Anna Robb: Stage Manager and TheatreArtLife Founder – Theatre People
By Mitch Stark
This week I’m so thrilled to introduce Anna Robb. Anna and I connected toward the beginning of the pandemic last year as I was just getting rolling with TheatrePeople. She wanted to feature our series on her fantastic international blog, TheatreArtLife. Since then, it has been such a delight talking with Anna and learning about her 20+ years of stage managing experience across the globe.
I hope you enjoy Anna’s interview as much as I did!
Anna Robb, stage manager and co-founder of TheatreArtLife.
What’s a show that inspires you? (explain away!)
One of the first shows I remember enchanting me when I was young was the play The Woman in Black. I remember how simple the theatrical tricks were, yet, so effective in captivating and scaring the audience. The quick lighting changes, the choice of dark costumes which allowed the actors to end up next to you in the audience without you noticing. The simple fact that the woman in black doesn’t bow with the actors at the end of the show, leaving you with the creeping feeling of “Was I seeing the ghost?” The foundations of storytelling in theatre are simple and magical and we should never forget that amongst the big budgets and the technical advancements.
What’s one of your happiest moments in theatre?
I had spent 8.5 years of my life building and running a 250 million dollar show called The House of Dancing Water in Macau, China. As the Production Stage Manager, I called the opening night on September 16, 2010. 7 years later on my last day at work, I stepped into the booth for the last time, with many of the crew beside me operating the lighting, projection and automation desks that had been with me on the opening night years earlier. That day was a conclusion to a very beautiful, challenging and life changing journey. At the end of the show the cast raised their hands to the booth to acknowledge me and I raised my hand in response too. Usually staff on their last show tend to sit in the audience and watch the show. I wanted to finish where I started. It was a moment of joy and sadness wrapped into one.
What’s the biggest ‘fail’ or goof you’ve seen on stage? (do tell the story)
One of my favorite moments that still makes me laugh when i think about it, is a scene in The House of Dancing Water where usually the princess walks to the throne and puts her hand up and stops the music. One particular day, Faye, the person who plays the princess hurt her knee and didn’t end up onstage. In a moment, the other main character, Jean, who was played by a guy named Bevan, knew that Faye not being onstage would create an awkward show stop as there was no one to halt the music. So he quickly improvised, put himself on the throne, stopped the music and did all of the princess’ blocking to finish the show unscathed … we were laughing so much in the booth and I’m sure the audience was confused—but we didn’t have to stop the show. And Bevan made a lovely princess.
Why do you love theatre?
Theatre requires people of different disciplines to work together towards one goal. Alone, a lighting designer has nothing to light, an actor has no set to act within, a stage manager has nothing to manage. But together, we can make a show. Theatre then is reliant on a good synergy and creativity between these disciplines to create magic. I love playing my part in this process and contributing to the overall success of a show.
Theatre is for…
Theatre is a mirror to our own societies, it tells stories of who we are as humans, from where we have come and where we dream to go. The good, the bad and everything in between. Theatre makers have a responsibility to understand their importance in culture and find the balance between theatre as an art and theatre as a business.
More about Anna
Anna is an experienced Producer/Production Stage Manager. Her 20-year work history spans Asia Pacific, the Americas, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. She has worked for companies such as Cirque du Soleil, Franco Dragone Entertainment Group, Christie Digital Systems and The Sydney Opera House. Anna was an integral part of the research and development, training and formation, creation and operation of the 250 million dollar aquatic show, The House of Dancing Water in Macau. She also maintained the daily operations of this complex show as the head of Stage Management for 7 years. Anna has been employed on over 70 shows in the areas of concerts, arena events, corporate events, trade shows, musical theatre, plays, dance, circus, outdoor festivals and mega shows. Anna holds a honours degree in Design for Theatre and Television and is also the Co-Founder and Managing Director for TheatreArtLife, an online platform for entertainment industry professionals.