Shannon Rourke graduated in 2016 with a BA in Theatre and History. She is a legend at St. Ambrose when it comes to stage management, but that was just a small sampling of what she accomplished.
"While at Ambrose, I was involved in a show my entire time until the last one my senior year because I had to go to D.C. [for winning the stage management competition at KCACTF]," Rourke said. "I went to KCACTF all four years as an Irene Ryan nominee, acting partner, or stage management fellowship competitor. I was also the work study for Cory Johnson when she was the Department Chair and then Dan Rairdin-Hale when he became Chair. I wrote for the newsletter as well. The majority of my time was split between stage managing and acting."
As a double major in history and theatre, Rourke often wrote papers on theatre history. Adding to her humanities repertoire, Rourke sang for SAU's vocal jazz ensemble, STAMVOJA. She also worked a part-time job at Starbucks.
Today, Rourke works in Chicago at the famed Goodman Theatre as the Floor Manager for one of its theatres.
"I'm basically the backstage assistant stage manager," Rourke said. "I join the productions a week before tech and prepare the dressing rooms, callboards, and backstage area for tech rehearsals. That week I also try to learn the show as best I can. Once tech rehearsals begin, I assist in the communication between the stage manager and the actors. I also communicate with the crew people backstage to get the props transferred from rehearsal to the stage. Once we are at tech, I maintain and update the run sheets, props presets and any other backstage paperwork that is needed for the run of the show."
"For the stage managers, I am their eyes and ears backstage by communicating with actors, run crew and wardrobe. During the run of the show, I am responsible for communicating with the board operators and house manager to open the house, assist in the maintenance of the show paperwork and assist with scenic shifts as needed. This position is meant to be a training opportunity with the stage management staff. I'll only be doing this for rest of the season, but the goal is this will lead to bigger and better stage management work! It's really nice to have this learning opportunity while getting paid like a full-time employee."
Life outside of college is understandably different in a variety of ways, Rourke said.
"I miss the times when my friends were right down the hall from me, and when we would go to dinner at the cafeteria every day at 5 p.m. and sit on the couches," she said. "Nowadays, I see my best friends just a few times a year, if I'm lucky, because we are all so busy! What's nice is you don't have homework anymore. But there are other things, like budgeting for your bills that becomes just as time-consuming. Applying for jobs is also time-consuming."
Current Occupation: Floor Manager, Goodwin Theatre, Chicago. As Floor Manager, Shannon joins the productions a week before technical rehearsals and prepares the dressing rooms, callboards, and backstage area.
Managing her time and work schedule has been one of the biggest changes because there are real-life consequences - not just bad grades.
"There are definitely stressful days, but I've come up with a goal system to make sure I'm completing tasks every week," she said. "Not to scare those in college, but you just need to learn how to achieve your weekly tasks now."
Rourke cautions that post-college life isn't just full of bills and schedules. "Life is fun, though. Through each new job there are new friends to be made and places to see. I've gotten to travel a little bit more, and I live in a dream location: one block away from Wrigley Field."
Rourke is doing what she came to school to do, which is something most theatre majors aspire to do as well. For those interested in following her path, Shannon advised to get started ASAP.
"You can start anytime, especially if you're already involved in theatre," she said. "For me, one of the most important things in stage management is that you already know about all aspects of a theatre production. If you're an actor or involved in costumes, you already have a piece of what you need to know! What you should work on is strengthening the other parts of theatre that are weaker for you, as Red Beard (aka Kris Eitrheim) would say, ‘fill your toolbox.' If you enjoy and are good at managing people and communicating, go for it! As my dad said when I first started, ‘There are a ton of talented actors out there, but someone is always looking for a good stage manager.'"
If you're already on the road to stage management and about to graduate, Rourke suggests securing a day job to pay the bills.
"Being a barista worked for me," she said, "but I also have friends who work for temp agencies or are dog walkers. To get your foot in the door, apply for internships. The other thing young stage managers can do is ASM. Start out by ASM-ing for non-equity companies, and then you can ASM for equity companies. There, you are assisting a union stage manager and also have the opportunity to accumulate points in the Equity Membership Candidate program. Once you accumulate enough points by doing enough assistant work on equity shows, you can then become Equity yourself!"
Don't just stop there, however. Keep looking for work and making connections along the way.
"Even if it's a little project, the connections you make will be your best friend," Rourke said. "The majority of the work I've received since graduation I haven't applied for because someone has contacted me from a show I did three years ago. That's how this business works. It's word of mouth. Go to the bars with the cast after rehearsal, be social, and do your absolute best job every day. Make yourself indispensable, and you will continue to get work."