May 1, 2018
Interview with Stage manager, Rebecca Moffatt
Rebecca Moffatt was a stage manager for several years, working for ETO, OHP, BYO and the UK conservatoires, before becoming Artistic Administrator at English Touring Opera. She now looks after her young son full time with her husband, who is also a stage technician, and awaits the arrival of their second baby.
How did you get into stage management and how long have you been doing it?
I worked backstage in various departments when I left school and then went to train at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in Stage Management. Whilst studying I spent a summer working with British Youth Opera - my first foray into opera - and never looked back. That summer was 13 years ago.
Partly because it's such a beautifully powerful art form to work with and partly because it combines stage management training with musical ability; in a freelance career it has been very useful to have a specific skill to offer when looking for work.
What do you love about your job?
Being part of a team that facilitates the creative process, finding ways to realise the visions of the artistic team and creating an environment that is supportive, professional, warm and friendly so that all the artists can do their best work.
What drives you mad at work?
Being taken for granted or being treated like a dogsbody.
Have you worked in other genres? How does opera differ?
Yes, I've worked on plays, musicals, dance and pantomime in addition to opera. The entire nature of an opera production, from its early design stages through to the first day of rehearsals and to the performances feels different, largely because of the need to balance the requirements of the music with the requirements of the staging, generally without any technological assistance or sound reproduction. For example the set design has to allow for the sound to be pushed forward towards the audience rather than being lost upstage, the singers have to be not only visible to the audience but also to the conductor, the singers need line of sight to the conductor or at least to visual monitors. For stage managers there is a greater need than with other genres to be empathetic and diplomatic with the artistic team and to understand the collaboration between the director and conductor.
In opera, a huge percentage of stage management seem to be female. Why do you think this is?
There are many elements of the job which seem best suited to people with a gentle approach, with a caring and diplomatic nature and perhaps it could be argued that these traits are more commonly found in women, but I don't believe that. I think there is and has been a prevalence of very good female opera stage managers over the last ten or twenty years (probably longer!) and maybe these women have become role models for younger women entering the profession and deciding which path within the technical world to follow. I believe that personality, skills, creativity and patience makes a good stage manager, not gender. Some of the best stage managers I know and have had the privilege to work with are men.
Have you ever considered your gender to be relevant to the challenges of your job?
No, I haven't.
How have you seen attitudes towards women in stage management change over the years during your career?
When I first worked backstage shortly after leaving school there was a lot of resistance to my being offered a place on the staging team since it was considered that as a woman I wasn't strong enough for the necessary lifting and carrying of scenery (I spent a lot of time in the wardrobe department as a dresser instead). I'm pleased to say that since graduating I have only very rarely come across similar resistance and that most colleagues and managers are well aware that a less-strong person who knows how to lift properly is far more use than a stronger individual who approaches tasks incorrectly. Where stage managers are called on to also be electricians, carpenters, van drivers etc, any role which historically may have been thought of as a male role, these days the roles seem just as frequently to be filled by women. The industry seems to have gone a long way to wising up to employing the right person regardless of gender.
Artists and directors work long and unpredictable hours, but this is even more true for stage technicians. Do you think that it is possible for stage management and parenthood to co-exist?
At the moment, no, I can't imagine it, but that's surely because I haven't ventured into it yet. The unsocial hours and unpredictable nature of the demands would mean I'd feel like I was giving work a higher priority than my son and I would worry that I would end up both not doing my job well and resenting work. I do like to think that when my son (and his imminent sibling!) are a little older that I would be able to go back either to a part time position or to some short freelance contracts. But the work demands so much (of all of us) that it's hard to think there would be an employment situation flexible enough for me to be able to just walk away when it's time to go to my children.
In a business where there is always a plentiful supply of stage technicians ready and willing, do you think changes should and realistically could be made to make the industry more inclusive for technical crew members with families and/or dependents?
I really hope so. Surely those technicians that are parents have generally been in the business at least a little while and have hugely valuable experience. Perhaps there could be a greater willingness to allow job sharing within stage management and technical teams to accommodate those with family commitments.
Which women in the opera industry do you admire?
Jane-Eve Straughton, ETO's dedicated General Manager