The sharpest eye in a theater belongs to the production stage manager. Sequestered to the stage’s wings, these vigilant crew members order every lighting and technical cue of a show into action. It’s not a job for everybody, which makes it surprising that a former child actor from California who disliked them in his youth grew up to become one. Matthew Shiner, the PSM for off-Broadway’s The 39 Steps, joined the show last May, after a six-year stint as the production stage manager at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington DC. Shiner, 40, sat down with Stage Rush to talk about the art of keeping a play fresh, scene-stealing flies, and Ian McKellen’s personal copy of The Lord of the Rings.
What exactly does a production stage manager do?
I am responsible for the day-to-day running of the show. The most important thing I do is call the show. I sit backstage right with a headset and a calling script and I call all the light and sound cues, some of the scenic cues. While the performance is not happening, I do a lot of paperwork and schedule rehearsals. I take notes on the show, trying to keep it as close to what [director] Maria Aitkin wants it to be.
How did you become a production stage manager?
I don’t remember picking it on Career Day, for sure. I never thought this was what I wanted to be. In fact, I was a child actor and I hated stage managers at the time. I genuinely love theater, the arts, and live entertainment. I had a general background in theater and realized acting wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I went back to finish up my undergraduate degree, and I ended up directing. I thought maybe directing was what I wanted to do, and I found out that I had really nothing I wanted to say as a director. But getting those director skills have definitely helped me as a stage manager. Every little step I took in theater helped me get here.
When did you realize this is what you wanted to do?
I think I realized I was making more money than I ever thought I would make as a PSM and jobs were just coming to me. Since I graduated as an undergraduate in 1997, the longest I’ve ever been unemployed was six weeks for a vacation, and then other than that, it’s been a week. I just constantly work, and I make a good living from it. It’s one of those [jobs in theater] where you can actually make a good living, on the technical side. Read more