“A Diva is a Female Version of a Hustla'” -Beyonce
By Katelynn Cooper, AEA Stage Manager
During college, I hustled. Hustled to make rent with three different box office jobs.
Hustled for internships. Hustled for professional connections. I firmly believe that I
have not worked as hard as I did in college, and it was definitely not sustainable.
However, it is hard to say that it wasn’t worth it. I built a solid resume during college by being a production assistant at the Huntington Theatre Company during the school year (around classes) and interning at summer stocks with notable business connections.
In the realm of Broadway and National Tours, there aren’t a large number of options when it comes to who to hire. The reality is that the same people book jobs from season to season and it’s hard to break in. I honestly never planned on breaking in. Broadway seemed like a goal that wasn’t likely enough to put all my effort towards. After graduating from Emerson College with a BFA in Stage / Production Management I put my efforts towards being a full-time freelance stage manager in Boston, MA. I deeply love that city and never had any interest in leaving. I stayed for one and half years after graduating college, hustling between SM gigs and working in box offices.
It all changed when I received a job offer for “NBC’s Peter Pan: Live!” through a stage manager I had worked with the previous summer. The reality is that being a production assistant for TV was going to pay twice as much as my stage management work was going to, and getting some coins in my young savings account would be key to survival in the arts. I picked up my suitcases and moved to NYC with the idea that I would stay as long as I could and would go back home to Boston when I was done. After “NBC’s Peter Pan: Live!” aired, with the help of my new NYC connections, solid reputation, and increase in level of work expiernce I started PAing for an off-Broadway show and then for the 1 st National Tour of Matilda. By the time my one-year New York City anniversary rolled around I had joined AEA and was working as a Rehearsal Stage Manager for Matilda Broadway.
Matilda changed my life. It gave me confidence, a crash course in commercial theatre culture, health insurance, and a paycheck that didn’t require me to hustle for part time work. After closing was announced, I was hired onto the team at the Shubert and learned to call my first big musical. The first call is the hardest and I learned more than I can fully understand to this day. I practiced night and day knowing that because I was a very young woman the stakes would be higher. I was representing women as Broadway professionals and my generation of stage management. I learned more than I could have hoped to and made the decision to stay; as NYC was now home.
BURNING THE F*** OUT
Matilda closed and it was time to move on and start hustling again. This time around I knew more about the business, but less about myself. I spent my formative years doing exactly what I loved to do for work, but didn’t do mush else. I was burnt-out on stage management and the culture of the hustle. I made the best life decision I have ever made: to take some time away and get a normal 9-5 job.
By taking time to become a well-rounded human I became a better stage manager. Theater was there when I was ready and I knew exactly what I wanted from it now.
I KNOW WHAT I BRING TO THE TABLE
Stage management is a team sport and each team needs quality people in key positions. Learning that I am not right for every team and every team is not right for me has given me the focus that I lacked in the early part of my career. This led me to hustle in the direction of what I bring to the table. Being a woman is part of that and having more women in PSM positions is important to me. I wanted lavishly large musicals that presented logistical challenges, because that’s what I bring to the table. I play Tetris with people and things. I love working with creatives. I love a storytelling transition. I love rehearsal. I love a team effort. I am currently the stage manager on the 1 st National Tour of LCT’s My Fair Lady and I couldn’t be at a better table for me.