~ Photos courtesy of Samantha Watson

~ By Miguel A. Gastelum, Communications Specialist/Box Office Manager for the Department of Theatre Arts

Headshot of Fresno State alumna Samantha WatsonWe had a chance to catch up with Fresno State Theatre Arts Department alumna, Samantha Watson. Watson graduated from the Theatre Arts Department in 2008 with a degree in theatre arts with an emphasis in design and technology.

After completing her undergraduate work at Fresno State, she went on to receive her M.F.A. in stage management from the University of California, San Diego in 2011. Watson is now a professional stage manager living in New York City where she is currently working for the Roundabout Theatre Company as the production stage manager for “The Last Match.

Question: What is your favorite Fresno State memory?

Answer: I don’t know if I can pinpoint one specific memory, because I had so many great moments. What I really take away from my experience at Fresno State was the overarching memory of how many opportunities I was given and how supported I was by the faculty and staff.

By the time I was a sophomore, I was lucky enough to be a part of a discussion about what shows I would be stage managing each year. I was able to gain a tremendous amount of practical experience by stage managing so many shows. I’ve always been a “jump into the deep end” kind of person and the faculty let me do that. I was able to approach the faculty and staff whenever I was looking for guidance or perspective on something.

The more I stage managed at Fresno State, the more confidence I gained in myself not only as a stage manager but as a person, and that has helped me get to where I am today.

Q: Are there any professors in particular that left an especially lasting impact?

A: Terry Miller, Jeff Hunter and Melissa Gibson were always big supporters of mine.

I stage managed four shows for Terry. The most important thing I learned from him was the value of teamwork. Everyone who is part of a show is part of the team and you support those on your team. That stays with me to this day. Terry also really encouraged my professional pursuit of stage management. We still keep in touch.

Jeff Hunter was a wonderful constant during my four years and taught me how understanding designers and the design process would make me a better stage manager.

Melissa Gibson taught some of my favorite classes and always supported me in everything from deciding to be a part of ETC (Fresno State’s Experimental Theatre Company) to applying for grad school.

Q: What was your first professional gig?

A: In the summer after my first year of grad school I was a script production assistant on “Restoration,” a new play at La Jolla Playhouse. I learned so much from that show. The production stage manager, Lisa Porter, was my mentor in grad school, so to be in a rehearsal room with her and watch her guide the process was incredibly informative and gave me something to aspire to. I learned firsthand about the complexities of working on a new play, and the exciting challenges they provide a stage manager.

Q: Can you give us some resume highlights?

A: Right after I finished grad school, I was lucky enough to be the assistant stage manager on The Bridge Project’s production of “Richard III,” starring Kevin Spacey. We rehearsed and performed at The Old Vic in London, went on an international tour and then spent our last three months at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was the opportunity and experience of a lifetime. I will always be thankful to have been a part of that show. Not only was the experience amazing, but I made professional connections that I still have to this day. The show I am currently stage managing is directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch, who was the associate director on “Richard III.”

The first show I was production stage manager for off-Broadway was “The Jammer” at the Atlantic Theater Company. It was a fun, crazy play about a roller derby team. I was nervous for probably the entire process, but the show went very well. It gave me a tremendous amount of confidence as a PSM, and I’m incredibly grateful to both the director and the Atlantic for giving me the opportunity.

This past winter I was production stage manager for my first show on Broadway, “Significant Other.” This experience was special in so many ways. I started with the show on its world premiere, off-Broadway with The Roundabout Theatre Company. It’s a beautiful play, and we had a wonderful director (Trip Cullman), creative team and cast. The show was a real high point for me career-wise, and then getting to remain as production stage manager when it transferred to Broadway exceeded all my expectations. The show also began my relationship with Trip, who I continue to work with today.

Q: What do you enjoy most about stage management?

A: I love being what I describe as the “fulcrum of a production.” So much hinges on the stage manager’s ability to keep communication between everyone in the production flowing. I think a good stage manager needs to thrive under the pressure that comes with knowing that you are the person who is responsible for moving the production forward. Along with this comes the opportunity to work with so many people. I’ve never been a solitary person, I’ve always preferred being a part of a team. In theatre, you get a new team on each show, so I am constantly meeting and working with new people.   

Q: Any horror stories from the professional stage management world?

A: I thankfully have very few. I learned early on to place a high priority on finding collaborators who treated those around them with respect and who value the work of everyone on the show. Some shows are a success and some are not, but when shows are over, what I remember most are the people I worked with and the relationships I formed, not the caliber of the show.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to students trying to pursue a stage management career?

A: While you are in school, take classes in everything. Take acting, directing, design, playwriting, dance — take anything and everything that is offered. To be a great stage manager, you need to have a strong understanding of the work and process of your collaborators. With that understanding, you will be able to give them the support that they need throughout the process.  

Q: What would you tell students considering a theatre arts major at Fresno State?

A: A theatre degree is extremely valuable, even if you don’t end up pursuing theatre when you leave school. Working in theatre teaches you to have confidence in yourself, to be well spoken, articulate and most importantly how to work within a team. Learning to be a team player and to support and appreciate the work of those around you will help you succeed in any environment.

Samantha Watson in rehearsal