Thriving Stage Management Concentration Expands

October 22, 2016

Columbia University School of the Arts’s thriving Stage Management concentration has expanded to a three-year M.F.A. program. According to Adjunct Associate Professor and Concentration Head Michael Passaro, “there was a collective feeling… that by expanding the program, it would allow for a richer classroom experience in the first two years; stage managers would then be better prepared to practice real-world challenges in their third year.”
The additional year allows the stage management faculty, including Passaro—whose role is now a full time position—the opportunity to get to know students even better and to add additional courses. Because of the diverse roles that stage managers take on during productions, course topics range from leadership skills to theater history to practical steps for finding work in the field. Close relationships with Columbia faculty, all of whom are working professionals in the field, is a critical component to the program.
“The faculty not only enrich our students in the classrooms with their incredible wealth of experience, but they welcome them into their professional workspaces around the city – as observers and participants - so they can see exactly how stage managers work in the field,” said Passaro. “‘The city is our classroom’ is not just a catchy slogan, it’s a fact.”
Passaro brings over thirty years of stage management experience, to his work, and his impressive resume is always growing. For his most recent credit is as the Production Stage Manager for Holiday Inn, a new Broadway musical featuring the music of Irving Berlin, the production team included Kate Dial ‘15, Shalyn Clark ‘17, Scott Wray ‘17 and Joan Wyatt ‘17.
“It was really great to see the things we’ve been talking about it class and how they really do apply in a commercial setting,” said Wray. “It was amazing just to see Michael do what he does, and learning from seeing what he was doing in the situation.”
The stage managers assisted Holiday Inn in diverse ways, including by tracking script changes, noting entrances and exits in the choreography, and marking out transitions. The production also gave them an opportunity to experience the culture and etiquette of life on a Broadway production.

“It was surprising how similar it was to what I’ve already done,” Wyatt said. “It made [working on Broadway] seems less scary and more possible to do one day.”
Alumni and current students are active across the field, with recent projects including Roundabout Theater's wildly successful Noises Off, New York Theatre Workshop’s production of David Bowie and Enda Walsh’s musical Lazarus, and the Public Theater’s acclaimed production of Southern Comfort.
By the time they leave Columbia, Passaro hopes that his students will “be fully aware that The Theater is a totally realistic profession that can make great inroads on the human spirit. Therefore, in addition to having a good head for business and detail, a great sense of compassion and understanding is needed. After all of the classes are done, papers submitted, productions closed, and they receive their diploma, that is the core value I hope our stage managers take with them into the professional arena.”