Building Bridges into Theatre

Being a stage manager is all about building bridges—bridges between directors and designers, bridges between creative personalities and practical minds, bridges between materials, costumes, lights, sounds, morale, quirks and inspirations.

Or, as Sharon Suh ’16 would put it, it’s about people.

“I’ve always really been into relationships within a community,” she says in her quiet, articulate way. “The stage manager is the one that makes a huge difference with the kind of atmosphere that’s in the room.”

Bridging boundaries

Sharon is used to building bridges. She was born to South Korean missionaries and spent her early life in Botswana, where her father’s church doubled as an orphanage called Happy Home. As she grew older, Sharon eventually left for British boarding school in South Africa, and after taking a gap year in South Korea, she found herself in the United States for college.

Sharon transferred to Calvin both because of its broadness and its small size. She wanted to experience the intimacy of a small student body, but she also wanted to attend a Christian school that isn’t just about boundaries, but about creating a space to explore, to ask questions and to try new things.

Calvin gave her a new message: “Take some risks. Why don’t you try to push those boundaries? Have doubt, and try to overcome that.” This challenge was totally different from what she heard from schools that set rigid boundaries around her learning. At Calvin, she has stage managed for student productions, assisted with full productions on campus and worked on shows at Dog Story Theater in downtown Grand Rapids.

A bridge into theatre

Now, she’s headed to Salt Lake City for the massive annual conference of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT). Sharon was awarded one of the partnered mentorships of USITT’s Gateway Program—an initiative to expand diversity in the performing arts— complete with a scholarship covering her conference fees and a student membership to USITT. Calvin’s Communication Arts and Sciences department is covering all of her travel costs. Sharon was nominated for the Gateway program by Calvin alum and professional stage manager Evangeline Rose Whitlock ’05.

Evangeline has been a stage manager for productions at the Public Theater in New York, the Royal Shakespeare Company in the UK and regional theaters across the country. She is currently working on the New York premiere of Mark Rylance’s Nice Fish with American Repertory Theatre and will head up to Los Angeles for the West Coast premiere of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Father Comes Home from the Wars. She manages to find time to teach Calvin students as well. Sharon caught her attention immediately.

Having what it takes

You have to be cut from a certain cloth to be a stage manager, and Evangeline is always looking for that particular sort of student. Sharon, she says, was “really insightful and kind and organized—so many random elements and personality traits that you have to have in order to be interested in stage management and to be attracted to this kind of work.” Speaking emphatically: “You have to have a really. sincere. love. for everyone.

“If I don’t have a really deep-seated love for everyone I’m working with, it would make things really challenging. So when I see a student who has that capacity to love through the hard, I encourage them in their pursuit of this management field. I say, ‘You can do this. Come join the tribe’.”

VERGE: spring 2016

First-Year Experience