KINGSTON, R.I. — March 8, 2017 — If a light breaks on stage, it is Allyson Schiller’s problem, but so is a stain on a costume, an actor without his script or a missing prop. Schiller is a stage manager for University of Rhode Island Theater.
Stage managers make sure the spotlights are working, but they don’t bask in their glow during a curtain call. The audience sees their work, but it doesn’t see them working.
“It is stressful, but in a positive way. I work very well under pressure so I really like to be in an environment with many responsibilities and deadlines,” Schiller said.
The Tenafly, N.J. resident’s hard work and competence has recently been rewarded in the Irene Ryan Competition in the stage management category, as part of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. Schiller reached the finals and was named second alternate in the regional competition among the over 75 candidates.
“I was shocked,” Schiller said. “I thought that I had a good shot because I am very organized. But we were all very good because we were the best from each New England university. I was a little nervous but I felt I had a strong chance based on what I was bringing to the table.”
By reaching the finals of the stage management competition, Schiller joined URI student Catia Ramos, who reached the same stage in the acting category.
For Schiller, stage managers are “the go-to people at the center of the show.” They have all the information about the production, share it with the crew and make sure safety rules are followed.
“We work with the director and designer to create what they want to see on stage. We make sure rehearsals go smoothly, that everybody has what they need. During the show, we call the cues,” Schiller said.
She has what is called the “Bible of the theater” that contains all of the information she needs for the performance. It provides guidance to Schiller and other stage managers to call all the transitions for lighting or other elements. This guide, however, provides little time for a deep breath.
“I am definitely exhausted after a performance, but it’s a great feeling. I also feel very accomplished,” Schiller said. “All parts of theater have an aspect of relying on the audience to give them energy, and actors feel this on stage. As a stage manager, I feel it too. I like seeing the final product and knowing that everything went as it was supposed to because of what I did. And if it goes wrong, I’m the one who has to solve it.”
The distinctive characteristic of a live theater performance is that despite a very tight organization, stage incidents can happen. The trick is to make them look as if they were intended, she said.
“In Good People, we spent weeks creating a red-wine-like liquid that wouldn’t stain,” recalled Schiller. “During one of the performances the actor who was holding the cup of red wine spilled it all over the other actress and everywhere on stage. The actors made it look like it was intentional so people wouldn’t notice, but backstage we were running everywhere !”
Being a stage manager for Schiller is “a lot of quick thinking and solving problems on the spot,” but she says that having a team of four assistant stage managers is crucial to handling stage incidents.
Now a double major in public relations and theater concentrating in stage management, Schiller has been immersed in the world of theater for many years.
“I got involved in high school by accident,” said Schiller. “I was looking for something to do with my free time. I went to a meeting for a school play and they needed an assistant manager and I did not want to act, so I did it.”
Schiller chose URI because of its theater program and the University’s interdisciplinary approach that allows students to explore a wide range of options.
“URI is one of the few universities with a bachelor of fine arts that lets you double major. It gives you the training and the background that you need and professors are very good at showing you what the world is going to be like when you graduate,” she said.
Schiller remains busy. She was the stage manager in last year’s Legally Blonde and Good people in October. She is working in Providence’s Brown/Trinity master of fine arts program as a sound board operator.
She will then be working with the wardrobe crew on URI’s performance of The Great Gatsby.
URI’s Theatre Department’s The Great Gatsby will run April 20 – 22 and April 27 – 29 at 7:30 p.m. and will have additional performances on April 23 and 30 at 3 p.m. at the Robert E. Will Theater in the Fine Arts Center, 105 Upper College Road on the Kingston Campus.
Sarah Saltiel-Ragot, an international student from Sciences Po Rennes in France and an intern in URI’s Department of Marketing and Communications, wrote this story.