July 1, 2006

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Jersey Boys’ Stage Manager Richard Hester!

July 1st, 2006

Jersey Boys Blog is honored to present a recent interview with Jersey Boys’ stage manager Richard Hester. Hester discusses the ins and outs of stage management; his stage management philosophy; and his phenomenal experience with Jersey Boys from the La Jolla Playhouse production to the Broadway stage!

JBB: Congratulations to Jersey Boys on winning the Best Musical Tony Award! How does it feel to be stage manager of the hit musical that just received the top honor?

RH: This is truly what you work for–for your entire career. There is nothing better than a big hit Broadway musical. Winning the Tony just makes it that much sweeter!

JBB: You’ve had an outstanding career as a stage manager. How did you become interested in stage management? Who or what were your major influences?

RH: In junior high school, as I was heading to the bus to go home, our Drama teacher was standing in the hall trying to get people to work on the spring musical, a production of Bells Are Ringing. He needed one more person for the stage crew. Without giving it a second thought I said, “Sure!” and I’ve never looked back. That teacher, a fantastic man named Donald Wonder, and my high school Drama teacher, a man named Robert Godthaab, made me love theatre. There was never any question that it was going to be a huge part of my life. In college, I planned on being an actor and acted in anything and everything around campus. During my sophomore year, I sent out several letters to off-Broadway theatres saying that I was willing to work for free, if they needed an intern. The one theatre that responded was a theatre called the American Place that was presenting the New York debut of this clown/mime from San Francisco named Bill Irwin. The show was called The Regard of Flight and it became a big hit. During the summer, it was extended, and they started actually paying me. I was getting $100 a week and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven!

JBB: What are your main responsibilities as stage manager? Who do you work most closely with on a production?

RH: My job, as I see it, is to make it possible for everyone in the production to be able to do their work. As a result, I work with the director, the designers, the cast, the crew, and even the front of house staff. I am responsible for scheduling, making sure that everyone is where they are supposed to be, and doing, what they are supposed to do. After the show opens, I become the director in the director’s absence. It is my responsibility to make sure that the show remains in the same shape that it was in on opening night. I watch the show from the front and note both the actors and the tech crew. My assistants and I take turns actually calling the show. I facilitate the extra-curricular events like appearing on the Tony Awards, etc.; and teach and direct the understudies. You name it, I’m sticking my nose into it!

JBB: What do you think are the most important and most challenging aspects of managing the stage?

RH: Allowing each artist in the production to work to the best of their abilities. Because we all work with people who create, it is necessary to be flexible enough to allow each of those people room enough to do that. Some actors need to be left alone, some need constant attention and some fall in between. Along the way, genuine friendships occur that constantly threaten to get in the way of the business part of the relationship. That can sometimes be difficult–nobody likes to be disciplined—especially from someone they consider a friend.

JBB: When does the stage manager come on board with the production?

RH: I was on board with Jersey Boys officially two weeks before rehearsal started. Unofficially, I was at production meetings and the like several months before that. The more work you can finish before rehearsals actually start, the better off you are

JBB: What is a typical day/night like for the stage management team? Are you the first to arrive and last to go home each night?

RH: We get to the theatre an hour and a half before curtain. At that point, we figure out who is in the show and who is out sick. We make sure the wardrobe and hair department know and if program inserts are necessary, make sure that the front office staff has them. The actors start trickling in about an hour beforehand and are required to be there ½ hour before showtime. If I have notes to give them, I try and do that before their half hour call so that the half hour is theirs to prepare. I try and keep the stage manager’s office a place where people will visit and hang out because that is the easiest way to find out what is actually going on in the building. I also enjoy the heck out of our cast so I love having them there!

JBB: Are you most involved with the technical aspects of the production, such as communication with the production managers, or are you more involved with the cast and the backstage crew?

RH: I am almost equally involved with both. Basically, anything that goes wrong in the building, I am answerable for.

JBB: Have you done other types of stage management, such as dance, or concerts?

RH: In my spare time, I am Patti LuPone’s road manager. I also write and co-produce an annual event with Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore, Called “Broadway Barks” (the 8th version of which is happening on July 8 In Shubert Alley!). I also do a lot of different events for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

JBB: How did you become involved as stage manager for Jersey Boys?

RH: Robert Strickstein, at the time one of the general managers of the Dodgers, Invited me into his office and showed me a list of seven or eight upcoming projects, and said, “Pick one.” I picked Jersey Boys because I had always wanted to work with Des (McAnuff) and I thought that four months in La Jolla, California sounded like a vacation!

JBB: You have been with the Jersey Boys’ production since its debut at La Jolla Playhouse. Was there much of a transition for the Broadway production? What areas of the production demanded your greatest attention?

RH: The biggest change really was technically–we had access to slightly better equipment and some more funds so we could correct a lot of problems that we’d had in California. Basically, the structure and look of the Broadway show Is the same as it was in La Jolla– it has all just been clarified and improved.

JBB: From a stage manager perspective, what makes Jersey Boys stand out from other productions?

RH: Jersey Boys is the busiest show I have ever been involved with. A big tech show like Wicked or Phantom has about 60 automation cues; we have over 200. While those shows are designed so that you are looking at the effects of the scenery, our show is designed so that you are looking at the actors. It puts a bit more pressure on the scenery to remain fluid.

JBB: Do you have any “behind the scenes” anecdotes from Jersey Boys that you’re at liberty to share?

RH: There have been all sorts of things that have happened that the audience never had a clue were going on, and I, for one, think it should stay that way!

JBB: Considering that a national Jersey Boys tour is beginning later this year, will you be involved in training the stage managers for the national tour? Will the road stage managers use your book, or will they use a completely new set of cues?

RH: We are still working out what, exactly, my role will be, but I am already Involved in the planning stages. Our aim is to make the tour look like the Broadway production, so that no matter where you see the show, you will have the same experience. To do that on the road will involve changes that an audience will never notice. For the stage managers, however, it means a completely different set of cues and equipment.

JBB: What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming plans related to the Jersey Boys production, or any other new projects in the works?

RH: It appears that I will be involved with Jersey Boys for some time, but you never know. I have rarely looked for work in my career, it usually comes to me… So who knows what lies around the next bend!

Jersey Boys Blog would like to thank Richard Hester for such a fascinating and detailed interview about his outstanding career; the process of stage management; and about managing the stage of the Tony Award-winning musical Jersey Boys!

1 Comment »

  1. Your best interview yet. I had no idea a Stage Manager did all those things.

    Comment by David Cace — July 2, 2006 @ 2:43 pm

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