Anthony Wade-Cooper on Finding a New Career in Retirement and Learning to Be Confident in Chaos
This is the second in a regular series of blog posts in which I speak with exciting artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs exploring how their creative skills have enabled them to do incredible things in their personal and professional lives.
You can find all of these interviews by searching for the tag #CreativeInnovative.
Anthony Wade-Cooper is undoubtedly one of my favourite people that I have met through working in theatre. I had the privilege to perform in a show that he stage managed. The show was incredible emotionally taxing, and then I was injured in the middle of the show.
His presence brought an oasis of calm wherever he was. A stage manager who can manage technical details while at the same time bringing levity and empathy to the rehearsal space when required is an invaluable skill set. For me, this is theatre at its best: professionals who maintain authority over a project, synchronize with other authorities in the production, and employ an array of interpersonal skills in order to care for the performers.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that Anthony came to the theatre later in life. In his prior carer as a flight attendant, Anthony developed his acting and interpersonal skills, which he grew further in teaching service procedures, as well as the computer bidding and holiday bidding system as they were introduced. Then, his partner encouraged Anthony to consider stage management.
F: Where are you originally from?
A: Long story… I was born in India of a British father and an Australian mother. I grew up in the UK and emigrated to Canada in 1973. I emigrated to Australia in 2015. I know live in Mooloolaba, Australia.
F: Tell me a little about your training in the arts.
A: I attended Capilano University for one semester and have taken Meisner acting beginner's level. it's basically been on-the-job training in Stage Management since then. I worked in community theatre, for opera companies, and in some independent productions. Bard on the Beach in Vancouver was my last Canadian gig. Here in Australia, I have worked at the Noosa Arts Theatre, have worked on several professional productions including Noosa Long Weekend for two years, and the staging of a [David] Williamson play with the Sydney cast on tour.
F: Has your art/training taken you to other places? What are some of the most interesting locations you have experienced?
A: Working in Sulmona Italy was the most outstanding experience, stage managing opera amongst palaces built in the Middle Ages! My Meisner training was under Meisner himself in his studio on the island of Bequia in the Carribean. This was an intense course which was somewhat over my head but the island charm and lifestyle will never be erased from my memory.
F: What are the benefits and challenges of collaboration?
A: Collaboration is absolutely essential. Ideas arising out of collaboration often take the work in directions that you hadn’t conceived in the initial stages. I have been very lucky to have learned most from incredible mentors in my field, my partner Stephen Atkins, and some very very talented cast members and technicians. I am not afraid of letting people teach this ‘old dog’ new tricks.
F: What drives you in your work?
A: The love of the end product. The journey to get to the end product. Seeing a page on paper translate into a living breathing piece of art (usually!). The initial ‘GO’ cue to me is so exciting. Watching all the hard work of rehearsals eventuating into a unique performance that is never 100% the same the next time. Watching all the element of rehearsal and production come together.
F: To what extent have you been able to make your creativity work an aspect of all of your jobs?
A: In the airlines, being creative was always necessary when handling a passenger mishandling. I don't think of myself as creative. I just try and so what I consider to be the most logical way to solve a problem that creates an end result that we are all pleased with.
F: How do you use your performance skills in undertaking “non-creative” jobs?
A: In Canada I volunteered with AIDS Vancouver and did lightwalking for the Vancouver Opera. I also worked as the team leader in the Roundhouse at Expo ‘86. The experience I have had dealing with the public help me. Performance skills are required when dealing with a group of people, be it actors, or people you are working with a group of volunteers in a job. If you are in-charge they look to you for guidance which they expect you to provide. Sometimes you are exhausted and really don't feel like being in-charge but that's when performance skills come into play.
F: What demands dictate your creativity?
A: Basically, as stage manager, the creativeness comes in making sure everything runs smoothly in rehearsal and pre-, during, post-show. Professionally one rehearses at fixed times during the day as per union contracts but in the volunteer jobs rehearsals are done at night usually two or three times a week. Usually, the cast will warm up before a rehearsal, which entails breathing, vocal and stretching exercises… like the ones we did at ZZZ!
F: Anthony, you can boast of many remarkable achievements over your career, but of which creative accomplishments are you proudest?
A: In my airline career, it is the fact that I was chosen three times to work with the Prime Ministers of Canada on diplomatic missions. In my theatrical career my Italian opera achievement was to me the most remarkable. The rest of the cast and crew were young twenty-somethings and there was I at my age keeping up with the lot of them. Bard on the Beach was also one of the most professional and impressive shows I have worked on. I learned so much about professionalism there. I consider myself very fortunate to have had such amazing careers through my life
F: Wow! Anthony, what incredibly diverse adventures you have experienced!
What role does performance have in your life? Why is it important?
A: I am basically a shy person so the ability to communicate and ‘act’ and use my body when I am in a situation in public helps me an awful lot. I might not be feeling confident but if I project that I am, the outcome is inevitably successful.
F: Yes, exactly. A confident but also genuine outer persona can enable you access to many experiences that you would not otherwise enjoy. What do you advise people do in order to mitigate burnout?
A: Professionally, you work intensely for a couple of weeks to achieve the best performance you can give so sleep and nutrition are important. Nutrition, however, must be carefully planned as often one has to eat dinner at 4:00 pm and have nothing else to eat until 11:00 pm by which time you are ready to ingest anything. So sleep, planned meals and if one can meditate I would advise it as it can slow you down especially after an evening’s performance. It is impossible to go to bed straight away – you have to give yourself some time to "come down."
F: Yes, I can relate as I struggled a lot with "coming down" and trying to manage my energy over the course of a prolonged rehearsal process. I get home after rehearsal or a show and my brain is a circus!
Would you agree that having training in voice, performance, and movement can help someone who isn't looking to be a performer?
A: Yes I would definitely agree. The more confidence you have in dealing with other citizens can only make you a better citizen yourself. Voice, posture, performance all go to creating an image that's easier for you to interact with other people.
F: What adaptable skills have you gained through your art form that you apply in other contexts?
A: I think the skill of thinking on your feet is one that I have developed because you have to always think of the next move in stage management, where you are needed next or what prop or set piece you have to have in place. So I find it easy to plan ahead and if something goes wrong then it's easy to adapt.
F: That being said, how do you set boundaries with regards to managing your personal from your creative spaces?
A: I am not sure one does divide ones personal from one's creative spaces. Of course in one’s personal space one tends to lessen the creative side but I feel it is always there in one shape or another.
F: What roles do intuition and aesthetic play in your personal life?
A: I rely on my intuition a lot when working, I think that you instinctively know when you are on the right track with a show or an actor. I think the aesthetic is left more to the creative i.e. set, costume and lighting designers. My job is to make sure their aesthetic is kept intact for the duration of the show.
F: You are multilingual. Do you feel that this gives you a different relationship to language and communication?
A: Interestingly enough when we were in Italy with the opera, we had to learn the Italian stage language and indeed even in Australia the basics are different such as load in/bump in, headsets/cans control booth/bio box. So you adapt but definitely, my languages help me with finding the right word often for the situation. Using one word when you could have used three…
F: Do you have to behave “differently” or be different people depending on the environment in which you are in? What skills served you in these different places?
A: Many years of being a flight attendant has served me very well in dealing with different situations and environments. In this day and age of lack of arts funding, you have to be adaptive and do the best with the tools you are given. In answer to the question yes I do behave differently depending on the situation at hand.
F: Now, you are unusual in that your Stage Manager career is your retirement.
A: I am retired and I work whenever I feel I would like to and with people that I like. I really don't have a business, just freelance and take some paid work if offered and if I feel I can do it.
F: What was the toughest learning curve that you experienced? What skills supported you?
A: My basic skills were learned through the airline, how to deal correctly with a group of people be they clients or colleagues. This took a while but now it's ingrained it comes naturally. There are always ‘prickly’ people and always solutions to their problems. It just day to day dealing with people – sometimes you are in the mood to deal with everything, others not so much but you always have to appear that you are confident in what you are doing.
F: What strategies support you in appearing confident and managing "prickly" people?
A: Preparation, asking questions, consistency, and patience and learning how to get into a problem without complicating the system.
F: How do you go about networking/promoting your business?
A: Just staying in touch with the companies I work for. An occasional email to remind people I exist. I am lucky that I don't have to hustle to work, I work when I want to
F: Has technology changed your work?
A: Most definitely – when I started you used, for example, cassettes or DVDs for sound and now I use Qlab which revolutionized my work.
F: What is the most draining/challenging aspect of your business?
A: The unusual hours – eating requires planning, and I am no good with ladders anymore. The joys of aging!
F: How do you manage burnout/maintain your enthusiasm for your work?
A: I simply take time off if I feel I have bitten off more than I can chew… this year I have had two projects going on at once and another starting the day after the current one finishes. I won't be doing this again as I value my time off!
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