I signed my 8th grade photo to my grandmother “Love your actress granddaughter”. Throughout high school I was active in drama club, playing the “spirit” in our senior production of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. My plan was to go to UCLA to study acting. My parents, who were paying for my college education, had other ideas.
Fast forward four decades. I am not an actress, I am anthropologist who is returning to the US after living twenty years in Central and East Africa. “What are you going to do when you come home?” asks my now grown daughter. “I am going to write and I am going to be an actress,” I told her. “Good luck with that in Maine, Mom,” she encouraged me.
In 2016 I landed an acting role in Stage East’s New Year’s Eve production. Being back on stage was all I imagined it would be, but now I was more aware of all the people working to make the production a success. Nervously pacing backstage, going over lines in my head, I looked at the stage manager and stage crew and thought, “Maybe I want to be one of them. It looks like they are having a good time.”
Chris Grannis, a backstage pro and enthusiastic coach, started me off with small crew jobs. My first big test was running a dress rehearsal for the 2017 Moose Island Follies. I had to lower something onto the stage on cue. Chris and I ran through it several times but I still held my breath during the performance until I made it through that scene. Since then, I have crewed for several EAC productions including the Children’s Theater Workshop’s Macbeth.
When Stage East’s 2018 summer production, Neil Simon’s I Ought to be in Pictures (IOTBIP), was in the planning stages, I felt daring. Although ill prepared, I volunteered to be the production’s stage manager and they accepted me. As an actor I never thought about who was telling the sound and lighting people that I was in my place and ready to go. That was just the “magic of theater”. The music came on and the lights came up, I walked onstage and delivered my lines. The IOTBIP sound person, Bernie Cecire, and lighting person, John Morton, patiently taught me how those illusions come to life and that it is the stage manager’s responsibility to make sure it all happens at the right time.
So, with my newly developed skills, do I plan to stay behind the curtain forever? Not a chance. One of the amazing things about becoming involved with Stage East and Eastport Arts Center—when you want to be an actor, you can be an actor, when you want to be a stage manager… —Susan Coopersmith