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‘Authoritarian’ Steps Out

Wakefield student shines as stage manager and crew for high school and professional theater productions

Sitting in the front row of Wakefield High School’s auditorium, Maggie Colella is torn between using blue or red lighting for the scene on-stage.

As stage manager and lighting designer for Wakefield’s fall play, a satire of A Christmas Carol called Mrs. Bob Crachit’s Wild Christmas Binge, it is her responsibility to ensure the production runs smoothly and to convey the milieu of a scene through dramatic lighting.

“Blue can evoke the character’s sadness,” she said softly, so as not to disturb the actors rehearsing on stage. “But I’d like to use lots of green and red because it’s a Christmas play.”

Though only a junior at Wakefield, Colella has already managed three school productions and two plays students have performed in conjunction with Arlington’s Signature Theatre. She has also worked behind, and under, the stage of Signature’s acclaimed production of “Urinetown” this past summer. Those who have collaborated with Colella said she possesses a talent for theater production and management that belies her age and playful demeanor.

“Maggie’s so dependable that I feel I could leave a rehearsal in her hands and it will go very well,” said Chris Gilllespie, theater arts teacher at Wakefield and director of Mrs. Bob Crachit’s Wild Christmas Binge, which opened Nov. 4. “She just has a sense of professionalism with everything she works with.”

As stage manager Colella is in charge of scheduling rehearsals, taking down the director’s notes, marking actors’ entrances and exits and preparing all props and costumes. During a play Colella is a one-person central command system, calling every light and stage queue.

“The most important person in the room is sitting up in the stage manager’s booth,” said Marcia Gardner, education director for Signature Theater. “Nothing happens in the room until she says so.”

For the upcoming Wakefield play Colella is pulling double duty as the lighting designer, a position that often frustrates her because of the limited technology the high school theater department owns. She is responsible for reflecting the actors’ emotions with the color and texture of the lights. Two weeks before a show Colella will organize a special rehearsal in order to discern the best lighting scheme.

“I’ll see if anything strikes me but I mostly use mood lighting here since we don’t have a lot to work with,” she said.

BOTH OF COLELLA’S older brothers were deeply involved in Wakefield’s theater department and her brother Luke, five years her senior, worked on the backstage crew at Signature Theatre. Though she acted in several middle school plays, Colella did not get hooked on theater production until she saw her brother’s involvement at Signature.

Every February, Wakefield students perform and run an original play written or commissioned by the Signature Theatere company. As a freshman Colella auditioned for a role on the set crew but was promoted to stage manager. For Colella it was a daunting task to be in charge of peers several years older.

“At first it was pretty scary,” she said. “But I had a great mentor and they taught me everything I needed to know.”

Gardner and the rest of the Signature staff were impressed by how easily Colella grasped the position’s responsibilities and won over her fellow students with her dedication and commitment.

“She is very enthusiastic and learns quickly,” Gardner said. “We gave her the authority to be in charge and nobody questioned her. It worked fine and she fell in love with it.”

Though Colella said she is not a control fiend, she admitted she thrives on the sense of power and responsibility that come with being a stage manager.

“I love the feeling that the show depends on you,” she said. “There’s a certain power, behind running things, that I like.”

Colella’s ability to offset her autocratic streak with a cheerful disposition is one of the principal reasons she has been a successful stage manager thus far, Gardner said.

“You have to be authoritarian—it’s part of the job,” Gardner said. “But it makes it a lot easier if people like you to”

THIS PAST SUMMER Signature Theatre invited Colella to assist the company with their production of Urinetown. For six hours a day, six days a week she helped arrange the show’s set, spending much of the time underneath the stage passing props up to the actors. It was a “great experience” for Colella to work so intimately with a professional cast on a daily basis.

Colella has been teaching other students some of the tricks she learned at Signature, but said she gets exasperated by the immaturity and rowdiness of high school students.

“In the professional theater everyone respects each other no matter how low you are on the food chain,” she said. “Here no one listens to me. It gets pretty chaotic.”

She also has had several acting roles in Wakefield productions, though is loath to discuss them. She has performed in Wakefield musicals and this month she has a leading role in a one-act play. Spending time on stage, rather than behind it, has given Colella a better appreciation for the difficult tasks of remembering lines and blocking, she said. Colella also sings in a school choral group and is considering auditioning for the spring musical.

Both Gilllespie and Gardner lauded her acting abilities and said they wished she would pursue dramatic roles more often.

“Maggie is really quite a charming actress and I’d love to put her on stage more,” Gardner said. “She really does have potential.”

Whether Colella will develop that potential is another matter. Though she immensely enjoys theater production, she has yet to decide whether to pursue it as a career. But she may have found another job where she can continue to direct individuals and exert control: The F.B.I. Since Colella was little she has dreamed of working in law enforcement.

“I like telling people what to do but not in a mean way,” she said. “I love taking issues upon myself.”