Get to Know Production Stage Manager, Nerys Powell

My first job at Lyric Stage was as the Non-Equity Assistant Stage Manager for The Miracle Worker in January of 2002. Courtney O’Connor directed. Before taking the job, I had stage managed exactly one show and participated in a performance that was part of an art installation in which I helped with a costume change and paged a curtain. It’s safe to say that I didn’t know my theatrical asp from my elbow, but I was very willing to learn and I came to learn pretty quickly that theatres are usually thirsty for Non-Equity Assistant Stage Managers. If I was a bit longer in the tooth than most it did not effect my being hired. Theatre held out its arms to me and I stepped thankfully into its embrace and we’ve been dancing together for twenty-one years.

I learned to love musicals by working at Lyric Stage. Before I started working in theatre I had a hard time with the convention of musicals – that when one becomes at a loss for words or if words are not enough to convey the emotion of the moment, then song is the only remedy. The bursting into song I thought goofy, it made me fidget, I didn’t get it. I wasn’t moved. It wasn’t until I was in the middle of a room vibrating with song that I got it. I felt the emotional solution of a carefully composed song within the context of a complete story. The tuning fork was my own heart and I thought, “Oh! This is why people are so nutty for musicals! They feel good!”

I didn’t remain an Assistant Stage Manager for long and I joined the Actors’ Equity Association in 2003. I ascended to the stage manager’s booth and while I kept working backstage roles, more and more I was in the booth taking the light and sound and sometimes projection cues, and doing my best to maintain a director’s vision for the show.  I love keeping everyone involved in a show including the director, designers, and staff in the overall process with the post-show report that I write every night. I majored in English Literature in college. It is my personal challenge to find as many different ways as I can to describe a thing that the audience typically loves in as many different ways as I am capable of. At the twenty-fifth iteration one can begin to question the limits of the human imagination and I have. Many times.

So many beautiful, passionate, funny shows have passed through Lyric Stage in my tenure here. Early favorites are Side Show, The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia? Man of LaMancha. And a little later The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, both parts. (How did we ever think that we’d pull those off?!) Souvenir. Go on! Ask Leigh Barrett to sing badly! I DARE YOU! But she figured out how to do it and it was heart-breaking and hilarious and I was always, without fail, moved, at the end, when she sang the Ave Maria plainly, simply, beautifully while the light grew behind her (in a beautiful light cue built by Karen Perlow). Stunning. If you were lucky enough to witness it you were stunned. And I witnessed it, what, thirty odd times? Amazing. I don’t have enough room to go on about the singularly beautiful moments that I have been present for in all my time here. But the fact that I can’t list them is testament to the wealth of beauty created by the designers that have passed through this theatre – sound designers, light designers, costume designers, scenic designers, projection artists – extraordinary! And the designers themselves are amazing – brave, brilliant, kind, thoughtful, clever, earnest and desirous of creating the ineffable, the beautiful momentary.

Little Shop of Horrors. My Fair Lady. Avenue Q. Into the Woods. Chinglish. Hold These Truths. The Wiz. I love actors. Actors are delightful people – thoughtful, warm, funny, generous, endlessly creative. And the personal bravery on stage that I’ve witnessed time and again stuns and humbles me. Acting may be like abstract art – those who do it well make it look effortless and everyone in their heart of hearts thinks that they can do it, too, if only they weren’t so shy. The communal experience of live theatre puts us all in the same basket for a finite amount of time to share in what makes us human. We gather together in the dark before the glowing hearth in order to be mesmerized, taken over, by stories.

I am a very lucky woman. I never knew that I wanted to or would be good at making theatre. When I was looking to never again be trapped behind a desk helping some corporation sell, in my case, travel. I did know that I wanted variety in my working life. That I wanted to work with smart, funny people and theatre offers that in abundance. I wanted to touch people. I wanted to mean something in the sense that my experience at least in part was shared and theatre is all about that.

Humans tell each other stories. We tell ourselves stories. You might say that stories are as natural to us as breathing. I find that I am in the business of breath and it’s wonderful and I’m thankful every day to be here.

-Nerys Powell, Production Stage Manager