We are thrilled to have ArtStream Stage Manager McKenna G. Kelly in the spotlight! This is McKenna’s 9th year working with ArtStream, and she is no stranger to theater. Since grade school, she has worked in some capacity of theater-whether in acting, costume design, assistant directing, make-up design, properties, scenic painting, booking, FOH, backstage crew or stage managing-for well over 60 productions, and is very excited and thankful to be a part of this production!
We chatted with McKenna to learn more about her experience.
ArtStream: Tell us about yourself. What is your background, and how did you get involved with ArtStream?
McKenna: Originally from southern California (I grew up six miles from Disneyland), I graduated cum Laude in 2005 from California State University at Long Beach with a double major in Theater Arts and Art Education and a minor in Comparative Literature. The day after I graduated, I moved out to DC for an internship with KCACTF at the Kennedy Center, where I met the amazing and talented Carolyn Ricks (Alexandria Theatre Company mentor and Director). I stayed in the area after my internship, and we became fast friends. When she became involved with ArtStream, and they were looking for help with stage managing and costume designing for the Gaithersburg Theater Companies, she recommended me to ArtStream. I applied, and the rest is history!
ArtStream: How did you first get involved in theatre?
McKenna: Well, my parents introduced me to theatre at a very young age- listening to tapes and CDs from Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera, and Cats mixed in with The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. I saw my first live theatrical show when I was 7 years old, Phantom of the Opera at the Ahmanson in Los Angeles. I already knew all the words to all the songs, and just cried through most of the show because it was so beautiful. After that, I was hooked. I had already taken some dance lessons, and I sang so much as a child, my mother would ask me to “be happy in my head” (I had so much energy!). In 5th grade, I auditioned for a community production of Peter Pan, and I was lost boy #83 (I’m exaggerating, but not by much). This was the beginning of my on-stage presence in theatre. I went on to be an orphan and the apple seller’s understudy in Annie, and in junior high, I was Maria in the Sound of Music. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school, after acting in a few more shows (Fiddler on the Roof, The Secret Garden, Children of Eden, and Yearbook: The Musical), that I decided to try stage managing. Another senior class actor and I decided to be joint stage managers for our high school’s production of Guys and Dolls.
(McKenna Kelly as Lost Boy #83 in Stagelight Family Productions’ Peter Pan circa 1992)
ArtStream: Why did you decide to become a stage manager?
McKenna: I honestly didn’t think I would get a very big role in Guys and Dolls. I figured I would try something new since I liked details, and I later realized I also enjoy being responsible for when tech elements of shows go smoothly. Timing is everything. After a couple of rehearsals, I knew that it was a great decision to try out stage management. I went on to take multiple technical and performing classes in college, including stage management, as one of my majors was Theatre. I was able to stage manage some theatrical shows as well as a fashion show before I graduated.
ArtStream: What is something that ArtStreamers would be surprised to find out about you?
McKenna: I was part of a cast recording made in Los Angeles for the 10th anniversary of Yearbook: The Musical. This was a great ensemble show, and I had a couple solo parts, so technically you could say I was an LA recording artist before the age of eighteen. Much, much later, someone uploaded the whole album to YouTube, so now anyone can find and listen to the show.
Also, in 2009, I was on the show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” Unfortunately, I don’t have a clip of that to share, but I did win enough money to go on a cruise to the Bahamas for the week, so that was pretty fun!
And then, a few years later, I was lucky enough to have a chance to be a part of a mini-series from the Smithsonian Channel called Seriously Amazing Objects. I was on the “Legends” episode, and I got to see some very interesting original photographs and negatives up close from a very tragic disaster that took place over 100 years ago, the aftermath of the sinking of the Titanic. This did also end up on YouTube.
Some other interesting facts include I was an exchange student in Australia in high school for a bit, I taught English in China for a summer, and I got to be the International Press Representative for the Tour of the Americas for Cats in 2009. I was sent to four countries in five days to attend press conferences and answer questions about the show.
ArtStream: What do you feel is most important to teach/offer your students?
McKenna: I would say that working in a positive ensemble environment is a really wonderful way to boost each other to accomplish things (acting roles, musical notes, dance moves, etc.) they may have not been confident to do otherwise. Trying new things and being able to have the room to explore different approaches without the fear of failure or being judged harshly allows the actors to really grow artistically.
ArtStream: What advice would you offer to someone who is nervous to perform on stage?
McKenna: I would remind them that they have worked very hard to get to this moment, they know their part, and the best part of the process is being on stage, having fun, and sharing their wonderful gifts with a very supportive audience, who can’t wait to cheer for them.
ArtStream: Please share an example of something that happened at ArtStream that really inspired you.
McKenna: I have been the stage manager for Gaithersburg Theater Company B for 9 years now, and I happily say that watching the actors improvise, build their characters, come off book/memorize their lines, and perform their art out on stage is incredibly inspirational. Especially for the performances, I get the best seat in the house, because I’m above the audience in the tech booth, and I get to watch the actors. I also get to hear and see the audience’s response to the magic that those actors create, and that is just a wonderful experience.
ArtStream: What kinds of changes have you seen ArtStream students make in classes and rehearsals?
McKenna: I have seen many of my actors grow in terms of their acting and performance abilities but also in their willingness to work together and try new things. I understand that it can be difficult sometimes to be flexible and try new things, so I am so proud of the progress that is made, year after year.
ArtStream: What is your favorite play or musical?
McKenna: I have so many that I love and enjoy for different reasons, but I think Les Misérables would have to be my top choice, with Phantom of the Opera, Rent, West Side Story, Wicked, Hairspray, The Secret Garden, Chess, and Sunset Boulevard snuggling together just below it.
ArtStream: If you could create a new play or musical about anything, what would it be?
McKenna: Well, I think it would be challenging yet hopefully rewarding to make a play or musical about the process and effects of aging. I have been the Director of Activities at a memory care facility for over 11 years now and observed/experienced first-hand how music is such a powerful and huge part of humanity. Creating something that shows how, even in our later years and possibly diminished cognition, music is still something that brings joy and connects us to the past and the present. I would absolutely help create something like this if I found the right collaborators.