Nancy Uffner is a proud longtime member of Actors’ Equity Association. Her regional theatre stage management work includes the MUNY, Weston Playhouse Theatre Company, Lythgoe Family Panto, Goodspeed Musicals, Music Theatre Wichita, the U-M Festival of New Works, Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Chicago Opera Theatre, Virginia Stage Co., Baltimore’s Center Stage, Granbury Opera House, and Cherry County Playhouse. Her national tour experience includes All Shook Up, Fame, Ken Hill’s Phantom of the Opera, South Pacific with the late Robert Goulet, and Camelot with the late Richard Harris. She has worked locally with the Peter Sparling Dance Company as well as various music and corporate events, and has taught stage management classes at Eastern Michigan University. Prior to U-M, Nancy taught at Northwestern University. She holds an MA from the University of Michigan and a BS with secondary teaching certification from Eastern Michigan University.
What inspired you to get involved in theatre?
I had a great high school theatre teacher. I went to undergraduate school thinking I would be a high school theatre, English, and math teacher. The summer after freshman year, I had an acting internship at the Cherry County Playhouse in Traverse City which included providing labor for production areas. I discovered stage management and there was no turning back. Stage management utilized some of my best skills: organization, planning, systems management, attention to detail, people skills, and seeing the big picture. Foremost, I loved the storytelling aspect of the theatre, its reflection on the human condition.
How does stage managing for Theatre differ from managing for other art forms?
I’m drawn to stage management because it’s necessary and relevant in all performance art forms, and I’ve been fortunate to work in all mediums, including business theatre and corporate events. I’ve not been pigeonholed. I originally thought I would work primarily in new play development, yet it turns out I’ve done more established musicals than anything else. My career has been shaped by my desire to freelance and teach in balance with a marriage and raising two daughters.
That’s interesting! Is that part of your work-life balance?
For me, it’s not quite work-life balance but more about integration of the two. I don’t know what “balance” means, frankly, nor do I think I’m very good at it. I tend to be “all in” whatever I’m doing. Prioritizing family was purposeful, and not all career choices were possible.. I’m glad I’ve had the opportunities to make a career doing what I love while raising a family with my partner and best friend.
What have you learned about the nature of the performing arts by being behind the scenes for so many performances?
Performing arts can impact the way people think, feel, and act. I’m drawn to stories, dances, operas, concerts, and events that spread a message of hope, change, or reflect on an issue that needs exploring. For example, three summers ago UM alum Andrés Holder, who is from Panama, directed RENT, in Spanish, in Panama. Andrés invited me to come stage manage the show. I was honored to work with him, and what unfolded during the show moved me even more. The production took place in a conservative area where people of the LGBTQ community are typically not embraced. It was three weeks of safety, joy, and celebration for a community that typically does not have a place to do that.
What advice do you have for current SMTD students as they begin to build their life in the arts?
We have so many wonderful entrepreneurial minds in SMTD. It’s exciting and inspiring to see students making dreams happen. One piece of advice is to thoroughly research their needs. Learn what the needs are, or might be, and fill them. Trial and error is typically part of the journey, but it doesn’t have to be the whole journey or the usual journey. Research is useful. Even in entrepreneurship, the wheel does not have to be reinvented. The idea or the vision is core, but the Infrastructure needs to be in place to make it happen. What are the logistics? What does it cost? Where is the money coming from? How much personnel do you need and who are they? In my experience, the most successful, sustained ventures have the right people doing the right work as a collaborative team.
Being behind the scenes all these years has taught me many things. I love to teach and have lots of advice and opinions, but best leave it there for now. My office door is always open.