Less than two years out of college, Melrosian Maggie Kearnan earned the role of stage manager for the Boston Theater Company’s recent production of Finish Line: Untold Stories of the 2013 Boston Marathon.
From April 7-23, Boston Theater Company presented 17 preview performances at the NonProfit Center in Boston.
The show begins on the day of the bombings and ends on the finish line the following year. Its entire script is taken verbatim from interviews with 88 people who were on the ground April 15, 2013, when two bombs exploded near the marathon’s finish line, killing three civilians and injuring more than 250 others.
Last week, the Free Press spoke with 24-year-old Kearnan — a lifelong Melrose resident who graduated from Arlington Catholic High School in 2010 and from Boston College in 2014 — about her experience stage managing Finish Line and her long-term aspirations.
Melrose Free Press: How did you get involved in the Finish Line production?
Maggie Kearnan: I got involved with Boston Theater Company this past summer. I kind of had a summer off [after college], theater slowed down, and over the summer I was looking to get involved in another group.
I applied to be an artistic assistant with them — it was administrative, answering emails and doing anything that needs to be done. I started working pretty much immediately with them, and they hired me less than a week before the first workshop for Finish Line. I worked on that workshop almost as soon as they hired me.
Pretty much right before the rehearsal process, they asked me to stage manage the show. I hadn’t thought much about it. It’s a small company and they’re kind of figuring things out and still building their family. I wasn’t really sure how I would fit in or what that would become.
It was definitely a surprise and exciting. I don’t have a lot of stage-managing experience — this is really only my second show — so it’s [great] that they trusted me to take on this project.
MFP: Did you do any stage-managing as a student at BC?
MK: I did a lot of things at BC for theater, but stage-managing didn’t happen to be one of them. My first stage-managing position was at Marblehead Little Theatre — The Diary of Anne Frank — last January. I got to learn on the job, which was really nice.
At BC, they train their stage managers so well that I walked out of BC knowing how to do it, even though I had never done it myself.
MFP: Explain briefly what the Finish Line show is.
MK: The co-creators [Joey Frangieh and Lisa Rafferty] have spent the last two years creating this show. They interviewed 88 people — doctors, runners, people who were injured, parents of people who were injured, journalists, spectators, cops — and we transcribed all of those interviews. I was one of [the transcribers].
Then they chose the stories that spoke to them from those stories and created this piece using the words from those people. We call it verbatim documentary theater — all the punctuation, all the pauses, all the ‘um,’ the misspeaking.
It’s a really powerful way to tell the story, because we’re hearing from people who we don’t often hear from. We all have a story from that day, so it’s really interesting to watch it be told from people who were there. Everything that’s in the show is absolutely true. None of it is created or crafted.
MFP: Has the fact that the script is taken verbatim from interviews made your job as the stage manager any more challenging?
MK: In some ways. Any time you’re working with a new script, there is a little bit of extra work because I have to keep up with all of those pages. That’s just an added task of any time any single word is changed, I have to change my script and print new pages. The first two weeks [of rehearsals], every single day the entire cast got a new script.
There was also a lot of research that went into the show, because all the people who are in the show, they’re all real people. You can Google it, see what these people were talking about, and you have all these videos.
A lot of times, everything you could need to know about your character is right there in front of you [in the script]. That’s not the case with this show.
MFP: What exactly is the stage manager’s role?
MK: The stage manager’s job is to essentially make sure that everyone else is able to do their job. I am the liaison between everyone else. I make sure the production team knows what’s happening in the rehearsal room. I keep the rehearsal room on track. I keep the schedule. I make sure the directors are achieving their goals for a specific rehearsal.
Once we open, the directors tend to step back, and that’s when I’m in charge and have to make sure the show runs smoothly. For every performance, I write up a report and send it to the entire production team.
It’s a little bit of everything. Every stage management show is a little bit different.
MFP: Do you think the show has been a success?
MK: I think it’s been great. Going into it, we didn’t really have any idea [how it would go]. Coming up to the week before opening, we sort of got some press attention, which led to more press attention, which led to, of course, ticket sales. Most of our shows have been sold out, which is great.
This is just a preview – we are being produced again in 2017 [in association with Citi Performing Arts Center] – and the show still has more room to grow and evolve. It’s nice that it’s not over on Saturday [April 23] when we close.
MFP: How has the show been received?
MK: Reception has been great. We’ve been having talkbacks with people who were interviewed, some over a year ago, and then all of a sudden they’re in an audience watching an actor say their words. They all seem grateful that their stories are being told, and they’re all very supportive of the project.
I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a production where this many people were somehow involved. I’m really proud of how it’s gone, and kind of caught off guard by the attention we’ve gotten from the public and the press and everyone who’s participated.
MFP: What do you think makes Finish Line unique when compared with other depictions of the Boston Marathon bombings and their aftermath?
MK: Ultimately, we are not sensationalizing it, we are not fictionalizing it, we are not monetizing it. We are just telling the story, a story that’s still being told. Boston is still recovering. Every marathon, it’s still there in everyone’s mind.
When Joey and Lisa talk about what inspired them to create it in the first place, Joey was seeing all this coverage about the terrorists. He was sick of hearing from them and wanted to hear from everyone else. To just be hearing about these two evil people who did this horrible thing, he was just tired and wanted to tell a different story.
[The bombers] are just mentioned in passing. I forget about them. This horrible event happened, but I’m watching all these beautiful, good people talk about it. I think that’s my favorite part of it, and that’s why I think this setting is important.
There’s an argument for theater, too. There’s something, I think, so powerful about sitting in a room, hearing someone else speak in front of you, live and in person. Something about that format might get to me more than anything else — which is why I work in theater, of course.
MFP: Will you still be stage-managing for Finish Line when it expands next spring?
MK: It’s hard to know right now. We don’t have a lot of information about it. I will definitely still be with Boston Theater Company, but I can’t say for sure whether I’m stage-managing it — it will be a much bigger production and I don’t know if I’ll be qualified. I’m excited to see how things turn out.
MFP: Would you like to pursue a career as a stage manager? Do you have other aspirations within the theater/arts world?
MK: I do a lot — I direct and act and write and I pay a lot of the bills with scenic paintings. I kind of work in a little bit of everything right now. Stage-managing is tough. You have to be the calm, levelheaded person in the room, even when people are freaking out at you.
Anything that gets me in a theater, in a rehearsal space, is good enough for me. I’ve learned how to be a better designer, director [and] actor because of stage-managing – how to work with people, how to maintain professionalism. And I get to work with amazing directors like Joey and Lisa. I’m still kind of fresh out of school, only a year-and-a-half out.
MFP: Aside from Finish Line, what have you been working on recently?
MK: My biggest thing right now is I’m doing a scenic painting for the Longwood Players’ production of Urinetown at the Cambridge YMCA in Central Square.
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