Theatre Alumna Urges Students to
Network from Day One

ruth-backstage.jpgAfter graduating from the Department of Theatre in 1977, Ruth E. Kramer worked in various Michigan professional theatres from East Lansing to Coldwater and Detroit before moving in February 1978 to New York City, where she’s lived ever since.

Settling into an apartment and day job in Manhattan while working theatre positions at night, Kramer was ultimately hired as a stage manager by Pilobolus Dance Theatre, and ended up touring for the next three years.

“Amazingly, I came right back here to the campus with Pilobolus in 1981 and faced right out into the MSU Auditorium space as stage manager,” Kramer recalled in a recent interview on the MSU Auditorium stage. “I still tell students how coming back to play on this stage made for a very satisfying experience.

Kramer adds that it all began for her with the people she met at MSU. In fact, her first day of classes in TH101 in the old Studio 49, Ruth says she made two new friends and soon, others; one of whom played a seminal role in her career.

“I advise students to start building their network of professional contacts as early as possible; that every job could lead to another down the road,” Kramer says.

“For example, a friend got an acting job at Tibbits Summer Theatre in Coldwater, Michigan and, because of that connection, I ended up stage managing there. They were first to hire me. Three years later, that friendship and other contacts from MSU and Tibbits culminated in my working at the Virginia Theatre, now the August Wilson Theatre, during Pilobolus’ Broadway run in New York.”

To put on the headset and call the house lights to half, in major theatres around the world, takes a lot of courage, especially when you’re 23 years old.

Kramer notes that the Pilobolus show at the Auditorium was the last time she was on MSU’s campus until this fall, when she returned as Guest Stage Manager in the Department of Theatre’s Guest Artists Series. But, she adds, it was her three-years with Pilobolus that gave her the confidence to go on with her career.

After all, it's the stage manager's job to make sure every aspect of the production runs just as the director intended time after time, until the production closes.

“To put on the headset and call the house lights to half, in major theatres around the world, takes a lot of courage, especially when you’re 23 years old,” Kramer says. “That was the start of everything. Again, my career is a perfect example for students of the crucial importance of networking.

“For instance, I got my Equity card because a director I’d worked with at Tibbits Summer Theatre introduced me to someone who hired me as the stage manager for a 1983 off-Broadway show, From Brooks with Love. Since then, I’ve been all over this beautiful country working as a regional and stock stage manager; living a varied and rich life.”

Kramer says when she hears of stage managers coming to speak to students at MSU or other universities, it is typically people working big Broadway productions in positions being held up as something to aspire to. But Ruth feels blessed to have forged 32 years with her Equity card working with wonderful actors, directors, and designers across the U.S., many of whom have never or don’t aspire to work on Broadway.

ruth-with-class.jpgThat’s one of the main reasons she quickly agreed when asked to return to campus as Guest Stage Manager. Kramer adds that she’s a big fan of the College’s new ACM program, whose students and faculty she met and worked with while back at MSU.

Says Kramer, "MSU’s new Arts and Cultural Management program is teaching students valuable skills, while giving those who may not intend to pursue a career as an artist options to build a career in a discipline they truly love.”

As to what brings her joy and makes her most proud, Ruth says it’s her 18-year association with Pittsburgh Public Theater, and her work with Actors Equity Association, the labor union representing American actors and stage managers in the theatre.

“I’m very proud and happy to be a highly active member of Actors’ Equity,” Kramer says. “Since 1987-88, I’ve worked on committees learning as much as I can about my profession, and been elected three times to serve on the National Council. It’s highly satisfying for me to work toward the greater good of others. It helps make it great to get up in the morning.”

In that respect, Kramer also gives of her time working with college students and recent graduates. She says there’s so much talent, today, among young stage managers, it is important that they learn early on not to compare themselves with others or where anyone else is in their career. And, of course, to begin developing their professional connections from day one.

“My time at MSU gave me that beginning network,” Ruth says. “My entire career branched out from the tree trunk of Michigan State University.”