Hang on to the railing: Backstage at "Jersey Boys"

by Guest Blogger

Guest blogger Eleanor Regan '13 is a senior social studies concentrator in Adams House. She has been stage managing and producing theater through the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club since her freshman year and plans to go into theater production.

"Hop up on a chair...scoot back, great...you might want to hang on to the railing." With this rather ominous warning, Larry Baker shifts his attention away from me and speaks rapidly into a headset. The script is set, the words known practically by rote -- rehearsed for the last six years he has been on the road as the production stage manager for the national tour of the musical Jersey Boys.

The stage lights go down at the Citi Performing Arts Center in Boston, and as the chorus rushes up the stairs behind the two of us, it becomes instantly clear why I should hold on. We are perched on a deck, bolted to a two-story set just off stage left, hidden from the audience view, and when six dancers are giving it their all in the opening number, our little nest shakes like a subway car, rattling pens and making the three TVs monitoring the stage quake in their cupboards.

It is a well-choreographed routine, if you can pardon the pun. There are a hundred places to look and Baker always knows which is the most important, pointing as he calls his cues, to show me what is happening, where I should be looking to get the most out of sitting with him. Going into an electrics cue – in which a set piece will fly from the ceiling – an actress waits in the wings, perched on the stairs behind us. She leans over the railing, her fingers walking their way up his call script that guides the show. There is a switch to be flipped, to make the background descend to the stage. She waits for his nod, flips the switch and then squeezes his shoulder. They share a smile, and it is obvious that they have executed this move many, many times before, that it is part of the show for them. She runs onstage to play one of the 15 parts she takes on over the course of this show, wearing one of the more than 40 costumes she will change into in two hours.

During the fall semester of 2012, I was teaching assistant to instructor Dana Knox in the Office for the Arts Stage Management Seminar, a course designed to teach freshmen and students new to the theater community what the role of a stage manager entails, how to do it in the college setting and how to potentially transfer that knowledge to a full-time job such as Baker has.

More recently, our class toured the Jersey Boys set with Baker and listened as he explained the nitty gritty facts of a job -- two-show days, weeks on the road, overnight buses leading right into technical rehearsals -- that many of us hope to someday have. Exposure to the professional world, where stage pieces rattle, where alert and trusting eye contact is crucial and where the audience is drawn into an experience completely protected from the backstage mechanics, is an extraordinary way to learn the craft of stage management, and to have experienced it, just months before I enter the professional world of theater, is irreplaceably helpful.

[Caption: Hannah Sears '16, Larry Baker, Evan Schueckler ‘15, Zoey Bergstrom '15 and guest blogger Eleanor Regan '13 in the Citi Center stage management booth.]