Life behind the curtain


Junior Summit Dempster sits in front of the set of “Noises Off!” with roses and a big smile after a successful opening night. (Photo credit: Caitlin Somerville)

The night of a performance is always buzzing with excitement. Actors frantically going over lines and stage crew members scrambling to put the finishing touches on the set as the audience settles into the house. In some ways, the night of a show is like submitting a final draft of a paper  – nerve wracking and finite – only in theatre, the nerves last the entire length of the show.

So how do the actors manage to get into place on time and all of the props to their respective spots on set? Who cues the lights to dim and the volume of the actors’ headsets to be turned up before the curtain opens? Many know that a show is much more than what is performed onstage, but junior Summit Dempster knows just how much action goes on behind the scenes.

As stage manager of the production Noises Off! at the Birmingham Village Players Theatre, Dempster has the responsibility of everyone and everything behind the line of the curtain. On the night of a show, she must balance her responsibility of keeping the actors alive and upkeep of the set with management of all the props and cues throughout the entire show. If that’s not stressful enough, Dempster is a first-timer and received her title only three weeks before the show.

“I had been working on set construction and props since the beginning of June, and the stage manager at the time had been MIA since the first rehearsal,” Dempster said. “Eventually he backed out and the director asked me if I was willing to step up as his first choice.”

Step up she would. Upon agreeing to take the position, Dempster has committed much of her time to the theatre. Now that the show has opened, she’s scaled back on her hours at the theatre, but still spends much of her weekends there for the shows. Before that, she worked each day after school until dark only to begin the long drive back home to Brighton, which doesn’t leave her much time for school, friends, or even sleep.

“I almost got in an accident once because I was exhausted and trying to drive home,” Dempster said.

Despite the sacrifices she’s had to make, Dempster continues to work because it’s her passion. First introduced to theatre at Mercy, she has actively pursued her dream of becoming a professional stage crew manager. Dempster is an active member of Mercy’s stage crew, a member of the International Thespian Society, and a Mercy Mime. She has never acted in a Mercy production, because as a performer she would not be able to do stage crew as well, but has been offered roles outside of Mercy. Dempster has never taken one, however, due to her commitment to Mercy theatre.

“I never would have found theatre without this department,” she said. “I could never turn my back on them.”