Taylor Jackson has worked with the best—The Nutcracker, Hamilton, Katy Perry, to name a few. Jackson has worked in stage production for 11-plus years. She often works behind the scenes on shows in Omaha. “My first ballet I did was Cleopatra in 2015,” Jackson says. She has since worked backstage on other ballets produced by Omaha’s American Midwest Ballet and the touring production of The Nutcracker.
Jackson’s love for the arts was encouraged from a young age. Her father was a graphic designer. “My dad encouraged my creative spirit by teaching me how to draw and watercolor,” Jackson says. Jackson’s grandparents pushed her in the direction of performing arts by taking her to Shakespeare on the Green. “We’d bring our picnic, blanket, board games, and make an evening of it. I continued that tradition through my life with friends and family. [My grandparents] enrolled me in a Shakespeare summer camp, where I was onstage for one of the only moments in my life as Polonius in Hamlet,” Jackson says.
During her freshman year of high school, Jackson was introduced to her passion for theater. Her friends were makeup artists for the actors in her school’s production of Cats, and she decided to join them. That experience prompted her to reach out to The Rose Theatre. “I met this woman named Kirsten Von Hagn—she was the props master—and she would stay late so I could work with her after school. That was my first introduction into tech theater beyond high school,” Jackson says.
Von Hagn spoke with Jackson about being the assistant stage manager on the production of The Wizard of Oz after seeing how hard she worked, and how interested in learning about theater she was.
Jackson was hooked. She says she enjoys stage management because it lets her be creative in an organized fashion. “Designers will tell us when they want something to happen—this could be with a visual moment, a word, a music note, etc. As the stage manager, I have to collect all of these [directional] notes from the designers, and then make it all come together, and call it all at the right times.” The creative parts of stage managing comes in arranging for the best movement of the crew backstage, how the manager calls the tech cues—the order, the timing, “feeling the moment”—and the encouraging and supporting creative theater environment.
Jackson’s stage hand/stage management progress has gone from local theater to major productions. She works with IATSE Local 42, the union for stagehands that employs them to help on shows at specific venues. Jackson has worked with IATSE 42 for the past two years as a casual, meaning someone whose full-time job is not stage handling. “I was the artistic operations intern with Omaha Symphony and with my stage management experience, I was also the assistant stage manager for Omaha Symphony Christmas Spectacular in 2014. That was my first time working with IATSE stagehands,” Jackson says. Working as a stage manager, assistant stage manager, and production assistant, Jackson built a reputation and became friends with fellow crew members. “My friend Brian Regan, IATSE stagehand and on the props crew at the Orpheum, helped me get on my first stagehand [experience] for Katy Perry in 2017. From there, I’ve just continued taking stagehand calls to build my experience and continue to take stage management contracts when I’m available,” Jackson says.
“Part of what makes Jackson great at her job is that she handles being under pressure really well,” says Bill Lee, business agent for IATSE Local 42. “She knows what’s going on in the industry, she is available to us when we need her. She does a really good job. She is very easy to work with, and fair, and is very organized.”
“For any show, the coolest moments that stick with me are when I’m able to troubleshoot something in very quick moments,” Jackson says.
The Wizard of Oz with American Midwest Ballet performed one show in a theater she and other stage hands had never worked in before. During the performance, an incorrect stage set came in during a transition. Although the setup normally required one person to work on that piece of staging, she quickly pulled in a second person from a different area to help get the staging set correctly.
Jackson was also in the dark through all of this.
“All of this happened in a blackout, so I couldn’t see if it was happening/had happened correctly until I took the next light cue and saw [the staging] when the audience did,” Jackson says. “They were some very intense moments.”
Jackson has had the privilege of working on shows with some of entertainment’s most high-profile names. Most of her job as a stagehand includes manual labor such as laying wires and cables. One big perk of the job is that Jackson can sometimes watch the show for the price of her labor. “The production team from P!nk let us go backstage and watch P!ink perform, so that was really cool,” Jackson says. A few other performers Jackson has seen from backstage are Cher, Justin Timberlake, Eric Church, and Elton John; though there are some shows that don’t allow the stage hands to watch the performance.
While she sometimes has a great view of a show, she and other stagehands almost never speak with the performers. “Katy Perry stopped by our department and thanked us as she headed out from her show, but it was a quick moment,” Jackson says of her one experience meeting a star.
Jackson not only works for Local 42; members of Local 42 work for Jackson on other shows. “When she works for the [Omaha] symphony or BlueBarn [Theatre], or another venue, we sometimes work under her,” Lee says.
Whether laying cable or lying in the wings giving direction, Jackson’s labor is one of love.
Visit iatse42.org for more information.
This article was printed in the November/December 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.