As State Theatre Company of South Australia’s deputy production manager and stage manager, Gabrielle Hornhardt is the company’s “go-to person”.
Hornhardt’s job to be the key communicator between all show departments when a State Theatre Company (STC) production moves from the rehearsal room to the stage. Her involvement with a show begins at least eight months before opening night.
“It’s my responsibility to look after all production departments involved with the performance; this means scenery construction, wardrobe, props, lighting, sound and scenic art,” Hornhardt says.
She knew she wanted to work in the theatre from an early age. “I remember sitting in the front row of the Festival Theatre at the age of 12 and being mesmerised by Caroline O’Connor’s performance in the musical Chicago and thinking, ‘I want to be a part of this’.”
Hornhardt completed an Advanced Diploma in Technical Production (Stage Management) at Adelaide College of the Arts before landing a job with STC in 2005 as an assistant stage manager. “I then freelanced with the company up until 2016 when I was offered the full-time position of deputy production manager.
“One of the major roles a stage manager will undertake is the ‘calling of the show’,” Hornhardt says. “This is when I communicate to various operators (lighting, sound, mechanists, followspot operator) when to execute their cues with the correct timing and accuracy.”
Consistency in ‘calling a show’ is crucial as so much is going on behind the curtain. “Every show needs to be executed with the same precision and accuracy each night. However, with live theatre, things can sometimes not go to plan. This is when remaining calm and quick problem solving become vital to a show’s success.”
There is never a typical day at the office; things always change and the company is often on the move with productions around the state. “No two days are ever the same. Currently I am production managing the STC’s production of Animal Farm. This show will tour to 20 venues across regional and metropolitan South Australia and interstate. The venues range from the Space Theatre in the Adelaide Festival Centre to the Town Hall in Ceduna. It’s my job to make sure the show will work in every venue it tours to without any aspect of the show being compromised.”
Opening night is always a unique experience for Hornhardt, an evening full of excitement, nerves and adrenaline. In this fast-paced and technically complicated world, Hornhardt holds the fort, trusting in her skills. When asked what the most important tools of her trade are, Hornhardt replies: “Problem solving, patience, a good sense of humour, care and respect, consistency and passion.”
The Secret River is a production that holds fond memories for Hornhardt, as the 2017 Adelaide Festival and STC collaboration allowed her to utilise her razer-sharp problem-solving skills. “The production was staged in a disused quarry at Anstey Hill Recreation Park,” she says. “I was the site manager, and along with the talented STC production department, we turned the disused site with no mains electricity or running water into an 800-seat theatre. The show performed to sold-out audiences over the run of the Adelaide Festival.”
Hornhardt takes a great deal of inspiration from the theatre community of Adelaide. “Adelaide is filled with some of the best theatre-makers in Australia,” she says. “Local companies are focused on producing works that stand out on a local, national and international level.” She greatly admires the stage management community in Adelaide, as “most of the stage managers in Adelaide are working in a freelancing capacity, and it can be demanding juggling contracts and consistent work”.
Hornhardt is now preparing for, and greatly looking forward to, working on the all-female production of David Williamson’s The Club. “I’m a huge footy fan, so working on this satire with an all-female cast, both on and off the stage, is an absolute dream.
Leo Greenfield is a freelance illustrator