What is an up-and-coming stage manager’s recipe for success? A cup of hard work, a spoonful of passion, and the secret ingredient — happiness. Just ask Ryan Kane, a 2019 Young Designers, Managers, and Technicians (YDMT) award-winning stage manager studying at Emerson College in Boston. When his passion for stage management was sparked, Kane dove in head first and took on as many projects as he could. But soon after, the detriments of detaching himself from friends and family began to inhibit his ability to do his job successfully. Positive manifestation provided a much-needed fresh perspective.
“So much of people’s mindset is, ‘If I get a certain grade, or this summer job I want, or the apprenticeship that I’m applying for, then I will be happy,’” Kane said.
So how is a positive mindset a catalyst for a lucrative career? Kane passionately believes that biologically, if you train your mind to have a positive attitude and do small acts of kindness for other people, fuel your own happiness by having a social life, and engage with other people, then your mind will become more productive. “It essentially rewires the way your brain works to then make you more successful in your career.”
He attributes his new outlook on career and personal life to the book, “The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work,” by Shawn Achor, which he blithely recommends. “I’ve been completely looking at my life differently in terms of valuing the time that I have to hang out with friends or call my mom and not only worrying about work.”
But it’s not all play — Kane noted that through his new found relationship with positivity, his work began to thrive by design.
“Part of it was also being able to go and study abroad in Valencia, Spain and not work on any shows for three months. I was able to see parts of the world and discover new things about myself and then take those life experiences and put them into my work,” Kane said. “Striking a work-life balance can be difficult but taking a second to realize how important it is to have those social relationships is actually going to reciprocate and help your career.”
The now-stage manager’s first view of the theatre began on the stage. Growing up in Frederick, Md., with a love for sports, Kane begrudgingly attended his first acting class — his mom’s plan to keep him occupied while his sister participated in dance classes.
“I begged and screamed and didn’t want to go to this acting class and she said, ‘Just try it one time and see if you like it,’” Kane said. A seemingly simple suggestion turned out to be a glimpse into Kane’s future. “I obviously fell in love with it.”
He dropped all sports and shifted his focus to the many facets of performance. Acting, dancing, and voice lessons filled his schedule throughout high school, but he didn’t stay in the spotlight for long. A quick realization proved his true happiness would be found elsewhere — the wings.
“I found that I was getting more anxiety from being the one on stage,” Kane recalled. “I realized that the way that my mind worked was based off of this feeling of wanting to be a part of the entire collaborative process and to have my hand in all of that.” Kane’s journey into stage management began at Emerson College with a one-sentence introduction to his now-mentor, production stage manager and professor Deb Acquavella, “Hi, my name is Ryan and I’m an acting major who wants to be a stage manager; can you help me?”
After some convincing, Acquavella agreed to let Kane join her class where his love for the backstage arts blossomed. She took in the technical theatre novice with open arms and shepherded him into his current knowledge and skill of stage management. “I am forever grateful for her for believing in me and always supporting me,” he said.
Jumping from acting major to stage management, Kane nestled under the wing of Acquavella as her production assistant at the Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF), sparking yet another interest for the burgeoning stage manager — new play development.
Now approaching his fourth year assisting at CATF and nearing the end of his senior year at Emerson College, Kane is eager to take his talents to the Big Apple. In August, he will move to New York City to work as the stage management apprentice at Playwrights Horizons for their 2019-2020 season, continuing his passion for new play development.
But Kane isn’t married to the idea of a theatre-only career. Exposure into the television industry through studying “abroad” at Emerson College’s Los Angeles campus this past semester has opened a new world of possibilities for the soon-to-be grad. “At some point I may try and bridge the gap and transition into more live event, award show, and television stage management,” Kane exclaimed. “I really want to experience the full gamut of what stage management has to offer.”
Kane’s positive outlook has been a catalyst for taking on new projects and new career opportunities, even if their permanency is undetermined. It is how he ended up switching career paths in the first place, after all. “Always have an open mind and say yes to everything,” Kane advised. “Don’t pigeonhole yourself into one idea of something that you might want to do. It’s good to have passion and specific goals, but also be open to not having such a rigid plan.”
Fresh off the heels of his 2019 YDMT award win, he’s ready to embody the honor and use it as fuel for his future endeavors.
“I’m honored to have been chosen to get the award and am really grateful for everyone who has supported me in getting here,” Kane said elatedly. “I’m really thankful for the award sponsor, Clear-Com Communications because without them I wouldn’t be able to do my job at all.”
As for his USITT19 experience, his ability to thrive and collaborate with others makes his manifestation of positivity that much simpler.
“I’m really just excited and thankful for all the other managers, designers, and technicians that I’ve met at the Conference,” Kane said. “As a stage manager, their work and their passion to create new art is what fuels me to provide an environment that they can then create that art in.”