Interviews with Rad People / Stage Manager Jean Compton


Jean ComptonAsk me what my favorite part of blogging is, and I will always answer the community. From the first comment I ever received to the friendships I’ve formed over Twitter, the people I have “met,” so to speak, through Ciao Bella make the hours of prepping posts, leaving comments, and writing emails entirely worth it {although don’t get me wrong, those tasks can be fun too!}.

These talented bloggers, writers, and other individuals inspired Interviews with Rad People, a new series in which I converse with some friendly, talented faces of different professions. Whether these interviewees are making their name known in the design industry, launching their own small business, or working diligently behind the curtain, I hope you have just as much fun reading through their replies as I have asking them the questions.

To kick off the feature, I’m excited to introduce Jean Compton, a recent graduate and current assistant stage manager based in Chicago! I first came across Jean’s career on her now-defunct Tumblr, Stage Manager Ryan Gosling, where she posted, as the title suggested, Ryan Gosling images with perfect tech-themed jokes. Although the page is no longer updated, it did lead me to Jean’s personal site and had me intrigued by her career in technical theater. I’m delighted that Jean was able to answer a few questions about her love for theater and her job in stage managing, and I hope you enjoy her answers as well, future crew member or not.

• • •

Have you always had a passion for theater, or did something spark your interest later in high school or college? 

I think theatre has always been a part of my life — one of my first memories is watching the pledge drive of Les Mis on PBS when I was two {I just thought those ladies were sad}. And my mom worked at a high school, so she took me to their plays every year growing up. I did a few plays early on but acting just made me itchy — I was nervous the whole time I was onstage, I hated it. But I loved the rest of it. So I started researching other jobs in theatre online, and found about stage management. The more I learned the more it really clicked with my other strengths and interests — I love organizing things, meeting and leading diverse groups of people, and I am really good at spelling.

I grew up in a pretty rural area, so a lot of how I learned was from the internet and books { and Thomas Kelly’s Back Stage Guide to Stage Management were big sources}, and then I got to start practicing what I learned in productions at the local community college when I was still in high school. I feel lucky that I figured out what I wanted to do for my career early enough that I could apply to college with that focus in mind, and I graduated in 2014 from The Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago with my BFA in Stage Management.

SMRG_02What does a typical day look like for you when you are stage managing a production?

At this point in my career I’m working primarily as an assistant stage manager. A typical day for me changes depending on what phase of a production we’re in at the time. Rehearsal days look the most like a 9-5 type job. Rehearsals are usually 8 hours a day from 10-6 with an hour lunch break in the middle.  I’m usually there at least a half hour before rehearsal work starts to set up the room, print any paperwork needed for that day, and most crucially, make coffee.

During rehearsals I’m on book for scenes, moving furniture and props for scene changes, taking notes, answering questions and relaying questions to designers, keeping the schedule on track, making copies, and running errands as needed. After rehearsal, I clean up the room, help make the schedule for the next day, and help the stage manager write and send out the rehearsal report.

When we move into the theatre for technical rehearsals, our days get longer with 10 or 12 hour workdays {lunch breaks included of course!}. I move backstage to run that track, which can include scene changes onstage, prop hand-offs, costume quick-changes, and actor cues. I keep in communication with the stage manager in the house via headset, and help them keep the rehearsal running smoothly on stage while the designers create their cue sequences.

Previews see us making changes and rehearsing during the day before performing for an audience in the evening. Once the show is open I’m mostly working during the evening running the show backstage, with some mornings and afternoons for understudy rehearsals and matinees.

What was your most memorable or favorite show to work on so far, whether in school or professionally?

In school and professionally, I’ve been lucky so far to be involved in a lot of world premiere productions. It’s really exciting to be able to be involved in the process that creates a play from scratch, and see the changes from day to day, what gets added and what gets cut, before it ever sees an audience. I’m especially drawn to new works because it’s the purest distillation of what’s unique about theatre: if you’re not in the room where and when it happens, you missed out.

SMRG_01What do you believe are the three most important skills for a stage manager to have?

Multi-tasking: In production, you have to be able to balance a lot of different priorities all competing for attention between directors, designers, and actors. Managing the schedule, communicating with everyone, running the actual show without letting any of these fall away is important. Also as a freelance professional stage manager you alone are in charge of moving your own career forward, and when you’re doing one show, you’re either preparing for the next show you’ve booked or searching for the next job. If you can keep working well while looking ahead, you’ll be more successful and less stressed.

Communication: Not just when and what you communicate, but how. Being aware of and able to adjust tone in speaking and writing is an immensely useful tool for stage managers because we are the ultimate diplomats of the theatre. Avoid sarcasm — it’s hard to detect in text. Be clear, be concise but specific. Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ a lot, and ‘I’m sorry’ as soon as you need to. Have conversations instead of barking orders. When you don’t know something say so, and ask questions. Try to listen more than you speak—that’s a sign of strength, not weakness.

Sense of humor: There’s a stereotype sometimes of stage managers as type-A, control freak, stressed-out dictators. There are certainly stressful elements of the job, and it is a big one that requires strong leadership. But the best stage managers I’ve worked with are able to make that look easy because they don’t take themselves or the job too seriously. Of course safety is always a concern that isn’t taken lightly, and sometimes a firm hand is needed to maintain order. But a great stage manager can do that while making the theatre a really pleasant working environment where people are excited to show up everyday and do their best possible work.

Theatre is not brain surgery or a mission to Pluto; professionals on every level of theatre make mistakes, and things go wrong beyond our control, but we laugh them off, come in the next day and try to not make the same mistakes again. Part of what makes theatre unique is that we get to do it fresh each night — we plan for perfection and adjust as needed.

SMRG_03And, finally, just for fun, did you expect your Ryan Gosling pictures to be such an Internet hit?

I am continually shocked by the response that SMRG received. I made it when I was home from college for Christmas in 2011 and I was bored on the Internet. It was the height of the various Ryan Gosling “Hey girl” memes and when I thought of a few SM jokes that made me laugh I thought a few friends and maybe 3 strangers might like them too. I was immediately surprised by how fast it spread. I didn’t tell anyone about it and I think it took 6 days for someone at my school to find it and share it there.

Before I ran out of jokes there were over 100,000 visitors from more than 100 countries. When I studied abroad they already had one of the pictures on their SM office board before I got there, and friends tell me when they spot them backstage at theatres, which is so cool and so insane to me. It was definitely a lesson for me about how quickly the Internet moves and how far it reaches, and hopefully how to use that power for good.

• • •

Thank you again to Jean! I too was first drawn to stage managing because of my love for organization and have since teched countless productions. I think I made the right choice in extracurriculars – I am so, so grateful for my district’s drama programs – and I adored this inside peek into the actual business. Do you participate in theater in some format? Do you have any interest in stage managing?

Have a lovely rest of your day!

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I Will Always Write Back: A Book Review


I Will Always Write BackTitle: I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives
Authors: Caitlin Alifirenka, Martin Ganda, and Liz Welch
Published: April 14th, 2015 by Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 392
Genre: Young Adult / Nonfiction
Source: Library / Hardcover
Series: N/A

The true story of an all-American girl and a boy from an impoverished city in Zimbabwe and the letter that changed both of their lives forever.

It started as an assignment. Everyone in Caitlin’s class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. All the other kids picked countries like France or Germany, but when Caitlin saw Zimbabwe written on the board, it sounded like the most exotic place she had ever heard of – so she chose it. 

Martin was lucky to even receive a pen pal letter. There were only ten letters, and forty kids in his class. But he was the top student, so he got the first one. That letter was the beginning of a correspondence that spanned six years and changed two lives.

In this compelling dual memoir, Caitlin and Martin recount how they became best friends – and better people – through letters. Their story will inspire readers to look beyond their own lives and wonder about the world at large and their place in it. {Goodreads}

As a kid, the idea of a pen pal seemed magical. Using supplies as simple as a pencil and paper, I could have a friend not from the classroom, playground, or the next town over, but rather, across the globe! Today, sending snail mail in such a manner holds similar appeal because, perhaps, writing an actual letter feels more thoughtful than a brief email or a quick text in our hyper-connected society.

My love of mail now explained, I was all sorts of excited to read I Will Always Write Back, a memoir by former pen pals and longtime best friends Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda. Reading the synopsis, their connection is hard to imagine – Caitlin had lived in a Pennsylvania suburb her whole life, while Martin was in Zimbabwe slums as a child and adolescent – but their love, compassion, and support for one another seeps through the chapters of the book, enticing even the most hesitant to turn the page. Neither the journey nor the writing is perfect, but the memoir succeeds in what I believe Caitlin and Martin had hoped: showing just how powerful one letter can be.

The friendship between the two authors began in the classroom, where both participated in a pen pal program. Caitlin, as she describes herself, was the typical American teenager at the time; she lived comfortably with her parents and brother, had a wide group of friends {and crushes to match}, and thought of school more as a social gathering than a place to learn. Martin, in contrast, lived in a poor Zimbabwe neighborhood, where he was forced to share a mattress with his family, had his photo taken only once, and struggled to stay in school because of the cost of attendance. Both narrators expertly emphasize the differences of their teenage lives so that the more important event, their continued exchange of letters, comes as a greater surprise. The minute details of their day-to-day lives are as interesting as they sound, but Caitlin and Martin, along with third author Liz Welch, find balance in what they include by the middle of the book.

Caitlin and Martin’s story spans over several years, for their correspondence continued long after their other classmates and their pen pals stopped. Readers follow the two writers throughout their middle school, high school, and college education as they see Caitlin start her first job, Martin succeed on exams and enter a new school, and both show endless generosity for one another. Too often have I seen these “feel-good” nonfiction books read as two-page magazine articles with added fluff, which is why I appreciate the inclusion of their own letters; the snippets remind the audience of readers that I Will Always Write Back is a true story.

A strong memoir needs just as good of writing as it does a story, and unfortunately, this is where I felt the book most needed improvement. Told in alternating point of views, Caitlin and Martin’s chapters are written in a simplistic style, better known as the “telling, not showing” way of writing; this is not necessarily a bad thing, but when it is marketed to young adults, I expected a more insightful – and less choppy – take. Furthermore, I found myself looking forward to one narrator’s sections more than the other’s depending on what point I was on the story. This is a common trouble with books told from multiple perspectives, but it’s a problem to point out nonetheless.

Books serve many purposes: a lot entertain, many inform, and some, such as I Will Always Write Back, inspire. Few readers will have the same resources or be in a similar situation as Caitlin and Martin, but every person, from a young middle school student to an avid reader of an adult, that picks up the book does have the power to make a difference. If you’re in need of a feel-good, do-good story, I Will Always Write Back fits the bill. I’m a fan.

Need more convincing? Here’s what other reviewers had to say.
“Martin’s dream is to come to the States to study, but that seems impossible, as he struggles just to feed his family. As he and Caitlin grow closer, he discovers her boundless generosity. Their improbable friendship is stretched and tried by political strife, economic disparity, blatant misunderstandings, and growing up” {read the rest of the review at Jones Library Teens HERE}.

“Even though I am far, far from a young adult, I can attest to the universal appeal of this book. Teen readers and beyond will enjoy it” {read the rest of the review at Mary & Me HERE}.

“For kids who want to understand how other kids live, and what they go though on a daily basis, this is a wonderful story. It shows how total strangers can be there for each other and the lengths people will go to in order to help each other” {read the rest of the review at Ink and Page HERE}.

Have a wonderful Wednesday!

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Blueberry Scones


Blueberry SconesWhile little can compare with a home-cooked dinner or a well-prepared lunch, there’s nothing I like better than baking for breakfast. With so many choices at hand – a savory or sweet dish, a simple or complicated recipe, quick or overnight prep – the first meal of the day offers a multitude of options for home bakers, a freedom I’ve come to love as I whip up a new baked good week after week. Furthermore, I have learned that something as easy as a batch of muffins can bring a smile to one’s face, which may explain why I’m constantly on the search for a new breakfast recipe.

When I caught a glimpse of Deb’s blueberry scones, I knew instantly what I would be making on my Saturday morning. The pictures are nothing to the final result; fresh blueberries, cold butter, and a sprinkle of sugar combine to make an irresistible morning treat – or, if you’re hungry, a nice afternoon snack. As with the other scones I’ve shared, patience is a crucial ingredient. It can be frustrating, but believe me, the first bite is worth every second of kneading the dough.

Blueberry SconesBlueberry Scones Loosely adapted from Smitten Kitchen


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • Zest of one lemon, grated
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small chunks
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten, for coating the scones
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sugar, also for coating the scones

to make

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flours, zest, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Use a pastry cutter or your fingers to cut in the chunks of butter until the mixture resembles course crumbs.
  3. Stir in the blueberries and milk to form clumps of dough. Gently knead the mixture until it is gathered in one mass – take care not to overdo it!
  4. Transfer the dough to a floured counter and shape it into a one-inch tall disc. Use a sharp knife to cut it into eight separate wedges.
  5. Meanwhile, grease or line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the wedges on the baking sheet with space in between each scone. Use the back of a spoon to brush each wedge with egg before sprinkling each with coarse sugar.
  6. Bake scones for fifteen to eighteen minutes; they should be golden brown on top.
  7. Let cool, and enjoy! {These scones freeze well, and only need a quick reheating in the microwave or oven before you’re good to go}.

Happy Monday!


Filed under Recipes

Musical Moodboards / Newsies

Hello!Musical MoodboardsLover of theater that I am, one of the ten items on my summer list this year is seeing a show. Although I haven’t even reached the halfway mark of my much-loved vacation, I have already checked off this item not once, but twice! Last week, I spent my nights assisting backstage in a local production of Carrie {that musical, based on Stephen King’s horror novel, is a story for another day}, and just weeks earlier, I attended a performance of Newsies on its national tour.

The talent of the enthusiastic Newsies cast and the first-rate choreography of each musical number made it easy to create a new musical moodboard for the show, a task that is usually easier said than done. The feature took a short break last month, but previous editions can be found HERE if you’re in the mood to browse!

Newsies Musical MoodboardSources: Newsies Cast Illustration / Newsboys Smoking Photo / Newsies Photo / Santa Fe Train Postcard / Newspaper Print / Newsboy Illustration / {FYI: I tried my best to provide you with the most accurate and updated sources, but please let me know of any problems or mistakes!}

Newsies, a story about the Newsboy Strike of 1899, originated as a box-office flop in the spring of 1992. Over the years, however, the film has grown into a cult classic, and it’s one I’m eager to see; Christian Bale is quoted as saying, “You say something bad about Newsies and you have an awful lot of people to answer to.” The story transitioned to the stage in late 2011, and it’s been a Broadway success story ever since.

True to the show’s style, I looked for images that reflected the life of a young city newsboy when working on the moodboard, whether it be a photograph of them smoking on the street, a wood print of the traditional newsie, or simply a print of newspaper advertisements. I also looked to different numbers for inspiration; the popularity of the musical’s song “Santa Fe,” for example, called for a vintage postcard picture of the city and the train that Jack Kelly sings of. Finally, I only needed to acknowledge the growing fandom behind the show with an illustration from a “fansie” and include a photo that captures the essence of the show before I wrapped this moodboard up.

Let’s discuss! Have you seen Newsies on stage or on film? Do you know or have you read anything on the Newsboy Strike of 1899? {I’m want to find a good book on it!} Finally, if you have seen a performance, did you love “Seize the Day,” or did you love “Seize the Day”?! :)

Have a terrific rest of your day!


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Making the Grade / All the Rage

Hi! Making the GradeThe number of stereotypes that surround teenage girls is disheartening, and, as a young female myself, I’ve read, seen, and experienced enough to know that nothing will change in the future unless we openly talk about these issues in the present. Courtney Summers, a popular YA author, has not only discussed the stigmas that plague teenage girls, but written multiple novels on them as well. All the Rage is her most recent release, and like her past books, it brings controversial issues of modern society to the forefront. Finding the connection between a small town outcast and the community’s supposed golden boy, All the Rage is both powerful and unsettling; I hazard to guess that was entirely Summers’ point. Find my full review below!

{A friendly heads up: this book centers on the victims of rape culture. Please keep that in mind as content advisory or a trigger warning!}

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous.

But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear. 

With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women after an act of sexual violence, forcing us to ask ourselves: In a culture that refuses to protect its young girls, how can they survive? {Goodreads}

All the RageNeed more convincing? Here’s what other reviewers had to say.
“It tackles some huge issues, but it never feels like an ‘issue book.’ Courtney Summers addresses rape culture and sex shaming in a raw and no-holds-barred kind of way – it’s exactly the kind of book that can cause change, even if it’s just a small one” {read the rest of the review at The Thousand Lives HERE}.

“I really think the only negative thing I can say about this book is that the time frames were a bit confusing. The author started with the rape and then immediately goes to after the attack with no real separation. It took me a few pages to even realize it was after the attack and even then, I wasn’t clear on how much time had passed” {read the rest of the review at Bingeing on Books HERE}.

“Summers has gifted us with a girl who thinks she’s damaged beyond repair, that makes some really poor, frustrating decisions because she can’t mentally break free of her suffering. In her typical refined manner, Summers forces us to stand up for victims all over the world to say, ‘Enough is enough'” {read the rest of the review at Rather be Reading HERE}.

Let’s discuss! Have you read All the Rage? Which Summers book should I try next? {This is Not a Test has me intrigued}. Finally, have you read any “heavier” novels recently, or are you sticking to fluffier reads for the summertime?

Have a terrific Wednesday!


Filed under Book Reviews, Making the Grade