Saturday, January 25, 2014

Former Clevelander, Lynda Lavin, professional stage manager extraordinaire

When most young theatre geeks think of what they want to do in the world of entertainment, they picture themselves on stage before adoring fans.  Not Lynda Lavin. The Mayfield High School class of ’71 grad, who attended Cuyahoga Community College and Cleveland State, decided while working as a high school student at Musicarnival, the legendary Cleveland tent theatre, that being a stage manager was her ticket to a life in the theatre.

Lavin, who admits to being a “good organizer” and possessing “fine management skills” worked as the stage manager for the 1978 national tour of “ANNIE.”  As she indicated in a recent interview, “I got hooked on being an off-stage star.” 

What does a production stage manager do?  According to Lavin, “I sit in on rehearsals, work with understudies, and watch each performance, keeping an eye on the production time and insure that the performances stay true to the vision of the story.  My job is to maintain the artistic integrity.  I’m a maintenance person, a jack of all trades.  I work with the sound, lights, load in, manage the crew, coordinate all the departments.  I’m a little bit of a psychologist and mentor.”

One of the highlights of the “ANNIE” tour was the show’s run at the Hanna Theatre.  Coming “home” gave her an opportunity to visit her brother who lives in Geauga county, and to hook up with other family members who live in Ashland and Columbus.

A highlight of coming back to Cleveland with a show is “being able to work in the Playhousesquare complex.”  As she said, “I was here when everything was all closed up.  I’m thrilled to come back to see what has happened in the area.  Its such a joy to have a city and community make it work.  Actors and production people look forward to coming to the complex.  These buildings are theatre palaces.  Not many of those are left in this country.”

Spending months and months living out of a suitcase fits her personality and desired life style. “Touring, being away from home, is a way of life for me.  I don’t need a lot of stuff.  I’m not a collector of things, not a shopper.  When I need a break, I go home to my place in Las Vegas.  This life style isn’t good or bad, it’s just different.  It’s opened opportunities to travel.  I’ve been in  every state in the U.S. and spent time in Japan, Australia, Mexico, Europe, and the Middle East.”

She was in Dubai just before she came to Cleveland with the touring company of “CHICAGO,” which recently played the Palace Theatre.

The challenge of a touring show is making sure that everything gets where it’s supposed to be in time to open the show.   For Cleveland’s showing of “CHICAGO,” the cast had to fly16 hours.  They arrived on Sunday afternoon for a Tuesday evening opening.  Some replacement cast members had to be integrated into the show.  The set and everything from post-it notes to computers to musical scores had to get here.  It was Lavin’s responsibility to organize all of this and make sure the show remained fresh.  (It was.  For a review of the production, go to

What’s the best way to learn the skills of stage managing?  Lavin says that she gained her skills by contacting stage managers of touring shows, ask them for advice, and watch them call the shows.  She says, “Education is important, but real life experience is necessary.”

How does she find her jobs?  “I do a lot of networking.  I meet other stage managers, follow the Broadway season, connect with production managers, let shows know that are going to tour to contact me.  I go to NY once a year and put in bids.“  Fortunately 35 successful years in the business has made her a commodity who is sought after.

Her response to her being mistaken for the “other” Linda Lavin (Linda with an “i” rather than a “y”), the famous television and theatre star, included tales of gaining from the similarity of names.  She laughed as she said, “I get nice hotel rooms, it helps in making dinner reservations in LA and NY, gets me through to deal with secretaries and theatre people.”  Ah, what’s in a name.

Life is never dull for Lavin.  She likes it that way! 

For more information on this dynamic woman go to: