Closing Dialogue

By Hannah Wallace Photography by Phillippe Diederich May 1, 2010

Stage manager Marian Wallace, 65, retires this summer after calling cues and coordinating productions with the Asolo Repertory Theatre for more than 40 years—most of them alongside her actor husband, Brad. Their youngest daughter, our associate editor, Hannah, sat down with Marian to discuss a life spent behind the scenes.

Hannah: How did you begin your career with the Asolo?

Marian: We moved to Sarasota in ’67. I began stage managing in the summer of ’68. When Eb Thomas offered me the job it was a huge surprise—terrifying. Between your father and me, we’ve worked for the company for over 80 years and done over 300 shows.

Hannah: What does a stage manager do?

Marian: You coordinate all the elements of the production throughout rehearsals and performances. You call the light, sound and scene-shift cues and make sure all the technical elements happen when they’re supposed to.

Hannah: What was it like raising us with your job?

Marian: While you were small, I’d be fully immersed in my job; but when I came home, I could be fully immersed in being a parent. I was able to not think of the Asolo at that time. Now that you’ve all grown up, I find that it’s difficult for me to shut off work. Although I remember when you were very small—like one or two—you ran a fever for more than 24 hours, so I called the doctor, and he said, “I think you should bring her in.” And I said, “I can’t—I have a matinée!” Can you imagine—what did they think of me?

Hannah: Your hours were always weird.

Marian: They’re generally late morning into the evening. Your father and I would try not to do each other’s shows so that we wouldn’t have to pay the babysitters so much money.

Hannah: When I was in school, you often wouldn’t get home until after I was in bed. And you and Dad weren’t awake in the morning when I had to get up.

Marian: Well, I have to tell you something: You and I used to battle a little when you were in high school, and I thought it was better if I just let you get up and get out of the house.

Hannah: So you just stayed in bed? I had no idea. What was it like working with Dad?

Marian: If your father had been a problem, I would never have worked the shows that he was in. But he was always wonderful. We tried to keep a real business relationship when we were working. I have such joy in your father’s work. I remember the first time your sisters, Kathryn and Elizabeth, saw a show—it was The Tempest. Your father played one of the mechanicals, and Caliban was licking his bald head. I remember your sisters just going nuts.

Hannah: Are you disappointed none of your children went into the theater?

Marian: I think that was probably very smart. [Laughs.] You’re all artists, though. Why didn’t you go into the theater?

Hannah: I know exactly why: I wanted all the glory that I perceived you and Dad had. But I saw how hard you both worked, and I figured out that I wasn’t going to get that glory unless I worked hard. I realized I didn’t have a passion for the work; I had a passion for the attention. You know, a lot of my memories are of you two working in the old Asolo theater.

Marian: I loved the old theater. It had a warmth to it that is not quite present in the Mertz theater and is absolutely gone in the new Historic Asolo. They probably have a pretty good concert space there, but the Historic Asolo is more of an auditorium than a theater.

Hannah: Some of the best stories seem to come from missed entrances.

Marian: That’s tough as a stage manager—you’re calling the show, you’re following the script, and all of a sudden, someone isn’t there. The action just stops. That happened famously once in 1970, when Eb Thomas and your father were on stage in A Flea in Her Ear. They didn’t know what to do. Sharon Spelman and Barbara Redmond were in the show, too, and they thought they would save the day. They came on stage, and Eb ad-libbed to them, in his character’s Spanish accent, “Have you seen a man named Tournel?” And the women said in unison, “No,” and walked back off the stage.

Hannah: What were some of your favorite productions?

Marian: A Streetcar Named Desire (1976)—your father played Mitch and just broke my heart. Nicholas Nickleby (1996). I loved Equus (2008) very much. I was enormously proud of Imaginary Invalid (2009) because I thought that was a perfect blend of direction, acting, script, designing—every element was right where it needed to be: slightly over-the-top. I loved the last time we did Inherit the Wind (2002)—your father was just brilliant.

Hannah: What will you miss most?

Marian: I like actors; I’m going to miss actors. I’ll miss being able to sneak into the theater at any point to see a show. I will miss running technical rehearsals—those are fun for me, when you’re able to put your notes into action and move the play forward.

Hannah: Do you have any words of farewell to the Asolo?

Marian: Oh, I wish the theater a long and happy life and growth. “Entertain, engage, inspire,” those are pretty important words. I wish Michael [Edwards] wonderful success. I think he’s got great ideas and great passion. And as long as the passion is there, the theater will survive. A toast to the Asolo.

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