We had the good fortune of connecting with Adrienne Johnson-Lister and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Adrienne, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I am from Foster; a small town, out in the sticks of Rhode Island.
I grew up on 19 acres of land, the last of four children, and was taught to put your shoes on in the morning and not take them off until bed time — meaning there was always work to be done. My siblings and I were raised to value hard work. We stacked wood in the winter, readied land for planting in the spring, and spent summers picking and selling blueberries to the local General Stores.
We were also taught the value of community. I spent a lot of my youth volunteering with my mother.
I think because of my upbringing I am a hardworking, generous person.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Of the options provided, (Business/Practice/Firm, Employee/Professional, Artist/Creative), I’ve decided to define myself as an Artist / Creative.
My art is channeled through the craft of stage management. I’ve been stage managing for over 18 years now – which feels both like a blimp in time and like I’ve been doing it forever. I am also the Managing Director of Santa Monica Repertory Theater.
People may not think of stage management as an art (many people may not know what a stage manager is); but I think it is one of the most satisfying, challenging, artistic jobs in theater. Sure, there’s a lot of paperwork, diplomacy and organizational skills that go into putting on a performance, but there is an artistry in that, and in the calling of a show; keeping it fresh but also consistent with the director’s vision every night.
Although the last 18months has been a real challenge for theater artists, I consider myself one of the lucky ones, who has been able to still work in the zoomiverse; stage managing via broadcast mediums. I’ve stage managed dance films – all choreographed via zoom, and then shot on iPhones as the Director directed the camera through zoom. I’ve also produced stage readings of plays for Santa Monica Rep and have tried to keep theater alive for our community. Last fall we asked, is it still theater if it’s online? As the pandemic continues, I’ve asked myself, what is a stage manager without a stage? I think something I’m most proud of is being willing to evolve and to try new ways of being creative despite the challenges.
Being a theater artist hasn’t been easy. I burnt my candle a lot at both ends early in my career, working a job 60 hours a week and stage managing “on the side”. It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I decided to work in theater full-time. Which was a risk financially but was one of the best decisions I could have made for myself.
I started stage managing in college. I got to where I am professionally by making connections and cultivating relationships. My first gig in LA was referred to me by a college friend. He wasn’t in the show but worked at a restaurant with the Producer. The director of that show, Stephan Wolfert, (I discovered during one rehearsal), had performed in Trinity Rep’s travelling outdoor theater in my hometown (in Rhode Island) when I was 16. (In a childhood scrapbook, I have a picture of me and my friends geeking out because the lead actor took a picture with us after the show). Stephan in-turn referred me to another small theater company, who referred me to Santa Monica Rep, whose founding member, Jen Bloom, taught at my alma mater (after I had graduated) – it’s a small world! Never burn a bridge. I’ve made more connections since then and have had many incredible opportunities.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I have been known to be a bit of a foody – so when people come to visit, I always want to eat! Where do I begin. Republique is one of my favorite places to get breakfast, so that’s a must stop. One of the best burgers I’ve had in my life is the big mec from Petit Trois so there’s lunch. For dinner, let’s go get stuffies at Connie and Ted’s, they remind me of home. Anytime of day, let’s go track down the CVT truck – I’ve been dying for some soft serve.
Since becoming a mom, I frequent places like the LA Zoo – a picnic lunch by the giraffes is a very nice setting. Descanso Gardens is super beautiful – you could visit time after time and still find new and uncovered parts of the gardens. I also love visiting Santa Monica and going to the beach and the pier.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Cameron and Piper
my theater community
Santa Monica Repertory Theater
John Garrity, Providence College
photo credit for black and white photo of me working – Sean Kohnen SHINEonline zoom screenshot – Tanya White and Adrienne Johnson-Lister The Broad Stage view from the stage (blue chairs) The Broad Stage view from the audience – empty chairs with Santa Monica Rep logo The Broad Stage view from the booth AMDA College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts – reflection from the booth