Managing the stage: the Phil Friedman papers, 1936-1987

Actors, directors, and playwrights are often given the most audible recognition for successes on stage, but perhaps one of the least lauded roles is that of the stage manager. From the first auditions to the closing curtain, the stage manager is there ensuring that the process runs smoothly. The stage manager can fulfill a wide range of functions, either as head of a team or as a single individual, depending on the size of the production. Major responsibilities include facilitating communication between the director, designers, performers, and technical staff; calling the lighting, sound, and set cues during the performance; and making certain the director’s vision is consistently executed for however long the production runs.  As an archivist, I have great respect for the organizational abilities of a good stage manager. It was a great pleasure to spend some time with the papers of stage manager Philburn Friedman in the Museum’s Theater Collection.

Phil Friedman worked as a professional stage and production manager for over 40 years, a career that included the original Broadway productions of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961), Pippin (1972), and Chicago (1975). He frequently worked with director and choreographer Bob Fosse, even playing a stage manager onscreen in Fosse’s 1979 film All That Jazz.  This summer our intern Suzanna Calev processed his collection of papers. The following are her thoughts on the experience:

When I was a little girl, my parents regularly took me to “Kids on Broadway,” a brilliant program to introduce kids to theater with discount prices, and I fell in love with theatrical productions. The acting, the costumes, the lights, the sets, the music—I loved it all. Going through Phil Friedman’s papers this past month, I discovered that all of these various elements are brought together by the stage manager to produce a spectacular performance.

Ormond Gigli. [Dancing girls in Kismet] 1953. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.43.17

Ormond Gigli. [Dancing girls in Kismet.] 1953. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.43.17

The spectacular performance pictured above is from the musical adaption of Kismet, taken during its original Broadway run.  Kismet was one of the first big hits in Friedman’s stage management career.

Unknown photographer. [Liza Minnelli with inscription to Phil Friedman] 1975. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.55

Unknown photographer. [Liza Minnelli as Roxie Hart in Chicago with inscription to Phil Friedman] 1975. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.55

Phil Friedman was a stage manager for 25 theatrical productions on Broadway. While going through his papers, I realized that being a stage manager requires a great deal of organization and the ability to garner respect from everyone involved in the production. Once the director has issued final notes to the cast, it is up to the stage manager to assume control over the stage area, the backstage area, and the dressing rooms. All staff, including lighting, sound, and props, directly report to him.

Page one of production script for Pippin by Roger O. Hirson with additions from Bob Fosse. October 23, 1972. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.14.3

Page one with cues from Pippin script by Roger O. Hirson and  Bob Fosse. October 23, 1972. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.14.3

Looking through Phil Friedman’s scripts from productions such as How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961), Pippin (1972), Chicago (1975), and the revival of Sweet Charity (1986), you can see just how detailed a stage manager has to be, marking the light cues, costume changes, prop usage, and entrances and exits of all the performers. It is a craft, indeed! Managing myself is hard enough on most days, I cannot imagine how stressful it must be to manage an entire production and to have it all run smoothly, multiple times a day.

Note to Phil Friedman from Debbie Allen, 1986. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.74.1

Note to Phil Friedman from Debbie Allen, 1986. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.74.1

The Ephemera and Correspondence series of the Phil Friedman papers reveals how much the theater world loved and revered this man. The collection includes thank you notes from Liza Minnelli, Bob Fosse, Michael Kidd, Fred Ebb and John Kander; farewell cards from cast and crew; happy birthday cards; and good luck notes.  All of these materials provide evidence of the kind of dedication and passion that goes into managing the productions that we have enjoyed watching in the past, and will continue to watch in the future.

Souvenir program showing Debbie Allen as the title character in Sweet Charity, 1986. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.93

Souvenir program showing Debbie Allen as the title character in Sweet Charity, 1986. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.93

Phil Friedman’s papers were given to the Museum in 1988 by his sister, Annette Trubowitsch. The full finding aid is available on the Museum’s catablog.

One response to “Managing the stage: the Phil Friedman papers, 1936-1987

  1. Pingback: More Bob Fosse | mostly music

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