Kat Berens admits that sometimes it appears that she is day dreaming or drifting off into space. But it’s quite the opposite really. The Pioneer High School senior is taking on the very important role of stage manager for the upcoming FutureStars 2020 event and says there is an incredible amount of hard work and energy that goes into not only putting together such a show, but pulling it off.
And – sometimes – between all the hard work, organization and commitment, she just can’t help herself from stopping and marveling. Because while it’s her job and task to see the big picture, she still enjoys taking in the smaller views from time to time.
“FutureStars is really great because everyone gets the opportunity to shine on stage, and I love watching everyone’s performance develop,” she says. “Ann Arbor has so much talent, so being able to showcase talent from across the district to sold-out audiences feels amazing. We are really lucky at Pioneer to be able to put on multiple main-stage productions filled with crazy talented cast and crew.”
Berens says her favorite thing about being a stage manager is “being a part of the whole show” as it comes together, from auditions to the first rehearsal to opening night. It’s also about collaboration and helping each other be the best they can be rather than winning a trophy or prize.
FutureStars is my favorite show we do at Pioneer because I get to work with so many great and talented people,” she says. “We have really talented professional pianists and vocal coaches to help the performers learn their songs, and we get the opportunity to work with U-M performance coaches to polish each number. The environment of FutureStars is positive and supportive. People here are more focused on supporting and cheering for their peers than on whether they win or lose.
Pioneer Theatre Guild’s FutureStars 2020, the 18th annual citywide talent search for Ann Arbor’s next star, is Jan. 17-18 with the finals on Jan. 25 at Pioneer High School’s Schreiber Auditorium. The event features students from Ann Arbor’s public high schools as they sing, rap, and play music.
Berens has been involved in PTG since the spring of her freshman year, first as a cast member, then on costume’s crew, before ultimately discovering her true passion as stage manager.
“My freshman and sophomore year I enjoyed FutureStars from the audience,” she says. “FutureStars has a unique energy totally different from the musicals and I always wanted to find a way to be involved. I really enjoyed stage managing it last year and as head stage manager this year.”
There is the old saying that “my job is doing whatever needs to be done” and that is a perfect description for a stage manager. Berens’ role includes running daily rehearsals as well as calling light and sound cues throughout the shows. Her and her backstage team oversee the cast as well as anything technical.
“We cue everything from microphones being placed on stage to the confetti cannons shot over the winners at finals,” she says. “As head stage manager, I call light cues from the back of the theater, and communicate any backstage cues to assistant stage managers, sound crew and lights crew.”
All of the FutureStars can take comfort in knowing that they have a hard working, dedicated and experience crew running the show, led by their head stage manager. This allows them to focus on their own performance without having to worry about everything else. Stage managing FutureStars is very different from working on musicals, according to Berens, who is working on her fifth PTG show as a stage manager and second with FutureStars. It certainly provides its own set of challenges.
“Instead of calling prop or set cues, we make sure everything is prepared number by number – changing lights, microphones and performers for each act – so it can get pretty stressful,” she says. “If something goes wrong, we are there working on the fly to fix it.
“But there is something really electrifying about this show, and watching the show come together from the very beginning and experiencing the excitement of the live performance is undoubtedly rewarding.”
Berens admits she “always gets nervous” before every show even though she isn’t stepping out on stage like a lot of her friends. “Everyone in the crew, cast and production team have put a lot of work into each show, so it’s really important to me that everything goes off without a hitch. Making sure everyone is ready to start the show is nerve-wracking, especially as a stage manager because a lot of people rely on you for help or if something goes wrong. I just take a deep breath and know that I am supported by the rest of the crew, and that if anything were to go wrong we’d work together quickly to get it solved.”
Berens has participated as a cast member in both musicals and plays since she was in middle school. As a sophomore at Pioneer, she took the trip backstage and liked the view despite the hard work. “I quickly knew that I wanted to be backstage, seeing everything that goes into such a large scale show,” says Berens, whose first show as stage manager was Willy Wonka, the fall of her junior year. “I knew stage management would become my place at PTG. I love taking on the responsibility of running rehearsals and calling cues. It’s a unique experience and it is super fun to get to work so closely with my fellow stage managers, Ryan Stubbs and Owen O’Connell, as well as the directors and producers.”
Kat, the daughter of Anne and Rich Berens, manages the classroom equally as well. She has a 3.9 GPA and also is the PTG Student Board Secretary. She plans on attending Washington University in St. Louis this fall in their College of Arts and Sciences.
“I have no idea what I want to study yet, but I’m excited to explore a variety of different subjects and I’m sure I’ll continue stage managing, at least for fun,” she says.
Yes, you can work hard and still have fun. Kat Berens has discovered exactly that backstage.
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