Thursday, 2 June 2016

Watch and Listen: The Key to Being a Successful Stage Manager with Maria Popoff

This year's Summer Theatre Intensive features a unique stage management course with Maria Popoff: "Places Please! Stage Management and the Creative Process from Pre-Production to End of Run." Gloria Mok recently attended a course with Maria at Alumnae Theatre, and shared some reflections on learning with her.

Gloria Mok
by Gloria Mok

Being in the presence of Maria Popoff is being in the presence of Canadian Stage Management royalty. When Maria walks into a room with her red-rimmed glasses, short curly grey hair, and warm smile, she exudes an energy that makes you instantly want to be her friend. With nearly thirty years of experience, Maria has orchestrated countless productions for stage and film. Her honesty, generosity, and charming sense of humour make her the perfect mentor for new stage managers.

Maria’s stage management debut was with the original cast and crew of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) by Ann-Marie MacDonald. A play taught in almost every Canadian Theatre class, Goodnight Desdemona marks a pivotal turning point that changed Maria’s career path. Before entering the world of theatre, Maria worked tirelessly as a social worker. A self-proclaimed people-person, Maria’s key transferable skill was knowing how to successfully navigate relationships. After the success of the Goodnight Desdemona national tour, more gigs lines up, so Maria eventually decided to pursue stage management full time.

From spending just over an hour with the seasoned veteran at Alumnae Theatre’s Stage Management workshop, here are a few things I learned about what a Stage Manager is and should be:
  1. You should always be ahead of the game: Your work begins before the first day of rehearsals. You should read the play, twice. The first read-through is to understand the world of the play, and the second is to make note of all the technical needs of the show (lights, sound, media, set, props, costume, etc.). You should also make sure you are fully equipped for whatever might come up! Gear up with flashlights, water, fresh pencils, tissues, bandaids, and anything else you feel will make rehearsals run as smoothly as possible.
  2. You are the surrogate Director: You should be helping maintain the director’s vision. This begins with a conversation, to establish a relationship and go over expectations to ensure a successful outcome. In Maria’s words: “The best time to have a prenup is when you’re still in love.”
  3. You are a relationship-builder: Communication is key. You are responsible for navigating multiple lines of communication, an intricate web of artistic relationships. You must learn to walk the line between the needs of the director, the needs of the cast, and needs of the design team.
  4. You are a barometer and time-keeper: Learn to read the room and ask the right questions. Once the show opens, you are responsible for orchestrating all the technical aspects of the show to ensure the integrity of the director’s vision. Much like a conductor for a piece of music, you have full control, calling the entrances and exits of every single cue. But if you miss one, don’t get hung up. Move on, and ready yourself for the next one.
If you ask Maria, the single most important thing a stage manager should do is:
  • Watch and Listen: The power of observation is what will make you one of the most invaluable members of the team, so take lots of notes. If there’s a question about the show, you should know the answer. 
If you’re wondering if you should take a stage management workshop with Maria, the answer is yes. If you have a question about stage management, the answer is Maria. There are so many things you will learn from her. All you have to do is watch and listen.

Twitter: @gloriamok
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