Can you explain your current role within the theatre industry – Acting/Musical Theatre/Dance/Production Technology/Teaching/Other?
I am currently Assistant Stage Manager (Book Cover) on the European tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s SUNSET BOULEVARD. I run the stage right wing and cover the Deputy Stage Manager by calling the show a couple of times a week.
Had you always wanted to pursue this career? How did your interest begin?
My decision to pursue Stage Management as a career was made quite late and was a sudden change from my previous university interests. At school, I was always most interested in music. I played in the band for the school productions and intended to audition for a London music conservatoires as an oboist. Then - totally by chance - I ended up backstage during a performance and was intrigued by the atmosphere – mostly by the possibility of something not going to plan and how this would be handled! I will never forget the excitement of realising that evening that Stage Management is where I wanted to make my career. Looking back, I realise that I completely fell into it out of the blue, but I’d never felt so certain that something was right for me.
In your opinion, what are the most important skills to have in your chosen genre?
If you have genuine people skills and a strong work ethic, I don’t think you can go wrong. Stage Management isn’t about knowing everything or being in a position of power, which I think is a common misconception of the role. Not even the best Stage Manager can know every detail of every aspect of their production – in fact it’s not their job to and is why they have a team! What makes the greatest Stage Managers is a skill set that allows them to react instantly and professionally to any circumstance and maintain a professional, safe and enjoyable performance environment for the company.
What do you consider to be the most exciting part of your work?
The knowledge that a production wouldn’t develop from rehearsals through to its first performance without our team is extremely satisfying. The job satisfaction from working in this industry is incredible and provides endless motivation. I spend a lot of time on stage (in costume!) in my current role and I forget that the audience are even there. Then I stand in the wing and hear them react to our company’s performance I remember how important what we do is and how it makes people feel.
What attracted you to choose the GSA?
GSA radiated an atmosphere that I didn’t sense at other open days. University can be a challenging time and a technical theatre course can be very intensive, so a family atmosphere is so important. This support from peers, staff and visitors began on our first day and continues even now we’ve graduated. On an academic level, a University of Surrey degree is a very beneficial credit to have for life. This is one of the many benefits of being part of a University as to an independent institution, including the financial support, housing and social life that is offered!
What is your strongest or happiest memory of your time at GSA?
Finishing my placement. It was without a doubt my biggest achievement and the most incredible opportunity. I was actually very emotional! It was the first time I really felt that I had been able to apply my training to the outside world, and for me it was the start of my career. I also felt incredibly grateful that a GSA graduate stage manager had taken me on and given me the most inspiring experience.
What were the best things about your training?
GSA’s productions! The benefit of having a technical theatre course that is supported by external professionals is that the production values are so high. I still look back at production photos now and I’m reminded how lucky I was to work on drama school shows of such a scale.
How did you change as a person during your time as GSA student?
My confidence grew in ways that I didn’t expect. I came to GSA straight from sixth form with very little ‘life experience’. I vividly remember being asked to go into a rehearsal room on my first GSA production to cover one of the second-year students and I was so nervous! I find it hilarious now that I was so scared to walk into a room full of people I had never met before and assume a role of leadership because now I don’t give it a second thought. I think that is because I’ve settled into who I am and I have confidence in my ability not only to work professionally but also to be a genuine and friendly person. It’s the opportunities GSA gave me that allowed me to develop in this way.
What one piece of advice would you give to people considering GSA?
Instinctively I’d say “Do it!” But it’s also important to carefully consider what you want from your training. I wanted to graduate into a musical theatre stage management career with a focus on show calling and I strongly believe that GSA gave me the best possible training and industry exposure for this. Every drama school gives something different, but I do honestly believe that GSA is an incredibly generous, supportive and rare learning environment.
What are your top tips for students aspiring to work in your profession?
Network. Shadow people. Don’t give up. I wouldn’t have got my placement or my first commercial job without these three things. In fact, everything I have achieved outside of GSA can be traced back to a single email that I sent to a show caller asking for advice, and I know that my whole career will probably result from a chain of events that he started!
It’s important to be confident in your ability, but also confident in the knowledge that you know very little about the outside working world. People won’t be impressed by how much you know, but by how much you’re willing to learn. Most working Stage Managers want to teach people and enjoy watching the next generation develop. If you’re willing to put yourself in the right place at the right time, you will be appreciated and given the biggest learning experience you could ever wish for!
George Baker graduated in 2017 and is currently ASM Book Cover on the European Tour of Sunset Boulevard.
Previously he worked as: ASM Book Cover - WORKING (Southwark Playhouse), ASM Dep - Dreamgirls (West End), ASM - Olivier Awards 2017 (Royal Albert Hall)