Dance concerts aren’t just the job of dancers and choreographers. Costume designers, lighting designers, sound editors and composers, set designers, carpenters, stagehands and electricians, marketing and PR personnel, house managers… these are just some of the jobs that go into running a dance company. Every person involved, both onstage and off, is deeply invested in the success of each performance, and to the company as a whole. I can say from experience that without their production teams dance companies would sink, and quickly!
Having landed her dream job at the young age of 25, Amanda Heuermann is making waves as the Stage Manager for The Joffrey Ballet. She’s responsible for making sure every nearly aspect of their performances go smoothly, from loading set and lights into venues on tour to calling cues during performances on the road and at home. She also happens to be one of few out women in the Chicago dance community. I got the opportunity to catch up with her electronically on a very short respite between a recent tour of the popular American Legends program and the coming local performance’s of Lar Lubovitch’s Othello.
The L Stop: Tell me a little about your background, experience and education.
Amanda Heuermann: I went to the University of Michigan for undergrad, originally intending to major in math. I had done a little bit of backstage work in high school but I was more into music as a teenager so I didn’t have much experience in theater at all. I first got involved with the theater department at Michigan because they’d put an ad in the student paper that they were looking for running crew for the shows, and I eventually transferred into the BFA program and focused on stage management. I was lucky to have ended up at a school with a good technical theater program since I wasn’t looking for it originally, and also a producing company that brought in lots of amazing companies over the years that I was there. I had never really seen professional dance growing up and I fell in love with it from the beginning but it took me a few years to get a job with a dance company.
After I graduated I moved to Chicago and worked at Goodman Theatre for a year as a floor manager. I learned a lot there and grew to love the city, and I stayed based here when I went to work for Washington Opera in DC. Working for a big opera company at the Kennedy Center was a great experience and very different from what I had done before, but I was happy to come back to Chicago when I was offered a position with Joffrey.
TLS: How did you get involved at The Joffrey? What are your long-term goals?
AH: The Joffrey toured to Detroit while I was still in Michigan and I was able to shadow backstage during The Nutcracker. I kept in touch with our Principal Stage Manager Katherine Selig when I moved to Chicago and I was able to work for the company part-time as an assistant. It was a good fit for me and the timing worked out that there was a full-time position available as I was finishing my first season at the opera. I was lucky enough to get my dream job at 25, and I’m now in my sixth season with the company.
AH: My schedule varies pretty widely depending on what the company is doing. On tour a typical day in the theater starts at 7am when we load in all of our scenery and lighting equipment and put down our dance floor. After lunch we have a technical rehearsal onstage with the dancers, then do the show in the evening and load out afterwards. Some cities we get to do more than one performance so we can settle in a bit more, but there are often a lot of one-offs with a travel day in between. It’s a lot of work but also a lot of fun, and I like traveling to places I might not otherwise get to see. Now that we’re back in Chicago after a month on the road we’re mostly focusing on our spring production of Othello that goes up in a couple of weeks. Lar Lubovitch, the choreographer, is here setting the ballet on the dancers so I’m in rehearsals for that during parts of the day. Full-length ballets are our most complex productions and I’m also reviewing all of the notes and paperwork from the last time we performed it three seasons ago.
TLS: Enquiring minds want to know… what’s your coming out story?
AH: I grew up in a small suburb of St. Louis, MO and while luckily my parents are very liberal the community wasn’t particularly. But it was also before social media and being gay just wasn’t something that anyone really talked about at my high school. I didn’t start to figure out who I was or what I wanted until I went away to college, and then I came out when I was 20. In retrospect I probably should have known that I was gay a lot sooner, but I wasn’t very self-aware as a teenager!
TLS: You are a woman working in a largely male dominated profession… how does that impact your life or the way that you work?
AH: I honestly don’t think about it as a male-dominated profession very often. Joffrey actually has more women on staff than men and we work with female guest artists regularly as well. I would say it’s most noticeable when we’re in the theater because the majority of stagehands are men but I don’t consciously work in a different way when I’m there. But I’ve also always gotten along easily with men both professionally and socially, I think in part because I’m gay.
Othello runs April 24 – May 5 at the Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress Pkwy). For tickets or more information, visit http://joffrey.org/othello
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About Lauren W
Lauren Warnecke is a Chicago-based dance writer, educator, and freelance dance professional. She holds degrees in Dance (BA, ’03) and Kinesiology (MS, ’09) and is currently a full-time Clinical Instructor for the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at UIC. Created in 2009 as a platform for dance-based discourse, Lauren owns and operates Art Intercepts, a dance blog and online resource actively promoting the use of evidence-based practices in dance training and performance with the goal to improve and elevate artistry, dance education, and dancer health. She is a contributing author/blogger at Dance Advantage, 4dancers, and the Huffington Post, and an arts contributor at The L Stop. Lauren freelances as a production/stage manager, choreographer, media relations specialist, and grant writer, for small arts organizations and is a Certified Personal Trainer. She is a master composter who likes to dig in the dirt and bake scones.