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Student Press Review
The Conductor of the Troupe
Assistant stage manager Charlie Underhill helps a cast tell a story in a unique way
Editor's note: Originally published: January 16, 2004
Photo : Fox Theatricals
In a musical production, a conductor's direction is extremely important, guiding both the actors and musicians through the musical storytelling. Likewise, the stage manager guides the actions of both the actors and the technical staff, resulting in many stage managers being considered "conductors" of their particular troupe.
As an assistant stage manager for Broadway's Thoroughly Modern Millie, Charlie Underhill oversees many things backstage during a performance. Without the stage manager's presence, almost everything would be out of control.
A stage manager job requires him or her to know all the different cues used during a show. Cues are signals to different members of a show's staff that triggers a specific event (lighting changes, sound effects, actor entrances and curtain openings/closings, for example).
As with any theatrical job, the stage manager's job involves a lot of pressure and can be very complicated. With no breaks and being "on the deck" (on stage) for the entire performance-all two hours, 35 minutes of it-stage managers are important parts of each show.
Underhill and two other assistants make sure everything runs smoothly while "calling the show." Calling the show requires the team of stage managers to tell each person what to do (their cue or cues) and when to do execute their cues.
Underhill's work day usually begins at 6:30 p.m., which gives him and two other assistants about one hour and 30 minutes to prepare the stage and make sure everybody is present and rehearsed. Since the cast usually rehearses at least once a week, the crew is always aware of any changes (in script or cast).
Underhill's job can be stressful at times, especially since he deals with a variety of different personalities and temperaments.
The abundance of heavy scenery in the show requires a lot of precautions. Some of the scenery is automated and some has to be moved by people. This is one of Underhill's chief responsibilities.
When a technical mix-up occurs, the show might have to be stopped and the curtain must come down until the problem is fixed. Therefore, the maneuvering of the machinery is very important to the show and everything must always be in perfect working condition. After every show, each piece of automated scenery is tested.
After every performance, Underhill and his colleagues prepare a report for the show's producers. This specific report is like an outline of all the events that occurred during the performance. It contains information about all people who were out, what was broken and (maybe most importantly) what the audience response was.
Underhill said that the variety of experiences and the laid back nature of the cast and crew are his favorite parts of the job
Underhill entered the business when he came to New York. Always having a passion for the theater, Underhill's friends were involved in the industry and arranged a few interviews for him. He has been in the business for three years, two of which being involved with Thoroughly Modern Millie. He has worked on The Wild Party, The Scarlet Pimpernel and a national tour of another Broadway show.
Underhill likes the show and his job, but said that not every day is pleasant. Some days include fights among crew members, with his responsibility being to try preventing arguments before they begin.
Dealing with a variety of personalities and temperaments, in addition to people with different levels of education, can present a real challenge. The reward of working with a crew, however, is the bonding that takes place during the creation of a show.
"All members become part of a close family whose main goal is to give life to a show that will be well received and have a long run," Underhill said.
Izabella Safiyeva is a student at Flushing High School in Flushing, N.Y. Safiyeva is one of 12 New York City high school students selected to participate in the Fall 2003 semester of CSPA's Stringers Program, co-sponsored with Camp Broadway.
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