Behind the scenes of every theatre production there is a stage manager who ensures all the moving parts of the production run smoothly. From running rehearsals to communicating technical needs, stage managers, like Katie McArthur, work out the kinks of a production before and during its big debut.
Graduating this spring with a BFA in Stage Management, McArthur never imagined this would be the pathway she would take when she first came to Michigan State University.
“I’m a theatre kid at heart. I grew up doing theatre in middle school and high school, and I was always a performer,” McArthur said. “I did about a year and a half of acting classes [at MSU], and I wasn’t sure about it, so I took an Intro to Stage Management class and loved it. I didn’t want to give up theatre and working with all these creative folks, and stage management worked with my personality and the things I liked to do.”
Integral in her decision to pursue a Stage Management degree was Tina Newhauser, Academic Specialist in the Department of Theatre, who first launched the Stage Management degree program in 2017. Newhauser’s mentorship of McArthur also helped her connect with a stage management opportunity in New York City. McArthur served as the Assistant Stage Manager for The Little Match Girl at Riverside Church in New York City this past April, working under Newhauser, who was the Stage Manager for the production.
“I didn’t want to give up theatre and working with all these creative folks, and stage management worked with my personality and the things I liked to do.”
A fairytale by author Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Match Girl tells the story of a young, dying girl on the streets of Denmark selling matches to make money for her family. As she runs out of matches to keep herself warm, she experiences hallucinations of the different lives she could have had. The production at Riverside Church turned this story into an hour-long musical using these hallucinatory scenes as creative fuel for numbers that included tap dancing turkeys and a singing chef, for example.
The production starred Angelina Gui as the Little Match Girl with Broadway’s Madeleine Doherty (original cast of The Producers, A Christmas Carol, and Sister Act) and Kevin Kern (Finding Neverland, The Bridges of Madison County, Wicked, Les Misérables), among others.
For five days leading up to the production, McArthur was in New York City where each day included a fast-paced, eight-hour rehearsal. The Little Match Girl was not fully staged or memorized because it was still in the workshopping phase, which allowed McArthur to get hands-on experience testing audience reactions, reworking the script, delivering script changes to cast members, and tracking props, costumes, and set pieces.
“Having this opportunity while I was still an undergrad was crazy,” McArthur said. “I got home and thought to myself, ‘did I really just do that?’ The best thing about this experience was just working with a great group of talented professionals. All of these folks who were working on the show were Broadway-level performers and creatives and their level of professionalism was great to learn from.”
“All of these folks who were working on the show were Broadway-level performers and creatives and their level of professionalism was great to learn from.”
McArthur first got involved with The Little Match Girl production in November 2021 as a Script Editor for Director Greg Ganakas, who is from East Lansing, Michigan, and served as Guest Director of MSU’s Department of Theatre’s production of Babes in Arms in 2008. Ganakas now resides in New York City where he works as an award-winning director and choreographer on Broadway, Off Broadway, for national tours, international productions, television, and corporate entertainment packages. Since they worked so well together, Ganakas and McArthur ended up doing preproduction work before starting the rehearsal process in April.
“I was able to recognize how much work goes into creating a production in this early phase,” McArthur said. “Working on this production has put everything into perspective, like how much time and energy and passion goes into creating works like this. Standing there for the performance, I knew all of the months of work paid off.”
Although two years of her undergraduate experience were virtual, McArthur still made the most of her time at MSU and explored her passions to the fullest degree.
Right before her work on The Little Match Girl, she was stage managing MSU’s Department of Theatre’s production of Head Over Heels, a musical comedy set to the music of the iconic 1980s all-female rock band The Go-Go’s.
“Head Over Heels was so fun. It was the first big musical production we did, fully staged, fully designed, after COVID,” McArthur said. “It was a hardworking environment to be a part of because everyone came into it giving their full dedication. It was a really big show — it had like 20 dance numbers. I’m so thankful for it, and I learned a lot from it because it was my first big production to manage at MSU.”
McArthur also worked as an intern for the Institute for Arts and Creativity at the Wharton Center and is a member of MSU’s Sense-Ability Ensemble. Through her work with the Sense-Ability Ensemble, she discovered an entirely new angle to theatre — working with children who are neurodiverse.
“The theatre industry can be scary, but I feel like there is work for management people and MSU has trained me well and prepared me to go out and see what the industry has to offer.”
“These kids love seeing theatre and doing theatre, and it’s really special to be the person who helps them experience that,” McArthur said. “Theatre can be this grind industry and being able to do children’s theatre reminds me of the joy of theatre and why I do what I do — because it’s fun.”
McArthur has been with Sense-Ability Ensemble since 2018 and currently is working on the organization’s third show, What If Wilhelmina, which is based on the children’s book by Joseph Belisle and adapted by Department of Theatre Academic Specialist Dionne O’Dell. All of the shows by the Ensemble are highly interactive and sensory-friendly, allowing the actors to work directly with audience members. What If Wilhemina, in particular, uses puppets to bring an interactive element to audiences.
“I would love to continue doing theatre work for people who are neurodiverse,” McArthur said. “It teaches you to always be empathetic and remember that every person in the room is going to work differently and respond to things differently. Being able to think on the fly and adapt to what these kids need is something I translate to any aspect of my work.”
Now that McArthur has graduated, she is spending the summer in Peterborough, New Hampshire, with the Peterborough Players, where she will be the Company Manager for their summer season. After that, she plans to move to New York City to launch her career.
“I’ve had a great career here, MSU has treated me well,” she said. “I’m feeling prepared and excited to go and work. The theatre industry can be scary, but I feel like there is work for management people and MSU has trained me well and prepared me to go out and see what the industry has to offer.”