Theater is inextricably linked with food. Drinks before the show: where? Supper after? I know a place. Sometimes, the connection is less literal than figurative: this play is an amuse-bouche, that one a banquet at Shun Lee. Kyle Gates, the stage manager of Admissions, which has just closed after an acclaimed run at the Mitzi E. Newhouse (this past weekend it won the Outer Critics Circle Award for best new off-Broadway play), made a metaphoric comparison to Joshua Harmon’s drama. He said it resembles protein more than carbs.

Okay, so he didn’t use those exact terms. What he did tell me the other day: “Admissions has so many stimulating points of view that it’s more fun to wait at least an hour after seeing it to have a full discussion. A little digestion helps.”

I like to check in with stage managers at the end of the run not only to glean food metaphors but to hear lively stories – about the actor who was late to the theater one night because he helped a woman who’d fainted on the sidewalk, or about the time the performance had to be halted because a man lackadaisically walked onto the stage. Gates had few of these. “Working on Admissions, he admitted, “ has been a very positive experience. Not a lot of unexpected situations came up. The cast are all tremendous professionals, which made my life as a stage manager much easier. The most I can say is that one night a box of tissues got knocked into the audience, and an audience member handed it back. Jessica Hecht” – who portrayed the character Sherri Rosen-Mason – “acknowledged the audience member’s help.”

As Gates and I didn’t have many war stories to chew over, we ended up noshing instead on what exactly a stage manager does. “If we are doing our jobs well we essentially disappear,” he explained – the theatrical equivalent of how Flaubert defined the author in his work: “Like God in the Universe: present everywhere and visible nowhere.” 

Gates, who grew up in a Houston suburb and earned his bachelor’s at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, wanted to clear up a misconception about stage managers. “We are not solely responsible for the show starting on time. I work in conjunction with the house manager and with my assistant backstage. If it’s raining, we may wait a minute or two longer to allow time for people to arrive. Sometimes, an actor backstage may need an extra moment before being ready to go on. There are a lot of variables.”

Any other off-kilter notions? “Most of the audience,” Gates joked, “doesn’t have a conception of what a stage manager does let alone a misconception.”

Gates has stage-managed several acclaimed productions off- and on-Broadway, including the Playwrights Horizons production of Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park, to which he likened Admissions. Gates said, “A lot of the conversations that came up there were also about white privilege, and about the good intentions of liberal white people, and their ignorance and hypocrisy.” But Harmon and Norris are not completely alike in their approaches. “Bruce is more of a provocateur,” Gates said. “Josh gets at things with a different kind of reflection.”

According to Gates, that approach has done its work beautifully. “Admissions has really forced people to think about many of the things they take for granted. It’s been a pleasure to be a part of that.”

 

Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com