One-Day Apprentice: Morgan Holmes ’11

By John Noltner

“You have to be the eye of the hurricane,” says Morgan Holmes ’11, referring to her work as a stage manager. “When I was younger, I thought about becoming a psychologist. There’s definitely some psychology in stage managing.”

An English major at Carleton, Holmes also had a strong interest in drama. She studied Shakespeare and completed an off-campus studies program in theater. She spent a summer working with Cornerstone Theater Company in Los Angeles, interned at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, and has worked backstage at the Mixed Blood Theatre and Pillsbury House Theatre in Minneapolis, and at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse in Bemidji, Minnesota.

She is working currently as stage manager for theater productions at Benilde–St. Margaret’s prep school in Minneapolis. “The students make bold choices and have great ideas,” she says. “I feed off their positive energy, even when I’m working at professional theaters.”

A stage manager wears many hats. At Benilde, Holmes runs rehearsals, tracks stage blocking, coordinates communication among staff members, designs props, and manages student crew members, along with myriad other duties. “The job can be emotional,” she says. “I often have to help sort out conflicts and make sure everyone is communicating effectively with one another.”

It also can be stressful, especially as a production nears opening night, when all the loose ends need to be tied up and something unexpected always unravels. “Sometimes I love that rush,” she says, “and sometimes it feels impossible.”

8:55 a.m.

8:55 a.m.8:55 a.m. Photo: John Noltner
Holmes walks along Selby Avenue in St. Paul to her day job as communications manager for the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company. “It’s common for people who work in theater to have a day job,” she says. “I’m glad mine is at a theater company. I see the administrative and business side of running a theater.”

9:23 a.m.

9:23 a.m.9:23 a.m. Photo: John Noltner
Holmes meets with Barbara Brooks, producing artistic director at MJTC, to discuss community engagement and education programs that support their productions.

3:42 p.m.

3:42 p.m.3:42 p.m. Photo: John Noltner
Now at an after-school rehearsal of The Drowsy Chaperone, Holmes puts the finishing touches on some props: a dessert cart and a straitjacket. “Prepping props at Benilde is a twofold process. I have to think about what will work for the show, but I also have to consider how to give ownership to the kids. The weirdest prop I ever made was a dead rat for a production of Annie, but it was easier than you’d think.”

4:19 p.m.

4:19 p.m.4:19 p.m. Photo: John Noltner
Holmes attends every rehearsal and gives feedback to the tech staff, focusing on process and learning. “I say, ‘Why isn’t this working? What should we do to fix it?’ rather than, ‘I think you should…’ because then it’s a teaching moment. They might have an idea I hadn’t considered and I haven’t shut them down.”

5:24 p.m.

5:24 p.m.5:24 p.m. Photo: John Noltner
During a run-through at dress rehearsal, Holmes is con ned to the production booth and uses the “God mic” to communicate with actors and crew members through the PA system. “No student uses it without my permission,” she says.

6:03 p.m.

6:03 p.m.6:03 p.m. Photo: John Noltner
“This year was emotional for me because most of my tech team were seniors who started working in the department the same year I did. I’ve done eight shows with some of these kids. I cultivate a culture that empowers and celebrates tech students, rather than letting them fade into the background.”

6:18 p.m.

6:18 p.m.6:18 p.m. Photo: John Noltner
“When I first started working at Benilde, I was pushing through a difficult time. The Twin Cities theater community felt too small and the egos felt too big. At Benilde, I had an opportunity to teach theater etiquette and values to my students and it made me reflect on what I enjoy about theater. The students are hardworking and fearless. We create a space where students can try things and make mistakes. They don’t have an ego yet. They’re still willing to go for it.”

6:48 p.m.

6:48 p.m.6:48 p.m. Photo: John Noltner
“My director leads a preshow ritual on opening night of every show. Everyone holds hands and says, ‘I will hold you up.’ Whether you are ensemble, lead, backstage, or in the booth, we work together and look out for each other. It helps us focus and remember that what each of us does affects everyone. It’s a good metaphor for life.”

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