of tech and you need to communicate to your your board operators who are running lighting or sound, you need to be able to explain to them what's going to happen.

So I always try and spread myself out so that I can kind of do a little bit of everything. And since stage manager is such a niche position, if I don't get it, then I can offer myself up for other jobs.

I'm really interested in behind-the-scenes roles in theater because most of us never get to see what it takes to make a production happen.

One hundred percent. When you go to a play and then at the end of the final bow, when the actors point up, they're pointing at the stage manager. That's the recognition right there. And honestly, that's fine with me. I don’t need to be in the limelight and all that. But the audience doesn't know what's happening. You go see a show, and then you get to leave, and that's all you know. At the end of the day, the relationships and friendships I make as a crew member are enough for me.

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