BY MARC J. FRANKLIN
By the time Hamilton’s Amber White takes her perch in the stage manager’s booth at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, an entire theatrical engine has been hard at work, ready to cross its final hurdle: show time. Following her through her daily workload, we see what it takes to raise the curtain on Broadway each night.
After a long day of preparation, the company stands in the wings. Patrons shuffle into their seats. White sits before her script. With her call, the lights on the stage fade as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical comes to life for yet another performance.
Bringing a show to the stage nightly requires a complex ecosystem of cast and crew, all led by stage managers. Becoming a show’s organizational backbone is a demanding position, but for White, it was a coincidental work-study job in college that led to her becoming the production stage manager for one of Broadway’s biggest hits—the finance major was hired as the assistant technical director to her university’s theatre. The proximity to the theatre’s creative side led her to stage management offers in college, and after accepting gig after gig, she realized her passion. White dropped her finance major and shifted her education to theatre instead.
While university theatre is very different than theatre in New York, it was White’s eagerness to learn that took her far. “In my 20’s, my goal was to never be comfortable. That meant trying things constantly. You learn so much by trying new things. You make mistakes, you watch other people make mistakes, you watch other people solve mistakes. And in that, you build your tool bag of knowledge.” Through her theatrical exploration, White found herself working as an assistant stage manager on Avenue Q, a job that would yield her second fortuitous opportunity: Through the show’s producers and creative team, she was offered the chance to stage manage a workshop of a new work, a musical that would go on to become Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights. It’s through those relationships that White was offered the job at Hamilton.
As a production stage manager, White’s job never ends. Schedules have to be coordinated, rehearsals must be held, costumes and props need to prepped. While White balances work and home life, she also is an expert at one of the important skills a stage manager requires: the ability to multitask.
White joined the production in December 2015, just five months after she gave birth to her daughter. “It was important to me that I show my daughter, as she grows older, that I am part of the work force,” White says. “There were a lot of times when I had my baby on my lap and I was practicing calling the show at home. It was important I show that balance: that I spend time with her and that I spend time with my career.”
Inside the stage management office, an unassuming room filled with charts, binders, and notes, White convenes with the two other stage managers who keep the show running. The first step is to create the performance’s “In and Out,” a list of which actors are out of the performance and who will be filling in.
Once it’s composed, White delivers the roster for the day. Walking through the theatre’s hallways, White greets the co-workers she passes en route. Those interpersonal relationships are vital for White. “Working on a long-running show like Hamilton is knowing that it’s not just about the run of the show, calling the cues at night, and typing up the paperwork. It’s about creating an environment that makes you want to walk through that door eight times a week,” White says. “If [the company] walks into that building and they feel like they are fed, creatively, and embraced as family, then it’s going to make for a better working environment. I love working beside these people.”
Returning to the office, White works to curate the schedule for the future, making sure the show is secure long-term. Effectively managing a Broadway show requires being focused on the day-to-day itinerary while simultaneously looking months ahead, creating a long-term trajectory for the show. White sits in front of a large calendar and cross references her schedule with a company member. “I always know the next two months out, who we are planning on teaching, and what their schedules will be,” White explains. “It’s keeping in communication with those actors, with our wardrobe department to make sure their costumes are ready on time, with our associate to make sure that we all know their teaching past and what their first performance will be.”
Prior to the house opening, White runs notes with an actor. With a production as complex as Hamilton, preserving the show is a team effort. “We have a lot of associates, which is a wonderful thing. We have a resident director, a resident choreographer, as well as a music director. I work with those people very closely, hand in hand, to talk through nuances of the show. It keeps the artistic endeavors up to speed and really tight,” White says.
White puts on her headset and calls a light cue, casting the stage in show light. Even though the stage is covered in scuffs and spike tape, White confidently walks over to a specific spot, indicating where the actor should hit his mark. Her knowledge of the production is unmatched, a requirement for running a smooth show. For White, it isn’t just a matter of knowing the nuts and bolts but also having a backup plan in every scenario. “It’s about making sure you understand what you do if something were to go wrong—because you’re running that ship.”
After her notes session, White makes her way back to the stage management office and gives the half-hour call, indicating that it is 30 minutes until the show begins. It’s here that White’s evening can change. The three production stage managers rotate calling the performance, staying in the office to work on the paperwork needed to maintain the production’s infrastructure, and watching the show to take notes from the audience perspective.
Finally, it’s time for the show. White walks over to the stage-left wing and climbs to her booth, a collection of monitors anchored by the show’s script, where she will spend the next three hours making her way through more than 1,300 light and turntable cues. “Calling the show is when you feel really connected to the show itself and the performances. You are part of the experience that 1,400 people have been waiting to see!” White says.
The cast takes their bows as another long day as a stage manager nears its end. White reunites with her fellow stage managers to compose a post-show report, communicating the events of the performance to the production and management teams. White is constantly evaluating the show and making it the best it can be. “It’s not reinventing the wheel but analyzing. It’s looking at ourselves and saying, ‘Is what we are doing today as purposeful as it was [before]?’” As the lights dim on another evening on Broadway, the work continues. “Our job will never be done.”