Behind the scenes and under the bright lights
When one thinks of theater, one thinks of the actors, the directors, the playwrights, the composers, the lyricists whose names go up on the marquees. However, behind every great stage production is a great stage manager, that underappreciated person who ensures the smooth operation of the production and then melts back into the shadows.
The stage manager is "the person who supports the director, runs auditions, keeps the director on schedule, helps with blocking and lines for the actors, runs the show by cueing lights, sounds, and actors' entrances. If anything goes wrong [during the performance], it's the stage managers job to fix it, the director has no control," says Cecilia Cancellieri '11, who has occupied this position in many theater productions at the College. "As soon as the tech process starts, it is the stage manager's show. The director makes the artistic decisions but the stage manager runs the show."
Cecilia has dipped her hand in many aspects of theater, from the artistic, to the technical and managerial. Most recently, Cecilia stage managed the extravaganza also known as The Deadline, the wildly successful original rock musical written by Colby students Andy Bolduc '10 and Nic Robichaud '09. She tried her hand for the first time at directing, in Powder and Wig's production of The Mousetrap this past weekend. And she has been the costume designer for a number of shows, most recently Guest Artist Jon Mastro's original cabaret Next!.
Cecilia has been involved in the arts from an early age, beginning as a dancer. Although dance was not the right outlet for her, she "liked being on stage in front of people. The dance company I had been with had a theater program and then I was hooked on acting. But I wasn't that good," Cecilia laughs, "so I started doing costumes. I kept picking up responsibilities outside of being on stage."
The appeal of stage managing is the level of involvement in all aspects of theater production the position allows. "I like being able to be supportive of everyone, the go-between for everyone, to solve problems and facilitate the process, to make sure nothing goes awry," Cecilia said, adding "and I like being control of things a little bit."
As a costume designer, Cecilia has worked in a variety of situations, from dealing with budget constraints to doing meticulous research about historical time periods' visual styles and textiles, from re-fitting pre-existing material to making clothes out of scratch. The costume designer works with the director to realize his or her vision of the production, while retaining a degree of creative autonomy.
This past weekend, Cecilia stepped out of the shadows and directed her first Powder and Wig show, Agatha Christie's murder mystery The Mousetrap which was absolutely riveting. As the director, Cecilia got to make the artistic decisions for the production and have complete control over the over-arching vision.
"The first day I was directing I was lost, a little bit," Cecilia reflects. "It's hard to tell the actors what you have in your mind and getting them to do it onstage." However, once she found her means of communication, the process flowed from there. As the director, she helped facilitate the actors' artistic decisions for the interpretation of their characters.
"I did character analyses with the actors. Before, [the actors] had been afraid to make certain decisions, but through discussion of their physicality, their vocal quality, their breathing rates they were able to make bigger leaps," Cecilia says of her role. While allowing the actors a large measure of artistic choice, "the director is there to decide which [actors'] decisions work in the context of the show and which don't. Sometimes the decisions [actors] make don't complement the whole." She credits her cast with making her first directing experience a success, "They gave so much time and effort [to the production]" she says.
However, the production had its share of difficulties and surprises. "Working in a different space [the Studio Theater of the Waterville Operahouse] was difficult. We moved in on Tuesday, and our set got built Thursday night [for a Friday night show!]. Powder and Wig shows have a tendency to come together beautifully at the very end," she laughs.
Although she is a theater major, Cecilia plans to attend veterinary school and is taking the required science classes in addition to completing her theater major at Colby. Incidentally, and impressively, Cecilia was named a Phi Beta Kappa scholar while still a junior. Despite her future career goals, theater will remain. "My plan at the moment is to stage manage my way through veterinary school" she says. "I don't think I could live without theater. It's something I will do until I can't do it anymore."