As she sat in the audience watching the Russian Ballet Company as a kid put on their performance of The Nutcracker in Indianapolis, Kelly DeLisle, a senior stage management major, knew that theater was for her. 

But, it wasn’t until her sophomore year of high school when she worked behind the scenes on productions that she discovered stage management, and her love was born. 

“[Stage managers] manage many things,” DeLisle said. “Mainly, we work with the company. We’re their advocate in the rehearsal hall. We make sure everything’s facilitated properly from the design process to the rehearsal room.

“We’re taking blocking notes, making sure the performers are doing what they’re supposed to on stage, making sure we’re keeping a log of everything that’s being said in the rehearsal room so that we can inform the designers choices that have been made. We’re really the hub of communication for everyone involved in the production.” 

Most of stage management is problem-solving and communicating, DeLisle said, because theater is a living, breathing art form and must be treated as such. 

“There’s bigger problems, like lights not turning on or scenery breaking in the middle of a show, but those are bigger scaled items, and it’s never just me,” DeLisle said. “I’m always working with someone else [to fix them].” 

After discovering her passion for stage management, DeLisle said, she decided to enroll at Ball State because of its renowned Department of Theatre and Dance.

“I’ve been involved with so many [productions],” DeLisle said. “But my top four would probably be ‘Damn Yankees,’ ‘A Little Night Music,’ ‘Anna in the Tropics,’ and my capstone this year, ‘Crazy For You.’”

For DeLisle, a typical performance night starts 15 to 30 minutes before actors arrive, and she works with her crew and assistants to make sure everything is properly set up. Her checklist includes making sure the lights are turned on and working with electricians and sound engineers. 

“I am a perfectionist, unfortunately, so I think that my biggest challenge is just [realizing] that everything doesn’t have to be perfect,” DeLisle. 

DeLisle made it her goal to win Most Outstanding Stage Manager at the Regional Kennedy Center American Theatre Festival in Madison, Wisconsin. This past year, she accomplished her goal and became the 16th consecutive winner from Ball State, a record for the competition. 

For the competition, DeLisle brought her prop book, which includes all the information for a theater show, and her call script listing the cues actors and stage crew follow. DeLisle presented her books, and she was judged on her books’ organization and how well her books would communicate with others in the production process. 

“I made it onto the second round after that first initial discussion,” DeLisle said. “[The] second round was a one-on-one conversation [with the judges], and from there, they just talked about who I am as a stage manager, what my goals are, and then from that conversation, I moved on to win the competition.” 

DeLisle said winning the competition was rewarding because she has been working toward it the entire time she has been at Ball State and has competed three times. 

“The next step, when I go to nationals, is full of educational opportunities and opportunities to meet other professionals and keep honing my craft,” DeLisle said. “That’s what I’m really looking forward to after being able to get through the competition.”

DeLisle’s undying passion and work ethic toward the art form has not gone unnoticed by the faculty here at Ball State. Colleen Tovar, a production stage manager in the Department of Theatre and Dance, said that from day one, DeLisle knew what she wanted to do.

“I’ve seen her focus and thirst to learn every nuance of the job because it’s a huge job — it’s a very challenging job,” Tovar said. “I’ve seen Kelly, over the last four years, develop the ability to be malleable and her ability to communicate with people from every walk of our community effectively.” 

Tovar said she is thrilled to have been a part of mentoring DeLisle, and seeing DeLisle embrace theater’s collaborative art form makes her not only proud as a teacher but makes the department proud as well. 

“I’ve only been teaching full-time for five years, so this is a part of the [job] that I’m only [now] beginning to appreciate and understand the emotional impact of it,” Tovar said. “It’s pretty amazing when you have students that have graduated and are developing their own careers. 

“You connect with them on the phone, you talk with them, everything like that. It makes me emotional; it gives me a bit of awe that I made an impact in somebody else’s life to take their first step forward as people had [that same] effect on me when I was in college.” 

For her future, DeLisle said, the kind of stage management she wants to pursue includes cultivating relationships rather than working for ten companies a year. 

“I think Kelly’s going to do whatever she wants to do,” Tovar said. “By that, I mean that she’s fearless. I admire that in young professionals. She’s going to achieve her goals.”

 Contact Nik Stoll with comments at nsstoll@bsu.edu.