The Covid Odyssey of a Stage Manager – Part 2
By Liam Klenk
I am just one of thousands of stage managers who found themselves unemployed in the spring of 2020 – due to Covid19. My last job was on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Oasis of the Seas as Stage and Production Manager for the Aqua Theatre. In this true tale, I want to share a little bit of my odyssey over the last twelve months. Where these months of enforced downtime have led mentally as well as practically. This is Part 2 of my story.
After 11 months of searching for a home base as well as a job, I had ended up in Zurich where I had already spent a large part of my life. I hoped my network there would help me find employment.
Amazingly, many of my friends and acquaintances did help me by sending job adverts they thought might be a good fit. I applied for everything they sent me. No matter what it was. Yet 4 months later, I still hadn’t found anything.
During the entire search phase something inside me shifted. Whereas, beginning of 2020 I was sure I could see myself nowhere else but backstage, I now wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go back there anymore.
I thought of my last 11 years working for shows all over the world. I had given my entire life energy for each project. Had worked well. And had loved working within the show family with all my heart. Yet, I still felt like I had to struggle way too much to get job offers.
I thought of the abundant nepotism in our industry. The cliques I never seemed to belong to. Maybe it was time to say, “You’ve had a good run over the last decade. It’s time to stop chasing after people for backstage jobs which will again be given to somebody else. Let it go and live your life. Wherever that may lead you.”
I decided to open my mind wide. Yes, I might still take a job for a show if one became available. Yes, I was still going to apply for stage management jobs.
But from one day to the next, I made my peace with the possibility of maybe never going back.
After two years of couch surfing, I also had a whole new appreciation for my family and old friends. More than anything, I wanted to be home. In Zurich. I wanted to be close to those who had always accepted me, in every phase of my life, over a period of over 30 years. And I wanted to be close to my father who lives only 45 minutes away.
Nothing would stop me to still travel at every opportunity. To, on the way, touch base with all my acquaintances across the world. But my home would be here. In the very center of Europe.
Nevertheless, just to be thorough and not miss any chances, I began sending applications abroad again, too…
I applied for a stage management position at the Friedrichstadt Palast in Berlin. For another stage management position in Hong Kong. And even again for a position opening up at La Perle in Dubai. I went through diagnostics tests to drive trams in Zurich. And failed miserably. I looked into working at an old folks’ home, taking care of the inhabitants. And I looked into becoming a caretaker at the zoo.
All the while, I grew more and more worried. Where would I go if nothing worked? I felt as though I had played all my cards. I was also getting increasingly more exhausted. Just tired to the bone of all the rejections. Most of all tired of not properly being able to take care of myself. And of not having a home.
Then, all of a sudden, an old work colleague sent me a message on Facebook. “Hey, we are hiring. We’re looking for a Case Team Assistant. Are you interested?”
“Yes of course I am!”
“Well, send us an application right away!”
I did end up sending an application to the Boston Consulting Group, a company I knew to be very good, because I had worked for them once before.
Further research into the responsibilities of a Case Team Assistant left me speechless. I had never realized how incredibly similar these responsibilities were to the administrative duties of a stage manager.
Basically, this was going to be just another type of theatre. I would still run around coordinating, scheduling, and organizing things. It would still all rather have to be done yesterday. Things would still always change at the last minute. I would still need to make sure everything and everyone were at the right place at the right time. And, I would still have to satisfy several different stakeholders at the same time.
I went through a whole series of interviews for this position. Plus, went through an assessment which proved even further that I had an abundance of transferrable skills for this role.
Then, as I was waiting to hear back from Boston Consulting Group (BCG), I got word from Friedrichstadt Palast in Berlin. They were interested in hiring me as a stage manager and urgently wanted to set up an interview.
This was when the craziest thing happened. I, passionate stage manager, utterly in love with my work, surprised myself by thinking, “No, I don’t want this. I’d rather work for BCG.”
Being reasonable, I did schedule an interview with Friedrichstadt Palast. But I knew, no matter what, I would not decide anything before I had heard back from BCG.
I’ve always trusted my instincts, even at times when I don’t understand entirely why they are pulling me in the direction they do.
This time, my instincts literally screamed at me to stay in Zurich, work for BCG, and build a home base there.
Imagine my delight when one Friday afternoon not so long ago, my telephone rang, and BCG human resources was on the other end of the line. “Hello Liam, it was a head-to-head race with another candidate. But, in the end, we decided we want you. Welcome back to the team!”
For five minutes, I literally babbled incoherent things into the phone because I was so utterly delighted.
Not only had I found a job just in time before being thrown out of Switzerland. I had also now been given the job I had wanted most of all.
In another first, I happily wrote to Friedrichstadt Palast in Berlin and cancelled the interview. Then, I deleted the entire list of potential opportunities I had still considered applying for. The search was over. My recently adopted French street cat JoJo and I had finally come home.