Behind the Scenes at A.C.T.: An Interview with Head Stage Manager Elisa Guthertz

By Annie Sears

Elisa Guthertz has been stage managing at A.C.T. for 26 years, but as a third-generation San Franciscan, her connections to The Geary started long before that. Her father grew up seeing shows on that stage, and he encouraged his daughter’s love of theater as she grew up. After earning her BFA in stage management at North Carolina School for the Arts, she returned home to San Francisco in 1992 to intern at A.C.T. during Artistic Director Emerita Carey Perloff’s first season. In 2005, she took over as head stage manager. Guthertz has done shows all over the world—from Russia to Broadway, from Washington, DC, to Calgary, Canada. Most recently, she stage managed Rhinoceros at The Geary. We recently sat down with Guthertz to get a backstage glimpse into pulling off a production.

A.C.T.'s Head Stage Manager Elisa Guthertz. Photo by Annie Sears.

How did you first get into stage management?
When I was about 13, my brother was involved with a community theater. He said, “Hey, do you want to learn how to run light board?” It was a big, old-school board. Not like the computerized ones we have now. I did and I was hooked. When I was 15, they wanted to interview me for a stage management position. They must have thought I was older than I was. My parents said, “Go do the interview. It’ll be good practice.” So I did, and I got the job. I came home and said, “Dad, what do I do, I can’t even drive myself to rehearsal!” My parents have always been very supportive, and they drove me to rehearsal every day. Halfway through the run, the director said, “Wait, how old are you? Oh!” They thought I was 19 or 20—they had no idea.

What’s the most challenging show you’ve ever worked on?
Samuel Beckett’s Play here at A.C.T. It’s only 25 minutes long, but I had 285 called cues. There are three characters that are in urns the whole time, and then a light that’s sort of a fourth character, interrogating them. The entire show was me calling cues one after the other, which just one little break where I could take a sip of water before I started calling again. I couldn’t have any distractions because if I got off, there was no recovering. It was intense! The poor gentlemen on the light board would spend all of intermission doing nothing but massaging his hands.

Head Stage Manager Elisa Guthertz. Photo by Annie Sears.

What has kept you at A.C.T. for so many years?
We do some really great shows here at A.C.T., and I really enjoy the variety in styles. I’ve stage managed everything from brand new works to Hamlet. I’ve also gotten to work in a variety of spaces. Because the 1989 earthquake demolished a big chunk of The Geary, my first few years with A.C.T. were in other spaces like the Orpheum and the Marines’ Memorial Theatre. But the biggest thing is the people. I’ve really enjoyed all the amazing people I’ve had a chance to work with at A.C.T.

Guthertz will be wielding her masterful behind-the-scenes work for two A.C.T. shows next season, so secure your subscription today!

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