Behind the Scenes with: Patti Kelly, Production Stage Manager

The Air Traffic Controller of the Production

by Rachel Enck, City Theatre Literary Intern

Have you ever wondered what all those titles on City Theatre’s staff list at the back page of the program mean? What’s a Technical Director? How about a Draper? What’s the division between the Managing Director’s job and the Artistic Director’s? Audience members know there are people who work behind the scenes to produce each show; however, they may not know what these individuals actually do, how their involvement creates what the audience sees.  And so on the Backstage Blog, we’ll be occasionally featuring those people and highlighting their jobs to give you a more expansive idea of what goes into making each of our productions. The first person we’re starting with is Patti Kelly, our Production Stage Manager.

Patti at the tech table preparing for a dress rehearsal. For performances, she moves into the control booth with the lighting and sound board operators. Holly, our light board op, can be seen in the booth in the background.

Patti Kelly has been a City Theatre staff member since 1989.  “My early years here were very exciting,” she says, “because we were in the process of moving from Oakland to the Southside and building our current space.  We were a small staff and were all involved in the process in a hands-on way.”  Not surprisingly, the ongoing dedication to City Theatre on the part of Patti Kelly has everything to do with how much she feels she has invested herself in this building and the life and survival of the organization.  Most staff members don’t have the organizational history Patti does, but the few who do, the “core group of people who have done the same thing”—dedicated themselves to City Theatre—have also been influential in keeping Patti Kelly here.

During her years at Pitt, Patti met actor Harry Bouvy and the two became good friends.  Harry plays Friedrich Mann in The Clockmaker, by Stephen Massicotte, City’s next production [see Harry’s blog entry from 1/11/10].  “The fabulous Harry Bouvy and I have been friends for years and years.  I first met Harry when he was a freshman at Pitt and we were doing a production of In the Boom Boom Room.  I was actually in the show and was asked to choreograph Harry’s routine.  What a way to get to know a person.  ‘Hi, lets go into this hall way and we’ll do some dirty dancing.’” The two bonded immediately.  “Harry is such a positive person and so ready to jump right in and try anything, which makes him not only a great actor but a lot of fun to be around.  I’m so thrilled that we are actually getting to work together again after all of these years.  We really did grow up in the theatre together with many a long day at Pitt and at the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival. Now I’m enjoying the fact that I get to see him every day!”

Patti (right) checks a measurement in the rehearsal hall with the help of production assistant Lauren Connolly. The taped floor is how stage management delineates the floor plan of the set so the actors and director can block the show in the rehearsal hall.

Patti’s favorite things about stage-managing are the possibilities each season brings.  “I learn so much each season.  I love working on new pieces of theatre and I also love getting to meet so many interesting people.  I love that I have been able to make and maintain so many wonderful friendships.  It is great working with most of the actors I encounter because they tend to be bright, witty, fun-loving people –and if they aren’t they go away after eight weeks!!”

Clearly, the stage manager is bright and witty, too, humorously needling the actors. But read Harry Bouvy’s blog entry–he’ll let you in on how Patti Kelly really treats actors, kidding aside.

So, then, what is a stage manager?  Patti answers, “The stage manager is essentially the air traffic controller of the production.  I am with the production from before it begins rehearsal until the last performance.  I am responsible for such things as writing down all of the movement that the actors make onstage, communicating to all of the departments in the theatre any notes that arise during the rehearsal day and for scheduling all rehearsals and costume fittings.  I am also the person who is responsible for making sure that the union rules are adhered to and I am the union liaison between the actors and the theatre.”

The union Patti is referring to Actors’ Equity Association. Most people know that City Theatre employs actors belonging to the professional actors union.  But what many people might not be aware of is that stage managers are also members of Actors’ Equity—and that we quite literally can’t go into production without Patti Kelly.

During tech for Mother Teresa is Dead, lighting designer Andy Ostrowski looks on as Patti updates her book, which records all the technical cues of the production.

Describing her job, Patti continues, “During technical rehearsals, I am responsible for recording all of the technical cues (lights, sound, set moves, video, etc.) into the production book.  During each performance, I then ‘call’ all of the cues, which entails working out timings with the action of the play and then telling the technicians when to change the lights and sound, etc.”  Since directors leave after a show opens, Patti, as the stage manager, is also responsible for, “giving notes to the actors during the run of the show to maintain the production as it was directed.”

When asked what the necessary qualities are of a good stage manager, Patti says “organized and efficient,” “calm and compassionate,” and “able to interact with various personalities.”  She also says, “You also need to never take anything personally. Actors need to trust that you are there to take care of them.”

Finally, I was curious what one thing Patti would want to communicate to the audience from her perspective as the stage manager.  “I’d love the audience to know that the actors are working very hard up on that stage.”

Patti's view as she calls the show during a performance of Mezzulah, 1946 by Michele Lowe. Onstage can be seen actors Theo Allen (left) and Larry John Meyers (right) in the final scene of the play.

In addition, she wants to highlight the equally hard work of many of the people we’ll be featuring in future Behind the Scenes with entries: our technical staff members backstage and in the shops (Lauren, Holly, Brad, Tony, Paul, Louise, Dustin, C.J., Sean, and Leah) who, as Patti points out, “do incredible work with very little time and resources” to make the audience’s experience a good one.

She did say one thing more, actually. “The actors can see you text messaging and checking the game scores.”

So turn off your cell phones.

And enjoy your flight, secure in the capable hands of Patti Kelly.

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