Student stagehands work to bring NAU’s theater performances to life
Putting on a play is quite an undertaking. Behind every actor you see onstage is a network of hardworking and dedicated crew members who make it all possible. One of those people is Taylor Venezio, a junior theater major and one of the Assistant Stage Managers (ASM) for the spring performance of Joseph Kesselring’s Arsenic and Old Lace which is currently playing at the Clifford E. White Theatre on campus.
“Basically we are the stage manager’s right hand men or women,” Venezio says. “For the show we are their communications on the stage because they’re up in the booth calling the show. I have my headset on so if there are any problems she can call me on stage, like if she needs to talk to an actor. I call places, I make sure that the crew is taken care of and that the stage is set for top of show before the house opens.”
For Venezio, it is her first show as an ASM, though she has been on the costume and carpentry crew before and did some assistant directing in High School. Her real passion is performing, which she feels gives her an edge when dealing with the actors.
“We are the first go-to person for the actors when it comes to any problems they are having with anything,” Venezio says. “It’s nice because I also have an actor’s point of view, too, so I understand exactly any problems that the actors do have and it’s interesting to have that perspective as well.”
The position of ASM requires a lot of dedication. It is a hands-on kind of job, seeing as how ASMs start working on set building and lighting before the actual carpentry and electric crews are assembled. Being an ASM also requires having a calm demeanor, a trait that some college kids find hard to maintain. Venezio says this show hasn’t had too much trouble seeing as the crew and cast was very easy to work with. Regardless, there will always be some snags in any show, like an actor’s pants ripping or a step coming loose.
“It’s really important as an ASM to be able to keep your cool and be the central communication of the show,” Venezio says. “If anything goes wrong, we take care of it on stage.”
Being a student of the NAU theater program, Venezio feels she has been getting a quality education with the school’s hands-on approach.
“We have these labs called Theater 113s where students who are taking technical classes like costume construction, lighting and sound and stagecraft, they actually have a lab component that goes along side that where they actually run a show and work in the shop,” Venezio says. “So they help build a set if they are stagecraft and then run carpentry crew for that show or if they’re costume construction they actually help build the costumes and then run costume crew for that show.”
Unfortunately, the school has had to drop the theater education program due to budget cuts. While Venezio wishes to someday teach theater, she for now is setting her sights on being a part of a traveling production, which is what she did last summer. Venezio traveled with the Peaks Theatre, which is put on through the NAU theater summer program. There she played the role of Josefina in a production of Josefina the Javelina, a play written by NAU faculty member Darby Lofstrand adapted from the children’s book of the same name by Susan Lowell. The production traveled all over Arizona and plans to do so again this summer with Venezio as Josefina.
For Venezio and the cast of Arsenic and Old Lace balancing a full production and college can be difficult, but it is a critical part of preparing themselves for a future in this realm.
“It’s hard when you are getting into the run of the show because you get to the point where you are here every night and you’re here pretty late, especially the stage management team; we are the first ones to get here and the last ones to leave,” Venezio says. “Juggling school is definitely do-able. I know a lot of the actors have jobs on the side as well as well as the crew. And we have many late night paint nights just to get the set painted in time. Yeah, it can be stressful, but if you’re getting into this field you have to take that into consideration because theater is a lot of work. To put on a show you put in a lot of hours and it’s kind of preparing us for the real world.”
Despite all the ups and downs of working a play, Venezio is happy to be a part of the program and looks forward to a potential career in the biz.
“I love it,” Venezio says. “I’ve really enjoyed the experience because it’s not like anything that I have done before. And I want to always be involved in theater, and I don’t care what job because I like all of them.”