A talk with assistant stage manager Phill Madore | Backstage | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A talk with assistant stage manager Phill Madore

'If you go off your track, things have gone sour'

click to enlarge Phill Madore - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Phill Madore

Name: Phill Madore, Regent Square
Work: Assistant stage manager and freelancer based at Pittsburgh Public Theater
Recent projects: The Tempest, Pride and Prejudice

What does an Assistant Stage Manager do?
I’m there to have everyone’s back.

What does that mean for a day’s work?
I work in partnership with the production stage manager and oversee things that happen on the stage and backstage level: props, costumes, set pieces, actors. My job focuses primarily on how things move around backstage, including people.

Starting in rehearsal?
First prep: learn script, costume, props. Tape out the room. Take the ground plan and transfer that to our rehearsal studio. If you’re performing on a set that’s a few different levels, you’re rehearsing on a flat floor with all those levels taped out. I take notes on how things need to look and how they need to work and translate to technicians and designers.

Then in the theater?
Negotiating the backstage space which is never enough, figuring out how to safely move everything around, including areas clear for quick changes and pathways clear if actors have to get quickly from one place to another. Sometimes I’ll stand backstage and actually flag an area — actor coming through!

So there’s often as much going on backstage as onstage, but without an audience?
Absolutely. I really felt like I was choreographing with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum last season. In the opening number, three actors each do three quick changes in a period of about 90 seconds; exit one side, immediately appear the other. Three actors, three technicians, props, wigs, costumes in a space four feet wide by seven feet without collisions. To block that 47 seconds took about an hour-and-a-half of tech time.

click to enlarge Phill Madore - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Phill Madore

And the goal is for the audience to be completely unaware of any of this.
Exactly. It takes up a lot more space and a lot more people than anybody realizes. We have it timed and set to light cues, and it’s incredibly precise. I do deck tracks for myself and the rest of the crew; tracks meaning it’s like a train — if you go off your track, things have gone sour.

Do you have a particular type of show you enjoy working on the most?
I love a big musical because they’re busy and they’re fun. There’s a lot to figure out. And that sparkle is always fun too.

Favorite show?
I’m always in love with the show I’m doing at the moment. I think it’s because I have to invest so much into the show. It takes so much work and if I’m not fully invested, then, what am I doing?

Any dream shows?
I would love to do Sweeney Todd. There’s going to be a lot of fun with that one. I just love doing the big musicals, set changes, people changing costumes all the time, and things going on and offstage.

What’s the best part?
I love how quickly you build relationships; how many people I meet. The flipside is how quickly people go away. Intense relationships for four to six weeks, creating something together. It’s emotional and it changes you, especially when it’s something you’re very proud of.

And there’s a level of trust necessary that’s not typically present in a work environment.
You can’t bare your soul if you feel unsafe, and I want to make sure an actor feels safe. Rehearsal is the best place in the world to fail. You need to be able to try things and they’re not always going to work. If you feel judged for trying something new, you’ll stop trying new things. I contribute to their safety in every way possible.

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