JACQUELINE LAWTON: How long have you lived and worked as a stage manager in DC? What brought you here? Why have you stayed?
TARYN FRIEND: I have been in stage management in DC for about 9 years (eek) now. I grew up about an hour out of the DC area and went to college at Mary Washington in Fredericksburg and from college I got an internship in production management at The Shakespeare Theatre and made the connections to continue on into a successful career in stage management. I’ve always loved DC the city and the theatre community is fantastic with a good deal of employment opportunities at a wide variety of theatres.
JL: What excites you most about being a stage manager? What do you feel your greatest challenges are?
TF: As we often say in the “biz” our jobs are weird. Every show brings new excitement and new challenges. There’s a never ending variety to your work day every day…its definitely not boring. For me, the biggest challenges usually come from the bigger shows, making all the pieces of a show fit together is like a gigantic puzzle often times with the challenges of having 40 seconds to complete a big scene change or trying to make large set pieces fit in extremely small backstage spaces.
JL: What traits do you feel a successful Stage Manager should have to support the health and growth of a production?
TF: I believe (stealing a phrase from Mickey Berra) that “fun and flexibility” is key to a successful, healthy and happy run.
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?
TF: Currently, I have been lucky enough to have consistent enough work that stage managing is able to pay the bills but that was not always the case. When I was a production assistant (just starting out in stage management) I think I had about 4 jobs at once. I would be a PA, worked at the Box Office, House Managed at Shakespeare and had an unofficial pet sitting service. Times were definitely hard back then but as I progressed I was able to subtract job by job and now I have a bit more sanity.
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?
TF: Unfortunately due to the tricky game of getting offers from theatres and aligning schedules that I don’t often have much of a choice in which shows I do and basically have to take whatever is offered!
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?
TF: I think that it very much depends on the theatre. I know Ford’s Theatre tries to do color blind casting when the can (you can see it every year with A Christmas Carol) and I fully support it. Obviously it doesn’t work for every show, for example in Miss Saigon it would be little strange if the refugees were color blind casting but I am happy to see more theatres starting to take that approach. In Stage Management I feel that it is less of an issue than with actors. There are a good number of female stage managers (I think just due to the nature of the job) but I have heard on at least one occasion of a theatre that insisted on hiring a male ASM simply because they wanted a guy on the team. I was not up for that position so it didn’t directly affect me but the statement made me cringe.
JL: DC audiences are ...
TF: A very loyal fan base. I’m often surprised at how often you see the same faces at different theatres, at different shows and sometimes even multiple times per show!
JL: DC actors, designers and directors are …
TF: the cream of the crop! DC based folks tend to be my favorites to work with (But I feel are often over looked if they are up against someone with a New York zip code)
JL: DC critics are ...
TF: Are a little too powerful. If people read a negative review in the Post or one of the other papers then a lot of times people will just write the show off and not go see it. There have been a lot of fantastic shows that have gotten negative reviews (primarily because the reviewer didn’t like the script and didn’t necessarily review the production as a whole) and no one goes to see them! Folks are missing out on some fantastic productions because of blind faith in someone else’s opinion.
JL: What advice do you have for an up and coming DC based stage managers?
TF: Don’t burn bridges and try not to get burnt out. We are putting on plays for a living not doing brain surgery. You have to remember to have a life outside of theatre and try not to get too caught up in it all (although that’s sometimes easier than said)
JL: What's next for you as a stage manager? Where can we keep up with your work?
TF: I just closed A Christmas Carol and will be working on The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, both at the Ford’s Theatre.
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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!