After working in the same field for more than 35 years, most people can be expected to have a bit less zeal for getting to work when the alarm rings.
Dan Brewer? He wakes up and greets each day with passion and gratitude.
“Being nice does pay off. Well, not always – but it’s a nice place to start!” he laughs.
As stage manager of Nashville Children’s Theatre, Dan spends each day in a kind of Wonderland.
On the way to his office, he passes dragons, spider webs, flowers, a 1920s refrigerator, haystacks, and wigs – wigs galore!
Through the doors and up the steps he goes to his cubicle full of photos — past productions, his family, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and a few of him in his acting days. Of course, his MacBook takes center (desk) stage, along with binders filled with production notes and reading material.
Dan says his job is to “make sure the train runs on track — and on time.”
- Chiming in on casting
- Overseeing rehearsals
- Creating an environment that allows actors, actresses and stagehands to perform their best
- And a host of other behind-the-scenes tasks that need to get done prior to show time.
And there are a lot of showtimes: This season’s productions include The Outsiders, James and the Giant Peach, Elephant & Piggie’s We Are in a Play, Jack’s Tale: A Mythic Mountain Musical and Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat.
“The hard thing is the buck stops with you,” he says. “You never know everything about the production, but the stage manager knows how pieces of the puzzle fit together and things continue to run smoothly.”
How he got here
First, Dan tried performing.
“I wasn’t that good of an actor,” he laughs. “I knew I had to do theater – even in elementary school; I knew I wanted to. I just had to find a way.”
And find a way he did, majoring in stage management at Virginia Tech. As a grad student at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro, Dan studied children’s theatre/child drama, and that’s where he really got into the groove of being a professional stage manager. The mix of excitement an tension was just what he’d been looking for.
“It’s a magic act,” he says. “That’s what we do in theater. It’s an illusion that creates an experience. The better you can make people feel, the better it is.”
As he worked his way through UNC, Dan met Scot Copeland, a graduate assistant, and the two talked often about their plans for the future.
‘Wouldn’t it be great to run our own theater?’ they’d ask themselves.
The answer was always ‘yes,’ but after graduation, the two friends forged their own paths in the arts. Dan found that he enjoyed taking care of all the little things that lead up to a great play performance and took on stage management jobs in a variety of small theaters. Scot worked behind the scenes as well, eventually becoming Artistic Director for NCT in 1985. As soon as he got that position, he knew what he had to do: he reached out to Dan to make their college dreams a reality.
“I’ve been building up to this my entire life,” Dan says, “from schooling to the real world. I’m a lucky duck. Wow! That’s the feeling.”
Real work behind the make-believe
While Copeland puts together the overall concept of each show, every staff member is on call to bring in his or her creativity.
“We create worlds,” Dan explains. “We read the story, get impassioned. Connections are made with text. We ask, ‘how are we going to make this look?’ Then at the end, we have a road map.”
Once the blueprint has been laid out, the show gets cast. A choreographer and musical director come aboard. Months of planning become reality once the actors are in costume and the set begins to come alive.
The costuming is one of the most fun parts of the production for Dan, and not just because of how transformative they can be — Dan’s wife Patricia, a veteran singer and actress, is also the costume designer at NCT.
“She’s a talented lady, day in and day out,” he says. “I’m lucky my wife moved from New York City to Nashville and we get to work together. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Pulling it all off
When it comes down to crunch time, everyone has just 17 days of rehearsal to get ready for a performance in front of an audience.
Dan takes a gentlemanly approach to the bossier aspects of his job.
He doesn’t do a countdown with a clapboard during rehearsals. He just calmly announces, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are well met.”
When he needs to communicate with an actor or actress, he opens with, “Good hearts and true, let us begin.”
And at each performance, Dan is there, watching backstage on pins and needles, hoping that every scene is as seamless as possible.
And he’s constantly evaluating everything: Did it work? Could we have done that better? If the answer is yes, he fixes it and moves on. There’s no time to waste, because tickets have already gone on sale for the next show — which hasn’t even been cast yet — and the cycle will start all over again.
Dan has gone through that cycle for more 160 productions, and always manages to find a way to stay fired up.
“Good theater keeps in mind what’s going on in the community,” he says. “It shapes kids.”
It’s rewarding, he says, but it’s also hard at times.
“A lot of people can do this kind of work in short spurts, but when you have to do it over the long haul, that’s a different kettle of fish,” Dan says.
“It’s a part of pushing yourself. Your grasp has to exceed the reach.”