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“I did one acting thing and realized I don’t want to act or be onstage anymore,” recalled production manager and stage manager Miguel Flores. His story didn’t end there, though: “I saw these people doing things backstage and got very curious about that.”
Flores had originally gotten into theatre as a musician, a woodwind player, and also sang in choir in high school, so the transition to musical theatre was a natural one. But while in school studying music at California State University in Los Angeles, his hometown, he had that realization about his true backstage calling—a moment of clarity that coincided with the school’s music department venturing into staging operas. With his background in music and theatre, Flores began stage managing the school’s opera productions.
While his career journey would go on to include a brief stint teaching music, Flores has spent the bulk of his career as a stage manager and production manager around the country. He has worked with Long Beach Opera, Indiana University Opera Theater, Memphis Opera, and North Shore Music Theatre, to name a few. Flores recently joined the company Revels in Cambridge, Mass., which combines music, dance, and storytelling to stage “celebrations of the winter solstice and other seasons” in 10 cities across the country.
Over the years, Flores developed a passion for contemporary opera, which he characterizes as “weird, ‘let’s experiment’ opera.” A few productions came to mind for Flores as examples: One was an IU production of A View from the Bridge, the opera adaptation of the Arthur Miller play that had its world premiere in Chicago in 1999, and another was Little Women, based on the Louisa May Alcott novel, with music by Mark Adamo, which had its world premiere in 1998 in Houston. Flores said that he enjoys the flexibility that working on a new opera allows, and the boundaries that can be pushed doing said work.
“It’s a mentality and it’s a muscle,” Flores said. “People who have been in the industry long tend not to flex anymore because they’re used to, ‘Well, I need my score, I need my script,’ instead of, ‘Well, let’s go with this concept and see where it takes us.’”
He also pointed to his time at Long Beach Opera, a place know for featuring work outside of the typical opera canon. One production he recalled was Ricky Ian Gordon’s Orpheus & Eurydice in 2008, which was staged at Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool in Long Beach. The production, he explained, featured dancers who were also swimmers, as well as opera singers performing on a boat in the pool.
The lead diva, he said, “sang with the dancers moving the boat along,” explained Flores. “Those are the things that I remember. That’s why I really like doing the more experimental, site-specific, and newer operas.”
This mindset accompanies Flores’s desire to see the theatre field continue pushing forward toward change rather than resting on what it has done before. Last October, Flores collaborated with R. Christopher Maxwell, John Meredith, Alexander Murphy, Quinn O’Connor, Phyllis Smith, and Chris Waters on an article for HowlRound, “Hold, Please,” which interrogated the ways in which white supremacist standards show up in stage management, from its frequent sense of urgency and perfectionism to practices around scheduling and power dynamics. Throughout the article, the theatremakers looked for and proposed areas within their area of the field where they saw the need and the opportunity for meaningful changes.
While there was general support for many of the points in the article, the article’s authors also faced some pushback and reluctance. Recently, USITT published a follow-up article in the Summer 2021 issue of Theatre Design & Technology, in which the authors continue to dig deeper into the issues in the field, and explore the ways stage managers can and should hold producers, organizations, and peers accountable for creating more equitable theatre spaces.
“There’s still a long way to go,” said Flores. “We’re trying to move this giant ship and trying to change the status quo, and that takes time. And there’s a lot of unlearning that needs to be done, not just in stage management, but in the entire theatrical industry.”
The biggest danger, he said, is the pervasive mentality of “the show must go on,” which puts emphasis on urgency and crowds out the space that anti-racism and anti-oppression work needs to breathe and grow and take root. Flores pointed to the recent case at L.A. Opera, which saw the set for its season opener, Il Trovatore, delayed and stuck on a ship due to COVID disrupting its shipping from Opera de Monte-Carlo in Monaco. As Jessica Gelt reported for the Los Angeles Times, the sets were unlikely to be received by the opera company in time for its Sept. 18 opening night. So the company plowed ahead, building a new set in 10 days. According to Gelt’s report, “The crew is expected to work 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily to get the job done.”
“They were praising the staff,” Flores said of the opera company. “Looking through the lens of what we’ve learned over the months, it’s like, well, is that really what we should be celebrating?”
Rather than embracing the mind-boggling timeline for a major set rebuild, Flores reasoned, why not utilize the lessons of pandemic flexibility and adjust the plans? Perhaps a concert version could have been staged, or the deadline moved. After all, what’s one more postponement these days, especially if it’s to make sure the first production is done right and in a way that is compassionate to the crew?
These mindset changes, Flores said, can only come when company values move away from the bottom line, and there’s buy-in from everyone in the company to actually institute change.
“You can do incremental stuff, but you’re going to run into roadblocks,” Flores said. “It has to be a company-wide thing. You have to look at your values. You have to look at your vision to make sure it’s lining up with not only the community’s vision, but also what is the best way to be human-centric instead of money-centric.”
Jerald Raymond Pierce (he/him) is associate editor of American Theatre. email@example.com
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