Stage Managing Bill Clinton
I received a call to stage manage, as I usually was for any high profile, high security events or productions at the Beverly Hilton thanks to friend, occasional savior and super woman, Rachel Wolfe.
While production managers and technical directors are higher on the chain of command, when you are the stage manager, it is your template, your lead, your team, your world …
There were many times I had to step in to manage the multiple celebrity security guards, organizing and clearing the backstage area, throwing out family, friends, clients or anyone else backing Morgan Freeman into a corner or chatting Tom Cruise’s ear off when he just wanted to sit down and collect himself.
There were also moments when after being informed that two of the most famous astronauts in history cannot stand one another, I had to direct wranglers to make sure their paths never crossed before getting the talent on stage.
There are two people I always wanted to meet: Oprah and President Clinton. And that week President Clinton was tentatively scheduled to participate in this very high profile, global-green fundraiser at the hotel.
The crew had been cleared two weeks prior through Secret Service as we had numerous times before for Obama, Biden, and the Royal Couple. (Will and Kate, not Barack and Joe.) We were also informed as usual that no social media leaks would be tolerated before, during, or immediately after the event. Penalty of termination and legal action would be pursued. One time Obama was coming through a back hallway of the kitchen and we were moved into a closet and locked in until he passed by.
The difficulty in managing this event would be that we had no idea when or even if President Clinton would be showing up. It would depend on his schedule that evening. So we were in contact with his handlers up to the moment prior to his entourage of vehicles making their way down Wilshire Boulevard and arriving by the hotel loading docks.
The question becomes: do you guess where in the show you will need to pause? You can’t have audiences just sitting there while the emcees stretch with horrible banter. Or do you allow the President to arrive and make him wait for the right transition? Make the President wait?
Receiving confirmation eight minutes prior his arrival, I directed the deck crew to completely clear the rear and stage left. The hosts and presenters traffic would be confined to stage right. I would call certain reminders and standby cues for the ASM (assistant stage manager) while I kept the TD (technical director) and client in the loop on the headset.
Secret Service opened the back door to the theater and without skipping a beat, I firmly said, “Mr. President, I’m Michael, this way please.” I did not look at him with clear vision because I did not want to be too “conscious” and stammer or ogle. I like all of our talent to feel taken care of.
I walked him to the side of the stage and gestured to an “X” on the floor. The backside of the proscenium was to his left and I book-ended him, with breathing space, on his right. There is a fine line between making someone feel secure from being bothered and exposed versus invading their space where they feel obligated to acknowledge you while trying to have a semi-private moment to compose themselves.
As he watched the CEO speak on stage I quietly explained that there was one more page of dialogue before a one-minute video would run, during which time I would walk him out to the lectern in the dark.
“Are you guys running on time tonight?” he asked.
“Actually we are ahead of schedule,” I replied.
“That never happens! … Who is this guy?” he said, pointing onstage.
“That’s the CEO … He’s been talking about you for five minutes like you’re friends.”
Then he said the greatest, Clintonesque thing ever: “I’m everyone’s friend.” He grinned, knowing most people feel that way about him. It’s his way. His intent. His pleasure.
The lights came down for the video. I lit the floor with a Maglite, walked him to the podium, pointed to the teleprompter, counted down from ten seconds to the end of the video, turned and exited the stage before the lights came up on him.
Afterwards he was rushed past me and out the door. I’d have killed for a photo.
“BREAKING OUT OF SHOW BUSINESS: What I Discovered by Not Being Discovered”
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