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Spotlight on Strange Interlude’s Joseph Smelser

1) How would you describe your position to someone who doesn’t know much about theatre?

The Production Stage Manager is the center of communication for a production. I often describe the position as akin to Chief of Staff, the person who is responsible for supporting the director’s vision and communicating the work that happens in the rehearsal hall to all departments (props, costumes, scenic, but also the communications, education and development departments). Once a production moves to the theatre, I work with the director and designers to get all the tech pieces in place and call the show, coordinating all elements (lights, sound, automation or flying moves, projections) to make sure that everything happens when it is supposed to. Not to mention my staff creates all the schedules and troubleshoots any issues that may come up with the actors!

2) What part of the job do you most enjoy? (Rehearsals? Tech? Opening? After the show has started?)

The thing I most enjoy is that the job keeps changing, both from production to production and from rehearsals to performances. Starting rehearsals for each production immerses the entire team in a new culture, a new time period and different social issues. We get to explore not only the differences in clothes and language, but also how people move, how they sit. We work with text specialists, movement specialists and fight choreographers. And just when I start to get tired of the rehearsal process, we move to the theatre and are faced with a new set of challenges. Once I am tired of the tech process, we have an audience—then we are open and things settle down, just in time to prepare and (often) send on the understudies. Then the show closes and I get to start all over again, with a brand new set of people in a whole new world. I love being part of the theatre community. I get to meet new people on every project, and work with actors I have know for years (I first worked with our Nina, Francesca Faridany, in 1994; it is a joy to be working with her again 18 years later!).

3) How is working on an O’Neill play different from your experiences working on Shakespearean plays?

As I mentioned earlier, every production is different. Most of my recent career has been spent on contemporary work; when I worked on All’s Well [That Ends Well] last year I had not done a Shakespeare since a Midsummer at Seattle Rep in 2002. Coming back to the poetry and language after so many years was like getting back together with an old friend. O’Neill is similar to Shakespeare in that he uses language in a way that transcends the way we speak in life—not as poetic as Shakespeare, but the process of working on the piece is still fundamentally language-based. So in that way, the fundamentals of the experience are actually very similar.

4) What’s your favorite thing about this particular production?

To be honest, one of the major factors of my taking this staff position (the Resident Production Stage Manager at STC) was the inclusion of this production in the season. I have been actively seeing theatre for 30 years, and this is the first time I have had the opportunity to see, let alone work on, this fascinating, rarely produced work. I like the opportunity to work with automation and projections, they add a different dynamic to the work. And, as I mentioned, working with new actors and long time friends makes the expe

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