South Carolina School of the Arts at Anderson University
Go West: theatrical Design graduate’s career thriving in Utah
From high school productions to professional theatre and practically everything in-between, Davy Grace McGuirt has been there. Now stage managing at Hale Center Theatre, a state-of-the-art venue in the Salt Lake City area, McGuirt’s excitement about her job builds with each production she’s a part of. Giving audiences an unforgettable theatre experience makes McGuirt’s day.
Bring us up to date on what you’re doing professionally.
I had the privilege of being offered a nine month residency for assistant stage management with a company out here in Utah, so in March I packed up my bags and moved 2,000 miles from my home in Greenville. It was a decision I prayed a lot about, because offers like this don’t come around that often and I also just wanted to make sure that it was the next right step for me in my personal life and also my career.
The company I’m with is the most technologically advanced theatre in the nation. We have two stage spaces and our center stage space is in the round. Basically the only other place you can find our equipment is the Cirque de Soleil installation in Vegas, so we’re very high in our capabilities. It’s been a great experience, educational, and I’ve loved it so far.
It’s called the Hale Centre Theatre (htc.org). There are two: one in Orem and I’m at Sandy (South of Salt Lake City). The company itself is very rich in history. It actually was started by a family who decided there needed to be more theatre that was rich in the storytelling aspect and was really fed by artists who loved what they did. They ended up basically growing out of all of the spaces they were in, so they had to keep going to bigger and bigger buildings and bigger spaces.
What is it like to work there?
With everyone I have worked with so far, it’s very apparent that they absolutely love what they do, which is something that you would think is normal for creatives to love what they do, but in my past, that’s not always the case. So it’s been really nice to be around people who are (A) Very good at what they do, and (B) Absolutely love it. So just the energy that we all bring into the space as artists and collaborators is really a nice breath of fresh air.
They do a year-round season… around 10 shows, and every year they do “A Christmas Carol” in December; that caps their season for the year.
The show that I’m currently running right now, this is actually our halfway point. We’ve reached halfway through our run this week. It’s a show called “The Light in the Piazza.” It’s a beautiful little operetta piece, a stunning little love story and also a family relationship in there as well. In the summer I’ll be working on “Singing in the Rain,” which is a bucket list show for me. It’s my favorite movie. I’m incredibly excited. We’re going to make it rain inside—that’s something I’ve never been able to do—so I’m super pumped about it absolutely.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m one of the very few morning people in the theatre industry, so it’s nice to have my mornings free. I usually don’t go into work until 2 o’clock at the earliest. Once a show is open and running, I’m not going in until 5 unless I have a meeting, and then our shows just run at night, unless we have a matinee, and most of the time we’re out of the theatre even on tech nights before 11 p.m. So it’s really great, because I have a work-life balance and I’m able to pursue other creative projects. Since I sewed a lot while I was at Anderson, I’m actually working on a couple of personal sewing projects just to kind of boost my portfolio… My typical days are usually from 2-11 and then on Saturdays we do three shows every day. Thankfully we don’t have to work all three—it’s very rare we have to do that. If we do, those are longer days. The other nice thing is, we always have Sundays off; I appreciate it because it allows me to go to church to get that community I need.
What made you choose to come to Anderson University?
Initially it was because I did not want to be super far away from home because I really was not sure that college was going to be the next right step for me, which is hilarious to say now. Hindsight is 20-20.
We have some incredible people who have entered the program, who have recently graduated from the program, that are about to graduate from the program and I am beyond excited to be in a professional world with these individuals who have had strong education both in the department but also a great foundation in terms of their belief system and moral system, because finding those voices who are true to who they are and what they stand for in a creative space is very challenging to do.
If I had to hype up anything else about the South Carolina School of the Arts, it would also a hundred percent be our amazing faculty. I cannot think of a single semester where I didn’t have professors pouring into me. I have hundreds of thousands of stories about how impactful they’ve been in my life, both in SCSA and the Honors Department and the Psychology Department and so I absolutely love our professors. The people definitely made my experience what it was and they were the ones who really spoke life and truth into me and I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunities that I was given.
How has your education from the South Carolina School of the Arts at Anderson University helped you professionally and in other ways?
I’m one of the few, at least, of the people that I know who has had practical experience working with individuals who are actors first, or singers first or musicians first or artists first. Each of those creatives has a different way that they work and a different way they receive information best, so having that ability to work theatre shows at Anderson and then work Gala, where I worked with a lot of musicians, and to kind of learn in an educational setting how different types of creatives best respond, has really helped me out in the professional world to use those tips that I’ve picked up in that sort of way. The other thing is I’ve always kind of had my personal reason for why I do what I do. I know that God has blessed me with this creative space and talent that I happen to be good at and also enjoy and so, to kind of carry that on.
How did you first become interested in theatre?
Theatre first clicked for me when I was a freshman in high school. I was at a brand new school and I had been there for a semester. I am naturally very slow at making friends. I have a ton of acquaintances, but finding friends has always been just really hard for me. So I had been at the school a semester and was like “I need to find somewhere to plug in that will give me something to do in the afternoons but might lend itself well to forming friendships.” I knew a couple of people involved in the theatre department, so I walked in and walked straight up to the director and introduced myself.
I asked if she needed any help anywhere and she said, “well, we’ve cast the show, but do you feel like hanging backstage?” I said “that sounds great to me.” So that’s how I got my very first theatre gig. I was tech crew for “Arsenic and Old Lace.” It’s a murder mystery and my favorite to this day. After that, doors opened for more managerial roles in stage management, so I ended up stage managing about six shows in high school. When it came time to decide what I wanted to do in college, I had no idea. I said “why not theatre?” I did stage management in college, and then my junior year David Larson (Dean of the South Carolina School of the Arts) sat me down and said “Hey, you’re going to direct now.” And I said “Yes sir. I will direct with you.” He was the one who pushed me into directing, which I love. It’s the only thing that still terrifies me, which means I have to do it more often, push myself out of my comfort zone.
Then Jessica Johnson was the one who really sought out the costume designer aspects in me and so I definitely attempt to practice all three of those, even though stage management is the one I’m practically practicing at the moment. I am so incredibly appreciative for David Larson and Jessica and Mary Nichols who also helped me with my directing career and them seeing the talent in me and kind of forcing it to come out even when I was a little hesitant.
Mary Nichols was an adjunct for my directing class and she was my director for “Women of Lockerbie,” which was my senior project.
There are those who enjoy the spotlight, but you seem to really thrive behind the scenes. Why do you think that is?
It’s funny you say that, because two weeks ago I was having a conversation with one of our ensemble members and she was discussing this with another actor, “I understand why we enjoy acting so much because we get the applause and get the attention.” She says “I sat down earlier today and just thought all these technicians love what they do just like we love acting and they never get recognition for it.” I just thought it was funny to have an actor recognize that and want to talk about it.
I have been onstage a very select amount of times and I love public speaking, so I have no problem with that sort of thing. Acting—I don’t know, my passion’s not there at the moment. But I love being behind the scenes because I’ve always loved helping other people achieve their dreams. I think watching someone’s face light up with joy and the light come out of their heart when they experience something that they love, it’s one of my favorite things to see and emotions to experience. If I can be a part of that, it makes my day.
For me, stage management has always been a great reminder of the gospel story because I have always viewed it as a lot more like a servanthood-oriented position. Oftentimes we’re taking flack for stuff that may or may not be our fault, and we have to bounce a lot of things, but it’s a great reminder for me that—hey, the least among you, they’re doing a lot and are going to be the first in my Kingdom, but also the importance of service and the importance of letting other people shine and guiding them towards achieving their dreams.
How do you handle stressful situations before the curtain rises?
That’s the thing about live theatre—every night is different. It’s been fun because with this gig specifically our shows run for an eight-week period and I’ve never been a part of a production that runs longer than a week. So in some ways it’s been very nice to experience that because more often than not in a professional setting you are going to be running shows for month after month. At the same time it’s still funny that every single night is different. A couple of shows ago, I did have an actor who was late because we have absolutely horrible traffic on the freeway. So it still gives you time to think on your feet, work stuff out and solve problems on your toes before you open for an audience of 500 or a thousand. It is definitely still a logistical creative outlet as well that you have to problem solve really quickly and come up with solutions with your team.
How do you live out your Christian faith in the day-to-day of the theatre world?
It’s definitely very challenging to break out of the Anderson bubble when you’re in any major, but specifically theatre artists and creatives in general, it is very much about personal branding—that’s kind of how you sell yourself, that’s how you get gigs, that’s how you maintain jobs. Every department, every degree is going to have individuals, and you know we all—young professionals especially—are out searching for what the meaning of life is, what the meaning of the world is, and what they believe. Oftentimes since creatives tend to clash in terms of just being in stressful situations and things can get heated, it is incredibly important to just have that moral code for yourself and to really know why you do what you do. Thankfully I haven’t had any horrendous moments recently in my career but in the past I have definitely called Jessica and said “I don’t understand how people can do this and get through this if they don’t have something that’s stable.” Every day is an opportunity to be a missionary. It doesn’t have to be super evangelical through word. It can also be through deed and so it’s always keeping that in mind—I’m a representative of Christ and His Kingdom wherever I go.
What kind of advice would you give someone wanting to do the type of work you do?
So much! I need to write a book (laughs). Say “yes” to opportunities that are given to you, even if they make you scared in the beginning because those will often open doors that are a lot bigger than you can imagine. Then once you’re out in the professional world, make sure that you know for yourself what it is the Lord is leading you to do. There are thousands and thousands of maps to get to your destination, and I often overthink all of those ways instead of just focusing on the next right step. And the next right step for you is going to look different than the next right step for someone else. Neither of them is more important than the other. Seeking the advice of others who know you and know what you stand for and what you’re about will also push you to get out of your comfort zone.
Is the type of work you do hard to break into?
I have found it exceedingly difficult to break into. Not that there is a formula, but any semblance of a formula I can and will find in this process I’m going to send it to every technician I know, because it should not be this hard for us to find and maintain work with reputable companies. It is easier to get it on a lower level—community theatre level, but at the professional level, regional level, it’s exceedingly hard to break into. It is 100 percent all about knowing the right people, so building your network is something that’s always going to be the hardest, especially when you’re starting out. I’ve been fortunate enough where I’ve already gotten some of my friends jobs in theatre and I just know someday somebody’s going to call me up with a million dollar deal and I’ll be ready (laughs).
At the end of the day, what gives you the greatest satisfaction?
Always coming in to work, and regardless of what’s going on in my personal life, having the attitude “hey, God woke me up today and today it’s to do the show for people and we’re going to form relationships on stage and off and with the audience and make someone’s day better, and if at the end of the day, if it caused you to ask me why I’m always so happy and love what I do and I get a chance to share what I’m all about, that’s awesome.”
I came out here not knowing anyone, and a couple of people, literally three days knowing them, pulled me aside and said “Hey, you’re here for more than just the show, right? I’m going to see you the rest of the year, right?” So to have people who recognize something within me that’s different and that they like and that they want to be around more, that has really made my day. And then also, I’ve had so many sweet people from Anderson reach out to me. I am very intentional about trying to keep connections and friendships I’ve formed, and so to have people reach out and want to catch up with me, like “Hey, how’s everything going?” Just to know that they’re thinking about me and also I’m thinking about them so far apart. Anytime someone catches me off guard and says “Hey, I’m glad you’re here,” or “Hey, what you did today really made a difference,” that always brings a smile to my face.