In Professor Abbie Katz’s “The Art of Calling the Show” class, theater students watch a video of the opera Einstein on the Beach and attempt to schedule the lighting and sound cues the production requires.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to see the show from the audience’s perspective, where it looks like not much is happening,” says Katz. “Then I can fill in the gaps about the frenzy of activity backstage.”
Katz should know. For the past year, she has served as the production stage manager for the international tour of Einstein on the Beach, a celebrated opera directed by Robert Wilson with music by Philip Glass.
The production stage manager is responsible for making sure the production looks and sounds the way the director and the various designers want it to: Lighting and sound changes happen when they’re supposed to, and scenic elements and performers enter and exit as scheduled.
“My work with Einstein on the Beach is a wonderful, real-world experience I can bring to my students,” she says.
Katz says she got the job after receiving a last-minute call to fill in on a tour that had already started. Like her students, Katz watched a video of the opera before she arrived in France with the production.
“I landed with the technical crew and had no rehearsal time,” Katz says. “I just tried to stay one scene ahead.”
The schedule for a touring show like Einstein on the Beach is extremely fast-paced.
“We usually have a two-week run in each city,” says Katz. “We have technical run-throughs Monday through Thursday and then performances on the weekend. It was terrifying, and I felt like I was being chased downhill by a growing snowball. It took me about three cities to get all the cues under my belt.”
Despite her admission of terror, Katz seems utterly unflappable about working under that kind of pressure. That may be because she has more than a decade of experience, managing more 60 productions at the American Repertory Theatre, launching two smaller theaters in the Boston area, as well as working as a free-lance producer and production stage manager.
“It’s good to be able to show students that it is possible to have a life in the theater,” Katz says. “Longevity in the theater involves understanding how to work as a team and serve the director’s vision.”
Katz will rejoin the touring production of Einstein on the Beach when it travels to Melbourne, Australia, from July 31 through Aug. 4 and Los Angeles from Oct. 11 through 13.