Behind the Scenes Spotlight: Chris Schweiger, Stage ManagerIt’s difficult, if not downright impossible, to neatly sum up everything Chris Schweiger contributes to the shows she stage manages. As a one of the Stage Managers at Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) ) and the Stage Manager for The Sneetches The Musical, Schweiger has a myriad of responsibilities and is one of the most integral parts of the theatre team. We set out to learn more about the life of a Stage Manager, and Schweiger had a wealth of knowledge to impart from her 14 years at CTC.
CTC: Stage management seems like a huge job! What are your main responsibilities?
Chris Schweiger: My main responsibilities are to be in charge of the cast and the integrity of the show. During rehearsals, I help the director make the best use of the rehearsal day by scheduling the actors’ time. I also make sure that what we are doing in rehearsals is communicated to the design team and the shops so adjustments can be made to scenery, props, and costumes as we make discoveries in rehearsals. But an important thing I help to do is to set a good tone in the rehearsal process for fun and creativity so that the cast can play and make those discoveries that are so critical to creating the show!
CTC: That’s definitely a lot to do at once. So how do you begin the process of managing a show?
CS: Stage managers begin working exactly one week before rehearsals begin. So I have one week to read the play, learn about the show’s designs and scenery, prepare paperwork like prop lists and contact lists, call the cast, and if there are students, meet with their parents. We also get the rehearsal room ready in every detail so that on the first day, we are ready to go! We tape out the ground plan on the floor so that the cast can rehearse with the correct spacing of the set, and we make sure we have scripts and supplies ready for all.
CTC: I can tell that you really enjoy your job. What were your reasons for wanting to work in the theatre industry in the first place?
CS: I fell in love with theatre in high school because it was just so much darn fun. I acted in a few plays and assistant directed a show. I then pursued theatre and film in college, but I found that the theatre culture was a lot more in line with who I am than filmmaking was, so I stuck with that. After college, I worked and volunteered overseas for a few years, but then I returned and did various theatre acting jobs. Eventually I got hired at CTC as an Assistant Stage Manager and found I enjoyed that work and truly loved working at this institution. The culture suited me, and I love the mission. I also work at other theatres from time to time, but I love making theatre at CTC because the quality of work is so exceptional, and we are always trying to make something important with such a huge emphasis on creativity.
CTC: That’s a great way to describe what makes theatre so special. What do you love about your specific role in the theatre?
CS: I love how different and unique each show experience is. I relish the process of creating the show. I love the trial and error experimentation that the rehearsal process is. I enjoy the collaboration between the actors, the director, the design team, and our amazing shop folks. I love being right in the middle of all of the excitement and pressure, and I am drawn to the responsibility of being in the middle of it. I love taking care of sensitive and creative people and making sure our ideas come to life, and then in turn changing the way people in our audiences think.
CTC: I know it’s hard to pick just one thing, so what are a few of your favorite parts about your job?
CS: I love that every show is totally different—like a new job, really—so it doesn’t become boring or too familiar. Each show brings new challenges and totally new people to it. I just love that—it constantly challenges and pushes me. I feel like I am constantly striving to get better at what I do—and that this is not a job I can get too “comfortable” in! In addition, I simply enjoy the period of time I have off between shows (usually about a week or a few weeks)—which gives me time to not work, but reflect, play, exercise, spend time with family and friends, and travel. And that is a truly special and unique aspect of this job. It is one aspect that has really helped me continue to do the work even when it can become incredibly stressful and overwhelming. The time off lends a lot of balance to the time on.
CTC: That all sounds wonderful! But you mention the challenges you encounter at work. What kinds of difficulties do you face as a stage manager?
CS: The life of working in theatre is of course full of drama and mishaps, and yet the show always seems to come together. It pretty much amazes me every time. Over the years I have developed this incredible faith and unwavering certainty that it will come through, despite all the turmoil, impossible odds, extreme personalities, and limited budgets. The show will come through—and I will be there, riding up in front—looking forward, but trying to enjoy the view from time to time.
CTC: Is there anything about your job that you think would be surprising or unexpected to people?
CS: A lot of people are surprised to learn that stage managers not only run every performance, but that we also give the actors notes to make sure the show stays on track and maintains the original intentions, which is what the director does until opening night. Most people don’t know that the director leaves after the show opens! It’s our job to keep things going smoothly after that. Another thing people find surprising is that stage managers make coffee every day for the company! This sounds funny, but it is one of those important small things that add up to making the rehearsal process the best that it can be. We also sweep and mop the rehearsal space, and that’s just another one of those important details in an art form that is all about every little detail!
CTC: Thanks so much for giving us such great insight into what it’s like to be a Stage Manager at CTC! Is there anything else you’d like to share or that you think is important for people to know?
CS: Well, I think I’d sum up by saying that stage managing is a fun and continuously challenging job, and it’s not for everyone. But those who get into it can get some surprising rewards. No other person in the process sees every single show and watches with such scrutiny as the stage manager. That experience has taught me so much about what really makes a good theater performer, what really makes a strong and consistent script, and what doesn’t work and what really does tickle audiences. It’s an incredible experience and it’s given me a truly versatile and healthy set of skills. Also, having a positive attitude and tireless ability to problem-solve has lent itself to every aspect of my life, and I feel very proud of that. It’s the nature of the job to bring a high work ethic and to stay sharp and strong. And that has lent itself into many other aspects of my own life—including my relationships with my family and friends, and my health, and I will always be grateful to this work for that!