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The selectors said: A good stage manager is den mother, nurse, referee and zookeeper to a cast of "colorful" artists, someone who keeps a cool head and a steady hand. Stage managers not only run the show, they are the show. Willard is Richmond's go-to stage manager after 15 years of guiding productions at Theatre IV and Barksdale Theatre. Though she's hidden in the wings, her art and her craft are worthy of center stage.
Stage managers are a director's life preserver. Attending each rehearsal and every performance, overseeing the running crew and giving actors their places, they are the first to arrive and the last to leave and lock the theater door as they go.
It isn't the most glamorous of theater positions, but, Ginnie Willard says, "I'd take it over an office job any day of the week."
She grew up in Colonial Heights, her mother a teacher and her father an IT consultant and former minister. No artists in the bunch. Willard's introduction to theater came in the ninth grade when a friend asked her to usher and work the box office for a school production. Abetted by drama teacher Jessie Reter, Willard embarked on her backstage trajectory.
Around 1995, Willard was part of a group from Richard Bland Community College that produced a translated Spanish play at an El Paso, Texas, festival. Closer to her home was the Swift Creek Mill Playhouse and its artistic director, Tom Width. There, Willard stage-managed for adults and children's programming. Van Hampton introduced her to Theater IV, where she worked a year in the touring department; then, when the position of production stage manager opened, she moved in. Two years ago, she assumed the position of production manager for both Barksdale and Theatre IV.
She says, "I'm the person thinking about 10 shows down the line, and the immediate needs of the show that's up now." Part of her job is bringing in shows on time, and if possible, under budget.
"Things go wrong all the time," she says wearily. "Live theater is a beast of its own. You don't get a do-over." Like during The Wizard of Oz, when the balloon that was supposed to be departing refused to rise. "God love [actor] Gordon Bass. He just ad-libbed and walked off stage," she recalls. "You can never predict when it's going to happen. But it will. And you need a backup plan."
There've been plenty of nights when Willard has sat back afterward and sighed, "This shouldn't have turned out as well as it did."
But, hey, that's show business.