During each performance of the InterAct Theatre Company’s current production, Rosemary, the audience attention is, of course, focused on the six actors in the cast.
But they don’t see the man working busily behind the scenes, the one responsible for almost everything that happens onstage.
As stage manager for InterAct Theatre, Brady Gonsalves is stationed in a small booth with a window in the back of the theater. Wearing a headset, he calls out all the sound and light cues and communicates with everyone working backstage.
He’s the one who shouts out "Places!" He’s also the one to decide how many curtain calls the actors should take. And he supervises everything in between.
"Nothing should happen unless the stage manager gives the cue," says Gonsalves, of Queen Village. "I hold myself responsible for any mistakes. Technically, it’s my show."
He’ll be seated in his booth for every performance of Rosemary, a Philadelphia premiere that opened last Friday and continues through April 27.
But Gonsalves’ responsibility starts long before opening night. The 29-year-old sits in on all the planning meetings, working closely with the set, lighting and costume designers, and supervising everything from costume fittings to publicity photos.
He attends all the rehearsals so he can update the technical staff and cast of any revisions.
"I’m the clearinghouse for information," he says.
During the first week of rehearsals for Rosemary, the playwright, Jim O’Connor, was on hand to iron out glitches. "In several instances, the actors felt the scene wasn’t working for them, so we sat down and revised the scene with the playwright," says Gonsalves.
With a new play, revisions are frequent, and this is indeed new. Rosemary had its world premiere in 2001 in Chicago, where it received an award for outstanding new work. The play explores the mystery surrounding Rosemary Kennedy, oldest daughter of the legendary political family. Rosemary was slower and clumsier than her siblings and, to them, a potential embarrassment.
"It’s really an amazing script — a very compelling story with lots of inherent drama," says Gonsalves. "This is the dark secret of the Kennedy family. We’re really pleased with the opportunity to put this story on the stage."
Turning a script into a staged production is a complex process. First come the unstaged rehearsals, which take place in a rehearsal room. Three-and-a-half weeks later, the pace intensifies with "tech rehearsals." This time, the actors are onstage and all the technical details are incorporated. These are intense sessions, sometimes lasting 10 hours.
Finally, there are dress rehearsals, and then previews — the first time the actors perform for an audience.
"It’s nerve-racking," Gonsalves admits about the latter. "It’s no longer a rehearsal. The audience is watching everything, and you don’t know what to expect. So there’s always some anxiety. But there’s also excitement, because it’s the first time an audience is seeing the play."
One of the stage manager’s greatest challenges is coordinating the many light and sound cues, which he calls out to the technicians. One production this season, Cry Havoc, had 44 light cues and 30 sound cues.
Even after the curtain comes down, Gonsalves is still in charge, deciding how many curtain calls the actors take and conveying his directions to the assistant manager backstage.
"It can get tricky when we do multiple curtain calls," says Gonsalves. "Some actors don’t like more than one curtain call."
He carefully calculates: Sometimes, one curtain call isn’t enough for the audience, whereas too many can be anticlimactic.
During one showing of Cry Havoc, the audience kept on clapping and clapping, even after the actors had given several curtain calls and headed downstairs to change out of their costumes.
But Gonsalves realized the audience wasn’t satisfied. "I said to the assistant manager, ‘Send them back out,’ so they came upstairs and back on the stage."
A Connecticut native, he’s been intrigued by theater ever since he had a small role in a high-school play. He enjoyed the experience, but never expected to make theater his career.
At Drexel University, Gonsalves was a chemistry major. One day, he saw a flier for a theater audition. He decided to try out, but didn’t get a part. However, he did find out that an assistant stage manager was needed.
"I had no idea what it was," Gonsalves says of the position. But he gamely volunteered. "And I fell in love with the job."
Soon he was stage-managing plays at Drexel — and realizing that he wanted to major in theater. He transferred to Temple University, where he gained even more experience working on college productions.
Gonsalves’ first professional job was as stage manager at the Arden Theatre Company, where he worked on six shows before assuming the same position at InterAct, headquartered at 2030 Sansom St.
One of his proudest productions to date involved a unique scene in which he had a leading role.
It took place Oct. 7 at the Irvine Auditorium on the University of Pennsylvania campus. It was the night of the annual Barrymore Awards, a festive ceremony for the Philadelphia theater community.
The most dramatic moment came not with an award announcement, but when Gonsalves proposed onstage to a stunned Jennifer Hayden.
Jamie Haskins, managing director of InterAct (and also a Queen Village resident), suggested Gonsalves go public when proposing to his girlfriend of two years.
"I resisted the idea at first," says Gonsalves, but the idea seemed fitting for the stage manager and Hayden, then the Barrymore Awards administrator for Theatre Alliance.
Gonsalves was serving as stage manager for the event, so he got to manage his own scene. First, he came out on the stage, ostensibly to clear off the props. Then he walked over to the podium and launched into a thank-you speech for Theatre Alliance staff.
He thanked four people, one of them Hayden, and asked her to come up to the stage.
Unsuspecting, she came forward, assuming this was a special thank-you for her work. And it did begin that way. But then another stage manager came out bearing a dozen roses.
"I gave her a hug, gave her the roses and then I said, ‘Oh, and one more thing,’ and I put my hand in my pocket and got out a ring," says Gonsalves. "The audience gave a collective gasp. I got down on one knee and proposed. She was absolutely floored! But when she recovered, she said yes."
The audience then gave the engaged couple a standing ovation.
Gonsalves and Hayden are renting a house in Queen Village and hope to buy one.
"Lots of our friends in the theater community live nearby," he says, so he’s always surrounded by performing-arts types. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
"I don’t get the applause," he says. "But what I do allows the actors and the overall production to shine. And ultimately, that’s what gives the audience the most enjoyable experience."
Interact Theatre Company presents the Philadelphia premiere of Rosemary through April 27 at 2030 Sansom St. Tickets are $20 weekdays, $24 weekends. For tickets or information, call 215-568-8079.