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My First Real Job at First World Theatre Ensemble

Rae Bradley talks about what she's learned working for this Philadelphia-based company.

Me in the CEC's booth for tech
(© Rae Bradley)
Thanks to an extremely fortunate email on Temple University's ListServ, I was hired as the assistant stage manager for First World Theatre Ensemble's 2012 – 2013 season, and it has been such a pleasure. For being my first professional theater job with a real company (contract and all), I could not have asked for a better experience—and that goes for the good and the bad. I have gained so much knowledge in these last couple of months that has improved my stage managerial skills and, honestly, humbled me as a theater worker.

Since I have been at Temple, I never realized how (for lack of a better word) spoiled we were, by way of equipment and technology. I had this epiphany when I started working in the booth at the Community Education Center, where FWTE is the resident theater company. I had become accustomed to using programmable light boards, QLab, hundreds of lights, safe and (fairly) clean working environments… My first professional job and I was working with a light and sound board that were both completely manual, with less than 40 lights and a lonely CD player. Lights, cables, and equipment in disarray—always a terrifying moment when walking around a blue-lit booth.

This environment, however, taught me to appreciate what you have and how you can work with it, and trained me in more hands-on experience than I could have ever expected. Nimble dexterity? A smooth, steady, "leaf on the wind" hand? Super multi-tasking? Oh, yes, I have improved in all-of-the-above, and then some. In turn, I have come to enjoy working low-budget and manual—it's a challenge that keeps me busy and on my toes. However… I will never take a programmable board for granted ever again.

Admittedly, I have always felt a little unsure about my stage management abilities. I was kind of thrown into it with little training and little knowledge of what had to be done, and have slowly been gaining experience here and there via trial and error—but I've been managing! I walked into FWTE expecting a board operator position and walked out a full-season assistant stage manager, thanks to the blind faith of a wonderful artistic director. Since then, I feel more comfortable in my ASM shoes—maybe even enough to work more full-on stage management opportunities. I am much more confident than I was two months ago and am enjoying my time backstage. I owe a lot of that to the great people I have been working with.

It has been a rocky process, but we have made it through to closing weekend of the first show of our season. You're not going to get along with everyone, but you try your best. Sometimes things get better—and sometimes they do not. You learn to live and let go. In the end, the production is your priority. It is your baby—you love it, even when it wakes you up (or keeps you up) at 6AM crying for you to nourish it.

My time at FWTE has truly made me realize my passion for this amazing art that we all treasure: theater. It's not just about the fun anymore. It's the experience—the stories we share, the gasps from the audience, the people I meet. I have met some insanely talented and exciting people working on this production, and have made some great friends. None of which would have been possible if I had not taken the chance to send out a silly, little email, unsure that I would even get the job. It may be closing weekend for Don't Sing No Blues for Me, but it's the beginning of the long journey I have ahead of me.