Stage Managers have some of the most important jobs in opera. Unlike other types of performing arts, such as musical theater, stage managers in the opera cue almost everything — from paging artists to the stage, to entrances, to sound cues and special effects, stage managers pretty much run the show. It’s an enormous responsibility, one that Chelsea Antrim, Production Stage Manager at LA Opera, feels prepared for every performance.
“It’s all the art forms in one, at its grandest and best quality,” Antrim said. “You have the best orchestras, the best singers, the most beautiful costumes and scenery … The culmination and collaboration between all of the arts is beautiful.”
As much as she admires it, Antrim, however, never thought she’d end up in a career at the opera, let alone in stage management. The San Diego native originally had her sights set on a musical theater career as a young student. However, she began stage managing her high school’s productions in her sophomore year and eventually grew to love the craft. After continuing her studies at San Francisco State University, where she majored in Technical Theater with an emphasis in stage management, her adviser asked if she had any interest in opera.
“At that point, I had never seen an opera. I didn’t know anything about it,” Antrim said. “[My adviser] set up an opportunity for me to shadow the stage manager at San Francisco Opera, and I just fell in love with it.”
Upon catching the opera bug, she enrolled in foreign language classes, starting with Italian. In the midst of her undergraduate studies, Antrim spent a year abroad in Florence studying Italian language and literature, while also broadening her knowledge of opera.
Her time in Florence coincided with her first trip to Santa Fe, when she accepted an internship with Santa Fe Opera. The opportunity arose after her adviser asked if she was able to attend a stage manager’s workshop through Opera America. On the brink of graduation and in need of a job, Antrim made the trip from Italy to Santa Fe for a weekend in order to build connections and network with those in the opera industry. Since her first internship opportunity there, she’s returned there every summer for the last 14 years.
In between her first time at Santa Fe Opera and her tenure at LA Opera, Antrim has called shows at Boston Lyric Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and again at San Francisco Opera. Antrim said that although she was ready and willing to accept the challenge of this budding career, she was once nervous about her music reading abilities. Though she had some musical experience as a young child, she never took any formal music classes in college. She eventually proved to make it work through hard work and experience.
“Early in my career, I was an assistant manager for a production of [Wagner’s] Das Rheingold at San Francisco Opera, and the stage manager came into my office and said she was really struggling with the overture because she had so many cues to call,” Antrim continued. “The overture is pretty repetitive, and it’s easy to lose your spot. She told me to make sure I knew it really well, because it was my job to keep her on track if she lost her place. So that was the real test if I could read music or not, and it ended up helping me so much in the long run.”
Antrim also noted the major differences between stage managing operas and theater performances. She said the most significant difference, other than the art itself, is calling an artist to the stage.
“In opera, the stage management staff cues the artist. We page them to the stage, call their entrances … we do much more running of the backstage area, whereas in theater or musical theater, it is the performers job to know where they are in the show and to get where they need to be. There is more onus on the performer in theater.”
Though Antrim has spent most of her career traveling for the arts, she’s settled in LA for the last year. She is contracted for each show she calls at LA Opera, typically four shows per season. As a separate contract, she oversees the remainder of the shows, with dates that are dependent upon her time in Santa Fe. This can get challenging as LA Opera’s season ends and Santa Fe’s season begins, and she’s required to travel back and forth for some time. This year is no exception.
“I have nine flights booked for three weeks,” Antrim laughs. “But as of right now I’m only down to two cities, as opposed to three or more, which used to be typical.”
At this point, Antrim is seasoned in her craft as a stage manager. But that doesn’t mean the job ever gets boring, especially while working on a show she loves. She had to opportunity to work on Mark Lamos’ production of Rigoletto over ten years ago in Miami as an Assistant Stage Manager and enjoys being able to work on it once more.
“This production has been all over the place, and I am a big fan of it,” Antrim continued. “I think it’s really beautiful — even with its simplicity and modern style, I feel that’s why it has been popular for so many years.
As Antrim now splits her time between Los Angeles and Santa Fe, she feels content calling both of these places home. She has her daily routines and pastimes in each city, and cherishes both for their respective qualities.
But her favorite part about living in LA? Being able to walk to work.
“I live just down the street, so I’m able to walk to work everyday,” Antrim says with a smile. “The weather here is just beautiful.”LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.