Working 11-hour days backstage on Broadway: 'You have to be a little bit crazy' but 'I love it'

Assistant company manager Annie Schroeder on Broadway's "& Juliet" backstage during a show.
Photo by Gili Malinsky

On a Wednesday matinee performance of Broadway's "& Juliet," assistant company manager Annie Schroeder is making the rounds backstage.

The show is a humorous take on what would happen if Juliet of "Romeo and Juliet" elected not to take her life and decided, instead, to adventure to Paris with her crew of besties (good nurse included). In lieu of original tunes, "& Juliet" works in iconic pop hits such as Backstreet Boys' "Larger Than Life" and Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream."

Schroeder walks around through offices, dressing rooms and green rooms checking in with the show's various players. Did the assistant stage manager who was out on medical leave receive her catered meals? (She did.) What's the update on new ensemble member Kate Mina Lin? (She's trailing cast member Rachel Webb at 1:30.) Is the merch booth out of beanies? (Yes.)

Schroeder's main task every show is checking ticket sales and sending numbers up to the producers. But as assistant company manager, she has her hands in much of the behind-the-scenes logistics of the show as well. "She's a sister girl," says cast member Michael Ivan Carrier, and she's "the mother that needs to stay out of my room."

As far as work's concerned, it's exactly what Schroeder had in mind. She's partial to "having my foot in every part of the show," she says.

Working in theater 'is what I want to do'

Schroeder, 28, grew up in Columbus, Ohio, always a theater kid.

She was enrolled in a drama program for kids in elementary school, joined drama club and took on acting, stage managing and directing in high school, and eventually attended Otterbein University for her bachelor's in theater. It was there that she discovered her love of the details of what makes a performance.

Schroeder's school hosted an annual drag show that raised money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. She put the show on with a friend and in the process realized what balancing the finances of a performance is really about: paying those involved, covering the cost of merch and advertising and still raising money for the charity. But Schroeder had a knack for it.

"Over the three years, we ended up tripling what we made in sales," she says.

When an alumnus of her school working as a company manager of the "Kinky Boots" show on tour came to talk to her class and described his role, Schroeder realized, "Oh, this is what I do for drag show," she says. "This is what I want to do."

'I kind of describe [Broadway] as like a food chain'

It takes dozens of people to put on a Broadway show.

There's the actors, writers, composers, producers and directors, of course, but also the choreographers, casting directors, sound designers, costume designers, lighting designers, hair and makeup designers, stage managers, general managers, associates and assistants to the aforementioned, sound mixers, electricians, props managers, physical therapists, accountants and more.

"I kind of describe it as like a food chain," says Schroeder. "Producers are at the top. They're the ones that are raising all the money." They also bring on the general management office, which creates the budget for the show and hires everyone else (with input from producers). This includes hiring the company managers, who are responsible for payroll, policy enforcement and meeting the day-to-day needs of select patrons, cast and crew.

"& Juliet" stage as seen from behind the sound booth.
Photo by Gili Malinsky

Schroeder's day usually starts around 10 or 11 in the morning and ends around 9 or 9:30 at night.

"One of our actors, Mel, came from England," she says as an example of a recent workday. "At one point I was balancing a payroll sheet, budgeting, and at the same time I'm unpacking, like, 200 boxes from Amazon actually moving this woman into her apartment."

Technically, she gets one day off per week. Often she's roped into last-minute duties even on that day, though.

"Sunday was my day off and I think we got four or five last-minute house seat orders," she says, referring to seats booked privately through the show for VIPs or people in the company. "I spent the morning getting those last bits of ticketing in."

'I'm barely breaking even'

Virtually all roles on Broadway are unionized. They're part of just 10% of the American workforce that's represented by a union, according to the Department of Labor.

Schroeder's role is under the jurisdiction of the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers. She's about a quarter of the way toward getting her membership, which requires working for 52 weeks on valid contracts over up to three consecutive seasons, a series of seminars plus an oral and a written test.

Some of the many mics used on "& Juliet."
Photo by Gili Malinsky

Once she becomes a member, she'll have access to health insurance, a pension plan, paid vacation and holidays and other benefits. Associate company managers, the next step up from Schroeder's current role, who are in the union make a minimum of $2,466 per week with a full benefit package. She's currently making half of that.

"I'm barely breaking even," she says.

'You have to be a little bit crazy if you want to do this'

Even once she's in the union, Schroeder won't necessarily be guaranteed work.

"You jump from show to show all the time," she says. "You never know if a show is going to close. You never know if you get a job and then it's going to end up not getting to the stage." But she's building a network for herself and has thus far been able to continually book gigs.

"Something that I remember a college professor told me on our first week of classes was, 'you have to be a little bit crazy if you want to do this for the rest of your life,'" she says. There are both daily fires to put out and uncertainty in the long run.

But then there's magic, too. At least once week, and on rough days in particular, Schroeder tries to watch both the first act of "& Juliet" and the audience's reaction to it. Seeing their adoration and respect for what's happening on stage feeds her.

"It was tough at first," she says of the job. "But I think, for right now, I love it."

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