PCS Blog

Spotlight: “Bo-Nita” Stage Manager Emily Wells

Posted by Alice Hodge | 04 February 2014

Bo-Nita stage manager Emily Wells


We recently sat down with PCS Stage Manager Emily Wells to chat about her work on Bo-Nita, 18 years of professional theater work, advocating for the Congential Heart Disease Association in Washington D.C. and everything in between.


Let's start with Bo-Nita. Can you talk about being a female stage manager with a female actor, a female director and a female playwright?

It's so great! I think one of the best things about it is there are so few popular and strong female playwrights and the fact that PCS is encouraging one like Elizabeth [Elizabeth Heffron, Playwright] is amazing. And likewise, having found Gretchen [Gretchen Corbett, Director], a talented actor in her own right, as a wonderful, sort of, team coach for this project has been great and the partnership between all three of them seems to be fairly equitable. And I feel lucky to be included in that as well. Gretchen and Kate [Kate Eastwood Norris, Actor] on occasion have asked me for my input or opinion and that is one of the benefits of being in small rehearsal room - you don't have the cats to herd that you would for a large show - so it's much easier to be in a collaborative environment. And I firmly believe that having such strong feminine energy in the room is important for this play, and for other plays, that feature strong female characters because the female experience is still very different in this country and it's not easily addressed or understood by a man.

The choice to have it be all women is incredible and it makes it that much more powerful to have that energy in the room. And certainly there has been no "down with men" in the room, it's just been all about how Bo-Nita somehow has managed to find strength and empowerment despite her circumstances. It’s quite empowering.

You mentioned Gretchen as a "team coach". Can you talk a little more about the use of "team coach" versus "director"?

Well, she is the director, but I think because it is a one-woman show, you are relying so much on the talent of just one person that what they bring to the table has to be where you start. And then you work on shaping and molding, just like you would with any other production, but the focus is very different because it's all to one person. It's like an Olympic athlete who has their coach who spends their four hours of practice totally focused on their form, technique, content and everything like that. It’s that same sort of training, really, that rehearsal has been. We've been cautious of Kate's stamina and working her up to a full run as opposed to doing it hell-bent right away, because it's a challenge for memory, for body and a challenge for emotional stamina for her throughout the piece, so that's why I call Gretchen the team coach.

What do you like about working in the Ellyn Bye studio?

The studio is wonderful because sometimes, and I don't mean this in a negative way, but sometimes the rest of the building forgets you're there. So, you have this lovely little bubble that you get to work in and it feels a little bit more relaxed and the shows are more manageable but equally important as everything else. It's kind of great little playground downstairs. Every show I've done has been in a slightly different configuration, which makes it unique every time I work down there.

Let's talk about your work prior to PCS . You have an MFA in directing, right? Where did you go to school?

I do. I went to the University of Memphis, a small tiny program that gave me everything I had on my checklist I had for Grad School. And I was eternally grateful for that time. It was my little gift to me. Prior to Memphis, I had spent almost eleven years freelancing in New York, which is just like freelancing anywhere else, but with higher rent and higher cost of living. [laughs] But I loved all of that, because some of the best stage managers are well versed in design, and direction and acting because we have to talk to all of those people. The most well-rounded stage managers are the ones who succeed the most. I consider myself very fortunate to have been working pretty much non-stop since my undergraduate degree. I got my equity card right out of undergraduate school that summer. And have never stopped working, pretty much, with a couple of exceptions here and there.

Where did you go to undergrad?

Washington University, St. Louis. And I initially went there because they also have a really good foreign language program. [laughs] And I was thinking "oh, maybe I should do international relations, maybe that's more of a real job” and then my nearly 20 years of professional experience made me realize, "Oh, this actually is a real job." I get a real paycheck, pay real taxes and a real 401K, thank you to Equity, but you know, it is a real job. Six days a week don't lie.

Nope! So, in New York, you said you toured?

Yep, I was on the road with the Buddy Holly Story which was a five-truck national tour. I was the PSM [Production Stage Manager], probably one of the youngest PSM's on the road with an Equity show. I did that when I was 24. I worked on three Broadway shows, two as a sub and one as the stage manager. Those were phenomenal experiences, not only the performers, but the directors I was exposed to were so interesting and unique and they thought about theater in a totally different way - as art, but also as a commercial entity.

Tell me about your work with the Adult Congenital Heart Association.

I work for them in a couple of different capacities. Because I’m such an organized individual, for the last two years, I’ve chaired the fundraising walk held in Portland. It is part of a national set of walks that are done, just like the American Heart Association, but our money specifically goes towards research, advocacy and support for patients with congenital heart disease. And that means they were born with something; it’s not acquired heart disease like high blood pressure or cholesterol. It’s people who have something wrong with their heart or pulmonary system that they were born with. I’m public– I say I have two congenital heart defects so that’s why I got involved with them. And recently I became a heart to heart ambassador, which means I serve as a resource of support with other patients who are either struggling with a new diagnosis or hitting a new surgery or just a rough patch because life is not always smooth. I do it for people all across the country. We do it from our homes, via email and phone.

I also advocate in Washington D.C. for Congress and I’ll be going again at the end of this month. It is super exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. But it’s so neat to be a part of the process and getting funding earmarked specifically for congenital heart disease research. www.achaheart.org

Up next you have Othello

Awesome two level set that turns around! I’ll be finishing my season out with a bang! I love working with Chris [Artistic Director and Othello director, Chris Coleman] and Rodney [Rodney Hicks as the title role], so it will be fun to work with them again. And I love Shakespeare. It’s the eternal story – revenge, love – you get it all in Shakespeare.


Bo-Nita runs through March 16. Tickets available HERE.

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