Meg Kelly, Dance Exchange’s Production Manager, actually does do it all. A moment that captured this for me happened last spring when we were performing The Matter of Origins at the Gammage Center at Arizona State University. We were rehearsing on the Gammage Center’s outdoor promenade for “Tea”, the second, site-specific act of the show, and weren’t able to use our full sound system. We couldn’t afford to lose the rehearsal time, so Meg played the music from her computer, and chased two dancers around—laptop in hand—as they danced from one end of the promenade to the other.
Meg’s job ends up being a mix of Production Management, Stage Management, and often, creative consultant. Her insightful feedback and ability to hold the big picture while examining the small story have made her an invaluable collaborator on many Dance Exchange works.
When did you first become interested in the technical side of theatre?
Like many kids, I got into theatre in high school. I was never interested in acting, though—I wanted to work behind the scenes. The first thing I ever did in the field was scenic painting at Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona. I ended up taking a class there to learn more about behind-the-scenes jobs in theatre.
After that class, a friend of mine wanted someone to stage manage a workshop she was directing, and I agreed to do it. I loved it! I was a freshman in high school then, and I just kept stage managing from that point forward. In high school, I worked with a theatre teacher who made me realize that what I was doing could actually be a career, so I decided to study Theatre Design and Technology at the University of Arizona.
The program was extremely intense, and my peers felt like family. At that point, my stage management experience was limited to theatre and musical theatre, with a few dance concerts thrown in the mix.
When did you start working with Dance Exchange?
When I graduated from University of Arizona, I moved out to DC for a Stage Management Internship at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. After the internship ended in the summer of 2007, I started assistant house managing at Shakespeare. I met the Dance Exchange that summer, and stage managed The Farthest Earth from Thee at the Capital Fringe Festival. I worked a number of jobs in the DC area that year, and kept up my relationship with Dance Exchange. In the fall of 2008, I came on full-time as Production Coordinator.
Your background at that point was mostly theatre—what did you think about going to work for a dance company?
I was thrilled when Dance Exchange called me. The first time I worked with Dance Exchange, I realized that everyone in the room was smart and creative. At some point early in my time here, we were in a production meeting following a run-through of one of Liz’s works. She was asking people in the room for feedback, and she turned to me and said, “Meg, what do you think?” I was so surprised—Stage Managers are expected to hold the details, but not often expected to give their artistic opinions on what they’re seeing. I liked the idea of being part of the process, and having a creative opinion.
It was clear to me early on that the work at Dance Exchange mattered. In the first project I worked on with the company, The Farthest Earth from Thee, the cast was made up of company members and performers with physical and mental disabilities. I saw how this collaboration was making a strong impact on all of their lives. I think it’s extremely important to do this work, and extremely energizing.
What is an average day like for you?
I tend to have two different “average” days, if you can call it that. Some days I come in, do a quick check of my email, and then set up for rehearsal. I make sure we have everything in the room we need that day: a TV to watch rehearsal video, props, sound equipment. During rehearsal, I run sound, track down video moments we need to look at, take notes to send to the design team, make or edit show scripts…I’m also usually answering emails on the side for other upcoming projects.
If I’m not in the studio, I’m answering emails, in meetings about our upcoming projects or in-house events, working on budgets, running out to shop for costumes or props, creating promotional videos for the artists, spending time organizing our media room…
How does this job compare to other production management jobs?
It’s not always the case that the Production Manager also functions as the resident Stage Manager. Sometimes the Production Manager is much more administratively focused, dealing with things like hiring designers or working on budgets. I end up taking on both Stage Management and Production Management roles each day. I’m always looking at the bigger picture: how the pieces of the year fit together, what our needs are and how we schedule everything we need. I’m also looking at the smaller picture when I’m in the studio, and trying to create an atmosphere that is light but productive, and a place for everyone to be at their creative best. I serve as the conduit for information and make sure the right information goes out to the designers, dancers, and the organization. On the road, my job is to maintain the vision of the work by making sure cues are called on time, and sometimes giving notes to the dancers if certain sections are running too long or too short.
What are you working on now?
I’m preparing for our show at Roundhouse in January by making a rehearsal and tech schedule. I’m thinking about needs for the Hammock show at Dance Place in December and getting contracts to designers and making updates to my script. We also have Origins coming up in Chicago so I’m working on a packing list for the truck that we’ll drive out there. For Mountain, I’m working on the budget for this spring’s walk.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Well, yes: go to the bathroom! This is one thing that must happen beforehand. Mostly what I do before a show revolves around what the dancers need: I give them call times, make sure things are set where they need to be. In college, I would do vocal warm-up rhymes to make sure I could speak clearly when I was calling a show. Now I’m more used to calling shows, so that has fallen away.
Do you have a favorite moment or memory from rehearsals or touring?
I love when we’re all in the airport together. I always look at our group of young and old people traveling together and I wonder what people are thinking. They must be asking, “What is the relationship between all these people?” I always love that.
I also just love spending time with the production team on the road. Amelia [former Creative Producer at Dance Exchange] and I have traveled a lot together, and we tend to end up in crazy situations where there are two of us and five suitcases to manage. When we traveled to Georgia last year we checked a bag full of rocks for the table scene in Drift.
Has anything ever gone horribly wrong on the road?
I’m happy to say that I haven’t really experienced that at Dance Exchange. There was a time when three of us were running late for a flight, and I had to wait in line to check the production suitcase. I ended up giving one of the dancers the production computer so that if I missed the flight, the sound files would still get there in time for rehearsal. I ended up running for the gate in my socks and making the flight.
What was the last best thing you saw?
If you weren’t working in theatre, what would you be doing?
I do not have an answer. I never could come up with an answer about what I would do outside of this field—I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. I did go through a marine biologist phase as a kid. I also wanted to be an archaeologist and for a time, an innkeeper.
Any advice for students interested in going into technical theatre?
If you want to stage manage or production manage, it’s really important to have a basic understanding of all of the elements going into a production. Take classes in lighting design, costume design, sound design. Take acting classes and dance classes. Learn to read music. You hear this all the time, but the hours are long, and you do have to love it. If you are unhappy, it’s okay to do something else. You can always change your mind.