Jillian Zeman: 2009 Outstanding Stage Manager 


On Monday, September 21st, the 2009 New York Innovative   Theatre Awards were presented. Among the 18 production awards and 3 honorary awards was a special presentation of the very first Outstanding Stage Manager Award.

Presenters Tom Wojtunik and Taryn Drongowski were eager to present this award to the Production Stage Manager of the Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC)’s production of Ragtime.  A mammoth production boasting a 26-person cast – including 4 child actors (with stage parents), a 20-person production crew, 5-person band, a giant set that had to be constructed and deconstructed for almost every performance and literally hundreds of costumes and props, this show could have easily buckled under the weight of the details. However, as Wojtunik, Artistic Director of APAC and Director of Ragtime put it, “At the center of all of this was Jillian Zeman… Had Jillian been anything other than outstanding, the show may well not have happened on any given night.”

To create cohesion out of so many disparate elements required strength, patience, professionalism, focus and endless personal stamina. And while Jillian’s organizational skills are to be envied, it is her heart and enthusiastic attitude that truly impressed the cast and crew. “There are a few people in the room during a first rehearsal who set the tone for the production. I believe the most important presence is your Stage Manager” said Ragtime actor Anna Lisa Jensen. “Our rehearsal process was efficient, effective, meticulously organized, but more importantly, it was fun. Jillian helped foster growth and creativity… She never lost her cool, or her sense of humor.”

APAC Executive Director, Drongowski recalls an example of this signature calm under pressure characteristic. “We were producing at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church for the first time. The quirks of the 100 year old building-including its tricky wiring-became apparent to us during rehearsals. We discovered, for example, that a light switch two floors below the theater actually controlled the outlet that our sound equipment was plugged into. During one sold-out performance, an audience member flipped that switch during intermission. Just before the start of the second act, Jillian realized what had happened, flew down three flights of stairs, flipped the switch back on, and was back up at the lightboard before the rest of us realized anything was wrong. The second act started on time. Jillian’s email messages end with the quote, ‘There's no crying in stage management.’ At moments like that, crying would have been understandable, but instead we got Jillian’s infectious laugh.”

When selecting the Outstanding Stage Manager (OSM) recipient, the committee looked for an accomplished Stage Manager with a strong resume, but perhaps even more important was someone who demonstrated leadership and contributed to the overall artistic product and company experience. Stephanie Cox Williams, Chair of the OSM Committee noted that “Jillian really is the epitome of an outstanding Stage Manager with the ability to juggle a million things at once while keeping her cool. Her work on Ragtime really represents what it is like to work an Off-Off Broadway show as a Stage Manager.”

For her part, Jillian says that, “receiving the Outstanding Stage Manager award is really somewhat surreal to me, and it's such an amazing honor to be the first recipient.”  She calls Ragtime “one of my best experiences in theater” and praises the APAC administration and the cast and crew of Ragtime for their dedication. “Everyone involved in this show inspired me to do the best that I could to make the show a success, and I thank them for that.”

The sentiment is reciprocated. “Here is the truth: we were all able to do our jobs because she did hers so very well” says Wojtunik.

We believe the New York Innovative Theatre Awards is the first organization to present an award for Stage Management along with all the other production awards. We could not have been more honored to present the first Outstanding Stage Manager award to someone who not only enabled the production to function in an efficient and well organized manner, but a Stage Manager who inspired the very best in their cast and crew.

Jillian Zeman is truly an outstanding stage manager.


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