Student Leaders: Taylor Gulotta ’17 Stage Manager, “The Theory of Relativity”
“Some students might think that Lenfest is one of the more intimidating places on campus, but to me it’s always been the most inviting. Just take that first step and you can do anything you want. Seriously. If you want to do art, you can make it happen.”
What first interested you in stage management?
I tried on a few different hats when I was in drama club back in high school. I worked as a theater critic, I acted, and I fiddled around backstage. Eventually I discovered that I was happiest when I was wearing a headset and running the show from either backstage or the call booth. It started as a hobby but turned into something I really enjoyed and, as a bonus, something that I was quite good at.
I didn’t think I would continue with stage management after high school, but I felt some sort of gravitational pull toward Lenfest during my first weeks on campus. I showed up at the auditions for the fall play, introduced myself as a stage manager, and the theater department has been holding me hostage ever since.
What are some of the challenges and rewards of the position?
It’s always challenging to start working on a new show with a new director and a new cast. At the same time, it’s also exciting to experience a new director’s process and the kind of energy a new cast brings. There’s an art to figuring out what a director and a cast will need from me without having to ask. I need to be able to best serve their needs without compromising my objectives to run a show at a professional level.
Being a stage manager at W&L has presented me with opportunities I didn’t even know existed. The theater department isn’t exactly the largest department on campus, but the small size lends itself to forming lasting bonds with all of the professors, directors, and designers. I know that when we’re in a rehearsal space, I’m regarded as an equal more than a student and that has helped me more than I can express as I begin making my way into the professional theater world.
Our theater department is very unique in its stage management program because we’ve almost entirely made the shift to digital tools. I’ve been a trailblazer in using an iPad for nearly all of my jobs as a stage manager, from notating blocking to tracking props and scenery to calling the cues from an annotated PDF of the script. Last year, I landed my first gig with a professional theater company in Charlottesville, Virginia. I brought my iPad with me and my fellow stage managers were a little impressed and a little intimidated.
What has been the most rewarding thing about your involvement in theater?
The people. I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with various directors, guest artists, musical directors and choreographers. I’ve stage managed seniors that had never set foot on a stage before, first-years that went on to be majors or minors, and some of my closest friends. Watching the lights go up and seeing the actors on stage come opening night is so fulfilling. It’s the culmination of hard work from so many individuals working together and the fact that I was able to be there through that process, and contribute to it, is astounding. I live for that feeling and I’ll probably never be satisfied.
The most challenging?
The people. Everyone comes into a show with different expectations. Part of my job is reconciling those differences and creating an environment where everyone is comfortable and able to grow. It’s not always easy to bring together dozens of people that all have their own visions, but a production needs to be cohesive. I also need to be aware of what the designers and technicians need. I’m kind of the communication liaison between the cast, the director, and the designers, so it’s definitely a balancing act.
What have you learned about leadership in this role and what lessons will you take with you going forward?
I’ve learned that part of being a leader is to sometimes let others lead. I do my best to be as transparent as possible with everyone on the production team. Being a leader doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions. I’ve been stage managing for a long time, and I like to believe that I can do it on my own, but the reality is that I can’t and that’s okay. I’m learning to be more of a supervisor than a doer when I can and to reach out when I need help. I’m willing to take risks and make mistakes knowing that it’s not the end of the world (or a show) as long as I learn from them.
What advice do you have for students interested in getting involved?
Walk in the doors and you won’t want to leave. Odds are you’ll end up in one of the theaters, drooling over all the technology we have to play with, or you’ll run into one of the professors and get into an hour-long conversation about the state of Broadway. Some students might think that Lenfest is one of the more intimidating places on campus, but to me it’s always been the most inviting. Just take that first step and you can do anything you want. Seriously. If you want to do art, you can make it happen.
How would you characterize your experience in one word?