Picture this. Opening night. The theatre is packed with 300 comedy-lovers, friends, family and alumni. Your show is about to hit the stage after 10 weeks of trial and error. This is a moment Georgia Priestley-Brown, St. Thomas University alumnus and stage manager at The Second City Toronto, describes as magical.
The Second City Toronto is the number one comedy theatre in Canada. Since opening in 1972, comedians including the duo Bob and Doug, Eugene Levy, John Candy and more have developed careers from that stage.
Priestley-Brown describes the venue as “Saturday Night Live meets live theatre.”
At 27, she is the youngest stage manager there. She has helped implement a technical system used in The Second City Chicago at the Toronto venue and is part of an all-female team, a first for this comedy theatre.
There is no average day. Priestley-Brown’s duties include operating the sound board, scheduling, ensuring all actors have scripts, building props, sewing costumes, the list goes on.
“It is extremely hands-on, I’ve never experienced [this] before.”
She never knows how a show will turn out. The actors come in, pitch an idea or do-off-the-cuff improv. From there, they keep what they like and cut what they don’t.
Over 10 weeks, they perform it in front of an audience, making changes along the way. Every night is different. Once 10 weeks are up, they have a final product, an opening night and perform the same show for three months. Then the process begins all over again.
Priestley-Brown graduated from STU in 2012, with a degree in English with a concentration in drama. A comedy and theatre lover, she worked for Fredericton Calithumpians, did theatre at STU and the University of New Brunswick and stage managed at Theatre New Brunswick. She was also a writer for The Aquinian, which pushed her out of her comfort zone.
“I didn’t think that I could be a stage manager for real, I thought it was just a job you did at a university, I didn’t realize that people do it for a living.”
She moved to Toronto in 2015 and began working at the theatre in 2016.
“I was living with a roommate and he asked me to stage manage one of his friend’s shows. The director of [the] show, actually worked for The Second City and he submitted my name [to] the company.”
She started as an entry-level stage manager and quickly moved up to managing their Mainstage Theatre on June 13, 2017.
“It was a total fluke, right place, right time. [The woman in the position before me] just happened to be moving on and I just got fast-tracked up.”
During her time there, she has had her fair share of celebrity interactions. Her first show on the Mainstage, she met Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson. This past summer, she worked with a slew of alumni including Dan Aykroyd, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy in the show Take Off, Eh! This elbow-rubbing with stars doesn’t phase her.
“I don’t really care about celebrities. I know that sounds kind of bad. But, at the end of the day, when you’re working here, you have to get a job done. These people aren’t celebrities, they’re my co-workers.”
Second City’s upcoming show The Best is Yet to Come Undone is created by an all-female team of directors, producers, designers and more.
“Everyone involved is a woman. The show feels so different because we have this new [technology] and we’ve got all these women who are collaborating on this really hard, political intense show. I feel so lucky to be a part of it.”
Priestley-Brown is excited to go to work everyday. She says she’s jealous of the people who are on stage and their part in it, but quickly realizes she’s also a part of the entire experience and production.
“Then it kind of hits me all over again, how friggin’ lucky I am to just be in this world … I totally fell into it and it turned out to be the job of my dreams.”