Equity at 100: A View From the Stage Manager's Desk

By Matthew Silver
December 15, 2012

Actors' Equity Association is engaged in a yearlong celebration of its 100th anniversary. Playbill's latest look at Equity's history explores the union experience from the point of view of stage managers — namely, Matthew Silver.



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I snowballed into stage managing. Working in the theatre was the family business, so to speak, and a hobby that began in college soon developed into a career that allowed me to work alongside playwrights David Mamet and Richard Nelson as well as sleight-of-hand expert and historian Ricky Jay.

While I was studying American political history at New York University, I found a job running props on Off-Broadway productions — a great opportunity for a behind-the-scenes look at the New York theatre scene. I found myself interested in stage managing because it offers the chance to interact with everyone on the show — actors, directors, producers, designers, stagehands and press representatives.

I made the leap to stage manager with the Atlantic Theater Company, which was founded in 1985 by Mamet and actor-director William H. Macy. In 1990, a friend recommended me to stage manage their early production of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters, adapted by Mamet. Since then I've taken on commercial productions both Off-Broadway and on, regional work, and projects overseas, including London and Australia.

I obtained my Equity card in my 20s and made my Broadway debut as production stage manager for the Martin McDonagh plays The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lonesome West. It was somewhat intimidating to be in charge of so many production aspects on your first Broadway outing; it was also exhilarating.

The process of stage managing begins with compiling a plethora of information from the show's director and production team — making sure everyone is on the same page, creatively. A stage manager also solidifies a schedule that complies with every member of the production — both onstage and off.

During the rehearsal process the stage manager documents the blocking — movement, placement and choices — given to the actors by the director. The blocking and script remain fluid throughout previews, allowing for change. When the show opens the direction and cues are set, and the documented blocking maintains a guide to continuity. It also assists an understudy with their proper direction. For every stage manager, this is the show's bible.

As tech week begins — the week before the show opens in previews, where elements of lighting, sound, set, and costumes are integrated — stage managers are organizing "Ten Out of Twelves," a rehearsal where members of the production put in ten working hours with two hours of down time. In tech rehearsals, cues are being made, and the show begins to come to life.

As the production comes to an end, stage managers are usually on the hunt for their next project. After meeting my wife — actor, writer and entrepreneur Cynthia Silver — and having a child, I prefer to take jobs that will keep me in New York City so that I remain close to home.

I enjoy taking part in the development of new projects and am most proud of having watched new work breathe life into New York City.

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Read about the 2012 curtain-call appeals period leading the the Dec. 3-4 Gypsy of the Year performances, raising money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Read an excerpt from "Performance of the Century," a new lavishly illustrated book celebrating the 100th anniversary of Actors' Equity Association.