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Interview: Heather Cousens, Stage Manager for “Spring Awakening”

We conclude our interview series and contest with Stage Manager, Heather Cousens, who discuses the craft, how to enter the profession, and the unique challenges presented by "Spring Awakening"


Our interview with Stage Manager, Heather Cousens, is the final interview of a five part series, "Going Geeky on Spring Awakening" being presented in conjuction with BroadwayWorld.com and the podcast, Broadway Bullet. We are now giving away 10 pairs of tickets to "Spring Awakening" including a meet-and-greet with the cast and creatives afterwards. CLICK HERE for more information on the contest.

You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol. 20. Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode.

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Broadway Bullet Interview with Heather Cousens, Stage Manager

BB: We are wrapping up our series “Going Geeky On Spring Awakening” with the fifth part of our series and we have Heather Cousens here with us, the stage manager for Spring Awakening. How are you doing?

HEATHER: Good, thanks.

BB: I’m wondering how you got into stage managing?

HEATHER: Well I knew pretty early on that I didn’t want to be an actor. That’s not where my talents lie. But I knew I was kind of interested in a lot of the different elements of theatre. So you know, you take some design classes, you try and work with some casting people. Then I remember in college I was on some casting board and they needed an assistant manager and little newbie sitting on the casting board they offered it to me and I had no idea what it meant and so, of course I’m the kind of person who likes to try new things so I said, “Sure, I’d love to” and lo and behold it uses all of my skills well. It’s the only job that I’ve heard of that actually lets me use a number of skill sets, so I don’t get bored really ever.

BB: What exactly does a stage manager do? For those people who haven’t had the pleasure of working on a show.

HEATHER: It’s very difficult to explain, but generally I think of us as the hub of the information wheel so all the information when we’re in rehearsal that comes into the rehearsal room comes through us and all of the information that’s originated in the rehearsal room. We then disseminate that information to the different designers and it can be from the tiniest thing, now they’re now doing this piece of choreography, well that now means we have to tell the person who’s designing the wigs and the hair and the costume and what kind of shoes are they need to be able to wear. Well, is that part of the floor reinforced to be able to handle that, so everything that happens in the rehearsal room, all of the sudden they need this prop, well you need to tell the people that are going to build that prop. And then you need to tell the costume designer so they can make sure that the costume has a pocket, all those things.

BB: So I take it this isn’t a career for the disorganized.

HEATHER: No… I mean you could try.

BB: Now what are some of the shows you’ve worked on?

HEATHER: I was one of the original stage managers on Titanic. That’s a show that went through a lot of changes. Of course I was very young back then and I didn’t know enough to be scared so I just jumped right in. I worked on Proof for a while. I’ve worked consistently. I worked on ‘Night Mother with Michael, that’s actually how we met.

BB: What advice would you offer to somebody trying to break in and get their first job stage managing in New York?

HEATHER: Get a good liberal arts education, that’s what I’d say. I mean, there’s lots of training programs you can go to learn the skills, but the skills can be learned. It’s all of the other… knowing and training your mind how to integrate a lot of different ways of thinking. And every show is going to have different things that need to be organized. And then I would say be a production assistant and send your resume in to general managers and stage managers, and say, “I’d love to be a production assistant on” whatever show is coming up. Read the theatrical index and find out what’s coming up and get yourself on that, because we’re always looking for young people to help in the office.

BB: Well, let’s move on to Spring Awakening here.

HEATHER: The exciting thing about this show is that there were so many people that have never worked on Broadway before and lots of people who have never done a musical before both in the cast and in the creative team so a lot of it was helping people to learn how to fit into the system because there is a machinery of how you put a musical together. But also not needing them to fit into this actual slot of how everything has ever been done in the past, because this show is so different and unusual and it would not have served this process to make people do it the way it had always been done before. I’d have to say at a normal show, the thing that’s unique at this show is that all the things you normally fix backstage, like mics go out or someone sweats in their mic or someone that looses a button or things that just happen because it’s live theatre and that’s what makes it interesting, someone gets a coughing fit, those kind of things that you normally handle off stage because all of the actors stay on stage the entire, almost the entire time, we’ve had to learn to deal with those. Finding the kind of solutions that we can implement, really, in front of the patrons without them noticing very much and which kind of things we can fix.

BB: Any specific examples?

HEATHER: In Totally Fucked, once Johnny B. Wright’s mic handheld went out and because he then takes that handheld into the next scene and it doesn’t leave the stage and neither does his scene partner and they go right into the vineyard scene and they both use that hand held to sing into for the Word Of Your Body reprise, we had to figure out a way to, in the transition and these transitions are so tight and choreographed that you have to know how every element interlaces. We were able to walk out and hand him a handheld and the actors have learned to completely trust the stage manager.

BB: You’ve been doing this long enough that you’ve probably seen more computerized technology take over some of these lighting and sound situations. Has that changed the calling of cues?

HEATHER: Yea, well moving lights you call a hair earlier because it takes the instrument just a hair longer to gear up to move to follow somebody, so when you use to call if somebody’s making a cross across stage, if it’s a conventional light you call it as they take the first step. With a moving light you have to anticipate it a little bit, so the actor really has to do it the same way every time. You call it as they start to lean towards the first step.

BB: Well, let’s do our final geeky questions so people can anxiously answer these and win their tickets to the show. So geeky question number nine in the series: How many guitars are played on stage every night?

HEATHER: This is kind of a tricky question because we have our lead guitarist who plays (Answer in Vol. 20 of Broadway Bullet)

BB: And geeky question number ten: What was the first show you stage managed and where?

HEATHER: The first show I sage managed was a production of West Side Story in college. It was actually, we were reopening the Blake Proscenium theater and so it was one of the bigger shows that we did while I was at school there.

BB: Did you say where you went to school?

HEATHER: I went to Brown. It was a little unusual because it was a special event in the school so every time we had an issue they threw more money at it which is very unusual. Usually you have to work within a budget and so my first experience was that if you have a problem you go to the people who deal with a budget and then they just make the budget bigger. That doesn’t normally happen.
BB: I’m so glad you could come down and speak with us about Spring Awakening and stage managing, Heather.

HEATHER: Well, thanks for having me.

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You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol. 20 Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode.

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