Tesia Childs ’16 pursues her stage management dreams in the theatre capital of the world

Since graduating from Lees-McRae with a degree in Performing Arts Studies in 2016, Tesia Childs has gone on a whirlwind adventure in the world of professional theatre. From stumbling upon stage managing accidentally to now working as an Assistant Stage Manager for “Hamilton” on Broadway, it’s safe to say that Childs’ dreams are becoming reality.

Childs said that she discovered stage managing when she received multiple emails looking for students to fill the position for a production at Lees-McRae. She had never stage managed before, and Childs laughed when recalling how she decided to accept the position just to make the email inquiries stop. She fell in love with stage managing and has never looked back.

“If you ever go see any kind of theatrical production, there’s one person who tells the lights when to go, the sound when to go, tells the orchestra when to start, and makes sure everybody is in place backstage before the show gets started. That’s what I do,” Childs said. “Just overall making sure that everyone is doing everything they need to be doing.”

During her senior year Childs said she completely threw herself into the position, and took every opportunity that came her way, a decision she said set her up for success when she took her first foray into professional theatre in Wilmington, North Carolina, after she graduated.

From working on light design to learning to sew and build costumes in the costume shop, Childs did her best to understand each department and position that makes a show run smoothly.

“The degree I have is very broad. It covered a little bit of everything, and I think that has been one of the most helpful things, because starting out you aren’t going to just be stage managing,” Childs said. “You’re going to be stage managing and running a light board or stage managing and working on costumes, and I think that was one of the things that has helped me out a lot.”

She said that having a well-rounded academic experience has made her a better stage manager and a better leader because she is able to put herself in the shoes of each department. Understanding each role, having respect for the people in each position, and knowing what it takes to do each job well allows her to meet each department’s needs more effectively.

After two years in Wilmington working an unrelated job during the day and focusing on community theater at night, Childs decided to take a leap and move to Connecticut, sight unseen, to accept a position at a regional theater called Seven Angels. There she would be able to pursue her passion for theatre as her full-time career.

At Seven Angels Childs continued to develop her skills as a stage manager, working as assistant or production stage manager on shows such as “Altar Boyz,” “Christmas Eve at Earlene’s Diner,” “Elf the Musical,” and more.

Childs’ decision to pursue a MFA in Stage Management from Columbia University brought her to New York City in 2020, where her dreams of working on Broadway productions began to blossom, despite COVID-19 restrictions which had shut down theatres across the country.

“When they announced that Broadway was reopening there were shows I wanted to work on of course, but my main focus was that I wanted to work under a woman-identifying production stage manager,” Childs said. “I’d never worked with a woman-identifying stage manager before, so I got online and started doing a bunch of research. The shows that fit the bill were the ones that I began reaching out to asking if they needed production assistants.”

Childs said that while many of the shows she was initially interested in were full, she still made connections with some of the people she reached out to in her search who passed along her resume to other people in the industry. In this way she discovered that the show “Six the Musical” was returning to Broadway and was able to land a position as sub assistant stage manager and show caller on the production.

With a woman-centered cast and crew, “Six the Musical” was just what Childs was looking for. Everything snowballed from there, and she went on to be the sub assistant stage manager for “The Book of Mormon,” the stage manager for “Water for Elephants,” and work with a number of other prominent Broadway productions. Childs’ latest venture has been as the assistant stage manager for “Hamilton” on Broadway.

Now, looking back on the last six years of her professional career after graduating from Lees-McRae, Childs still relies on many of the skills she developed as a student, and thanks her professors and mentors for giving her the opportunities she needed to grow.

“I had a lot of very influential people during my time at Lees-McRae, but I would say Dr. Mike was particularly influential,” Childs said. “It was for one of his shows that I production stage managed for the first time ever. He afforded me a lot of grace, he was very patient with me, and I am incredibly grateful for that.”

Between finishing out her MFA program at Columbia and working on “Hamilton,” Childs also teaches stage management classes one day a week at Wesleyan University. She said that she is able to offer that same level of grace to her own students, give them a place to mess up, and meet them where they are in order to truly help them succeed.

Having been in their same shoes, Childs has a lot of wisdom to impart to her students and to current Theatre Arts majors and minors at Lees-McRae. It’s advice that she lives by as well.

“If something scares you a little bit, try it once. Moving from North Carolina to Connecticut, where I knew absolutely no one was terrifying. I packed up my life in two weeks, bought a car, moved to Connecticut, and started an entirely new adventure,” Childs said. “It was wild and terrifying, but without taking that leap I wouldn’t be working on the show I’m working on now. I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that I have had. Take every opportunity you can. Even if you don’t think it will help you, I guarantee there’s something that will help you in whatever it is you are doing.”

Tesia Childs '16 on the stage of "The Book of Mormon" the day of her Broadway debut.

By Maya JarrellOctober 20, 2022