Posted on July 24, 2021

A Call to Diversify Those Calling the Cues

Jeremy Fassler, New York Times, July 5, 2021

Perhaps the hardest-working people in theater, stage managers oversee all aspects of a production. {snip}


“A stage manager is like a conductor,” said Lisa Porter, who over a 25-year career has worked on shows at the Public Theater and the La Jolla Playhouse, among others. {snip}

“That’s why,” she added, “I believe fluency around antiracism is so important.”

Like many positions in theater, however, stage management has remained stubbornly homogeneous. A study published by Actors’ Equity Association (the union for both actors and stage managers) revealed that between 2016 and 2019, 76 percent of stage managers employed on theatrical productions across the country were white. Only 2.63 percent were Black. As with many industries and areas of the arts, the George Floyd protests forced Broadway into a conversation about representation, and Black stage managers and their white allies have been active participants. They are establishing new organizations for racial equity, creating more opportunities for up-and-coming stage managers of color, and even examining aspects of their job that may do more harm than good.

Because stage management is a behind-the-scenes job, many people who grow up doing theater don’t know it exists.

Narda E. Alcorn, who is stage managing Shakespeare in the Park’s “Merry Wives” this summer, started as an actress. During her sophomore year at Los Angeles County High School of the Arts, she realized she wasn’t the best in her class, but discovered another set of skills.


Alcorn, who is Black, received a BFA in production management from DePaul University and an MFA in stage management from Yale Drama School, where she met Porter, who is white.

They’ve been friends ever since, and are both professors of stage management {snip}

“Race has always been a factor when Lisa has received a job and when I’ve received a job, conscious or unconsciously,” Alcorn said. “However, in our country, whiteness is not named: It is the default, the norm. Peers have often cited my race as the reason I was hired, whereas with Lisa they cite her experience and skill. For years I felt diminished and tokenized.” (Porter agreed with her colleague’s assertions.)

When Black stage managers do get hired, it can be difficult for them to make their voices heard.

After graduating with an MFA in stage management from the Columbia University School of the Arts, R. Christopher Maxwell was hired to work on the acclaimed Broadway production of “Oklahoma!” But instead of being put on the stage management team, he was hired as a production assistant, a lower position in the hierarchy.


Before the murder of George Floyd, Alcorn, Maxwell and other stage managers of color had rarely spoken up about their experiences.

“After George Floyd, people were able to see the disparity in how people of color are treated,” said Lisa Dawn Cave, a Black woman who has been stage managing since the late 1990s. {snip}


For Alcorn, change needs to start with training itself.

In the past, she said, “I was very aware of diversity, representation and trying to be inclusive, but I was not actively antiracist, because I didn’t actually recognize it as a value. Now I believe it’s as important as empathy, kindness and striving for excellence.”

In a 2020 essay for the theater website HowlRound, Alcorn and Porter admitted that as stage managers, they had “unconsciously and complicitly upheld white supremacy culture within the production process.” Now when she teaches stage management, Alcorn shows students how to dismantle preconceptions that she believes can cause harm, like perfectionism.