Birthday Thanks is a 31 day countdown blog challenge focusing on people who have influenced, shaped, affected and changed my life leading up to my birthday on August 13th. My birth was awesome but my ALMOST 28 years of living has been enhanced by the people I’ve met along the way.
In my first ever off Broadway show, my bio in the program credits Michael Stauffer with teaching me all that I know about theatre.
There are some things to note about this.
One, Michael was/ is my professor from college. He was also my guidance counselor, the man who showed me London, Paris & Berlin and he was the director of many shows that I’ve stage managed. I say he “was/is” my professor because even though my last class with him was circa 2005, he still assigns me readings, emails me shows and workshops I should attend and he still guides and advises me. He’s my friend but he’ll always be my professor.
Two, it should be noted that my path to stage managing an off broadway play with a two time Emmy winning director and eight time tony winning lighting designer is because of Michael’s push for personal excellence. My stage managing at my all time favorite theatre, Redmoon is because of Michael’s push for personal excellence. My stage managing a play in Mandarin, a golf event, dance show and countless other adventures in performance is because of Michael’s insistence on perfecting my craft and constantly striving for personal excellence. Yes, I put in the work. I’ve gained the experience through trail, error and sustained success but it’s also Michael who has played a profound affect in my career in the arts, especially theatre. This is why in EVERY bio, in every program of EVERY how that I stage manage, I always make sure to thank Michael Stauffer. I collect the programs and once day I’ll gift them to him.
Beneath his straight shot personality without the chaser, Michael is passionate, kind and simply wants his students to have that bright light moment when they realize the magic of a black box theatre.
What should also be noted from above is my comment on Michael teaching me “all” that I know of theatre. Another director saw that note and said that was giving Michael a lot of credit. The emphasis shouldn’t be on “all”, it should be on “know”.
You see, after three years of studying theatre in college, I spent time in London, Paris and Berlin studying theatre, taking classes, watching countless shows and discussing it all with a group of students and Michael. Up until that point I’d seen a hundred shows, maybe and I just knew that I knew what theatre was. In my head and with one more year till I got my degree, I was the expert. Silly me. Because after two or three theatre shows in London, I realized I didn’t know shit. What I knew of staging, lighting, writing, directing, set design, costumes, Shakespeare and such was nothing compared to the advances in theatre I saw in Europe. It’s been 8 years since that trip and I still haven’t seen the technology that I saw on the European stage here in the USA.
I remember seeing sets and shows and scripts and stage action and saying out loud, “You can’t do that. That’s not theatre. What!!! How did they do that? This is crazy! What!!!” I saw things I had never imagined. I couldn’t even begin to describe the Hamlet that the Berliner Ensemble did. Or LifeGame at the National Theatre. Their sense of timing and ability to tell a captivating story with improve that was magical and full of suspense and timely from the very small details of an average persons life…. I haven’t seen that quality ever. The physicality the actors embodied. The movement. My mind was blown open. There were no limits. Theatre could be anything. Theatre could be everywhere.
After realizing what I didn’t actually know, I knew one thing…. Whether it was with the technology of projections and lights or the profound words and staging of a script, theatre is powerful and transformative. Sure it can be entertaining but it is also sociological, political and controversial. Most of my major mental shifts and paradigms of thinking have been marked by specific encounters with various art forms, mainly theatre. I used to think homosexuals were unequal and wrong until I saw and read The Laramie Project and Angels & America. A play fixed that defunct attitude in my head. Not a sermon. Not a speech. Not a law. A play. And that’s just one example of many.
Therefore for Michael to have taught me “all” that I “know” of theatre, I mean that under his teachings, guidance, direction and advice, the one thing I know to be true of theatre is it’s quality of powerful transformation. All the other stuff… What makes a good show, what a stage manager should do or not, how one should direct, where the source4 lamp should be focused…… All those things change and evolve and are highly subjective. But theatre changed my life. It altered my mind. It set me free. It showed me spirit and self. And Michael was there at just about every pivotal moment encouraging me, challenging me and pushing me.
I’ve mentioned it before but once early on in my college career, I tried to quit one of Michael’s classes because it was too hard, I wasn’t getting it and I was fed up. Unfortunately since Michael was my adviser as well as my professor, I had to get his signature to drop his class. Michael wasn’t having it and he would not let me drop the class. He refused to sign the paperwork.
Michael, that made all the difference! I wouldn’t have gone to Europe to study theatre. I probably wouldn’t have stage managed in school or as a profession. I probably wouldn’t have written half the scripts I’ve done. I wouldn’t be the artist I am today if you had signed that drop slip.
Michael, thank you for telling me “no” to quitting. It opened up limitless possibilities for me. I am ever grateful for you. I love you. You’re my favorite. You have changed my life. I went to college to be a lawyer and I left speaking a Shakespeare sonnet. Thank you for that.