City Theatre stages a hip-hop autobiography Where Did We Sit On The Bus from January 19 – February 24, 2019. This production caught my eye, but we went a slightly different direction with our artist Q&A. We went behind the scenes to the technical crew and had a chance to interview Taylor Meszaros, the Stage Manager of this production.
With pulsing rhythms and original rhymes set to a live, looped soundtrack, Brian Quijada stages a hip-hop autobiography about falling in love with performance, the power of family, and growing up Latinx in a world that categorizes everyone in black and white.
The Pittsburgh Current profiles the play’s themes and history with the title being a clear reference to the Civil Rights Movement, a history the playwright found unclear with regard to his own identity as Latinx and our nation’s unwillingness to really wrestle with issues of racial identity.
I was interested to talk with a woman in this important creative role, one that I did not know much about at all. When I began researching this technical role, I was impressed as I realized just how much the person does to bring us the production. A study by Actor’s Equity (2017) found that while women represent about 66% of the stage managers from 2013-2015, women are overwhelmingly underpaid for this critical artistic work. If we value women’s contributions to the arts, we must consider those behind the stage as well as the women playwrights and actors.
Your Name: Taylor K. Meszaros
Your Age: 30
Your Pronouns: She, Her
Your Affiliation with the production: Stage Manager
How do you describe your identity? I am a proud Pittsburgh transplant who’s fallen in love with this city! I’m a theatre artist who strives to collaborate and bring superb storytelling to the community. I’m also a white, cisgender woman who loves to travel and explore.
Please tell us about your very first impression of Pittsburgh: The very first time I visited Pittsburgh, my husband drove us through the Fort Pitt tunnel. When it opened up and revealed the view of the entire city, my eyes got wide and I gasped. Once we drove around the various neighborhoods and walked around the city, I knew it was a place where I could thrive and grow in my profession. The arts community has welcomed me with open arms, and for that I am incredibly grateful.
What Pittsburgh creators – writers, musicians, poets, etc – have influenced your work? Is there anyone with whom you’d like to collaborate? Joanna Obuzor has greatly influenced my work. She has been a mentor, friend, and colleague since I began working at City Theatre in 2011. The staff at City Theatre have truly been the most supportive work family I could ask for. They’ve all encouraged me to step into a leadership role and really make this my creative home. I’ve also enjoyed working with No Name Players and the Cultural Trust.
When I make professional goals for myself, I tend to reach for companies as a whole (as opposed to saying “I want to work with him/her/them”). My hope is to collaborate with Bricolage, Texture Ballet, and Pittsburgh Opera. Their work is very different from what I’m used to doing, and I value an opportunity to challenge myself.
Bus is truly a unique musical experience that needs to be seen. I’ve never seen a musician take on so many responsibilities in one performance, and Brian does it all with charm and extreme talent.
What does a Stage Manager do? The technical definition of a stage manager’s duty is “to preserve and maintain the integrity of the show from start to finish”- I learned that in my college Stage Management class. While I agree with that, I feel that it’s also my responsibility to help lead the artistic, tech, and management teams in presenting each show. It’s important to foster an atmosphere of professionalism, trust, and warmth. I take all these responsibilities seriously and try to achieve this with each production.
During rehearsals, tasks include organizing information, scheduling between departments, communicating across all departments, organizing rehearsals. Once tech week begins, duties include organizing scenery, props, and costumes backstage, maintaining the flow of the performance, updating charts and paperwork (for ease of running each performance), and creating the calling script. After tech week is complete and everything is set during preview week, we open the show. The stage management team continues upkeep of the costumes, props, scenery, and stage with the help of each technical department. Stage management also keeps track of events and communicates constantly with the actors and teams through reports and daily schedules. This continues until the closing performance.
Is the technical work associated with a stage production an art or a craft or both? Please explain. I feel that the work can be both. My college studies included a course in stage management and I learned much from my Technical Director, Armie Thompson. However, 80% of the knowledge I have now has been gained in my post-university career. It takes practice to hone communication skills, troubleshooting and problem solving skills, and people management. I feel the artistic moments tend to happen during tech week and the run of the show. Sometimes the light, sound, or projection cues require some finesse in calling, and it benefits me as a stage manager to approach these cues in the spirit of the performance. I try to intuit the director’s desire for how he/she/they want the play to feel, and this helps to inform those moments of artistic touch.
Can you give us an example of some of the unique challenges and needs of staging ‘Where Did We Sit on the Bus?’ One of the challenges for myself and the board ops is the time constraint. We didn’t have the opportunity to spend time on this play while it was in rehearsals. We began with tech week and had 4 days to learn the play. This particular play is very fast-paced and relies on the tech elements to make it shine. Both board ops and myself need to really focus and take all cues with precision to match the actor’s pace. We also need focus to make sure all technical equipment is functioning properly, and to have clarity of mind to troubleshoot in the moment if something goes awry.
How diverse are stage managers and technical crews in general in this region in terms of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, etc? I can only speak from my experience, but I’ve met several Pittsburgh technicians who identify as non-straight and/or non-cisgender. Racially, I can’t say that I know of many stage managers and technicians who identify as non-white. Pittsburgh, and the industry at large, could certainly benefit from more artists and technicians of color.
Are stage managers unionized? Yes- Stage managers are part of Actor’s Equity Association, the same union that protects stage actors. I am a proud member of AEA, but not all stage managers in the area are unionized.
What about your job gives you the most satisfaction? I tend to have two favorite aspects of stage management. The first is seeing a production through from start to finish. I love the process of making a play from first table read until closing day. Theatre evolves and is different each performance, and in that way it’s truly a living, breathing art. Every once in a while, a production comes along that just sticks with you. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience several of those shows at City Theatre.
The second favorite aspect is successfully calling difficult cues. I get a sense of small victory after I tackle a particularly challenging sequence, and I appreciate that it keeps my senses sharp.
What are your future aspirations within theater or beyond? What I know in my heart of hearts is that I’d like to be involved in theatre as long as I possibly can. Perhaps my career will move to a new city, or perhaps I’ll start making theatre in another capacity (i.e. not in stage management). I’m not sure of which aspects I’ll stick with or what it will look like, but the arts need to have space in my lifestyle. I cannot imagine doing anything else and gaining the same professional enjoyment.
Please tell us about the first LGBTQ person that you knew and what impact they had on your life. My first relationship with openly gay individuals came about from performing in musicals as a kid. The music director and the costumes designer were coupled at the time, and they worked with their friends to produce community theatre in the summer. They also volunteered to produce the musicals at my high school. I remember being introduced to Tom & Jon as gay individuals first and later as a couple, and I remember how small of an issue it was. Nobody openly cared (at least nobody seemed to), and their identities were presented to me as completely normal. I am grateful to have grown up around an LGBTQ community that was so accepting and fun!
Individually, both Tom and Jon instilled in me a great joy of theatre. Tom made us rehearse until we gave him a performance that made him shout and laugh and celebrate, and Jon took as much time as he felt necessary to perfect a costume or add gleeful details that made performers feel appreciated. When he saw his work onstage, he just beamed. They both taught me what it means to make your passions come to life.
What are some of the theatrical productions readers should be anticipating at City Theatre and beyond? I always look forward to the season as a whole at City Theatre, but this year I’m especially plugging Where Did We Sit On the Bus and We Are Among Us. At the risk of sounding biased, Bus is truly a unique musical experience that needs to be seen. I’ve never seen a musician take on so many responsibilities in one performance, and Brian does it all with charm and extreme talent. We Are Among Us is perhaps more hard-hitting, but the story is very meaty. I enjoy plays that really make me think and wrestle with the topics they present, and this show does just that. I worked on the reading of We Are Among Us earlier this season, and I’m looking forward to how it evolves once it’s onstage.
What else would you like my readers to know? Please consider supporting the arts! There are so many ways to show support; you can volunteer, donate, attend as a patron, etc. I would also encourage readers to give the arts a second chance. Many times I feel that people are influenced by art they disliked and write it off as something that doesn’t interest them. It may be that they simply didn’t like that one piece or performance, so I encourage people to come back to the arts and try another medium/genre/play/etc.
Thank you, Taylor.
Where Did We Sit On The Bus runs from January 19 – February 24 at City Theatre on Pittsburgh’s South Side. Tickets start at $15 with several Pick-Your-Price options starting at $5 as part of the venue’s radical hospitality commitment to make the arts accessible to everyone.