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How Nate Stanger Nurtures Amy’s View

With the closing of The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence, Park Square is eagerly anticipating the opening of Amy’s View! Of course we all know that the show begins  much earlier than the May 12th opening, with rehearsals already under way. This period is often the most rewarding for any talent involved with a play. It is the time where cast and crew can let forth their creativity and where, perhaps, the true art occurs. Naturally, this process can quickly turn into a intangible conglomeration of ideas and impulses so it’s vital to have strong hands at the wheel to shape, form and nurture- typically your director and stage manager.The stage manager of Amy’s View, Nate Stanger, believes in this vitality and approaches his job (and own craft) with his own unique perspective. He was gracious enough to share this views with me and reveal that every good stage manager is really just a whiskey-drinking muggle. Who knew?

Nate Stanger, left with Director Gary Gisselman in the Proscenium Rehearsal Hall. Photo by Connie Shaver.

A long time ago… What is the origin story of Nate Stanger? 
I grew up in Bloomington, Indiana doing theatre in high school and at the community theaters and like most people, I started in theatre as an actor. I decided I wanted to go to school for theatre to become an actor, so I looked for theatre programs that would allow me to move to a city and study a broad range of topics. I ended up getting accepted into the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and started school in Minneapolis in 2009. During those first years I met professional actors and I saw the resilience and determination it took to pursue that life; while I enjoyed acting a lot, it didn’t drive me in the way I thought it needed to in order to have a career.
Around that same time I was taking a stage management class. I had registered for the class on a whim and I quickly realized that stage management would be a good fit for me as I had found a way to utilize all of my skills and interests in theatre. Stage management still allowed me to be in rehearsal like I had as an actor but it opened up a whole other world of technical theatre and production. So I ended up picking up stage management jobs slowly and began to build my resume.
My journey to Park Square was a simple example of right place, right time. The first time I ever worked for Park Square, I was asked to come in and take line notes for a show (this is where you follow along in the script and take notes on any missed or paraphrased lines). After taking line notes for about a week, I got an email from Megan West, the Production Manager at the time. She was going on maternity leave and was looking for a replacement while she was gone. I eagerly accepted the offer and began to work in the office at Park Square.
This was the season right before the Andy Boss Thrust Stage was completed, so the offices were extremely busy prepping for the new stage and the larger season. There was an exiting energy in the building as we all looked ahead to the completion of the second stage. Naturally, because of the addition, there was a lot more work around the office. Right place, right time. While covering Megan’s maternity leave I ended up getting hired in the education department as well to help organize the education season, which was almost twice the size of previous seasons. After a few more weeks, I was eventually hired in the accounting department as an accounting assistant where I helped process payroll and did a lot of bookkeeping. As if that wasn’t enough, I was hired as the assistant stage manager on the first production of Romeo and Juliet! For about a year and half, I stretched myself across just about every department at Park Square. I grew from a wide-eyed, recent college grad desperate for experience to a integral part of a professional theatre company. There’s no doubt in my mind that had the people of Park Square not believed in me and given me those opportunities I would not have had the success I have had.

Integral sounds about right! How do approach all that work, specifically as a stage manager? 

I always say I became a stage manager because I was too nosey and I wanted to know what all of the departments were doing. Stage management not only allowed me to see into those worlds but it gave me a way to help support that artistic process. A mentor of mine, Jenny Friend at the Children’s Theatre, once told me that it’s our job as stage managers to nurture the production. I often think about that word “nurture” when I’m in rehearsal. As stage managers, we are there to help hold these artists up in any way we can. Whether that be making schedules so people know where to be, or sending rehearsal notes to the production team to facilitate problem solving; it’s always my goal to help the director, actors and design team to achieve their visions.
The way in which we nurture the show the most is actually after the show has opened. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the director typically leaves the production after opening night. At that point, the stage manager is responsible for maintaining the artistic vision of the director and designers while still allowing room for the actors to grow and breath as they discover new things over the run. The stage manager is the only person besides the actors who is there from first rehearsal to the final curtain call so it’s only fitting that this person help guide the show through the last leg of the process.
A relationship has to form between the actors and the stage manager. There has to be tremendous trust and respect for each other because, while the audience may not see the stage manager, he or she is just as much a part of each performance as the performers onstage. Just in the way the actors trust each other onstage, the actors and stage managers must trust each other on and off stage. That aspect of being able to help a show grow and develop is a huge draw of the profession for me.

With a philosophy like that, you must be in pretty high demand. What other work do you do? 

I have been fortunate to never have to have a non-theatre job (or as theatre people lovingly call them: a muggle job). Right after graduating, I worked as a free-lance carpenter and electrician during the day and then took stage management work at night. So, I would build a set or hang lights at one theatre in the morning and then head to a different theatre for rehearsals in the evening. It was thrilling for a while; bopping all over the cities, meeting lots of people and making new friends. Every day was something new. Then I started working at Park Square where I stayed for about a year and a half. I ended up leaving Park Square to pursue a full-time stage management career. I have been very fortunate that since leaving Park Square in 2015, I have had regular work between several theatres in the cities including the Guthrie, the Children’s Theatre Company and the Ordway. I just joined the union of stage managers and actors (Actors Equity) this past fall and I couldn’t be more proud.

With all that work, tell me you have a way to live a more “muggle” life.

My biggest hobby when I’m not working is playing the piano. I finally bought a tall upright piano a few years ago and now I can’t imagine how I lived without it. Before I would play on just about every piano in any rehearsal room I could find. It’s a great way for me to decompress after a long day. I find the first thing I do when I get home from rehearsal is pour a glass of whiskey and station myself at the piano for an hour. It helps keep me sane.

Nate Stanger, ladies and gentlemen. A classy dude who knows the value of hard work and being able to unwind. You can bet that the team of Amy’s View is happy to have him! For the rest of us, we can bet on that sense of stewardship to reflect in the show itself. Amy’s View runs May 12 through June 4 on the Proscenium Stage at Park Square Theatre.

Park Square: It’s a Family Affair

If you have been to Park Square Theatre then you have probably met or seen our indefatigable House Manager, Jiffy Kunik, who runs a tight ship while being just the darn coolest.  I’m here now to let you know where she gets all that pluck, grit and charm – her father, John Kunik.

Kunik is currently an understudy in The Diary of Anne Frank, serving as back up for the roles of Mr. Van Daan and Mr. Dussel. He hasn’t had to go on yet, but you can bet he’s ready at a moment’s notice thanks to a lifetime in the theatre. This isn’t his first gig at Park Square but you would have to go back in time a bit to discover his previous credits…

… It was 1975 and America was preparing to celebrate the bicentennial while trying to figure out just where it was going. While the nation was coping with the end of war, Watergate and a crippling gas shortage, Saint Paul was ushering in the beginning of a new theatre called Park Square. This is where John Kunik got his start in Twin Cities theatre, working with founder Paul Mathey. They collaborated on shows such as The Roar of the Greasepaint—the Smell of the Crowd (1978), A Delicate Balance (1979) and even Kunik’s original one-act play When You Get in Trouble, Call Time Out, based on two characters who appear in Young Bucks, a full-length play he wrote in graduate school.

Young Bucks was the SIU-Carbondale entry into the American College Theatre Festival and was produced professionally in Chicago and Off-Off Broadway. A favorite memory of his in recounting the old days when the theatre  was in the Park Square Court Building across the street from Mears Park, was when a deer jumped through the window of the ground-level bar, completely destroying the glass. It was a Dixieland Bar and patrons had to wait two weeks for it to be repaired!

Photo by Stephanie K. Kunik

The father-daughter duo of John Kunik and Jiffy Kunik. Photo by Stephanie K. Kunik

Not only is Kunik a veteran of the stage, but a Viet Nam era vet as well. Right before he was set to begin graduate school, he was drafted and following basic training was sent to Seattle to await orders to go to what was surely Vietnam. Fate decided to have some fun, however, and Kunik was surprised to learn that he was headed to Anchorage, Alaska with the special services unit. His duties included being in charge of the entertainment division. As a private he was in charge of lieutenants and sergeants, directing them in various shows. One awesome story was when Kunik was directing Come Blow Your Horn with the father in the play was being acted by the head of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Alaskan Command who he was apparently investigating the guy playing his son, for drugs. What happened? Well he waited until after closing to bust him, of course!

Kunik spent a couple years in Alaska doing important work and gathering some incredible stories. When he was discharged he went back to school at Southern Illinois University and moved to Chicago to pursue a career in theatre. What brought him to the Twin Cities was a friend who came to visit and inspired him to move on a dime. Since then he has acted, directed and written shows for a plethora of companies including The Children’s Theater Company, Theatre in the Round, Lakeshore Players, Hey City Theater (home of the long running Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding). He recently performed in The Gin Game at Pioneer Players in St. Cloud and directed The Sunshine Boys for Buffalo Community Theater. Perhaps the coolest credit on his resume is performing in a show at the Amsterdam Bar that was produced by his daughter Jiffy and entitled “Metal Not Metal” where, fully regaled in his tuxedo, he performed heavy metal lyrics as poetry….

It’s all pretty incredible and unfortunately we’ll have to wait for the autobiography to hear more. Park Square certainly loves both John and Jiffy and is happy to have them on the team!

Job Description: The Mentor

Producers, writers, directors, dramaturgs, choreographers, agents, actors, singers, coffee runners.  You name it and it exists in show biz, where just about every facet of the theatre has its designated leader–the one who takes control of that job.  This is done for obvious reasons: No man is an island, and burnout should be avoided.

But what about the mentor?  What function does this title serve?  Is it even a position worth considering when it comes to describing the jobs of the theatre?  I would unequivocally argue:  yes!

More than a teacher, the mentor takes the student-teacher relationship to the next level, instilling not just knowledge but wisdom upon the fortunate.  The lesson does not end when the bell rings or the class is over; the guidance continues after school and throughout life.  Through the mentor you are opened to the fact that the world is your classroom and, if you are of age, even the bar.  I had wonderful acting training in my undergraduate years, but I wouldn’t hesitate to say that I learned more about what drives an actor (life, love, loss, etc.) by grabbing some beers with two or three individuals who truly transcended the role of “teacher.”  They became mentors.  I maintain close friendships with them now, well beyond graduation, still asking for their advice as I navigate the always tricky waters of professional theatre.

Not everyone can attain this lofty mark, however.  Indeed, what makes the role so special is its exclusivity.  Personally I would count only two in my life, and they shepherded me through the trials of high school and college theatre, respectively.  They were men whom I looked up to for being themselves in the face of adversity and completely selfless in their work as well as patiently listening to the seemingly endless problems that can befall a student of the theatre.  Will I have more in my life?  It is hard to say, for while anyone can be a mentor, you can’t find one simply by looking through the classifieds or applying for one.  It just happens.  

While I believe everyone should benefit from a mentor’s guidance, the door swings both ways: You must take some initiative as well to cultivate the relationship in the same way you would with a best friend, faithful dog or trusted lover.  Anything lasting has to be built on a foundation of mutual respect and accountability.

As I grow older with various real-world experiences of my own, I’m learning to “send the elevator back down” and give a hand to those younger than me.  Not that they’re much younger, of course, but age has very little to do with experience.  I’m finding that with even the little amount that I possess, I can share some with kids whom I meet in elementary and high schools.  They’ve got a long way to go so if I can give them just a nugget of insight, it could be the difference in having them reach the next level.  Such was my case so, to all the mentors out there, thank you; and to those of us who have them, appreciate what you have and never let go.

 

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