FMCT’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat may only be running for two weekends, but the show is months in the making. Over the next couple days, join me on a journey as I explore the theatre and talk shop with the designers, actors, and crewmembers responsible for breathing new life into this old classic.
COUNTDOWN TO JOSEPH, PART 5: Tamie Maddocks, Stage Manager
For FMCT by Andy Gustafson
Producer: Gives policy to God.
Director: Talks with God.
Playwright: Is occasionally addressed by God.
Stage Manager: IS God.
For those unfamiliar with the behind the scenes aspect of theatre, the question needs must be asked: Who is the stage manager, and what gives them the right to rule over the theatrical pantheon? The simple answer is competence incarnate. A more specific answer would point you toward Tamie Maddocks, the stage manager for FMCT’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Like any deity must, we ascend toward the heavens to take our place among the theatre gods—that is, we climb the dark, secret stairway up to the control booth. A control booth is generally located in the back of the house and set high above the seats, where the stage manager and board operators have a clear view of the theatre. Long counters are covered in computers and production boards, all the knobs to turn and switches to flip and keys to press that molds a show into a spectacle. Tamie and I settle on some stools and gaze out into the theatre, quiet and empty before the night’s rehearsal.
But it takes a little more than climbing stairs to really reach those lofty heights. Like any heroes later worshipped among the greats, stage managers must perform many fine feats of skill. A stage manager might not be a director or designer, but they’re in charge of scheduling, cast wrangling, and facilitating any task that the directors need done. Depending on what the director asks, a stage manager will also take notes, map out blocking (marks actors need to hit), and send out necessary communiques. Often the most important job is the crown jewel of stage managing: calling cues. That is, he or she is the person who puts the control in “control booth.” They are the grease that makes all the gears in the clockwork turn. For all intents and purposes, they are omniscient.
Which makes Tamie’s position here all the more impressive, as the Mapleton native didn’t even have any theatre experience until three years ago, when Rural Cass County Community Theatre put on their own production of Joseph.
“[The company] had recently been formed,” Tamie says, and the people at the helm were none other than directors of this FMCT production, Darcy and Lauren Brandenburg. “I happened to know Lauren fairly well. She and I were friends even before the theatre came about. I just said, ‘I would love to help you with whatever you need help with, but I have no acting experience and I don’t want to be involved in that way.’ And two days later, she sent me an email.” The Brandenburgs had found their stage manager, and Tamie has been working with them ever since.
Each venue, company, and director has their own needs, and while NYC’s Metropolitan Opera might regularly need a whopping four stage managers to get their productions off the ground, a fledgling theatre company in North Dakota requires a different sort of proficiency, and in that, Tamie is a master. During her time with the RCCCT, she’s had to be props master, costume assistant, and children herder. And like any stage manager worth her salt, she takes care of problems during the performance, too, like when a fuse went out during Oliver (2012), leaving the orchestra without the ability to see their music. “They didn’t have lights. They didn’t have anything. They could do nothing, and so the gentleman who was supposed to have a solo was onstage and was improvising, and we’re running around trying to figure out which switch to flip so [the orchestra lights] come back on.” They pulled it off, audience none the wiser, and that’s what theatre’s all about. “That’s what makes it fun.”
It’s clear that despite only a couple years of experience, Tamie has caught the theatre bug, and she agrees with my assessment. “I can’t imagine not ever being involved in some way, even if it’s sweeping the stage after the show. Someone asked me once, ‘Why do you do it? Why do you do the stage managing thing?’ And I said, ‘You know, one thing I love about being the stage manager is I get to be the boss.’” She laughs. “Anybody who knows me very well will tell you that I’m pretty bossy and very opinionated and a little bit boisterous.”
It’s good that she’s got opinions, because another vital role of the stage manager is to be a major sounding board for the director—or in the case of Joseph, directors. “They asked me to come and sit in on auditions and be another set of ears. I took music lessons for years when I was a kid, so I think I have a fairly good ear, [but] I don’t hear half the stuff they do. They’re brilliant…It’s very affirming, in that they respect me enough to ask my opinion, and respect me enough to go with what my opinion might be.” Darcy and Lauren certainly knew what they were doing when inviting Tamie along, because while they found themselves stumped, Tamie was there to put some extra work into the problem. She remembers, “At first when I thought about it, it was the middle of the night, I could not sleep, it was 3am…and I finally just picked up my phone and I typed [my idea] all out. Then I went to sleep.” Her idea? That there should be two head Narrators instead of just one. So thanks to her early morning bit of brilliance, the FMCT production was able to hop right back on track, and the Brandenburgs were free to direct their attention and creativity toward the next step in production.
But Tamie downplays her importance, citing the hard work the cast puts in each time they come to the theatre. “I’m coming to rehearsal every night. And every time I watch these guys do something, I see or hear something amazing. Every single night is different, every day. Like last night they were doing this scene and the kids were all there and one of the narrators hit this high note and I got goosebumps all over. And so for me, that’s what Joseph is all about.”
I ask her to expand. “Joseph doesn’t have an easy life. It’s dark out. You think he’s the golden child and he’s never going to do anything, or be anything less than wonderful. He just goes through so many trials and tribulations.” Yet in the resolution, Joseph is reunited with his family, and there is a light at the end of the darkness. The music, the story: it’s all uplifting.
Tamie can relate. “To come here, and to see the people and get to know them and feel like, as corny as it sounds, they’re a part of my family now. I see one of the girls up there and it just warms my heart and I think, ‘Oh, one of my daughters!’” Even more exhilarating for cast and crew, Tamie says, is that the audience will get caught up in those feelings, too. “Because of the size of the theatre, there’s no chair that’s a bad chair. It’s very intimate; there’s only going to be 300 of your closest friends sitting around you! There’s just that excitement they have onstage that is driving into their story, and that they are giving to you. That’s what I want every person in the audience to have: feel like they’re a part of the story.”
She is undoubtedly and deservedly proud of her Joseph family, of which she is, as the stage manager, their firm but loving parent. I wonder if there’s a moment she’s most proud of, but Tamie shakes her head. “I don’t know what I’m most proud of. Every single show has a special place in my heart. I suppose I’m really proud every time, after every show: Whew, well, we did that! Get ready for tomorrow!”
A stage manager’s attitude, indeed: have fun while the performance lasts, but let’s keep on track for the next one.
For now, it’s time to get ready for rehearsal tonight. As we start shutting down the lights and saying goodbye to the best view of the house, we descend back to earth, and all the work to bedone. Tamie has dinner to eat and a rehearsal to prepare, as the production’s anchor and lodestone. Soon the empty stage will be full of actors, singing their story the best way they know how, sharing their pain, joy, and love with each other.
And soon, they’ll be ready to share their story with you.
See the hard work of Tamie Maddocks and the rest of the cast and crew come to fruition in FMCT’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The show runs April 4-5 and 10-12 at 7:30pm and April 6, 12, and 13 at 2:00pm.
Join me next time as I talk to the next member of the FMCT Joseph family, the titular Joseph, Anthony Eddleston.
Previously on “Countdown to Joseph”