Karr-ving her future

Alumna decides to pursue professional stage management


Photo by Teresa Sanchez

Almuni Salem Karr and Cate Rounds lead rehearsals for “Puffs” during the fall of their senior year. Karr was the head stage manager for this show.

Story by Stephanie Jumper, editor in chief

Pre-show chatter fades into silence as the lights dim, turning all attention to the main event. White rays engulf the stage as raw emotion from characters echoes through the theatre. From the first lines to the final bows, actors entrance the audience through each of the play’s twists and turns.

Often theatre goers are so entranced they may forget those performing behind the curtain. Even if one of those crew members oversees every set change, sound cue and show-related conflict with ease.

Alumna Salem Karr’s time orchestrating Tiger Theatre Company productions may have come to an end, but her high school career is just the beginning of a hopefully long journey in stage management. 

“I got into theatre in seventh grade,” Karr said. “I just thought that it would be fun, and I had a couple of friends that were doing it, so I was like, ‘Why not do that?’ Then, I liked it a lot, and I’ve been doing it since then.”

Karr started her theatrical career on stage. During middle school, she acted in both main and modest roles, even performing as the title character in a one act play called “Hoodie.”

“It’s so funny to think about now,” Karr said. “I haven’t acted in two years, so lots of people in the theatre don’t even know that I used to act until I mention it. I would love to do more acting one day potentially, but I’m definitely a lot better at tech, so thinking about how I didn’t used to do tech at all is [strange].”

Although Karr was skilled in acting, she couldn’t say the same for singing. She opted to assistant stage manage “Oklahoma!” during her freshman year due to her lack of musical abilities. 

“I liked getting to spend a lot of time at [Oklahoma! rehearsals] getting to know everyone,” Karr said. I learned what a stage manager was and how important they can be. I also liked getting to see how a show comes together because it’s harder to see when you’re in the show.”

Karr’s understanding of a stage manager was limited during this production. Technical theatre was not a widely discussed topic in her middle school years, with most tech members often being solely a lightboard operator and actors doubling as set crew. Freshman year was one of Karr’s first opportunities to learn the responsibilities of her position.

“A stage manager is the middle man in a sense,” Karr said. “They communicate with the director, cast and crew to relay information, like general rules and information like blocking and tech forms. They call the show and are kind of in charge of [putting] everything together. Stuff can get kind of wild. They’re that person to keep everybody on the same page.”

Karr’s role not only entails people skills and masses of paperwork, but also the determination to oversee a production’s entire lifespan. The stage manager is often the only position selected prior to auditions, meaning she monitors productions every step of the way.

“I think my favorite part of stage managing is getting to work behind the scenes on a show and seeing it come into its form,” Karr said. “It’s really fulfilling to be there at the very beginning of a show and be there to the end and see how everyone works hard together. It definitely has one of the biggest paybacks in terms of what you get at the end of the production.”

Her experiences in “Oklahoma!” prompted her to further explore stage management, with her second time assistant stage managing being the musical during her sophomore year, “Freaky Friday.” 

“‘Freaky Friday’ was both my favorite and least favorite show at the same time,” Karr said. “It was a stressful production because it had a large cast and crew. It was the [show] that made me realize that, though I love acting, stage management is definitely what I’m best at. Even though it was stressful, I learned the most in that show than I’ve ever learned.”

Her work during “Freaky Friday” inspired Karr to seek her passion as a profession. After several college offers and careful contemplation, she decided on the next stage that would be graced by Karr’s presence. Karr will attend Southeast Missouri State University to earn a BFA in theatre design and technology.

“I got to talk with the costumer who was at auditions. We talked about their program in general, and they had a lot of stuff that I thought was necessary,” Karr said. “[The school] takes their tech very seriously. They have a good [amount of] technical professors and directors. They invited me to see their school in person, and I absolutely fell in love with the campus.”

In addition to her satisfaction with the school’s scenery, SEMO felt like the right fit for Karr due to the compassion she experienced from students at the school. At her new place of learning, she hopes to feel not like an insignificant thread of the theatre’s colossal curtains, but a valued member of a community — calling cues and assisting others just as she did in high school. 

“Getting to know that I’m gonna be loved and cared for in this program was really something that I needed,” Karr said. “I needed to know they were gonna appreciate my work and care about me. They’ve already shown they care about me and think I’m a good stage manager, so I was like, ‘This is the place I need to go to.’”