It was during the Christmas holidays when Vancouver Island University senior theatre student Cassie Smith realized that she wanted to be a stage manager. “I was actually having a conversation with a stage manager and he was telling me all these stories and as we were talking it made me realize that this is what I wanted to be doing,” Smith said.
Recently, Smith, 19, was the stage manager for VIU’s production, Man of La Mancha, which ran from March 6-15. Work on the play began in early February and as a stage manager Smith was responsible for everything from blocking positions to scheduling.
“The best way I can describe it is when we work with the director, we’re the left side of the brain. So the director is the right side of the brain with all the creativity and the stage manager is the left. They [stage managers] do the scheduling, they kept track of actors schedules … they do all the really boring things that no one else thinks about doing but enjoys doing it,” Smith said. “Basically what we do is make sure the actors are taken care of.”
Smith, who hails from Calgary, is in the final year of a two-year theatre diploma at VIU. The Alberta native said VIU offers a professional environment and provided her with a wealth of opportunities.
“In first year I was already getting work in Chemainus. With the teachers, they really are great at getting you in the school and working in the school, but also on the Island and doing work on the Island,” she said, adding, “you come out with a lot of practical skills that you can take into the real world, which is helpful.”
Smith’s venture into theatre production began when she was attending Dr. EP Scarlett high school in Calgary. In her freshman years she became involved with theatre and stage production and Smith was in her sophomore year she was already working as an assistant stage manager with various companies.
“Initially all my friends were auditioning and I am not an actor so I decided to do tech … I ended up doing the senior play as a stage manager,” Smith said.
While attending Dr. EP Scarlett, which boasts notable alumni such as Minnesota Wild forward Danny Heatley and Steven Ogg, voice actor for Trevor in Grand Theft Auto V, Smith and her theatre class traveled to Scotland to participate in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
“It was one of those once in a life time experiences,” Smith said. “It was really interesting because you had to develop your set, your show, everything, to be transportable in an airplane. We had to make our whole set fit into four hockey bags. That included costumes and everything.”
Smith recalled how as a stage manager and a lighting designer she was forced to think on the fly when she learned the stage at the festival was different than the one she had worked on in Alberta.
“With the venue we were given we had a different lighting plot. We had to re-adapt our lighting to their venue,” she said. “The stage we were given was a different stage than the one we worked with in Calgary. So it is a lot of just learning to adapt.”
Upon graduating from high school, Smith weighed her academic options and elected to attend Vancouver Island University. She said she was drawn to the theatre program at VIU for many reasons but cited professor Mike Taugher as a major factor.
“VIU has a really good reputation and the alumni is well known,” she said.
Over the two years at VIU, Smith has a greater appreciation for those who work behind the scenes in stage productions.
“When you go to a show you appreciate it so much more because you know the amount of sleepless nights, late nights, hours that went into producing that two hour show,” she said. “The audience might think it’s an hour and a half show but to me it is 300 hours in the course of a month and a half.”
Following graduation from VIU this spring, Smith is hoping to land an internship in stage management at Julliard School in New York City. If New York City doesn’t work out for her then she hopes to end up at University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
“It’s what is in the city,” Smith said about wanting to attend school in Las Vegas. “For me, someone who is trying to stay away from theatre and start to go into show work, then Las Vegas is the perfect place for me to go.”