JACQUELINE LAWTON: How long have you lived and worked as a stage manager in DC? What brought you here? Why have you stayed?
LESLEY IRMINGER: I moved to DC in ’08 for graduate school in Arts Management at George Mason University. Coming from a smaller arts area, Knoxville, TN I wanted to go somewhere that showcased the diversity of arts and somewhere I felt I could work outside of the stage management world but still SM when I wanted to. When I graduated in ’10 I was offered a job at the Center for the Arts at George Mason, so I stayed. Since then I’ve started stage managing more within the University.
JL: What excites you most about being a stage manager? What do you feel your greatest challenges are?
LI: I love the rush you get when everything comes together. To me stage management is NOT about the glory or the praise, it’s about the process and the final result. When I see a show come together and I know I helped make that happen it reminds me “why” we do it! I think for me the greatest challenge is balancing a full time job and still trying to stage manage on the side. My schedule does not offer a lot of time to SM, but I miss it when I’m not “doing it!” Another challenge is teaching stage managers and working within the university environment. You have so many “types” of students – getting them to understand “how theater” operates is exhilarating and challenging all in one!
JL: What traits do you feel a successful Stage Manager should have to support the health and growth of a production?
LI: Organization is always critical. Actors/Designers/Directors are artistic by nature – they should be allowed to think outside of the box – that is how art is created, but a good SM needs to be grounded and organized to help keep the chaos controlled! I also think you have to been patient, empathetic, stern, and parental all in one. Working with students this is especially important – I need to be able to relate to them and their lives as FT students, but I cannot allow them to walk all over the process. SM’s need to understand the concerns, issues, and circumstances of everything going on in a show – relate to them, but not let them take over the show. I think the best SM is one who can sit and just listen, then come up with a common ground solution.
JL: Does your work as a Stage Manager pay the bills? If not, what other work do you do and how do you find a balance?
LI: Not even close! I wish I could stage manage 24/7 but I do it now more for fun. I’m at a point in my life where stability is important and my FT job provides that. I SM for the Mason Opera/Music Department and sometimes venture out into other areas of DC to either SM or work as an arts manager. I also teach and mentor the SM students at Mason with the School of Theater. But my FT job is really what pays the bills. I like to joke that I have 4/5 jobs – but reality is it’s true and it’s the nature of working in the arts.
JL: Looking at your body of work as a stage manager in this community, how conscious are you of selecting plays by women or people of color when deciding your season?
LI: For me this is not something I really dive into. I take on gigs when I can. To me I think finding diverse work is important and I truly enjoy SMing shows that showcase women and the talent of local artists.
JL: How do you feel the DC theatre community has addressed the issues of race and gender parity? How has this particular issue impacted you and your ability to work?
LI: Compared to East Tennessee, where I am from I think DC does an excellent job. Between the Fringe Festival, Studio Theater, Arena, Signature, the University theatres, and Woolly I have been very impressed in the diversity of the area. I think most theaters in this area do try to think outside of the box and push boundaries! In this diverse area I feel this is important. This does not affect my work, but it does make me want to get out and see more theater and when I’m teaching I always try to focus on how theater brings a community together and sometimes asks the tough questions.
JL: DC audiences are ...
LI: Diverse and intelligent. I think the culture in DC drastically affects the arts and in a good way. People here ask the tough questions, they want to see good art, and they have eclectic tastes. This gives our theaters a lot to juggle, but it allows art to really form into something unique.
JL: DC actors, designers and directors are ..
LI: Hard working and dedicated. Its’ a rough area to work in but I see the theater professionals in this area and they don’t give up. They are dedicated to the craft and they fight for the arts in the area!
JL: DC critics are ...
LI: Again the Critics are never our favorite but I think the critics here are very diverse. I’ve never seen so many variety of reviews for a show. I think it showcases that our audience is diverse and I hate to say it a bad review does not mean I won’t go…in retrospect it challenges me to go and make my own opinion on a show.
JL: What advice do you have for an up and coming DC based stage managers?
LI: Go into this with passion, not the glory! SMing in general is hard work but the rewards are endless if you do it for the right reasons. If you are in DC, take advantage of all of the cattle calls and the diversity of theaters. Get out there and take gigs and don’t be afraid to push yourself or fight for your place as a SM in the area!
JL: What's next for you as a stage manager? Where can we keep up with your work?
LI: I am stage managing The Marriage of Figaro with Mason opera and Master Class with Lyric Opera Virginia. I don’t keep a web page or anything like that – the best way to keep up with my work is to follow what is going on at Mason!
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I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!