Are You Thinking of
a Career in the Theater?
Fred Hemminger has fond memories
of going to local high school musicals when he was in grade
school, which was the only option for dramatic entertainment
in his small, Ohio farm town, but he never considered pursuing
a career in theatre until he was randomly assigned to a drama class during
his freshman year at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. He enjoyed it so much
that he abandoned his planned curriculum of pre-law and graduated with a B.A.
in theatre in 1997. Now he is earning his MFA from Columbia University’s
School of the Arts with a concentration in stage management.
Hemminger and two other students form the inaugural
class of the theatre department’s stage management concentration. Now in his second
year, Hemminger sees their position as both advantageous and critical because
they are helping to shape the newly founded program. Hemminger stresses how
responsive the department has been to their suggestions thus far. “The
best thing at Columbia University’s program is that they challenge us
and nurture us. We have to write short plays, take history courses and perform.” The
department encourages collaboration between the concentrations, which in addition
to stage management include acting, directing, playwriting, dramaturgy and
theatre management and production. In his third and final year, Hemminger will
be the stage manager for either an actor or playwright’s thesis project,
which will be held at Riverside Church.
The stage manager’s job
is a hefty one. Hemminger will ultimately be responsible for ensuring that
everyone involved in a theatre production is communicating effectively. As
Hemminger notes, the very nature of the industry is ego-driven. While the
actors, director, lighting technicians and construction crew may focus only
on what their role requires, the stage manager must guarantee that everyone’s
responsibilities are being fulfilled. The stage manager’s most vital
role is to verify that the set is safe for the actors. If the director wants
an actor to ascend from below the stage, the stage manager talks to the set
designer about making it happen safely. The most fun part of stage managing
for Hemminger is what is termed “calling a show.” This entails
wearing a head set during a performance and sending cues to the appropriate
person when a certain technical feature is required.
Between college and graduate
school, He-mminger wanted to explore different regions of the county while
seeking to gain experience in his field. He landed internships with regional
theatre companies in Tennessee, Texas and Arkansas. He also worked for the improv comedy troupe Second City in
Chicago. Hemminger is grateful for his time in these smaller theatres because
he was charged with far more responsibility than would have been allowed in
larger venues. The skills he acquired have proved invaluable, especially in his
current stage management classes that are being held at the New York City Opera
and the Broadway hit, the Lion King.
When asked what his plans are after he graduates, he can’t give a definitive
answer but says that his dream job would be to be a stage manager with a company
on tour around the country.#