Theatre Program Stage Management Concentration 2015–16

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04-Apr-16
The Theatre Program’s Stage Management Concentration is continuing to flourish, with students and alumni shining behind the scenes throughout the city. Program Director Michael J. Passaro sees 2016 as one of the most successful years to date.

“The 2015–2016 academic year has proven that the Columbia MFA Stage Management Program is growing by leaps and bounds, and in the best way possible,” Passaro said. “Our applicant pool is expanding, so we’re able to invite more qualified stage managers to continue their studies here. The depth of the learning experience—both inside and outside of the classroom—is richer. And the working professionals who comprise the adjunct faculty have offered our students more opportunities than ever before.”

In their first year in the program, concentrators take such Stage Management–specific courses as Leadership for Stage Managers, Special Topics in Stage Management, History and Theory of Theatre, and Theatre Management and Administration; they also take Collaboration with the rest of the Theatre Program students and work on Directing students’ theses, giving them real world experience realizing new works and working on large productions. The aim is for students to assemble the knowledge base necessary to serve as the hybrid CEO/COO of a theatrical production, which requires knowing about topics as diverse as current theatre trends, union policies and contracts.

Passaro noted that students also have had a chance to learn from professionals outside the classroom. Students in Seth Sklar-Heyn's Directing for Stage Managers class met with the legendary director Hal Prince, and students in adjunct faculty member Jack Rouse's Advanced Leadership class met with Jordan Roth, president of Jujamcyn Theaters.

"Our partnerships with both the Metropolitan Opera and ABT were expanded this past year—both on-site and in the classroom,” Passaro said. “We’ve also developed an exclusive relationship with adjunct professor Jim Semmelman, who shares his unique experience as a stage manager in the television industry with our students. His access to the studios and staffs of NBC (The Today Show, SNL) and ABC (Good Morning America, Dr. Oz) allowed our stage managers first-hand experiences in the world of TV.”

Semmelman places great emphasis on Columbia’s broad approach to the field. “It is a testament to Columbia University that they expose their Stage Management students to all of the available outlets for which to use their skill sets,” he said.

Kirk Laing, who will graduate from the program this spring, appreciates the concentration’s professional orientation. “Working outside of school in a professional setting has been one of the greatest parts of being at Columbia,” he said. “I did a semester as a marketing intern with MCC Theater where I not only met many fantastic people, but also I learned about what it takes to run a professional company. It was such a great experience that I was hired as an assistant and have been able to do many great things that have been key to my educational experience.”

Many members of the class of 2016 participated in major productions. Blake Kile ’16 was production assistant on Broadway-bound musical Bull Durham with adjunct faculty member Peter Lawrence, and Jessica Cotter ’16 was a production assistant on Hamilton’s “boot camp” for training new and replacement cast members for the Broadway and upcoming touring productions. Paige Carter ’16 worked as an administrative assistant with NAMCO, the production company that is currently producing Waitress. And for the first time, Classic Stage Company’s Young Company program allowed two current students—Alayna Graziani ’16 and Miranda Swineford ’16—to obtain their Equity cards through their work on the company’s production of Othello.

First-year students also got hands-on experience as production assistants on some of New York’s most talked-about shows. Janelle Caso ’17 served as the production assistant on Roundabout Theater's wildly successful Noises Off, with adjunct faculty member Linda Marvel. Rachel Zucker ’17 was a production assistant on New York Theatre Workshop’s production of David Bowie and Enda Walsh’s musical Lazarus, which was directed by Ivo van Hove. Zucker was also a production assistant with Abraham Marlett ’17 on the Public Theater’s acclaimed production of Southern Comfort.

“I’m most impressed with how our students continue to build bridges to their full-time professional lives while at Columbia,” Passaro said. “And those bridges can take them down the block or around the globe. Some of these experiences come directly from their relationships with their faculty mentors, but most are borne from the students’ own initiative: They find the opportunity, they interview and they get the job.”

Success stories from recent alumni include that of Kate Dial ’15, who is the current production assistant and substitute stage manager on Bright Star with Passaro, as well as the substitue stage manager on Wicked with adjunct faculty member Marybeth Abel. Garrett Rollins ’15 is the assistant stage manager with adjunct faculty member Diane DiVita on the Manhattan Theatre Club production of Our Mother’s Brief Affair, and Elizabeth Goodman ’14 was the production assistant and substitute stage manager on the Broadway production of Misery.

Graduates are working internationally as well, with Zhenghao Zhang ’15 serving as the assistant stage manager on the Shanghai Disney Resort production of The Lion King. “What I love about this program is how it doesn't just focus on stage management itself but take it to a higher level, including a lot of non-stage-management or even non-theatrical materials and experiences to talk about leadership,” Zhang said. “It really helps me to look at this profession from a different angle. Additionally, the program pushes us to find internships in the real world, on top of all the classes and school projects. Every professor and guest speaker, who are all top professionals in the industry, are willing to help us build connections and enrich our experience.”

Going forward, Passaro said, the program will only continue to grow. "The students accepted into the program are among the top MFA candidates in the country," he said. "The faculty is, in a word, peerless: Where else but in New York City, the theatrical capital of the world, can you find subject matter experts—in every arena—who know more about contemporary stage management? Looking to the future, all of these elements will allow us to expand the Stage Management Concentration in terms of course offerings, workshops, outreach and visibility."

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Columbia University School of the Arts offers MFA degrees in Film, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Writing, an MA degree in Film Studies, a joint JD/MFA degree in Theatre Management & Producing, a PhD degree in Theatre History, Literature, and Theory, and an interdisciplinary program in Sound Arts.