The University of Houston School of Theatre & Dance has long produced successful acting talents. Thanks to the school’s stage management program, it’s also launching the careers of behind-the-scenes stars.
In 2011, the school began offering a concentration in stage management for students pursuing a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) in theater. Next summer, the school will graduate its first stage management BFA student, while several others recently tool their talents to theater companies across the country.
“Stage management professionals are always in demand,” said Rachel Bush, assistant professor of theater and head of the BFA stage management program. “Stage managers are integral to any production.”
Professional stage managers help keep stage productions organized and ready for curtain call. From large-scale plays to concerts to awards ceremonies, stage managers play a crucial role in making sure everything on the stage and behind the curtains run smoothly. Duties often include overseeing the communication and coordination with a theater company’s various departments. These include scenery, lighting, props, costumes and sound. Stage managers also schedule rehearsals, provide support for directors and maintain the artistic integrity of productions.
At UH, required theater coursework focuses on production, design, acting, directing and theater history. Stage management students also take classes in music, first aid and facilities management (through the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management).
Bush is a veteran stage manager, who has worked on and off Broadway and with regional theater companies across the country. Her experience in the industry has factored into the development of this concentration and its curriculum.
Her guidance has helped several students receive invaluable experience working with on and off-campus productions in Houston and across the country. This summer, several students honed their talents at regional theater companies.
Among those is senior BFA student Ciara Ayala, who is working as the second company stage manager for Peterborough Players in Peterborough, N.H. This marks her second summer with the noted theater company. Last summer, she earned the company’s James Whitmore Award, which recognizes its top intern. While her summer experiences in New Hampshire have provided invaluable experience, she credits Bush and the stage management program for helping her receive such opportunities.
“I’ve learned so much, “ Ayala said. “The program is run as closely to the professional world as possible. It’s helped prove to me and my family that theater is a viable profession. Just like anything else, it takes an immense amount of dedication and drive, but it’s completely worth it.”
Senior Rachel Dooley also is working off campus this summer. She is serving as assistant stage manager for Arkansas Shakespeare Theater. Working on a production of “Twelfth Night,” she oversees backstage activities and coordinates props and costume changes.
“Every show we take on as stage managers is a whole new job and a whole new experience,” she said. “Its an exciting career because anything can happen. Needless to say, I am never bored.”
Other students who worked in the field this summer include sophomore Brian Wallace and junior Elizabeth Bess at Peterborough Players, junior Tegan Dunnigan and sophomore Katie Ceegan at the Houston Shakespeare Festival, and senior AmyJo Foreman at the Virginia Shakespeare Festival.
“There’s a need for stage managers out there, and our students are finding work,” Bush said. “We want them to contribute to the national theater landscape and show people in the industry that the University of Houston is preparing knowledgeable and capable stage management professionals.”
To learn more about UH’s stage management degree plan, visit http://www.uh.edu/class/theatre-and-dance/theatre/undergraduate/management/index.php. For more details on the UH School of Theatre & Dance, visit http://www.uh.edu/class/theatre-and-dance/index.php.
The UH School of Theatre and Dance produces professional plays, dance concerts, studio productions, a new play festival, and school shows through the Theatre for Young Audiences program. The school performs in the Wortham Theatre and the Quintero Theatre. The Houston Shakespeare Festival is a professional project of the school, which is produced each summer at Miller Outdoor Theatre. The UH School of Theatre & Dance offers bachelor’s and master's degrees in theater and teacher certifications in dance and theatre. Its graduate program consists of a master of arts in theatre and master of fine arts in theatre with specializations in acting, directing and design. Faculty includes Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Edward Albee, Tony Award-winning playwright Mark Medoff, Tony Award-winning producer Stuart Ostrow and Tony-nominated designer Kevin Rigdon. Among the greats who have taught at the school in previous years are Lanford Wilson, Sir Peter Hall and Jose Quintero. For details on UH's School of Theatre & Dance, visit www.theatredance.uh.edu.