Accomplished stage manager Matthew Aaron Stern joined us as a keynote speaker at the 71st annual SETC Convention in Louisville, KY, on Fri., Feb. 28, 2020. His keynote topic was: How Stage Management Can Change the World.
Meet Matthew Aaron Stern
Matthew Aaron Stern has extensive credits on both Broadway and in corporate events. After attending UC San Diego, his career began at the regional theatres in San Diego: La Jolla Playhouse and The Old Globe.
Broadway credits include 20 productions, including: Finding Neverland, On the Town, Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, Hands on a Hardbody, Death of a Salesman, The Little Mermaid, Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera and The Full Monty. Matt has toured with Mandy Patinkin, Patti LuPone, John Lithgow and Billy Crystal, and he has spent two years on the road with Les Misérables. Other theatre credits include: The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Blue Man Group at the Hollywood Bowl, a year as the resident stage manager at Ballet Iowa, and many readings and workshops in NYC.
Matthew has been a show caller or deck manager for numerous corporate event clients in a wide variety of industries from technology (Google, Facebook, Samsung, AOL, Intel), travel (Volkswagen, Toyota, Boating Industry Magazine, Caterpillar), Pharma (Abbvie, GSK, Novartis, DSI), financial (Mastercard, FC Stone, Bank of China, New Mountain Capital…) and non-profits (American Theatre Wing, Endeavor, amFAR, GLAAD Awards…). He teaches at SUNY Purchase, is a board member of the Stage Managers’ Association USA, and proud member of AEA & AGVA. Matt is the founder of the Broadway Stage Management Symposium, an annual conference for stage managers now in its sixth year. The conference brings together Broadway’s stage managers for two days of panels to share insights and information from their years of experience.
When did you start your career in stage management?
I started college as an actor, as many people do. That was all I knew. I literally had no idea how ignorant I was of all the work going on backstage. When I arrived at UCSD, I just wanted to be involved In the theatre, so when my Intro to Theatre professor asked for volunteers to work on his show I jumped at the chance and volunteered to be the light board operator. The LD taught me what I needed to know and I must have done an okay job because he asked me to do another project with him after that. In a few short months, I learned a lot about theatrical lighting and the world backstage.
The next year, I took a stage management class. One of the MFA director students came to class asking if anyone was willing to stage manage her upcoming show. Again, I jumped at the chance. That must’ve gone well too, since she recommended me to a small local theatre company, the Young Playwright’s Project. This was my first “professional” stage management job. I continued to work for them for the next few years with increasing responsibility. Meanwhile, I had started working as an electrician at the La Jolla Playhouse and designing lights for student projects at school. Then LJP asked me if I wanted to be an assistant lighting designer on an upcoming show or a production assistant. I chose the PA job and that set me on the path towards a career and a life in stage management.
What brief advice do you have for students who aspire to be stage managers?
1. Your soft skills are your greatest asset. Cultivate people skills. Learn psychology, leadership, management techniques. Anyone can be taught paperwork, calling cues, etc., but a skilled manager is so much more.
2. Your relationships are the key to your success. Not brown nosing or kissing up, but building a network of people that like you and your work. You need to be genuine and be yourself and connect with the others. Being the person that someone can trust and enjoy spending 12-16 hours a day with is more important than how many classes or what degree you have.
3. Do good work and maintain a positive outlook. Every good job you do will get you two more. You just never know when. Our industry can be challenging and difficult. Becoming jaded or bitter will not serve you. A positive outlook and positive energy will generate positivity. Don’t let entropy settle in. Go out, have fun, be with people, volunteer, take any job you can to stay active and involved. Good managers are an invaluable asset, and those two new jobs are coming for you, whether it be two months or two years in the future.