Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express
Feb. 15 – Mar. 18
Adapted for the Stage by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Emily Mann
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Artist to Artist – A Word with Samantha Flint
By William Steinberger, Artistic Apprentice
Samantha Flint joins us as Production Stage Manager of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.
Tell us about yourself! What hooked you on theatre and stage management?
As soon as I could walk, I was taking dance classes. From dance, it was an easy leap to musical theatre in middle school – even getting cast in some bigger roles. As much as I enjoyed performing, after my freshman year of high school I had a hunch that I wasn’t destined to be onstage forever. A student director was in need of a stage manager for his production of Ubu Roi, and I was hooked. As a stage manager, I have the privilege of being involved in the production every step of the way. I love supporting and witnessing the work of my colleagues from the first rehearsal to the final performance.
Many people have a sense of what a stage manager or production stage manager does. Tell us, though, what is the difference between the two? Are there especially important lessons you’ve learned from mentors in your craft?
As the production stage manager, my role is a bit more “big picture” as I work with the director to achieve our goals in the rehearsal room and then run tech to prepare the show for the first performance. As a stage manager (also commonly termed an “assistant stage manager”) you’re “in the trenches” a bit more – working closely with the prop and costume departments, cast and crew to facilitate all of the things that need to happen backstage to make the show happen.
After college, I landed an internship at McCarter Theatre Center, and since then the Resident Production Stage Manager, Cheryl Mintz, has been a mentor and friend. I don’t have time to go into all of the things she has taught me over the years, but the most important lesson has been the way she trusts her assistants and her crew to do their jobs to the best of their ability. This, in turn, instilled in us a responsibility and sense of pride in the show as a whole. I have a fantastic stage management team on this show, and the Hartford Stage run crew is top-notch – this show is impossible without impeccable people backstage and I trust them completely.
You have a history with this production. What were some of your favorite moments from your work on the March 2017 world premiere of Murder on the Orient Express at McCarter?
Working on a world premiere is always exciting, but the physical aspects of this production presented their own challenges. Collaborating with Stage Supervisor Steve Howe, the amazing McCarter crew, and this design team was so rewarding. The first time that transitions happened the way we had imagined them was a testament to everyone’s hard work. I loved getting to stand backstage right and watch the train enter every night. That music still makes my heart race! I also enjoyed being with the cast backstage as we all figured out how to navigate the moving train – the world “behind the irises” is just as busy as what the audience sees from the front. It takes a huge amount of focus to be prepared for a scene when you have to wait for several things to stop moving before you can even make your entrance, and the cast handled it all with grace and good humor.
You’ve worked for several years with director Emily Mann and at the McCarter in Princeton, where Emily is Artistic Director/Resident Playwright. Tell us about your previous experiences with Emily and at McCarter.
I started at McCarter as an intern during the 2008/2009 season, right out of college. Since then I have been back for several productions, serving as an assistant stage manager on larger productions and also heading up workshops and lab performances. Emily’s leadership and influence is so integral to the McCarter experience, and she especially champions the work of female directors and artists. I can count on one hand the number of male directors I’ve worked with at McCarter, whereas outside of McCarter this is flipped – I can count on one hand the number of female directors I’ve worked with, and male directors have been plentiful.
This is my second show production stage-managing for Emily this season, both not at McCarter, and it has been an interesting journey as we deepen our working relationship and bring “the McCarter way” on the road, so to speak. I have such respect for her as a leader and an artist, and I hope that this is just the beginning of our collaboration!
This production of Murder on the Orient Express is unique, pairing aspects of the McCarter premiere with new cast members. How do you think your rehearsal process at Hartford Stage will be different than it was in Princeton?
We had a bit more rehearsal time in Princeton, as it was the first time that we were doing the show. So, our shortened schedule here will present a bit of a challenge for our new cast members. We are being cognizant of letting everyone have the freedom to dive deeper into the material and make new discoveries, while not forgetting some of the more technical aspects that we figured out last time. There isn’t a lot of room on a train, so movements have to be very precise!