Need a benchmark? Call a manager. Need a line? Call a manager. Need a day off? Call a manager. Need a call time, schedule, inspection, to-do list, floor plan, script, or just a pep talk? Call a manager!
When it comes to the hard-working people behind the scenes on your favorite shows, maybe no one works harder than the stage manager. Acting as a liaison between the team and the creatives and between the creatives and the company, the title of “manager” is an umbrella term for the many roles these individuals play who bring order to the chaos of the setting up a production.
Each month, BroadwayWorld spotlights stage managers from across the theatrical spectrum, highlighting the breadth of responsibility these theatrical jack-of-all-trades take on and the heart, hope and humor they bring to their work. as Broadway returns from its long closure.
This month, we’re talking to Michael J. Passaro, Production Manager for the Tony Award-winning Best Musical, Moulin Rouge the Musical!
Michael has over thirty years of experience as a production manager for theatrical productions – on Broadway, regionally and around the world. His extensive Broadway credits include the original productions of Starlight Express, The Will Rogers Follies, Angels in America, The History Boys, A Steady Rain(with Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig), The Cher Show, and how to succeed in business without really trying with Daniel Radcliffe.
In addition to his professional practice, Michael is an Associate Professor and Advisor for the MFA Program in Stage Management at Columbia University. He holds a Masters in Arts Management from NYU.
We caught up with Michael while he was in the middle of technical rehearsals for the upcoming Red Mill! national tour to discuss the show, his incredible career and the many facets of being a stage manager.
You’re out of town to ride the Red Mill! national tour, how is it going?
It’s going well, and the reason it’s going well, I think, is because of the incredible synergy that we have between our fantastic, multi-talented, incredible creative team and the kind of institutional knowledge that they have on Red Mill!, at a macro level and at a very micro level as well. This is now the fourth production I have had the privilege of participating in, so the synergy between what I bring to the table, so to speak, in terms of my own skills and my knowledge of the granularity of issue combined with their overall artistic integrity makes this a very easy and enjoyable process.
Where are you currently in terms of setting up the show?
We’re on our third full day of tech and we’re exactly where we should be in terms of hitting the daily goals we’ve set for ourselves. We have refined the daily process of the technical period. So specifically based on all the knowledge we’ve gained from the Broadway production and other international productions, we can easily pivot if we need to for any reason, but we can also achieve achievable goals and allow the spectacle of breathing in a new space and with a whole new group of human beings creating it. So there’s a template, so to speak, but it’s a template that’s very holistic in nature and allows the human element to thrive there as well.
What do you think are the most exciting and challenging aspects of managing such a huge production?
Well, the technical splendor of Red Mill! is so connected to the structure and dramaturgy of the show, its design and technicality is very easy to replicate every night, but the most challenging and exciting thing about this space and landscape is the humans who play there every night. So my job is especially exciting because of all the people who work there. The thing too, it’s also super exciting Red Mill! is Alex [Timbers] and the team designed it specifically so that there really is no separation between the room, the backstage or the show. So the moment the audience enters the Hirschfeld Theater, or any of the theaters where it performs, they are immediately enveloped in an experience and an experiential environment. So my work isn’t just about what’s going on, you know, upstage, so to speak, it’s the whole building. And when I say “my work”, I want to express a huge note of deep gratitude to the team that not only supports me personally, but supports the entire building. The work lasts all day, by the time we rehearse, put on the show and do the show in the evening, you know, we spend more time with each other than with our own families. And they approach this work with enthusiasm and energy and with compassion and care, every minute, every day.
After all this time and all these productions, are there still aspects of the job that intimidate you? Do you still have nerves or butterflies before a show?
Yes. Absolutely, one hundred percent, and I’d be nervous if there wasn’t. The physical act of calling Red Mill! appeals to all the senses, except maybe taste, because you have to be totally connected, with your eyes, your ears and your voice, you know? I actually don’t call the show much anymore, maybe once or twice a week at most, but when I stand in front of the stage manager’s desk and start I feel my heart racing. There is an incredible nervousness.
With such incredible experience under your belt, what do you consider to be your most difficult production so far, and what lessons have you learned from it?
Well, it’s not necessarily the hardest technically, but I was working on a piece called The Testament of Mary, it was a solo show starring the wonderful and amazing actress Fiona Shaw. There were about 300 beeps and as many light signals and the play was an hour and a half long so there was a lot to call out but very early in the dress rehearsal process she would come to me and we would spend like an hour and half after every dress rehearsal going through all those things. And very early on, she said to me, “You have to understand, Michael, that I’m acting with you. You’re acting with me. I’m the only person there when these signals happen, so you’re my partner.” action.” And this idea that we’re connected to energy on stage in terms of performance is something that I’ve always known, but it’s something that she really understood, and it became something that a Once I figured it out, it made the job all the more difficult, but also all the more exciting.
After so many years of steady work, how did you get over the shutdown? What was it like going back to the theater after so long?
Very early in my career, a wonderful and experienced general manager by the name of Peter Newfeld told me that if you were going to work on Broadway, you had to understand that you, of course, as a stage manager had to have a mind that had great attention to detail, but you also need to have a heart that understands that working in this craft, especially on Broadway, takes a lot out of the soul. It’s such a profound statement to me, and it was given to me as a gift, as a very young theater practitioner, and I carried it with me every day.
So when the quitting happened, I really felt like I had the chance to work steadily for, you know, 5, 6, 7 years really without a break. So the shutdown happened, I thought, “Oh, okay, let me enjoy this moment.” It took three weeks to restart. Then it was three months and it was six months and it was a year, then it was almost 18 months. During this time, I really understood that on a very deep level, this work is very demanding on the soul, but it is also a great balm for the soul. So I missed it a lot, a lot, a lot, and the commitment to eight shows a week and all that goes with it. I came to understand that my being is wired to be in this environment, perhaps because I have been in this environment for so long. So coming back there has been an incredible celebration of all the things I’ve been blessed to participate in and truly be a part of who I am. So it was quite a trip.
What advice would you give to a young person wishing to pursue a career as a manager?
That this job is much, much, much more than a signal call, it’s much more than preparing paperwork, it’s much more than any of those administrative tasks, which are incredibly important, but the most important thing that’s in my mind is that you’re able to really relate to the people you work with in the room on the most human level possible. Another piece of advice would be to say no to anything. If you are offered an experience as a stage manager at the start of your career, you never know what it will take you. Go on tour if you can. It’s an incredible way to quickly understand what you need to do in terms of management, not only in terms of technical skills, but also in terms of people skills.