When Taylor Poer came home from the hospital the day she was born, she said, she was told she was already wearing Ball State socks.
While Poer knew she was going to be a third-generation Ball State Cardinal from a young age, she said, she didn’t know what career she wanted to pursue until her senior year of high school. After working four years as a student director for her high school and having a conversation with her choir director at the time, she decided to look into majoring in theater.
“I was extremely pleased when I looked into BSU’s theater program and found out they have one of the best in the country,” Poer said. “I interviewed with the department at the end of the fall semester, and I decided as soon as I was finished Ball State’s Department of Theatre and Dance was where I wanted to be.”
Karen Kessler, professor of theatre, was one of the individuals who initially interviewed Poer. When Kessler first met Poer, she said, she could tell Poer was serious about what she wanted to do, and she was committed to her education. Kessler said not only did Poer have an ability to multitask, but she also had a sense of humor that helped get her through tougher times.
“Taylor had a problem with being a perfectionist — she would get really angry with herself if things weren’t exactly ‘right,’” Kessler said. “As she moved through college, she got better at cutting herself some slack and knowing that theater is about striving for perfection that rarely happens – just like life.”
As an undergraduate, Poer said, she felt overwhelmed at times because she was one of eight to 12 management students working to help the Department of Theatre and Dance put on about 23 shows a year.
“It was a lot — balancing all of your classes, as well as whatever shows you were assigned to, because the stage managers are the only people in the entire production who have to be at every single rehearsal, every single production meeting, every single tech and dress rehearsal and every single performance,” Poer said. “No other role has that responsibility. Sometimes, it felt like a lot, but you also got to work with the most people in the department and got to be an integral part of making all of the great shows happen. That made it worth it for me.”
After graduating from Ball State in 2017, Poer decided to move to New York City to take advantage of the various job opportunities available in her line of work. Poer said moving to New York City wasn’t as tough of a transition as she thought it would be because she loves the city’s diverse people, places, food and music.
“My hometown in Indiana has one stoplight in the entire town, so even just going to BSU was a bit of a change, but it was a welcome change,” Poer said. “I’ve known my whole life that I never wanted to stay in Indiana forever … BSU runs a very professional theatre department, so the transition to working with actual professionals upon moving to NYC was mostly seamless. I was already familiar with how everything ran and the expectations for my role.”
Although Poer started out taking positions in stage management, she quickly moved up the chain to production management. Now, in the heart of the city, Poer works as project coordinator for New York University Tisch School of Art’s New Studio on Broadway, one of New York University’s drama studios.
In the two years Poer has lived in NYC, she said, she has worked Off-Broadway at 59E59 Theatres twice, been on tour with American Girl Live and worked as a part of the first Fortnite World Cup Finals and the first of Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty fashion show.
“Throughout the process [of working on Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty fashion show], I worked more directly with her choreographer than Rihanna herself,” Poer said. “Even just being in the room, listening to Rihanna as she made decisions about what she wanted, how everything should look, was really inspiring. She’s at the top of her field, and she knows it.”
Most stage managers call themselves “freelancers,” Poer said, because of the unpredictable lifestyle that comes with the job.
“Life as a stage manager in NYC is unlike anything else in the world,” Poer said. “One day, you’re in rehearsal for eight hours working on a brand new show, and the next, you’re organizing a pop-up event for a new store. [One day], you’re running up and down town for five different meetings for different projects, and the next, you might be unemployed.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, Poer currently isn’t working on any projects because allowing people to congregate for a show’s audience is the entire basis of her job, and it’s difficult to do theater remotely.
“I know a lot of industry friends who are struggling because, while we love what we do, it’s not the easiest industry to survive in to begin with, even when you have consistent work coming in,” Poer said. “At this point, we’re all just doing what we can to stay home and spend as little money as possible until we can get back to work. The industry as a whole is going to need a lot of help to get back to normal, though. It’s not going to be an easy bounce back, but we will rebound eventually. We always do.”
From her experience in theater and stage management, Poer said, she has learned to seize every opportunity, but not at the expense of her worth, knowledge and health.
“What we do is important and brings happiness, education, empathy and compassion to the world, but also, at the end of the day, it’s just a show,” Poer said. “Do not burn yourself out because you think it’s cool. Take every opportunity, but take care of yourself too.”
Contact Sumayyah Muhammad with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.