Backstage Stories

By Sabrina Agostini-Nolan

Did you know that if you are wearing a headset, and holding a binder the world truly believes you have all the answers? Try it if you don’t believe me.

As an assistant stage manager at live events, we wear a headset to communicate with the event producer and tech team during rehearsals and the event. We carry a binder filled with all of the event’s critical details like show flow’s and scripts.

Our job is to help manage the stage. We assist with rehearsals, help to get speakers comfortable on the microphone. We make sure all the right items are on stage like awards, seats, podiums, and scripts. We interface with catering to make sure they are running on time so that we know whether the event can begin on time.

During the event our number one goal is to make sure the program runs smoothly, making sure all speakers, presenters, award recipients, and entertainers get to the stage when they should. Sometimes we’re a safety net – back-up help in case of an emergency like a microphone change or running up a missing award. We are there and ready for whatever might come our way. 

We get asked a lot where the bathrooms are, what time the program begins, what’s for dinner, and where people’s tables are. And we’re happy to answer all of those questions and if we don’t know the answer, we’ll quickly find it.

Sometimes our list of duties grows with tasks we’d never thought we’d be doing. For example, another assistant stage manager, Ginny, and I were working what felt like our 800th commencement ceremony of the season. We’d been asked where the bathroom was 7,000 times already that day, but it was much different when a graduate named Michael came up to us to ask that exact question.

Michael was shaking so badly we couldn’t believe he could still walk, he looked like he had just seen a ghost! My colleague and I knew something wasn’t right and we were not sending him to the bathroom alone. So, we directed him to the bathroom, which happened to be located next to the EMT station.

We alerted a male EMT that Michael wasn’t looking too good and that he was in the bathroom alone. That EMT stood guard with us and checked in on him a few times. Turns out, Michael was panicking. He was freaking out over the thousands of people packed in the arena. He couldn’t find his family in the audience and was super nervous to have to walk across the stage to get his diploma. He wanted to leave!

Once Michael came out of the restroom and we got him a juice and a water we knew we had to talk him into staying. He had worked so hard to earn his degree, he needed to be celebrated. We made a deal, I would sit with him, hold his hand, and help him find his family. Yes…the man wanted me to hold his hand! And yes…I held it! We were getting him through this celebration, no matter what!

Sitting together, I had him text his wife and family to find out where they were sitting. They sent us photos of where they were. So, while the student speaker delivered words of encouragement to the class of 2023, Michael and I played detective…trying to locate his family. We did! They waved to us, and finally Michael could breathe normally again.