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Jane Masterson '80

 Theatrical Stagehand, Broadway and beyond!

How does working on Broadway and at the New York City Ballet compare to working on high school theatre shows?

I was at St. Agnes in the late ’70s, class of 1980. While we did have the excellent Ages of Man program we did not then have any practical art or music classes for the Upper School. I’m glad that those gaps have been filled. We did have school plays. I sang in many of them. I don’t remember any involvement by the girls in any of the technical work. Michael Heinz the Lower School music teacher helped me prepare for a singing audition. Sherley Keith and Suzanne Haney nurtured my shy, literature-loving self. Paula Jones tolerated me never doing my Latin homework. I hope she’d be pleased to know how much I did absorb. Years later I have developed a passion for other languages. I once stayed with an old woman in St. Petersburg, Russia. We spoke together in my little Russian, a touch of French, and in Latin. I’ve recited Latin poetry to a cab driver in Rome to his amusement. I still can recite the first lines on the Canterbury Tales in Middle English which segues into the Aeneid and the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish.

What is the coolest experience you've had on either Broadway or at the Ballet?
Some of my best experiences are from being backstage, in the wings, while magic is happening on stage. I was there when Philip Seymour Hoffman played Willy Loman in an amazing revival production of “Death of a Salesman” in 2012. It was a fascinating production using as inspiration the original 1949 scenic and lighting designs and directed by Mike Nichols. The anger that Hoffman created onstage was palpable. I was afraid to move lest that anger might strike me. At the New York City Ballet in 2019, I participated in the filming of The Nutcracker for a Disney+ series called “En Pointe”. I was with the camera crew, following them as they followed the backstage action, racing around the building at Lincoln Center to catch the next group of little soldiers, or mice, or dancing dolls as they huddled ready to make their entrances. It’s a wonderful series about the School of American Ballet.

How has COVID-19 affected your work and the overall industry from an insider's perspective?
COVID began to rear its head in late February 2020. I was working on the new musical “Diana”. We all discussed the news and joked about shaking hands when a tv news crew came to film interviews during a rehearsal. Rumors flew about an usher who had tested positive. I worked last on March 6, 2020. I came into the Longacre Theatre the next Thursday to get a paycheck. People had just been told that the building would close for one month. Everything stopped where it was. Sets mid-shift on stage. Costumes prepared for the next quick change. The director and designers’ tables were left set up. Refrigerators were emptied quickly. The next day all of Broadway shut down.

It was going to be just a month. Some theaters let actors back in briefly to retrieve personal belongings from their dressing rooms. I didn’t mind the work ending as I had long-term plans to travel in April. My partner Stewart and I were going to Ireland for 2 weeks to christen my new Irish Citizenship status, then on to Italy for 2.5 months to finally begin our long-awaited semi-retirement. Instead, we got Covid. It was a painful few weeks but we are thankful to our neighbors who left us medicine, tea, and fruit. Unfortunately, I am still dealing with the long-term effects of the illness. 

What advice would you give to anyone interested in a career in theatre (tech and actors)?
My suggestion to anyone interested in a career is to understand early that if one wants to make it in the “big time” one needs to go where the art is happening. New York or Los Angeles for film. If one chooses a small school or community one is likely to remain a big fish in a small pond. It’s a hugely competitive world. Make every effort to join a Union. I’ve been an IATSE stagehands union member since 1992, and a member of the NYC Local One since 2012. Get as much experience as you can. Read. View films. See live theater every chance you get. Apprentice. Volunteer as an usher. Travel. I attended Mills College, a small women’s liberal arts college in California. I regret not transferring to a top school as soon as I realized what path I wanted to follow.

Instead, I learned much by doing the work. I went straight from graduating in 1984 to being the electrician at Berkeley Shakespeare Theatre. In the fall I started working as an electrician and general running crew at Arena Stage. Folger Shakespeare Theatre. Berkeley Rep. I designed for small productions in the Bay Area including the Pickle Family Circus. I lived in Alaska for two years where I interacted with many touring companies and joined the IATSE. 

I returned to Washington, D.C. working with IATSE Local 22 at the Warner, National, Kennedy Center, and Wolf Trap. I began touring in 1994. I did four National tours ending with the world premiere of “Whistle Down the Wind” in D.C. It was supposed to transfer to Broadway. It didn’t but I did. In 1997 I arrived in NYC. I had specific lighting equipment training that was in demand then so I began subbing on Broadway the same week. I’ve been working on Broadway ever since, from being a day hire laborer to running shows for years. I have programmed the lighting for over a dozen Broadway shows. I’m involved in the women’s movement in professional theater, offering experience and support as our numbers in our union grows.

Other Hobbies/Interests, etc…
I inherited a love of travel from my parents. They romantically met in Marseilles. My childhood was not a normal American one. I have a home in Umbria which my partner and I have restored. It was a deconsecrated church and rectory in the corner of a medieval castle. It was sold by the Catholic Church itself. They were so happy to get rid of it. It had no roof and buckling walls. It’s been saved now and is ready for us to begin our next chapter living in Italy for six months of the year. 

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Age 3-Grade 12 coed Episcopal day school in Alexandria, Virginia

Campuses

List of 3 items.

  • Lower School

    Age 3-Grade 5
    400 Fontaine Street
    Alexandria, Virginia 22302
  • Middle School

    Grades: 6-8
    4401 West Braddock Road
    Alexandria, Virginia 22304
  • Upper School

    Grades: 9-12
    1000 St. Stephen's Road
    Alexandria, Virginia 22304