- Ellen Goldberg, AEA Stage Manager
Don't Stop Believin'
This year has been nothing short of difficult for our industry. Through all this year’s challenges I am grateful to have this moment to reflect on my career so far and remember the burning passion that started it all.
After the pilot of Glee aired the spring of my senior year of high school, I listened to their version of “Don’t Stop Believin” on constant repeat. The song became my anthem of the summer before I moved to New York City in hopes of pursuing a career in theater. I jumped into college at Fordham University greener than green, I only learned that stage management was even a career the year before. College was tough for me. It felt like I was learning a new language that all my peers were fluent in. But there was a fire in my belly and that Glee song in my head that helped me overcome each new challenge. After my junior year of college, I finally got my dream internship at Williamstown Theatre Festival. I absolutely loved my time at Williamstown, it was the first place where I got my feet wet with real professional productions with the support and guidance of professional stage managers. It was those summers at Williamstown where I knew I really wanted to be a stage manager, where I could see what my life would be like without the addition of classes and homework.
I was more passionate than ever after my second summer at Williamstown, I had graduated college and I was ready to be thrown in to the real world. The real world was terrifying! I had rent to pay, but no job, not even an interview. Then my networking finally started paying off. I was contacted about a stage management intern position on an Off Broadway musical. I was hesitant of taking another internship, although this one was paid, but something in my gut told me to take it. I’m so grateful I did. My first Off Broadway show was Fun Home at The Public Theater. I can die happy because I was a small part of that show. I remember sitting in rehearsals listening to “Ring of Keys” for the first time thinking, “This show is absolutely incredible.” Looking back, my first show spoiled me; working with the best people onstage and off, being able to listen to the best score every night, and the show extending again and again. After 6 months and a promotion to Production Assistant, our run of Fun Home ended and my journey as a freelancer began.
After freelancing as a Production Assistant (PA) for about two years, I had my first truly difficult career decision to make. I was up for a PA position on a musical hoping to transfer to Broadway, Gigi, and an Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) position on an Off Broadway play, A Month in the Country, that would give me my Equity card. After many pros and cons lists, sleepless nights and asking every stage manager I knew for advice, I decided to take the Off Broadway show and get my union card. Towards the end of the run of A Month in the Country it was announced that Gigi would, in fact, be transferring to Broadway. My heart sank and I started to question if I had made the right choice. Then I remembered what the Production Stage Manager (PSM) of Gigi had told me months before, “No one will know if you want the job unless you ask for it.” So, I emailed the PSM and asked if they needed a PA for the Broadway production and said that I would like to be considered. Luck was on my side that they did have an available PA position and I got the job. During all those days and nights worrying which show to work on, I would have never guessed that I would be able to do both shows. Broadway was exactly what I thought it would be, full of joy, bright colors, and glitter. Granted some of that could be attributed to the design of that show, but either way every moment was magical because it was my first Broadway show.
After Gigi I was the PA for two more Broadway shows, and worked Off Broadway as an ASM on several more shows. I had been out of college for four years and I knew I was ready for a new challenge. I started to transition myself away from PA positions and toward ASM and PSM jobs. I turned to my stage manager mentors for guidance on how to make this transition; many recommended going on tour. The idea of touring around the country working on a big show excited me and I knew this was what I wanted the next chapter of my career to be.
Like any step forward, it wasn’t easy getting a job on a national tour. It was at least a year of trying to crack open doors, never hearing back, or getting rejections. The struggle fueled me to prove wrong every person who said I wasn’t qualified. I believed that I was ready and had all the skills and experience I needed. Finally all the stars aligned, and I mean a lot of stars aligned, and I was hired for the first national tour of Anastasia as the 2nd Assistant Stage Manager. In September 2018 I packed my world into two big suitcases and started a grand adventure touring across the country. Touring was filled with excitement, challenges, unforgettable memories, and incredible friends. We had traveled to 42 cities until March 13, 2020 when, like all the tours and theater productions, our adventure came to a sudden end due to COVID-19. Like most folks in the industry, I don’t know what’s next when this long intermission is over. I don’t know whether I’ll go back on the road or return to NYC, but I do know that I cannot wait to be back in a theater again and until then I won’t stop believin’.