If you’ve attended any productions at Touchstone Theatre in the past few years, chances are, you have seen Alexis Leon’s work. Although Leon’s professional life at Lehigh University, where she works as the Assistant Director of International Internships (through the Office of International Affairs), takes up much of her schedule, she still manages to find time to also work as a contract stage manager and occasional actress at Touchstone and other local theaters. As a stage manager, her work is integral to keeping a show running smoothly. With a background in American Studies (she got her MA at Lehigh in 2014) and communications, and a concentration in theater (with a BA from Marywood in 2004), Leon is perfectly poised to think through the cultural nuances of theatrical productions. But what does the woman behind the curtain think about her role? I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Alexis Leon, who shares her reflections on her experiences in theater and how to support the local arts scene.
Sarah Heidebrink-Bruno (SH): How did you first get involved with theater?
Alexis Leon (AL): If we mean theater in general, I first started as a performer. I was fondly referred to as a precocious child, hamming for our home camcorder and giving tours of our backyard in a very campy British accent. The first role I distinctly remember was Jack Frost in our spring play first grade. I had a solo song and a nemesis/antagonist in the Bluebird of Spring, and I have never been so happy wearing opaque tights as for that role.
For Lehigh Valley, I got involved also through performance: a colleague of my mother’s at Lehigh University spotted an ad in the Morning Call looking for actors to do a summer tour for a children’s show. I auditioned with Touchstone Theatre, and was cast as one of three actors touring Aesop’s Fables. My work ethic and professionalism made an impression: I was asked to return in 2012 and be touring stage manager for a show Touchstone was sending to the Ko Festival in Amherst, Massachusetts. Since then, I have worked extensively with Touchstone, Allentown Public Theater, and Star of the Day Productions, largely as a contract stage manager but also with Touchstone as a performer.
SH: What does your role involve?
AL: Stage managers typically run rehearsals and then, once in production, we literally run the show: lights, sound, props, actor wrangling, all the things. It means getting to the rehearsal hall before most anyone else and being among the last people out, during rehearsal and performance. We either run a board and actually hit buttons for lights and sound to work, or we “call the show” and tell our technicians when cues should go. It means knowing the show inside and out, and having a comprehensive understanding of the big picture but also the minutiae of prop pre-sets and set changes. It involves being able to problem-solve on the fly, and maintain sanity and diplomacy even when you’re running on less sleep than anyone else and have the most cause for being cranky. It takes a very specific personality to be that detail-oriented and organized, yet not be a dictator or micro-manage your cast and crew. I keep getting, hired so I guess I’ve struck that balance!
SH: What are you currently working on?
I’m not committed to anything until December, when I will stage manage Star of the Day’s production of Scrooged! The Musical. I do, however, serve on the Board of Trustees for Touchstone Theatre, and have been a member of the executive committee there for nearly my entire tenure there. Just making time to see all the great theater in the Lehigh Valley will keep me busy all summer!
SH: What is your favorite show and why?
AL: My favorite musical is The Phantom of the Opera; it was my first Broadway show after moving back to the U.S. in 1995, and I still know the entire score. My favorite straight play is Twelfth Night. I’ve seen five productions to date, most recently this month at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival.
Personally, my favorite show that I was in could be either Peter Pan, as Noodler the Pirate, or Lady Capulet in Romeo & Juliet. The former meant gender-bent casting, dancing with an upright bass, kidnapping Lost Boys at (plastic) gunpoint, and also being a PIRATE! The latter was during my year-long Fellowship at the Hedgerow Theater in Media right after graduating. This opportunity presented me with several professional challenges like: a) being rehearsal stage manager for the show, while in it, b) crying on cue, at least twice in the second act, c) acting against another Fellow who was my friend, and the same age as me, but really sticking it to her as my willful daughter, Juliet. We both truthfully cried more than once in the scene where she begs me to not make her marry Paris.
SH: What have your experiences been like working with the local theater arts scene, and Touchstone Theatre in particular?
AL: I have to say, I am no longer surprised, but I am continually impressed, by the talent in the Lehigh Valley. I have been incredibly fortunate to work with dedicated and passionate people on and off-stage. It’s a community of creatives, in the truest sense of the word. I have said more than once that after you’ve done two shows here, especially if it’s with two different companies, you basically know or are connected to almost everyone in the scene. For the most part, companies aren’t competitive, they’re collaborative! I often see familiar faces in the seats, because we don’t just build our own audience, we are one another’s audience. The management at Touchstone regularly meet and work with other artistic directors, and I know I can call on them whether my current production needs a white lab coat large enough to fit over a leather jacket, or if I need a Santa hat in April for a coworker’s kid (both of which are based on actual events). I started with Touchstone as an undergraduate, and once I moved full time to the Valley, I never left them, and there’s good reason I always feel so at home there.
Photo courtesy of Emma Ackerman.
SH: Finally, what advice do you have for folks who are interested in becoming involved with the local theater scene?
AL: See a show. You can pay to get in and directly support the theater you want to see succeed and be involved with. Better yet, sign up to usher, because every theater group relies on a corps of volunteers. All our companies have either an email or phone listed on the website to “Get Involved” or “Contact Us!” and there’s always social media. Stay after a show if there is a talk-back offered, and ask a good question: it gives you a chance to get your face known, and will afford opportunities to meet staff and actors. If you’re looking to become a local talent, I recommend you join the Facebook groups “Lehigh Valley Actors Database” and “Auditions! Lehigh Valley Edition.” The latter is especially great for casting calls. It’s also a good way to see which companies may need tech, since you get performance dates published as part of the casting call and can go from there to the company’s page to see who’s hiring. But seriously, go see a show, and bring friends.