In the Autumn 23 season, our Young Promoter was Olivia, a student at Queen Elizabeth School in Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria. Olivia was able to attend shows and write reviews for Highlights, she conducted a number of interviews with Artists and Technical teams, to support her Arts Award project. Here, Olivia talks to the freelance Stage Manager Sara Cowman, for Theatre By The Lake’s touring show, Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan, performed by Andy Turner.
O: What’s your name and what do you do?
S: My name is Sara Cowman, and my role is a stage manager. Stage manager can mean so many things. On this tour it’s kind of a little bit of everything. From driving the van to putting the set up to going through the show so it’s as close to the original show in every new venue that we go to. I also op the show, so, you go through the different sound cues and make sure that they happen at the right times following the script. It’s called the book, and it’s where you’ve got the cues in with the script. Essentially, stage management has loads of different jobs within it. Our job is to work in the rehearsal room with the director, making the show. Then the director usually leaves at this stage of the show, and it’s stage management’s job to make sure the show is still the show that the director left it as.
O: What did you do to become a stage manager?
S: I did a theatre studies degree at university, and in the first year I just did loads of different modules. Then in the second year when you could choose your modules at university, I just found myself drawn towards the backstage stuff. So costumes, props, set, stage management, and that’s what I ended up doing in my third year. Still with a bit of acting and singing because I feel like everybody in the arts has a bit of a love for that some way or another. Then I left university and I didn’t do it for years, and I didn’t work in the arts for about four or five years because I wanted to travel. Then I just started working and doing festivals and small shows and, I worked my way up and ended up with a few really big contracts. Then now I do it full time. I’m self employed, so I jump from job to job. After this finishes, I go on to another contract doing ‘A Little Princess’, which is a Christmas show. Then, after that I don’t know what I’m doing, I’ve just do jobs as they come.
O: Do you ever have more than one job on at a time?
S: Never more than one theatre job, but I do have a few side hustles. For example I do singing gigs and stuff like that. I also go in between jobs if I end up with a few weeks between jobs. More often now I just chill out and don’t work, but I might go do a random normal job, not in the arts. The more you do, the more you find your year becomes full of jobs. It doesn’t start out like that though, for example I’ve sold ice cream in COVID. I think it’s one of the most interesting jobs that Isn’t on the stage. That might be because I do it though. You can do anything, like work with designers, with the directors, and maintain and look after the show. It’s just so creative, its so fun, and you’re part of the show without necessarily being on the stage.
O: If you could go back and tell yourself anything, what would you say?
S: I think it would be ‘don’t be afraid that there aren’t opportunities’. I don’t know if it’s like that anymore but, when I was going into college and university, my family and the people around me didn’t think that the arts was a career choice. They thought that I wouldn’t be able to make enough money, that I couldn’t create a lifestyle around it, but that’s just not true. I think I would go back and I would tell myself to not listen. When I left university that’s why I didn’t do it straight away. I had this idea that I couldn’t make any money doing it, so I just started doing loads of other jobs because I wanted to go travelling, but actually I could have done it. It is a career and there are lots of jobs out there, so if you care about it and you’re good, then the work is there. So, that’s what I would say ‘don’t listen, you can do it’.
Article by Olivia Hubbard 2023