Interview by Laura Ng
With a decade of experience in theatre work, a degree in scenic design and membership in an organization of gamers, AEA stage manager Tanya Telson is an unabashed proponent for her craft and others hooked on the rush of rallying their wits to ensure that the show goes on.
|TBA featured member Tanya Telson.
Tell us about your career path—how did you choose to go into stage management?
There was a program at my local community college called the Young Actor’s Workshop. A friend of mine wanted me to audition, and when I did not get into the program, that same friend encouraged me to sign up for their theatre tech program. I had just turned 13 and had nothing to do that summer, so it seemed like a good idea. From that program, I was exposed to the range of work it takes to put on a show from backstage and decided to strive for a career in theatre.
What did joining AEA change for you?
Joining AEA was a specific goal I had, and I was thrilled to achieve it. I am a firm believer that my work has merit both artistically and as support for a production. Calling myself a professional is something I don’t take lightly, as it has a great amount of responsibility and expectation. When a show runs smoothly, I know my work has paid off.
Favorite project/production that you’ve been part of?
It is common superstition in theatre to claim that the “Scottish Play” (Macbeth) is cursed. It was one of the first shows I stage managed, as a teenager stage earning college credit. The theatre department had upgraded their lighting console system just before the performances started—and the night before our closing matinee, something went wrong, and the dimmer system was not operational. Rather than cancel the show, the director decided that we were going to use the college’s outdoor amphitheatre and do our final performance outside. I went from calling light and sound cues to learning foley—creating live sound effects from teacups, bells, sword fragments and wooden dowels. I had one chance to get the cues right, and rose to the occasion. That experience is what I look back to when people say, “the show must go on.” That urgency—to give a performance despite the obstacles—is what makes theatre endure and is a memory I have kept as a life lesson.
Favorite activities outside of theatre?
I am part of an organization of Live Action Roleplay (LARP) gamers. This type of gaming is actually a close cousin of theatre, in the way it encourages dress-up (costuming), creating characters (acting) and integrating those characters into a story through scenarios crafted by a “storyteller” (improv). I also like to provide atmospheric items (props and scenery) to give people a sense of location. This activity has helped me understand the importance of designated spaces to express and create characters organically. Gaming has made me aware of how important the comfort and safety of rehearsal spaces are to the artistic process of an actor.
What do you like about Bay Area theatre and being a TBA member?
I grew up in the Bay Area; this is the place that gave me the concept that stage managers are theatre artists. There is a sense of “can-do” with the community here that is not always about going above and beyond the call of duty, but asking for what you need and figuring out creative ways to get it. I initially joined TBA because it had the most comprehensive and relevant job postings for stage management. When I started reading the articles, I found it to be informative about local shows and people I have worked with, or hope to work with in the future.
Anything coming up soon that you’re excited about?
Recently, 3Girls Theatre Company has taken me on as its resident stage manager. Not only does this give me the opportunity to stage-manage new works, it has increased my interest in reaching out to other stage managers and aspiring stage managers in the area. Since 3GT is a relatively new company, I am trying to foster relationships with educational programs that include stage management in their curriculums. My goal is to create a place in which we can train up-and-coming stage managers by having them work with the AEA stage managers involved in their shows. Giving people the chance to learn on their feet is something I believe is useful.
I also have been applying to grad school because I have skills that need some brushing up. It is a little intimidating admitting that, in my mid-30s, I still have much to learn about my craft. My undergraduate degree is in scenic design, so going back to specialize in stage management will give me additional perspective, especially since I have been working in the Bay Area for the past 10 years. I would like to take my experience and learn how to mold it for future productions—both locally and in other places. I am interested in touring productions; I would like to stay with a show for a long run and see how different spaces frame the shows.
Theatre Bay Area members: Creative. Committed. Community.