Episode 80: Stage Manager Tiffany Lyn Meadows
Tiffany Lyn Meadows started stage managing as a senior in high school having no idea how to put together a prompt book or call a show. Now she’s a professional stage manager. What’s it like? How does the professional world differ from school? What’s the one thing she would like actors to know about stage managers? Tune in and find out.
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Welcome to TFP, The Theatrefolk Podcast. I am Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk. Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.
So, the number one thing that we’re not supposed to talk about on podcasts is the weather because nobody cares about the weather where I am, where you are, right? Excellent point… except this winter has been, oh, I cannot think of the vast amount of expletives I would like to use to describe this winter. And, keeping on topic, this winter has really wreaked some havoc on a lot of teachers who are trying to get shows ready for production. Stay tuned after the interview to hear what some teachers are dealing with.
This week, we are talking to stage manager Tiffany Lyn Meadows who is down in Florida who is not dealing with this horrific winter. Tiffany is fresh out of college and she started stage managing as a senior in high school, having no idea how to put together prompt book or call a show. Now she’s a professional and we wanted to ask her what’s it like? You know, how does the professional world differ from school? And what’s the one thing she would like actors to know about stage managers. Okay? Let’s go find that out.
Lindsay: Hello everybody! Thank you for joining me today.
Welcome to The Theatrefolk Podcast, TFP, and I’m really pleased with the interview that we’re going to be doing today – a little bit different but very, very important in the theatre word – and we have a stage manager with us, Tiffany Lyn Meadows.
Tiffany Lyn: Hi Lindsay!
Lindsay: Hi! How are you?
Tiffany Lyn: I’m doing well. How are you?
Lindsay: I’m pretty awesome.
Now, the first thing that I always like to do is just tell people where you are in the world.
Tiffany Lyn: I am in Orlando, Florida.
Lindsay: In Orlando, Florida, which I’m assuming is much, much warmer than Canada right now.
Tiffany Lyn: It is. It’s Florida cold though. I think our high today was, like, 55. So, it’s pretty frigid for Florida.
Lindsay: You poor, poor people. Ugh. It’s so horrible.
Tiffany Lyn: I know, everybody hates us right now.
Lindsay: That’s okay. You’re a professional stage manager, yeah? And how long have you been one?
Tiffany Lyn: I’ve been stage managing since high school. I graduated from UCF in 2012. So, if you want to count from graduating college on, it’s been just over a year.
Lindsay: How awesome is it that you were able to make that transition from school to the professional world.
Tiffany Lyn: Yeah, it was super awesome. I did an internship with the Orlando Repertory Theatre in 2011 so it was the summer between my second and third year of college and they kept me around. I’m still there today.
Lindsay: Do you find any difference between being a stage manager in a school setting to being a stage manager in the professional world?
Tiffany Lyn: Yes and no. I think the biggest thing is the way that people will go about helping you. It gets a little harder to be a student stage manager because people will go kind of like, “Go figure it out. Go learn. Go do it.”
Lindsay: “This would be a teaching moment.”
Tiffany Lyn: Yes, whereas, like in a professional theatre setting, you’re not on your own but you figure it out or you can go to somebody who’s going to help you right off the bat than kind of let you flounder a little bit to see what you do. Sometimes, people will do that, but it’s not any fun.
Lindsay: By and large, it’s for the good – and by and large, and I’m sure there’s exceptions to this rule – but professionally, everybody wants the production to go well so it doesn’t really do them any good to watch you flounder.
Tiffany Lyn: Yeah.
Lindsay: Now, I first came across you because you have a Tumblr called “Thank you, five” and not directly from your Tumblr but someone had posted on Facebook you have these Tech Week Bingo cards.
Tiffany Lyn: I do.
Lindsay: And you made these, right?
Tiffany Lyn: Yes, I did.
Lindsay: So, they’re pretty awesome. Everyone, I’m sure, I’m not going to explain Bingo to the world. I think you probably know how to do it. But in the squares, instead of numbers, are some of the wonderful things that perhaps might happen during Tech Week like mic goes out during a solo, three sick cast members, this one’s my favorite – the rehearsal report reaches more than five pages. You can just imagine what might happen.
Now, what sort of inspired you to do this?
Tiffany Lyn: I was in the stage management office at the Rep one day and the Christmas show was in Tech and something had happened – headsets were down or something, something happened that always happens during Tech, like, you can count on it – you may as well put money that this particular instance is going to happen every time. And I was sitting in the office and like, “I should just make Bingo cards and then, maybe all the horrible things that happen won’t seem so annoying, and somebody can get candy out of it.”
So, that’s kind of how that happened. And then, I went around and talked to all the different people, all the different departments. Like, I went to the master carpenter and I was like, “Hey, what’s something that always happens for you during Tech, like, every time. Like, if I was going to make a Bingo card, you would win because this thing happens so frequently,” and I got a list from them and I got a list from costumes. My roommate is a carpenter and my other roommate is an electrician so I was like, “Guys, what goes down during Tech always?” and we just compiled it all. And now, we have Tech Week Bingo.
Lindsay: Well, it’s really hit, hasn’t it? Because I know that when we put it on our Facebook, I think I got like thirty-something thousand views and it just seems to be, I think it hits a nerve, doesn’t it?
Tiffany Lyn: Yeah, yeah.
Lindsay: These things that always happen. And your Tumblr’s really, informative I don’t think is the right word, but it’s really informative! Like, I really like how, because you have, like, you answer questions, you have templates for run sheets, and there’s a lot of anecdotal stories, and I think that’s really the best way, sometimes, that people can really see into a world—
Tiffany Lyn: Yeah, yeah.
Lindsay: —is hear their stories. Is that your idea?
Tiffany Lyn: Yeah. I mean, it honestly just started out at as my personal blog. And then, as I started, as Stage Management became more and more my life, it just turned into that. That’s what I do all the time so those are all my stories – what happened in Tech today or what child said what during rehearsal or ridiculous things.
Lindsay: The things that are going on in your head, it’s better if they’re out in the world than not.
Tiffany Lyn: Yes.
Lindsay: Okay. So, you started in high school. How come?
Tiffany Lyn: I kind of just fell into it. I went to a performing arts high school here in Central Florida, over in Lakeland, and I was on the performance track, and my best friend, she was on the technical track, and I was talking to her and I was like, “Yo! Your job, I really like what you’re doing. How can I get in on that?” and she was like, “Oh, I don’t know,” because it was very much, in high school, it was the actors acted and the technicians teched.
And then, our senior year came around and they needed a stage manager for the seniors’ show and our tech director was like, “Hey, Tiffany! Do you want to do this?” I was like, “Uh, yeah! Sign me up!” And so, I stage managed my first show my senior year of high school and I don’t know how I did it because I had never done… I was like an ASM for a dance show the year before and then they threw me on this show, and I remember taping notebook paper to the book of my script so that I had a place to take blocking and, like, we’d be in rehearsals and my director would be like, “Okay, Tiffany, do this,” and I’d just go, “Uh-huh,” “Do you know what I’m saying?” “No…” And so, they had to teach me like that.
I remember going into paper tech and my lighting designer told us, goes, “Okay, Tiffany. So, your cue two is going to be here so you need to call it here.” I was writing everything down and then my tech director stops and he goes, “Do you understand what we’re telling you to do?” and I just went, “No, but I figured, if I took enough notes, I could figure it out.” So, we’re in paper tech, the show opens next week, and they had to teach me how to call a show, and I fell in love with it, and it was great, and I kept doing it, and went from there.
Lindsay: Well, you know you’re going to do something for life when you’re in an experience like that and your response is “I love this” and not “I never want to do this again.”
Tiffany Lyn: Yeah, I loved it.
Lindsay: Because I’ve been in the exact same situation where I got thrown into… I was an ASM for a show and every step was like, “Yep, this doesn’t ever need to happen again. I don’t ever need to do this again.” I think that’s the best. I think that that’s what you kind of need to do. You need to throw yourself into something and make mistakes and you’ll know you love something if you make a mistake and it doesn’t destroy you.
Tiffany Lyn: Yeah, absolutely.
Lindsay: And then, you went to university. What was it like to do college? Were you able to major in Stage Management?
Tiffany Lyn: I actually majored in Theatre Studies so I did a BA, a general degree, but I sort of focused in stage management. The UCF, the University of Central Florida, has a BFA Stage Management degree but I chose to go as a BA and kind of do more of a focus rather than do the BFA.
I wanted, having come from a more liberal arts school school and know that, like, if you choose to specialize in something like that, like, that is all you do, and I really didn’t want to chance coming out of college and hating what I had just started loving, and I also knew that being a BFA is something that I wouldn’t get too much with the exception of, like, summer and things like that. I wouldn’t get too much of an opportunity to do outside work or work with, like, other organizations on campus, or if our friend had a show going up, it’d be really difficult for me to find the time to do that and I wanted to be able to go and do things elsewhere and with friends and work on things other than what was going on at the school.
Lindsay: What is your favorite part about being a stage manager?
Tiffany Lyn: I’ve always really enjoyed being with the process from, like, day negative four – really, before anything even starts – and watching, like, directors come up with their idea and the first ever design meeting and then watch it all. Also, designers put it together and then what gets changed and what gets added and then watch the actors play with it in rehearsal and then teching it and seeing it all come together and just being with it all the way through and watching the whole entire process is really, really fun for me.
Lindsay: Do you like process or product better? Like, do you like the work-up to the show and then the show happens, or do you love what the end result is?
Tiffany Lyn: Probably process. I think I really, I really, really love rehearsal and going through tech. Like, I love tech. Like, it’s my favorite part. Actors hate it.
Lindsay: Why? Why do you think that is?
Tiffany Lyn: I think it’s just not all actors hate it. I guess it’s hard. It’s the time of the process where people should focus and we’ve spent however, like, at the Rep we spend two weeks on the rehearsal and we spend two weeks focusing more on actors than anything else. Then, we get into tech. It’s just tedious. They don’t necessarily hate it. It’s just tedious for some people more than others.
Lindsay: And the focus isn’t on them.
Tiffany Lyn: Yes. I was trying to not say it but…
Lindsay: The focus is on, well, it’s on because you need two parts of the puzzle to make the whole thing.
Tiffany Lyn: Yeah.
Lindsay: You can’t not have those tedious tech moments because that’s when things go awry when it doesn’t happen. Just before we started, I was on your Tumblr and the Twitter’s from your… Was it your roommate who was in her production failure?
Tiffany Lyn: Yes.
Lindsay: “Well, let’s make a lighting cue sheet right before house opens.” Why not, right?
Tiffany Lyn: Yeah.
Lindsay: What do you like least about being a stage manager?
Tiffany Lyn: I think, sometimes, figuring out how different people need to be, not necessarily handled but, like, I know that there are people that I can’t go up and talk to and just be like, “Yo. This is the deal. Here’s how things need to go down.” I need to kind of talk them down from things and it’s hard. I would much prefer just to go up to people and be like, “Hey, listen. Here’s the deal. Here’s what we’re doing,” rather than figure out how I need to play things to get them done if that makes sense.
Lindsay: Yes, totally. It’s the need to have a multi-faceted communication skill.
Tiffany Lyn: Yeah, and that’s the thing that I’ve had to work on. I think I’ve gotten better at it. I think I’m getting a handle on it as I work more and with different people. But, yeah, that’s probably my least favorite thing – figuring out how I can talk to different people and who needs to be hugged to get something done and who can be told, “I need this done.”
Lindsay: That’s really what it boils down to, right? Who needs a hug? And who can just be told the straight story?
Tiffany Lyn: Yeah.
Lindsay: Okay. So, we have a lot of our main audience is teachers and students, and there are a lot of students out there who end up in stage management pretty much exactly the same way that you did – they just sort of fall into it, they didn’t know it existed, right? Sometimes, because it’s that whole idea that there’s the pretty lights and the actors and the lights and then, “What? There’s things happening backstage too?”
So, what advice would you give to students just starting out in high school and being a stage manager?
Tiffany Lyn: I think it’s really instantly that I learned very quickly is, if things go wrong and people snap at you, it’s not your fault. Don’t go home and cry about it. Like, you’re the person that was there. Like, that’s really, as a person, that’s something that’s difficult, I think, for some people to, like, wrap their heads around. It’s like your director snaps at you and you’re like, “Oh, god! Oh, no! I ruined the show!” but you didn’t. Something else happened earlier in the day and they’ve been dealing with other kinds of little things and you just happened to be there and so you got the brunt of it. Learning to deal with emotional situations like that is really helpful, and just asking questions and learning – sometimes, you don’t want to ask a question because you are supposed to be the person who knows everything.
Tiffany Lyn: But asking questions is so important because you could be wrong about something, or just double-checking that you’re right, and nobody’s going to be upset at you for clarifying something. Like, they would much rather you ask. Like, today I was taping out the floor for my next show and I was in the technical director’s office probably ten times over the course of thirty minutes asking questions as I was taping the floor out. Like, they want you to ask so that everybody’s on the same page because there’s also situations where you’ll ask a question and somebody is like, “Oh, I wasn’t even aware that was am issue.”
So, things come up all the time, and just be open, and be communicative, and enjoy it – if you don’t enjoy it then there’s no point, do something else.
Lindsay: Why is it do you think that the stage manager seems to be the epicenter, right? The person that gets yelled at, the person that people come to either for the straight shoot or for the hug. Why do you think that is?
Tiffany Lyn: I think it’s because part of it is because you are there so you’re who they see all the time. Like, you’re in production meetings, you’re talking to the director and the designers and you’re there. The actors talk to you during rehearsals and then, once you get into performances, you’re there backstage with them and, like, you’re always there and they always see you. So, as far as people coming to you, I think it’s that.
And then, going back to asking lots of questions, sometimes you just ask, sometimes the director has had enough questions, and you ask the question that tips them over and so you’re there and it’s just where you happen to be – wrong place, wrong time, sometimes.
Lindsay: Do you think that it’s necessary to have a thick skin to be a stage manager?
Tiffany Lyn: I do. I think it is. There’s a fine line I’ve found because it’s something that I struggle with between having a thick skin and looking like you’re just being horrible and jaded and don’t care about anybody.
Lindsay: Right, it’s a fine line. It is a fine line because, you know, you meet some of those people who have that barrier after years and years of taking it too personally when they’re the one.
Tiffany Lyn: Yeah.
Lindsay: What do you want all actors to know about stage managers? What is something you wish that all actors knew?
Tiffany Lyn: It’s the little things. It’s returning your pencils and of throwing out your water bottles and reading the emails that we send. It’s the little things that make us happy. That’s what I’d like everyone to know.
Lindsay: Give me my pencil. Read my email.
Tiffany Lyn: Give my pencils back. Bring, like, a cup of coffee to rehearsal every once in a while or, like, a candy bar. That’s all. I don’t ask for much.
Lindsay: Okay. So, let’s just focus in on our core student stage managers. So, what do you think are three skills that every stage manager needs to, if you’re thinking about taking this on, what are three skills you need to learn to excel at doing this job?
Tiffany Lyn: I think you need to be able to focus because, a lot of times, there are five different things going on around you at the same time and you need to be able to focus and prioritize and see, “Okay, I’m calling this show right now. The conversation behind me can wait,” or things like that. So, focus is one. I think being able to communicate is another.
Lindsay: Yeah, just like you said, being able to talk to different people.
Tiffany Lyn: Yeah, absolutely. Patience is very important. I don’t know if that’s a skill you can learn but…
Lindsay: Oh, I think it’s a skill.
Tiffany Lyn: Well, patience is something that’s super, super important. Don’t be too patient. Sometimes people do need to get it together and you need to let them know. But, some days, the one scene shift, you’re going to run it twenty times in a row and it’s going the seventeenth time, you’ll want to blow your head up but you’ve got to keep going. You’ve got to figure it out. Patience and being able to see that different people need different things – your crew needs time to run things where your lighting designer needs time to design, your director has to talk. It’s just being aware and patient and focused and communicative.
Lindsay: Yeah, all of it.
Tiffany Lyn: All of them. Hit them all on the head.
Lindsay: All at once. All at once, at the same time.
Tiffany Lyn: At the same time.
Lindsay: To everybody. And then, you must have your own stage manager’s kit.
Tiffany Lyn: I do. I love it.
Lindsay: Yes? So, what is why? Why do you love it?
Tiffany Lyn: I got it… My parents got it for me for Christmas one year and it just has little pockets and little slots for pencils and it’s just perfect and I love it. It’s like a scrapbooking box – one of those that you can get at, like, Joann’s. You can wheel it around and it’s what it is and I love it and it’s huge and it’s perfect.
Lindsay: For any of our students and teachers who are listening, every stage manager has sort of a, either a fisherman’s box or, as Tiffany said, a scrapbooking thing that basically has the entire kitchen sink of anything that might be needed. What do you think the three most used things are in your kit?
Tiffany Lyn: Pencils and highlighters, definitely. A three-hole punch gets a lot of use, actually. And either the first-aid kit or, like, bobby pins are tied for three. Bobby pins and, like, ponytail holders and things like that.
Lindsay: What’s the weirdest thing in your kit?
Tiffany Lyn: I think, right now, the weirdest thing in my kit, I have somewhere in there, I think there’s a fake bird somewhere in there from the last show that I did. I think I have a doofer bird in my kit.
Lindsay: Okay. Now, that’awesome. I didn’t expect that. There you go.
Tiffany Lyn: I keep random doofers, yes. Somebody told me one time, they put a flower in my kit, and I was like, “Why’d you do that?” and they went, “Somebody always needs a flower.” So, I keep, like, fake flowers, like, doofer flowers in my kit. Yeah, I had a doofer soda bottle for a while because that got used quite a bit.
Lindsay: Okay. So, what was the strangest thing that somebody asked for that you were able to pull out, if you remember?
Tiffany Lyn: I don’t remember. I feel like maybe chalk, maybe sidewalk chalk. I’ve had that at one point – that might qualify.
Lindsay: Where do you see yourself in your future? What does your future look like as a stage manager?
Tiffany Lyn: I really want to go – I don’t know if it’s my ending point but – I want to go to Chicago and work there. I’ve always, always wanted to go, end up there and work there. I don’t have any specific theatre in mind but Chicago is a really cool place and I’d love to go work there.
Lindsay: It’s a very cool theatre city.
Tiffany Lyn: Yeah, it is.
Lindsay: Okay. And then, one last question. So, for any student who is sort of falling in love with stage management in high school and they’re thinking about going to school or pursuing it, what would you say to them?
Tiffany Lyn: I would say, “Go see theatre, first of all. Go see other shows. Don’t just hang out at your high school. Go see shows at the other schools or shows at the community theatre or shows that tour. And, something else that I’ve always really enjoyed doing is take advantage of being a student because you can super easily email… Like, when I went to Chicago, for example, two summers ago, right after my internship at the Rep, I picked three shows to go see and I emailed all three theatres and said, “Hi, I’m a stage management student. Is there any chance that your stage manager would be willing to meet with me and either just talk about the experience or maybe do a backstage tour or even, like, shadow them?” and all three theatres, I was able to go to Steppenwolf, Looking Glass, and Collaboraction.
Steppenwolf, I was able to just meet with the stage manager and talk. Looking Glass actually let me sit on a headset with them for the show. Collaboration, I had a connection there anyway so I got to go hang out and see backstage and see all of that. So, it’s just ask questions, like, email people ahead of time. See if they’ll let you do things like that. And, a lot of places, especially if you’re a student, are really open to that. They’re really open to facilitating and answering questions and helping you learn.
Lindsay: What a great experience. What did you learn from that? Like, what did you learn from that experience?
Tiffany Lyn: Honestly, I don’t know how much I learned. I was just, like, so stoked to be there, yeah.
Lindsay: Did you get some interesting advice?
Tiffany Lyn: I got look at some really cool, I think the coolest things that I saw were just prompt books and the way they lay things out. I’m a nerd about my books. My favorite thing is that I nerd out about my prompt books.
So, getting to see their calling scripts and, like, the different spaces, especially in Chicago because they’re, like, between storefront theatres and Looking Glass, like, there’s Steppenwolf, obviously, which is a huge, huge theatre. Looking Glass performs in the Water Tower in Chicago so waiting to go backstage and see all that was really cool. And then, Collaboraction is a storefront theatre on, like, the third floor of a building in Wicker Park. So, learning how different people just set up in those spaces and the ways that things have to be run in different theatres, that was really cool – just seeing the vast difference of things that are so close to each other.
Lindsay: Well, that’s really important too because theatre spaces are just not your high school space. There are so many different kinds and set up and so many different ways.
Okay. So, one more thing. So, you’re a nerd about prompt books?
Tiffany Lyn: Yes.
Lindsay: So, what is the most important thing to you in setting up a good prompt book?
Tiffany Lyn: I think it really just needs to be organized so that anybody, if anything were to happen to you, could just open up your book and say, “Okay, I’ve got to call the show today,” for example, it’s happened to me before. Somebody had to pick up my book and call a show. To be able to find what they need, labelling and dividers and just making sure things are very clear. Like, I tend to write in short-hand sometimes when I’m initially taking blocking notes. And so, I will sit with my book after I write up the short-hand and make sure that it’s in a readable, like, presentable thing so that, if another stage manager had to look at it, she could say, “Okay, cool. Erin is going to go this way,” and so she’s not just wondering what everything means.
Lindsay: Awesome. It’s good to talk about these things because, you know, there are students out there who don’t even know what a prompt book, who have never had to record blocking, who don’t know that, “Oh, maybe I need to… What would happen if I got sick and someone else had to come in and call the show.” And it’s all good stuff to just sort of, you know, put out in the atmosphere, I think.
Tiffany Lyn: Yeah.
Lindsay: Cool! All right. Thank you so much for talking to me and spending a little time out of your afternoon. You are not on a show yet. You are preparing for a show.
Tiffany Lyn: I am preparing for a show. We start rehearsals on Monday and for Busy Town at the Rep.
Lindsay: Awesome. All right. Thank you so much, Tiffany.
Tiffany Lyn: Cool. Thanks!
Thank you, Tiffany! So, I’m going to put the link to Tiffany’s Tech Week Bingo in the show notes and you can also find them at theatrefolk.com/episode80.
Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.
So, we often ask questions on our Facebook page because, well, first of all, our fans are awesome and they have a lot of great info and insights. Question the masses and get an answer from a whole bunch of people instead of just one or two. They’re really great. They have great things to say. And, also, I think that having a community like our Facebook group, it’s a great way to show teachers that they, that you, you’re not alone, you know? If you’re going through some struggles, you know, like dealing with winter, there are going to be other teachers out there somewhere going through the exact same thing. So, I’ll leave this up to you. Are you on our Facebook group? Are you on our Facebook page? Facebook.com/theatrefolk.
So, this week, we asked, “How has this crazy winter weather affected your rehearsal/performance schedule?” and we got a ton of answers.
Carolyn Greer in Kentucky is trying to get her premiere ready and I know this because it’s my play she’s premiering! Ah! And she’s less than two weeks from opening, and because of snow days, they have only had one rehearsal in the past ten days. I know they’re freaking out and I know they’re going to do an awesome job.
Caitlin is twelve rehearsals behind. Douglas has a competition this weekend and is crossing his fingers they’ll have school. In a horrible weather story, Lou Ann slipped on the ice, broke her ankle. And, lastly, Carolmarie Stock wishes she had a show in rehearsal for the weather to ruin. Now that is a positive spin – love it!
Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page – Facebook! – and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. Go there! Search on the word “Theatrefolk.” Leave a review. That would be awesome!
And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.
Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.