Indiana State University Newsroom

Sycamore participates in stage manager mentor project

March 23, 2017

When people began roaming the 57th Annual Conference & Stage Expo in St. Louis on March 9 for the three-day event that attracts 5,500 people from the theater technology field, it was go time for Crystal Johnson.

The Indiana State University theater major from Indianapolis was one of 12 students and young professionals who were selected to spend a week coordinating the expo as part of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology's Stage Manager Mentor Project.

"I've only ever done theater performances, so this was my first time managing a live show, and there were thousands of people that I had to manage," said Johnson, '17, who serves as stage manager for Indiana State's theater department. "That's a big difference from the few hundred people that our theater holds, but I like the chaos of stage management."

The Stage Manager Mentor Project offers students and young professionals interested in stage management the opportunity to work under the direction of professional stage managers as they coordinate and manage the major events of the expo each year in March, where those in the theater and live entertainment industry can network, view technological innovations and learn about career opportunities.

Johnson worked one of the event's new product showcases, talking with vendors and collecting products from their booths and served as an assistant stage manager during the Tech Olympics.

Learning the ropes of a live event was made easier for first-timers like Johnson, because each participant in the program was assigned a mentor to help prepare the various, often complex, events. The participants and their mentors also met during roundtable discussions to talk stage management and related areas and skills.

Johnson wasn't fazed by the long days, which began around 8 a.m. and ran late into the night with chances for participants to network with industry professionals.

"The mentors were one of the best parts of the experience because of the professional stage managers that each of the participants got partnered with," she said. "The mentors would introduce us to the vendors and help us network with people at the conference. My mentor works as a professional state manager at Shanghai Disney and there was another mentor there who works in Australia, so it was cool to get the perspective of people who work in different environments. I had such a great time and learned so much that I didn't really think about the lack of sleep I got until the very end."

Johnson was directed to the mentorship program and helped through the application process by Tresa Makosky, a lecturer in the theater department.
"I knew it would be an excellent opportunity to experience the USITT conference from a different perspective," Makosky said. "Crystal was able to be a part of the team who managed the live events at the conference, as well as giving her the opportunity to work with and network with many professional stage managers. It is an excellent transition from student stage manager to the professional world."

Johnson was selected from hundreds applicants who were required to be in at least the second year of their post-secondary education and submit a resume, current photo, letter with goals and reason they want to participate and two letters of recommendation to be considered for the experience.

"Our mentors told us that this experience was ‘food for the soul.' It definitely was for me," Johnson said. "It was a life-changing event, and I never could have imagined that I would learn and grow as much as both a person and a state manager. I came back with a whole new drive."


Photo: - Indiana State University student Crystal Johnson, left, and her mentor at the United States Institute for Theatre Technology's Stage Manager Mentor Project pose for a photo during the experience in St. Louis in early March.

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or