Center Stage With: Peggy Stenger

In an opera production, every person has a role. Opera simply does not and cannot happen without everyone involved and goes way beyond the principal artists. Without our stage management team, we would all be completely lost! They give us our cue to go out onstage. They keep track of where we stand onstage, how we get there, make sure we have our props,  check that we are in the correct costume and so much more. What does our stage management team do in their down time? Actually, they don’t really have much down time. They can work 53 hours per week, and that doesn’t include the paperwork that they prepare during the productions rehearsal and performance process.

In college, Peggy received a triple major and at one point in her life wanted to go in a very different and interesting direction with her life. When I asked her which composer she would want to write her life story, she replied, “My life is not opera material.” I beg to differ. Between her 3 cats, traveling, home renovations, volunteer work and craft projects, Ms. Stenger doesn’t have any down time in her personal life either. She keeps herself very busy and even manages to find time to help homeless ministries. If you ever find yourself backstage, take a moment to stop and thank Peggy and our stage crew as they are some of the faces that don’t get a lot of recognition, but they make sure everything runs smoothly in our performances. As the old saying goes: “It takes a village!”

Q: Where did you grow up?

Stenger: Cleveland, Ohio

Q: Did you always know you wanted to work in stage management? How did you get into the field?

Stenger: I got the theater bug while in boarding school. I went to CCM (University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music) and learned about opera while there. I did a triple major in Lighting Design, Stage Management and Scenic Design.

Q:  What is your favorite opera and why?

Stenger:  Tannhauser, because it has the most beautiful baritone aria.

Q: Who is your favorite singer?

Stenger: Dimitri Hvorostovsky

Q: How long have you been at Lyric?

Stenger: Since the fall of 2002.

Q:  What is your favorite opera production/cast/performance at Lyric thus far?

Stenger:  My first Sweeney Todd. It’s one of my favorite musicals.  The Lyric cast was amazing.

Q:  What do you do on your days off from Lyric?

Stenger:  Movies, Museums, Bake, City Tours, Theater

Q:  Tell me some of your most memorable moments from your time at Lyric.

Stenger:  The programs with 2nd City were awesome. They were about opera but were not opera, which was a fresh perspective.

Q: Tell me about some mishaps onstage.

Stenger: I once stopped a dog from peeing on a super. It was not here, at the Lyric.

Q:  Do you have any interesting stories or events you were involved in from before you started at Lyric or not pertaining to Lyric (related to opera or otherwise)?

Stenger:  I had to get the stage door guard to order pizza at an intermission for Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman at LA Opera. Tom and Nicole had come to see Placido Domingo in a long opera with two intermissions. They came backstage at the first intermission to rest and then asked, because it was a long evening and they were hungry, if we could order them pizza for the next intermission.

And at Houston Grand Opera (HGO), my car went onstage at a “Fidelio” Dress Rehearsal. The “Fidelio” was a Zambello production that was supposed to have a Jeep onstage. I had arranged for one.  At HGO, I was the ASM (Assistant Stage Manager) in charge of finding hard to find items and props–usually for no cost–which it turned out I was good at. I found dogs, ponies, trained birds, falcons… you know. That night the army guy and his Jeep could not be at rehearsal at the last minute, so they used my Mazda. Sadly, I never got a picture of it, but there is one in the HGO archive.

Q: I understand you have worked with many companies other than Lyric. Tell me about your career before being an Assistant Stage Manager here.

Stenger: I have been the Production Stage Manager at Wolf Trap, Miami Opera, Dallas Opera and Opera Theater of St. Louis. I have also stage managed Los Angeles Opera and Houston Grand Opera.

QWhat composer would you want to write the opera of your life and why?

Stenger:  None. My life is not opera material.

QI understand one of your hobbies is crafting and that you make cards. Can you tell me about them and how you make them? What are your other hobbies outside of the Lyric? I have been told something about a stamp collection? Would you like to elaborate?        

Stenger:  I have a collection of rubber stamps which I use along with vintage things like photos etc. on greeting cards. I also started knitting. I knit scarves that I donate to the homeless.

Q: One of your independent skills, is home remodeling. You and your husband did a complete remodel of your house. This is not a skill that many have. Where did you learn how to do that kind of work?

Stenger: Not complete-partial. In our Ohio home, we hired out for the bath. Also, in our condo here, we hired out for the kitchen. I love “This Old House” and my husband is an excellent carpenter.

Q: I have been told you do a lot of volunteer work on your own. Can you tell me a little more about that?

Stenger: I just started volunteering. When I can, I go to the food bank. I serve breakfast at the church in Printers Row and I am knitting scarves for the homeless. I hope when I retire, I will be able to fill my time with even more volunteering activities.

Peggy Stenger with husband, who is a touring stagehand

Q:  Tell me a little about your family (partner, children, close relatives) and their significance in your life and career.

Stenger:  My husband is a stagehand.  He is on the road with “Book of Mormon” right now. We have no kids, just 3 cats. It’s because he has such a good job and great benefits that I am able to do opera.

Q: One of the things some of our singers realized recently is that people in your profession in our shop can work 53 hours per week. What other things do you feel our performers need to know and understand about what you do.

Stenger: Our 53 hours is just rehearsal. We then spend many hours each week preparing paperwork for the crew and keep our scores up to date with questions.

Q:  You travel in your off time from Lyric to other cities to work. Do you have any opera related things coming up?

Stenger:  In my off time, I travel with my husband wherever his show goes. I enjoy going to see operas, plays and musicals wherever I find myself.

Q:  If you weren’t an Assistant Stage Manager, what would you be doing and why?

Stenger:  I can’t even imagine not being an opera stage manager but at one point in my life I wanted very much to be a nun.

Q: How and what do you do to prepare for a show?

Stenger: We get one week at the start of the season to prepare all our scores and familiarize ourselves with the productions.

Q: As someone who has never worked in stage management, I would love a better understanding of your prep work and your role backstage. Can you be more specific about how you familiarize yourself with the productions and how you prep your scores?

Stenger: As an ASM, we run one side of the stage, calling cues to cast and crew. We also are then in charge of the paperwork for certain aspects of the production: wardrobe, banda (the offstage orchestra players), and props. We prepare the paperwork during the rehearsal process so that the cast and crew have a roadmap, if you will, of their jobs during the performance. We keep a piano vocal score with all our cues notated in it, usually on post it notes so they can easily be moved around. During our prep before rehearsals begin, we prepare that score with 30 second timings and, if the production came from another company, with all the cues from their paperwork.

Q:  Do you play any instruments? If you don’t, which one would you want to play?

Stenger:  I have played accordion, guitar and piano. I think the harmonica might be fun.

Q:  What kind of music do you listen to outside of the opera house?

Stenger: Musicals!!!!

Q:  What do you do in your down time backstage?

Stenger:  I don’t have any. If I’m not in a performance or rehearsal, I’m at my desk working.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?

Stenger: I love this company. The crew is by far the best anywhere and getting to hear this magnificent chorus is a true delight.

Q: What advice do you have for young aspiring singers and those wishing to enter in to a stage management field?

Stenger: Treat everyone with respect and kindness and always be on time.