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womens history month hero image of sarah nicholson
womens history month hero image of sarah nicholson
Photo by Sarah Nicholson

This Recent UCF Graduate Is Already Making Her Mark

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCF chapter.

When I typically think of Women’s History Month and what it entails, I picture sitting in a classroom and learning about the same famous women, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Susan B. Anthony; in which we are taught that they were powerful women who made large impacts on our world. While we definitely should learn about them as they deserve to be celebrated and honored for the roles they played in history, what about the women around us who are currently making history? Women’s History Month should not only celebrate the famous female figures in history, but also the amazingly brilliant women that surround us daily. So, in honor of Women’s History Month, I spoke with Sarah Nicholson, a University of Central Florida alumna who graduated in spring 2021. Sarah is a passionate storyteller who received a BFA in stage management and has worked on several productions post-graduation.

Her Campus at UCF: Tell us about you and your journey to becoming a stage manager. What was your first experience with theatre, and what led you to become a stage manager?

Sarah Nicholson: I did theatre all throughout school. I was not good at sports, so I did theatre and acted until either eight or ninth grade; I don’t really remember anymore. I didn’t get cast in a show that year and I was really sad, but the drama teacher asked me if I wanted to be the stage manager. I said, “I have no idea what that is, but absolutely yes.” Stage managing back then looked a lot different than what I do now, but I fell in love with it because it’s so detail-oriented, and I get to know everything about a show without actually having to be in it. I don’t design, act, write, or direct but I get to know everyone and understand their jobs. I get to have a clear picture of storytelling which is the greatest thing. I did that throughout high school, and then I applied to UCF, as it’s one of a handful of schools that has a BFA program in stage management. I did that and graduated almost two years ago now and jumped right into the professional workforce, which has been fun.

HCUCF: How did being a part of the UCF stage management degree program help you develop your skill and passion for stage management?

SN: I really love UCF’s program. Claudia Lynch, who is our advisor and a professor, worked on Broadway for 20 years and truly knows what she’s doing. The way the program is structured is UCF does shows throughout the year, and student stage managers stage manage all of them. The structure of a stage management team is that there’s a lead stage manager, an assistant stage manager or two, and sometimes a production assistant. As you go through the UCF theatre program, you get to be all those things. You start your freshman year as a production assistant; then, you become an assistant stage manager around sophomore year. By your junior and senior years, you are stage managing which gives you real hands-on experience because all the professors work professionally, and they’re working with student actors and designers, so you’re learning together. Also, because it’s Orlando, you’ve got opportunities with the theme parks or Orlando Shakes which actually gave me my first professional contract. I was working with a director, who at the time was a professor at UCF, and she liked me as we got along well, and then she offered me my first job.

“I like to think of it as facilitating storytelling because I do a lot of the detail and administrative work that allows for the story to be told by the creatives.”

Sarah Nicholson

HCUCF: How would you describe the role of a stage manager?

SN: Stage management is the hub of communication for a show, so you send out all the scheduling and calendars, even the daily schedule for what is happening that day. We also make sure that everybody’s communicating. If, for example, we decide we don’t love an actor in a denim jacket, we see if we can get them a corduroy jacket. If we’d like a backpack to be orange and not blue, whatever that looks like, we would have all of those notes. I like to think of it as facilitating storytelling because I do a lot of the detail and administrative work that allows for the story to be told by the creatives. When we get to the actual performance, the stage managers do what we call “call the show,” which is saying, “lights go,” “sound go,” and making the show happen. Also, depending on the show, there’s usually a lead stage manager doing the call, and the assistant stage manager is on deck or backstage making sure that people have the props or costumes that they need. This way, if something were to happen, we would be able to be like, “Hey, he can’t find his glasses, so he’s going to go on without them,” so it’s all just communicating so that the show goes on.

HCUCF: How many productions have you been a part of? Which one stands out to you and why?

SN: I don’t know, probably close to 30 at this point if you include stuff I did while still in college because I usually do three or four a year, and it’s been about six years. A show that stands out to me is that in college, I did a show called Sweat. It’s written by one of my favorite playwrights, Lynn Nottage, so it was cool to get to tell a story that I already cared about so much. I asked for that one, and I have a vivid memory of walking into Professor Lynch’s office and being like, “I want the show, like I know that I haven’t paid my dues to that level yet, but I want to do this show, and I promise I will do it well.” It was exciting to be trusted with that and to learn so much doing it.

“I like getting to try everything, developing my skills, and meeting interesting people who are doing interesting things.”

Sarah Nicholson

HCUCF: Do you prefer being a stage manager for a certain type of production, and how does your approach change depending on the production?

SN: They’re all so different, and you get to exercise different muscles. For example, right now, the show I’m doing is very intense and serious about sexual harassment, so my job consists of sitting and watching the scenes happen and mainly being aware of the details. There’s so much paper because one of the actors has to read a report, and it gets ripped up every night, so it’s all of that kind of stuff. However, on a giant musical like Hamilton, which was fun to shadow, there’s so much movement and so many cues happening that you pay attention to different things. When I did A Christmas Story: The Musical, there was so much tap dancing and 12-year-olds running around, so that was a lot more of people management. So, it depends on the show, and Much Ado About Nothing that I did was a tour, so in addition to doing the show, we were driving everything that we had in vans and setting it up. We were also trapped in a van together for three or four hours a day. They’re all so different, and I don’t know at this point that I prefer anything. I like getting to try everything, developing my skills, and meeting interesting people who are doing interesting things.

HCUCF: Do you have any advice for people who are interested in becoming stage managers?

SN: Pay attention to things. The skills that have helped me most as a stage manager are just noticing everything around me, and sometimes that’s very literally, like which pencil an actor picks out of the pencil cup, or sometimes it’s noticing that a person looks anxious or concerned. I can flag and anticipate potential problems, which is really helpful, so, as a general piece of advice, it’s important to see everything that’s going on around you and pay attention to it. Also, do everything really well, even if you think it’s beneath you. Theatre is, unfortunately, who you know, so do everything like these people could hire you again one day. It’s the idea of being somebody that people want to work with again. Also, get your BFA, it’s a great program, or just get involved in theatre. A large part of being a stage manager is skill-based, so find a community theatre or even your local high school so you can volunteer, as practice does make perfect. Networking is a word that gets thrown around a lot, and it’s scary, but I have found that networking for me is a lot more swiping up on people’s Instagram Stories than I thought it was going to be. Just saying like, “Oh my gosh, that looks so fun,” works because it makes people aware of who you are and that you’re still around and interested in their lives. There are people that I have almost entirely online relationships with now, and I want to work with them again, which I think is interesting.

Prior to talking to Sarah, I hadn’t realized what a large role a stage manager plays in theatre. The next time I attend a live performance, I’ll definitely be thinking about all of the details that go into making the production what it is. It was inspiring talking to her as she showcased that it’s possible to achieve our dreams if we are passionate and dedicated.

Anyelina Izzo is a senior at UCF and majoring in political science. She enjoys obsessing over romantic comedies, reading, and listening to The Strokes, Cage the Elephant, and all of the High School Musical soundtracks.