Stealth as a superpower

John Godbout • resident stage manager, Cleveland Play House

By Bob Abelman

The trademark of great stage management is its invisibility. If done properly, a stage manager’s work is seen but not recognized by an audience.

And paradoxically, as resident stage manager of the Tony Award-winning Cleveland Play House, John Godbout is among the most high-profile members of a production team in the rehearsal room and in the control booth during a performance. 

His work begins one week prior to a show’s first rehearsal, when he digs into a script and meets with the director and designers. During rehearsal, he is essentially the chief organizing officer – the gatherer and keeper of information, the essential go-between for all departments, including technicians and administrative staff, and the person responsible for all scheduling. And, as an Actor’s Equity Association stage manager, he makes sure all union rules are followed to protect and properly treat performers. 

He is also responsible for creating the prompt book, which contains all design plots, blocking notation, and eventually, all of the technical cues that will be so instrumental during the run of the show. Once in production, he calls the show, which means readying and cuing all of the technical elements that occur during a performance. 

“The easiest way to describe calling a show,” says Godbout, a young 50-year-old with an acerbic sense of humor that sets him apart from most in his field, “is that it is similar to what a conductor does with an orchestra. Except, instead of music, I conduct lights, sound, scenery moves, projections and atmospherics like fog and haze. And if there are pyrotechnics or cast members flying through the air, I coordinate those cues as well.”

And he moves at a remarkably quick pace in the course of a very short creative process.

The cast of “Yentl” under Gobout’s stage management at Cleveland Play House. / Photo courtesy Cleveland Play House

The first professional production he called after graduating from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., was a children’s show at Daytona Beach’s Seaside Music Theatre in 1992. “We were doing ‘Charlotte’s Web’ and ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ in rep,” he recalls, “and we had a total of two weeks to put on a musical with a full live orchestra.”  

The most complicated show he has ever called was “The Who’s Tommy,” also at Seaside Music Theatre. “There were over 700 technical cues in a 90-minute show. I typically give standbys (a heads-up warning) to the technicians before calling a cue. The crew was on perpetual standby for this show because I never stopped calling cues,” which is a huge adrenaline rush and dopamine fix for a stage manager. “I’d do that show again in a heartbeat.”

Godbout has also worked as production or resident stage manager at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Mass.; Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, N.Y.; Weston Playhouse Theatre Company in Weston, Vt.; and North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. But his home is the Cleveland Play House, where the Lakewood resident has worked since 2011, and earlier, from 2001 to 2008.

“I think the biggest contribution that I make to any production is allowing actors to focus on their craft and freeing directors to do their work without worrying about every little thing.” And, of course, with a single utterance into a headset microphone, he makes a piece of theater come to life. CV

On stage

Cleveland Play House’s “Into The Breeches,” from Sept. 14 to Oct. 6 at Allen Theatre; “A Christmas Story” from Nov. 29 to Dec. 23 at Allen Theatre; “Clue,” from Jan. 25 to Feb. 16, 2020 at Allen Theatre; and “Antigone,” from March 28 to April 19, 2020 at Outcalt Theatre, all at 1407 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.

Meet the Scene Stealers.