Inside the Work of a Production Manager, with Ashley Palmer

We sat down with Ashley Palmer, Charleston Stage’s Production Manager, to learn more about the ins and outs of all she does behind the scenes from conception to closing night. Here from her below!

In a nutshell, what do you do as Production Manager for Charleston Stage?

A production manager works with director, designers, the technical crew, and the management team to make sure the technical elements of a show are completed safely, on time, and within budget for each and every show. I start working on pre-planning for a season about 7-8 months before the next season starts. I also oversee the daily and weekly schedules of all production staff members. Although I started out at Charleston Stage as their Resident Stage Manager and stage managing will alway be my passion, I have moved on to overseeing our shows in a big picture way. But I still like to stage manage about two shows a year just to be sure I never forget how! 

What is the first thing that needs to be done after a show is chosen in a season?

Everything starts with an idea and a calendar. Many will tell you reading the script is the first step, but most of the people who claim such are the directors and designers of the show. For me and my fellow stage managers and production managers, we start with the almighty company calendar! 

Describe for us the process of moving a show forward from conceptual idea to opening night.

Once we pick a season of shows and put these dates on a calendar, the next step is setting up casting and design meetings. A design meeting is when the director meets with our technical designers and starts cooking up the ingredients needed for the show: what makes this show tick, what story we want to tell, and how we as artists want to tell it. We talk about ideas for about 3 weeks, looking at research images and having lengthy conversations about the big artistic picture. Through the next following months we solidify everything you see and hear on stage: lights, sets, props, costumes, sound and choreography. All of these things are discussed and chosen by a team of people long before the first actor ever arrives to rehearsals. 

Once a show begins the rehearsal period with actors, we are typically already in the process of building all the technical elements we discussed in those design meetings. These few weeks are a fun time when all participants of the production are in “building mode”–building both design elements and characters. It’s an exciting time in the process! 

Then, we finally get into Tech Week to Opening Night. This is when our actors move from the rehearsal room to the stage, where our technical staff have worked long and hard to get everything ready. We use these tech rehearsals to sync up what each department has worked on in “building mode” and bring all the puzzle pieces together for our big picture! On Opening Night we finally get an audience in the seats to watch the accumulation of months of hard work and dedication by everyone involved in the team of the show. 

Which step is the most rewarding part of the process for you?

Without a doubt, Opening Night!  After many months of pre-production, rehearsals, design meetings, and long tech rehearsals, nothing feels as satisfying as enjoying our opening night with an audience. We get to finally see the “big picture” in all its glory!

Finally, what is your favorite show of all time?

A hard question! Stephen Sondheim’s Company has always been a long time favorite of mine, but not one I have worked on here at Charleston Stage. I hold many productions that I have worked on here near and dear to my heart; Peter and the Starcatcher and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast are some favorites that come to mind. 

Ashley holds a B.A. degree in Stage Management from Florida School of the Arts. This will be her 5th season with Charleston Stage, although she has been a part of theatre for about 13 years. Having worked backstage and stage managed in the Central Florida area for over six years, she also spent two years as an Associate Company Member at Playhouse on the Square in Memphis, TN.  Some of her favorite show credits include “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (In the Wings Productions), “Big River (The Coco Village Playhouse), “4000 Miles” (Playhouse on the Square), “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (Surfside Players) “Build Me Up Buttercup!” (World Premiere at The Coco Village Playhouse), and “Gypsy (Playhouse on the Square). Ashley has always enjoyed stage managing but also has served as a deck captain, props master, child wrangler, and assistant director for multiple shows and summer camps over the years. She is looking forward to many more years at Charleston Stage and the opportunity to work on exciting and memorable theatre.

Our Newest Administrative Staff

We are so pleased to welcome Eliza Metts, Marketing Assistant, Mary Elizabeth Ray, Box Office Manager, and Monica Vanderbeck, Associate Director of Development, to our administrative team in residence at the Dock Street Theatre! Hear from them below:

Eliza Metts – Marketing Assistant

You are a recent graduate of Wofford College’s theatre program. What did you learn?

My theatre degree was heavy on the playwriting and dramatic theory disciplines. I read and wrote about a plethora of Shakespeare, ancient Greek plays, and contemporary works alike, and I’m so grateful for the wide variety of styles my professors introduced me to. Seeing how theatre has evolved throughout cultures and eras was transformative for me as a writer and artist. The faculty didn’t go easy on us! Most importantly, I learned how to write and communicate well, something I’ll utilize for the rest of my life regardless of how frequently I have the privilege to be onstage.

As a Charleston native, what are your favorite things to do around the city?

My fiancée and I love taking long walks around South of Broad–we always make sure to wind through the little alleys off of East Bay and lower Church Street. I love nature, so I’m always on the lookout for the best window boxes and gardens. Make sure you notice the Resurrection Fern growing on the limbs of live oaks and in the mossy cracks of old brick walls. When it hasn’t rained in a while it looks like it’s dead, but come next rainfall it “resurrects” back to green life! Fun fact: it can live for 99 years without water! 

What is your favorite show of all time?

My mom first took me to see Oklahoma! produced by the College of Charleston when I was 4 years old. I was hooked–it was my first experience with live theatre! It’s an evergreen classic that I learn new things about every time I see it, and I believe the characters–particularly Laurey–are more dynamic and nuanced than we normally remember. It changed Broadway history when it opened in 1943.

Mary Elizabeth Ray – Box Office Manager

You worked with us part-time in the box office before joining full-time. What do you enjoy about working for Charleston Stage?

I’ve loved the opportunity to learn so much so quickly. I had never done theatre work before joining Charleston Stage, so when I discovered this as an interest of mine in college I wanted to soak up as much of it as I could. Working at the Box Office has given me that first peek behind the curtain into the dazzling theatre world, which is priceless!

What do you love most about the experience of live theatre?

I really appreciate the opportunity to participate in art as an audience member. I think there’s a lot of active thinking and suspension of disbelief in live theatre that requires not only a creative production team, but an imaginative viewer. I love to fill in the gaps that aren’t included on stage with my own mind–it makes me feel like I have a part in creating that artistic experience for myself as well, and it’s so cool that it may look different for every audience member in a seat. It’s all art happening on stage and in each individual’s head all at once and it’s a wonderful thing to share.

What is your favorite show of all time?

Mamma Mia!!! It was my favorite movie growing up and it was the very first show I saw at the Dock Street. It was also the first time I’d seen the show live. I went to the Pay-As-You-Please night and the audience could not have been more excited! There were people in Dynamo-esque outfits, overalls, and bell bottoms all over. I think that was the first time I thought I wanted to be a part of making live theatre happen. 

Monica Vanderbeck – Associate Director of Development

You spent some time working in the event planning industry before joining us. What prompted you to switch gears?

I graduated from the College of Charleston with a B.S. in Business Administration and a B.S. in Hospitality and Tourism Management. I have been told I am bossy (I prefer the term type-A) and detail-oriented, so the event world did not seem too far out of my scope. I decided to pursue an internship in the wedding industry at Intrigue Design and Events, given that weddings are such a dominant industry in Charleston. I was hired full-time as an event manager one week after graduation, and from there my title changed many times over the years. I fell in love with the industry because of the sentiment behind the meaning of marriage. I cherish the sanctity and union of the relationship and couples’ expressions of love. Still, the gear switch was prompted by a series of life changes, personal growth, and the need for professional growth in a new industry. It was my time to move towards a career that would fulfill my purpose and couple my passion with my vocation. 

Nonprofit development is a special vocation of work. What does serving the arts community in Charleston mean to you?

My relationship with the arts started many moons ago (preschool through young adulthood). I was on track to become an opera singer, but different plans were intended for me. I have always spent my free time volunteering and being involved in different community outreach programs, and moving into the nonprofit world was a natural choice. My fulfillment stems from the direct correlation of my efforts, whether time, resources or intellectual property, implemented towards making a difference in the community. The tools and skills I learned in the wedding and events industry helped set a foundation for my current title of Associate Director of Development. Stepping into this role at Charleston Stage has allowed me to align my professional skills and goals with my personal passions.

What is your favorite show of all time?

This question always feels like a loaded question! My favorite opera is Toshio Hosokawa’s Matsukaze. My favorite Musical is technically a comic opera, The Enchantress by Victor Herbert. 

Mary Elizabeth Ray, Eliza Metts and Monica Vanderbeck

“An Avenue of Self-Expression” – The Meaning of Live Theatre, by Resident Actor Raymond Cronley

We sat down with Raymond Cronley, one of our Season 45 Resident Actors appearing as Jonathan/Charles Haversham in our production of The Play That Goes Wrong, opening on August 31. Here, he shares his “why” for being involved in theatre and unpacks what the art form means for him.

Theatre is an internet-obsessed kid’s best friend. 

I always had a lot of energy when I was young–too much energy, some might say. It got me in a lot of trouble sometimes, especially when cracking jokes or doing impressions at inopportune times. It always frustrated me that it seemed like I wasn’t allowed to express myself in the way I wanted to. It got simultaneously better and worse for me when I found a couple of friends who matched my energy, because not only did they play along with my antics, they also added their own layers of energy and cookiness to the bits I loved to do.

I grew up in the early days of the internet and YouTube, so for us the pinnacle of comedy meant finding the most inane and nonsensical content possible, memorizing it, and spouting it out to each other on the bus, the playground, or in classrooms. We were all about those in-jokes that caused our teachers and fellow students alike to roll their eyes at us. We thrived on that attention, that honey-sweet mixture of bemusement and irritation. As the years went on we kept up our schtick of parroting bizarre comedy to each other and to our peers, bouncing our energy between ourselves. Eventually that energy would wing off and attract others of a similar ilk, the kids with too much energy and way too much free time on the internet who needed an outlet. Our friendship was strong, but there was only so much energy we could release at school, especially once high school rolled around.

What were a group of nerdy kids with an obsession with parroting media and seemingly boundless amounts of energy to do with themselves? It’s at the junction that I thank my lucky stars we found our school’s theatre club. At last, my friends and I had discovered a platform by which we could all learn funny in-jokes, goofy voices, and memorize ridiculous songs and movements which we could then showcase to the entire school. No longer were we the annoying kids singing YouTube songs on the playground–in our minds, now we could be so much more. 

Theatre is many different things: a profession, a craft, an avenue for exploring history, politics, art, and humanity as whole. For a fourteen year old Raymond, however, it was more than that. It was a chance to finally express myself in a way that made sense to me. To use tendencies that many found aggravating and transform them into a work that I could be proud of was life-changing for me. The kids of today are more terminally online than ever before, and as a theatre professional it’s my responsibility to show those energetic and niche-interested kids that there is an avenue here for them to express themselves. Theatre is that avenue, has been that avenue for me, and it always will be. 

Raymond is incredibly jazzed to be joining Charleston Stage as a Resident Actor for our 45th season! Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Raymond graduated in May of 2021 from Ohio Northern University with a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre. Previous credits include Jack (Into the Woods), Frederick Frankenstein (Young Frankenstein), and George (Sunday in the Park with George). He would like to thank his family and friends for their wholehearted support and encouragement! Hear from him at / @raymonley

Crystin Gilmore, Starring as Pearl in “Black Pearl Sings!”

Q: Where are you from and where did you receive your training in theatre?

I’m a small town girl from the outskirts of Memphis, TN. I have a B.F.A. from the University of Memphis.

Q: You currently reside in New York City and are an Equity actor. Can you briefly explain what it means to be an Equity actor?

An equity actor or Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), is an American labor union representing those who work in live theatrical performance. AEA works to negotiate and provide performers and stage managers quality living conditions, livable wages, and benefits. Being in the union doesn’t mean an actor is more talented than a non union actor, it just means an actor has enough professional credits and/or finds it beneficial to join the union. My greatest appreciation for the union is health insurance and having an advocate to fight for me in unjust situations. 

Q: Crystin, you’re a returning Guest Actor with Charleston Stage! What inspires you to continue to work with Charleston Stage and share your talents with our audiences?

Charleston Stage is family to me. I was a Resident Actor with this company right out of college and that was over a decade and a half ago. They are a company who care for people and the imprint they leave on the world. I will forever return as long as they will have me. 

Q: You are starring as Pearl in Black Pearl Sings!. How has this experience been for you with preparing for this role? This isn’t the first time you’ve played Pearl in a production of Black Pearl Sings!. Please share.

This role is a roller coaster ride of emotions so it mirrors life well. The more living I do, the better I can relate to Pearl’s choices both beneficial and destructive.  

And yes, this will be my second opportunity to bring life to Pearl. This is a sweet treat because it’s not often that an actor gets to revisit a script later in life. I’ve had twelve years of living to add to this character and it shows. I’m beyond grateful to give Pearl her due justice.

Q: What qualities of Pearl do you most connect with?

Pearl is a fighter. She’s also family oriented, loving, a truth speaker, raw and malleable. Most of all she’s flawed, just like me. 

Q: Why do you think Black Pearl Sings! is relevant for audiences today?

Black Pearl Sings! is relevant today because at its core, it shows the struggle between flesh and outside forces. It reminds us to extend grace and look at life from another person’s perspective. This is a story about struggle, race, relationship, identity, truth and acceptance. These are topics we will deal with and conquer until we don’t have to anymore. 

I hope audiences leave with a heart for people, a self evaluation, more grace for themselves and others and an increased capacity of love for humanity. 

Performances of Black Pearl Sings! run March 9th – 27th at the Historic Dock Street Theatre. For tickets, CLICK HERE.

The Many Faces of Greater Tuna

Veteran actors Brian Bogstad Victor Clark play all 21 citizens of Tuna, Texas (the 2nd smallest town in Texas.) They play the men, women, children, teenagers —even dogs! Tonight at rehearsal the actors got their costumes for the first times and began working thru the quick changes for act one. Brian and Vic were joined by Jake Pensmith, Taylor Wentworth, Aidan White and Erin Cary who served as dressers backstage helping the actors into wigs, dresses, hats, pants, shoes, even jewelry. Below are six of the many faces of Tuna . . . Petey Fisk( Brian), Bertha Bumiller (Vic), Rev. Spikes (Vic), Arles Struvie (Brian), Vera Carp (Brian) and Thurston Wheelis (Vic)tunamontage5web.jpg For the past three weeks Brian and Vic have been creating voices, characters walks and posture and already their characters were beginning to develop but tonight, with the addition of costumes they really came to life. Our resident costumer, Barbara Young has really outdone herself. Now the fun begins, we’re beginning a runthru of act one with more than a dozen full changes in the course of the act, some of which must take place in less than 30 seconds!

Julian Wiles, Director for Greater Tuna

Heck, On Opening Night I Even Wore Tails!

When Fiddler on the Roof first opened forty three years ago it wasn’t unusual on Broadway to see up to fifty performers on stage and it was standard practice to hear at least twenty eight musicians in the orchestra pit. Sadly, due to financial constraints over the years these numbers have been drastically reduced.  Broadway ensemble actors now typically play two and three roles in one show, sometimes more. And the orchestra of a large show such as Beauty and the Beast or Wicked may start out with fifteen to eighteen musicians, but if it settles into a long run that number is paired down once again.

So, for me to musically direct a show with such  a large cast and orchestra (over 75 performers altogether),  a show like they used to do it back-in-the-day,  was a dream I had placed on the back burner. Burner off. 

wendell.jpg Wendell Smith Conducting Fiddler on the Roof

Enter Charleston Stage’s 30th Season production of  Fiddler on the Roof. Front burner on high. We of course have seen several large casts in very recent memory (Ragtime, Gershwin at Folly, Beauty and the Beast). And Gershwin at Folly had an orchestra of twelve musicians (The other two shows, well, much less.) But as I stood there on opening night waiting to give the downbeat, waiting for the curtain to go up on forty magnificent actors, before me were the thirty five musicians of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. My dream had come true. We were about to do what Broadway hasn’t done in nearly forty years. I’ve conducted several large ensembles in my career, but none quite so elegant and lush as the CSO. As the baton dropped that night, history was made in Charleston, maybe even the world, as we bought back the beloved classic Fiddler on the Roof in all its original glory. Heck,  on opening night I even wore tails. (Wouldn’t you?)



Kudos to guest actor John O. Fennell (as Tevye) for brilliantly heading up our rag tag bunch of Anatevkeans, and director Marybeth Clark for helping to assemble an amazing cast. And special thanks to The Charleston Symphony Orchestra and Tony Pierce, Director of Artistic Operations, whose idea this was. I’m proud to have been a little part of history. I can’t wait to make history again!


Wendell Smith, 

Charleston Stage Resident Music Director

Conductor and Music Director for Fiddler on the Roof 


School Matinees for Fiddler on the Roof

More than 15,000 students attend Charleston Stage’s School matinee performances each season.   The planning starts months in advance when teacher’s call in and make reservations.    For the Fiddler on the Roof school matinees last week we offered two performances each day at 9:30am and 11:30am. Over 1500 students attended each day.The day before each school matinee, we have to decide where each group will sit, mapping out seating assignments for each class.  It’s a bit like putting together puzzle. On the day of the performance we arrive at the theatre at 8:00 am, brief the volunteer ushers (thanks everyone) at 8:30 and prepare for the arrival of the first students. We stay in communication with each other and the stage manager backstage with walkie talkies.  Soon we’re joined by two police offers who arrive to help with traffic flow. fiddler-school-mat-003.jpgfiddler-school-mat-035.jpg And then the kids arrive! It’s exciting to see the enthusiasm on their faces as they bound out of the busses and into the theatre.  For many of these students it is the first time that they have had the opportunity to see a live theatre performance.  We also prepare comprehensive teacher guides for these performances so teachers can incorporate what the kids see onstage with their academic curriculums.  The best part is hearing the reactions as students watch the show.  They are great audiences because the are uninhibited, laughing loudly, moving to the music, even booing the villains at times.   School performances are kept to around 70-75 minutes to make them more accessible to the studentts and they seem to relish every minute.fiddler-school-mat-023.jpgfiddler-school-mat-018.jpg When the show is over we have about 40 minutes to get the 800 students watching the first show out of the theatre and onto their buses and seat another 800 for the second performance that day.   Thanks to the ushers volunteers from our Volunteer Guild it all goes off smoothly.  You can imagine it is a very busy morning for the Charleston Stage staff who are working the matinees, but a most rewarding one!!!  The best part is seeing the smiles of the children as they leave the theatre.fiddler-school-mat-025.jpg  For information on booking a school matinee performance for your school next season or if you would like to join our Volunteer Guild. Contact us at 843-577-5967.  Beth Curley, Charleston Stage Box Office Manager

Tuna, Texas A Scenic Two Step . . First the Floor Plan, Then the Model

One of the great things about Charleston Stage is that it is a place to learn. I’ve been given the opportunity (under Resident Designer Stefanie Christensen’s guidance) to design the set for Greater Tuna which will open at the American Theatre on April 3rd.

 I began my work in the theatre as a Charleston Stage TheatreWings  High School Apprentice,  as did Clay Brooks who is designing the lights for this show.   Both of us have graduated  now and are working or going to school but continue to work backstage for Charleston Stage.  We’re both excited about the opportunity to design sets and lights for this clever show (and a little nervous too!)We began with a production meeting last week (that was held backstage at the Sottile Theatre during lunch because most of us were still working to finish Fiddler on the Roof.   The Director, Julian Wiles was there as were the other design and tech team:   Barbara Young (costumes) Clay Brooks (lights), Mike Christensen (props) and Stefanie  Christensen (Resident Designer). It was fascinating to watch us all put all our perspectives into the same place and find a way to make the sets, lights, and costumes help the director find what he wants in the show. One of the many design concepts we talked about is the necessity of having multiple entrances (“I want all those doors so people come and go like a farce”, Julian said.  We also needed ample costume changing areas behind the set to accommodate the nearly 40+ costume changes. (Vic Clark and Brian Bogstag, the two of the actors  who play 27 roles in the show will be joined by 4 dressers backstage helping them fast paced costume changes so I had to find room for all of them.)   This was a challenge since the American Theatre stage is very small and  has NO backstage space!  I think I’ve managed to squeeze everything in though.  I started with a  floor plan, a bird’s eye view of the stage, which shows  all of the walls and set pieces from the show drawn  in scale in order to show a spatial relation between all the pieces.  The set has to incorporate many different locations including a Radio Station, multiple kitchens, a funeral parlor, a Baptist Church, and various outdoor locations (you’d never guess it could all fit on the American stage, huh?)  Once Julian and I have nailed down where all the walls and doors would be positioned. I started working on “elevations”.  These are drawings of scenery that shows what the walls, windows and doors, and other set pieces will look it.   They also show the “set dressing”, those items that add character like an “On Air” sign for the radio station, cactuses and long horned steer horns to adorn the walls, etc. to establish the West Texas look.  We decided to add a giant souvenir Tuna, Texas Post Card to hang over the set and framed it all with Texas flag banners. ( For inspiration I’ve been listening to Patsy Cline at night.  )

From these drawings I created a 1/4-inch scale model of the set (see the photo below). 


  This helps the designers (not to mention the director and actors) visualize what everything will look like.  Our next step of course is to build it.  Want to help?  Come to Volunteer Night at our scene shop at 19 Warren Street downtown.  Call  Stefanie at (843) 577 0868  ( to sign up.

CJ Ohlant, Guest Set Designer for Greater Tuna.

A Director’s Thoughts On Opening Night for Fiddler on the Roof

“Are they ready?” Are you excited?” “Will it be good?” These are the questions I hear most often before the curtain goes up the first time for an audience. The day of opening is always a bit strange for me. I make notes for my actors, little things to adjust and improve. I write opening night cards trying to thank the many many people involved in getting a production ready. Mostly, I wait. It is actually sort of a lonely day, like when you send your child to school for the first time. We have had 5 weeks of intense time rehearsing, adding sets, lights, costumes and a full symphony orchestra this time around).  Theatre truly is an amazing collaborative process.   With the symphony, cast and backstage crew,  almost 100 people will be backstage or in the wings for this show.   But now though I’ve enjoyed working with this incredibly talented group of artists,  now I have to step back and let it go. I will go to the backstage tonightand  answer last minute questions, offer encouragement and sneak in a few last bits of direction, but then I will leave backstage and join all of you in the audience. I will watch the show for the 50th time, but this time I’ll be watching the audience too, listening for every laugh, watching for a tear or two and yes making a few mental notes of things that could be improved.  So, to answer those questions “Yes, they are ready and yes, I am excited and yes, I am pretty sure it will be wonderful” See you at the theater. 

Marybeth Clark, Director, Fiddler on the Roof