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  • Vanessa Coakley, Stage Manager

Stage Managing: from Brooklyn to Broadway

I grew up in Brooklyn with Broadway right over the river. I’d wake up to performances from Broadway shows on morning TV, and take buses with splashy ads for musicals on the side. I took dance lessons at my local dance studio, where I learned a love for live performance. It didn’t take long for me to learn that the most thrilling part of the spring recital, for me, was organizing it.

I got a scholarship to Emerson College to study stage management, where my mantra first began- I’ll do theatre for as long as it keeps working out. Lucky for me, at 17 I had already decided it would. My internships throughout college introduced me to the people I’d work with over the next decade. I spent two seasons as a stage management intern with the Boston Ballet, around my classes, one joyful winter as a production assistant with the Huntington Theatre, and two formative summers at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. I walked into all of those rooms terrified but saying yes, working to find my place on the team and learn.

Right around college graduation I reached out to the Huntington Theatre. To my total surprise they offered me an ASM position for the summer and with that, my Equity card.

I said yes. It was a huge learning experience, and I will never forget the kindness and the patience of everyone in that room as I fumbled through.

I moved back home to Brooklyn that fall, Equity card in hand, looking for opportunities to be in the room and say yes. I started working as a production assistant Off-Broadway, and with a lot of luck very quickly found myself working on two rep productions of Shakespeare in the Park. One of those shows, The Merchant of Venice, would bring me my first Broadway credit and change my life. It led to a string of jobs in NY theatre as an ASM and then PSM. The other, The Winter’s Tale, would introduce me to the PSM who would hire me for my first national tour in 2012 and

again for the Broadway tour of Aladdin in 2017. We brought our 30-truck carpet ride to 41 cities over the course of three years, right up to the pandemic.

I said yes every time, terrified but trying to be brave.

In our current pause, I often find myself terrified of the future, and then remember every time I was brave and said yes, and the people that supported me and lifted me up when I did. So now I am saying yes to uncertainty, to survival, to getting through this moment with my community and making it to the other side.

To watch more about Vanessa's journey on Aladdin, click here:

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