Brendan Fay is planted in front of a large console housing a bank of TV monitors and a panel of light switches. The monitors flash various images of an empty stage.
Fay dons his headset, checks his script and moves his hand toward the panel. An audience in the thousands is settled in their seats. The theater lights are dimmed. Fay checks in with everyone—the conductor, the sound person, the fly rail carpenter, the electrician, the actors. All are ready to go. Fay flips the cue lights that tell the conductor and sound person to stand by. He speaks into the microphone, “On the rail warning, fly one on red, two on blue.”
He eyes the switch that flips the cue lights off. By flipping it, the signal is sent for the music to start, the actors to come onstage and the show to begin. The weeks and hours of rehearsals, the stage construction, the money spent, the marketing and publicity—all come down to this moment. As stage manager, Fay’s performance could make or break the show.
And what a show it is. Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, is a Broadway jukebox musical that won numerous Tony awards, including one for best musical. The show was so popular that a touring company was sent to San Francisco. Going along as stage manager was Fay.
It was as if Fay had been preparing for the job all his life. A 2000 graduate with a degree in organizational communication and minors in English and performance studies, Fay was steered into stage management by Xavier’s theater director Cathy Springfield. From his first efforts with Taming of the Shrew, his talent for managing people and scripts was unmistakable. His Xavier productions included 42nd Street and Jesus Christ Superstar and led him to New York in 2001. Someone—he still doesn’t know who—got him the interview for Jersey Boys, and in March 2007, Fay sublet his Manhattan apartment and left for San Francisco.
After five months, the company moved to Chicago, where the performances are booked through summer. Fay says he’s no longer surprised that his degree in organizational communication prepared him well for theater. “Stage managing is all about communicating in every way from written to oral,” he says. “Unbeknownst to me I picked the right major.”
Fay’s hand hovers over the light switch for a second as he checks the monitors to make sure everyone’s ready—conductor, actors, props, lights, sound, stage crew. Satisfied, he flips the switch. The cue lights flash off. The music swells. It’s show time.