For the third installment of our staff profile series, we talked with Production Stage Manager Joe Drummond. Joe is currently stage managing our 2012/2013 Season opener, Sweet Bird of Youth, now playing in the Albert Theatre. He’s one of our staffers with the longest tenure at the Goodman—almost 40 years—and during that time he has been an indispensable member of over 125 creative teams. The stage manager works behind the scenes during rehearsals and through the run of the show, coordinating all aspects of the production from scheduling rehearsal days to calling cues during performance. They work tirelessly to ensure that the artistic vision of the play is fully realized night after night—and are truly the unsung heroes of the production.
Andrew Knight: How long have you worked at the Goodman?
Joe Drummond: I’ve been at the Goodman for 38 seasons. I began in the fall of 1974 as an assistant stage manager and soon moved into the role of production stage manager.
AK: What drew you to work in this position, and/or what drew you to work in theater?
JD: I graduated in 1969 from an acting school in Philadelphia and started out as an actor. But while apprenticing at Totem Pole Playhouse near Gettysburg, Artistic Director William (Bill) Putch guided me toward stage managing. It was his guidance that brought me to this career path—and the rewards of being involved in every step of production process that has kept me here.
AK: What are your primary job duties?
JD: Like most stage managers, I work under contract and begin one week before the first rehearsal. That time is spent getting to know the requirements of the production and compiling information to share with the company and staff about the production, rehearsal and performance process. During rehearsals, I work as a team with the assistant stage manager (ASM) and often one or two interns. Together we document blocking; the director's notes; prop, costume, set, sound and lighting/video notes; attend several meetings and compile lots of paperwork to prep us for tech week. During tech week—when all the design elements are added to the rehearsals on the stage—I focus on writing cues to call the technical elements of the production. There are numerous changes implemented during the preview rehearsal period to perfect all these elements, and it requires quick use of my eraser! During the run of production, I call cues during the performance, prepare the understudies in case they are needed to perform and maintain the artistic integrity of the show as directed and designed.
AK: Is there anything you do in your job that most people find surprising, or that they wouldn’t expect you to do?
JD: I think the most surprising realization for non-theater folks is the amount of rehearsal time needed to develop and perfect each moment in the show. Large cast shows are permitted eight hours of rehearsal a day. However, the Stage Management team arrives before the actors to prep for the rehearsal and departs only after compiling notes and creating schedules for the next rehearsal day. With multiple rehearsals going on and allotting time for costume fittings, all the scheduling become very time consuming.
AK: In what capacity do you support or interact with artists?
JD: I work very closely with the artists on a daily basis; the stage manager is a sort of constant with the production. The director and designers are often off to another project after opening and—because I was there for the rehearsal process—I am entrusted with the artistic maintenance during the run.
AK: What has been your favorite Goodman production during the time you’ve worked here?
JD: My favorite Goodman production would have to be Cyrano de Bergerac, a large-scale production with mostly Chicago actors, directed by Michael Maggio. It was my first show with Michael; he was so full of energy and made me feel like a valued asset to the production. For example, there was a battle scene in the show that required some cue calling precision on my part. Michael would occasionally listen in on headset to hear me in action. I took this as a very high compliment.
Although it's not a favorite production, I should mention that (Executive Director) Roche Schulfer is definitely one of my favorite people at the Goodman; he has been an amazing leader for the theater and the growth of my career.
AK: Do you work with other theater companies around town? What are your hobbies outside of work?
JD: In the 1970s and early ‘80s, I would return to Totem Pole Playhouse during the summers to stage manage. In 1983 my wife Sara and I started a family: we had our son, Benjamin, and then his brother, Andrew, four years later. So my time off in the summers was spent with the family (lots of driving vacations to see the USA) and recharging my stage management batteries for another season. Spending time with my family is still my hobby outside of work.
AK: Who is your favorite Christmas Carol character, and why?
JD: It has to be The Turkey Boy. He is the first to see the transformation in Scrooge, and the scene is pure delight for me. There’s also something wonderful about how he is transformed by Scrooge's act of generosity.