Meet the alumna working on the Wizard of Oz UK tour


A BCU alumna is working hard behind the scenes to bring the magic of Frank L Baum’s novel to life on stage across the UK, in the Wizard of Oz UK and Ireland tour.

Stage management alumna Jess Kendall, who joined the production in November 2023, is one of three Assistant Stage Managers (ASM) on the tour.

“I’ve been involved with the show from the very beginning, from the first day of rehearsals through to the technical, dress rehearsals and opening night of the production in Liverpool. We’re now touring weekly around the UK and Ireland, before our West End run in August/September 2024.”

When asked what it’s like to be a part of this tour, Jess said: “It still feels surreal! I had spent my life and career in Birmingham, so I was determined to work on a touring production after leaving university, but I didn’t know it would happen so fast!

“I’m so grateful for everything that has led me to this experience.

“The show itself is such a joy to work on every day with an amazing company. It has its fair share of challenges and new things to learn, such as puppet maintenance for our wonderful Toto, but it’s worth it when you hear the audience reactions every night to such a well-loved story!”

As an Assistant Stage Manager, Jess has a busy schedule. “A typical workday consists of arriving at the theatre before the cast to reset all the set pieces and props from the night before. We check all the props are working, perform any maintenance, and ensure they're in the correct place.

“The cast then arrives to warm up while we work through any notes before performing a ‘shout check’, going down the list of props to check they’re all in the right place, with the other ASM to confirm everything has been reset. Once complete, the auditorium is open and we prepare for the top of the show, checking everyone is standing by on stage and ready to start.

“When the show begins, I perform various cues handing props over, moving set pieces and keeping an eye out for any issues that may arise on stage both with the props/set and cast members. Then, as soon as the show finishes, we reset everything ready to do it all again!"

Jess has always had a love for theatre and a fascination for behind the scenes.

“Theatre has always been in my life, from childhood nativities to pantomimes. But it wasn’t until my mid-teens that I realised how much I enjoyed theatre and the impact it can have. I saw Disney’s The Lion King on the West End and left with a new passion.

“I just had to know how it all happened and how they made everyone feel so many emotions during the three-hour show. Since that trip, I’ve worked on as many productions as I could. I’ve experienced first-hand how being part of a show can change your perspective and confidence.

“I also discovered adaptations theatres can make to ensure everyone, including people with disabilities, can experience the joys of theatre – making theatre accessible for all is one of my strongest drives in my own career.

“Like most people, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after school, but I knew I wanted to continue studying. Throughout my GCSEs and A-levels, I spent every spare moment I could working backstage on all the tech for school productions and other curriculum enrichment events. I never knew what I was doing had a name, let alone a career behind it.”

It wasn’t until Jess did a week of work experience at the Birmingham Hippodrome that she realised she could turn her passion into a career doing what she loved.

“From then, I began exploring further education options at university, college, and apprenticeships. I found that Royal Birmingham Conservatoire offered a course that would focus on not only Stage Management but also give me a more rounded insight into the technical, wardrobe, and design elements that collaborate to create a production.”

Jess’ university experience gave her the chance to adapt and explore different aspects of theatre.

“In my first year, we learnt a base knowledge of theatre and stage management and how to adapt our practice in live theatre to other media, such as radio plays, before spending the summer season working on outdoor plays and livestreamed performances.”

“In my second year, I delved into specialised roles, working as Deputy Stage Manager for "The Sweet Science of Bruising" by the BA (Hons) Acting course, gaining experience in rehearsal room etiquette, prompt copy creation, and live audience show calling. Then, I specialised in the technical aspects, including set design/construction and wardrobe departments, to shape the visions for the Winter, Spring, and Summer seasons of shows, exploring potential career pathways in these areas.

“During my final year, I did seven weeks of work experience; four weeks with Birmingham Royal Ballet on their 2022 production of Nutcracker at the Birmingham Hippodrome and three weeks in York on the York Stage production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! at the Grand Opera House York.

“I finished my time at university with my final production, The Trial, as Stage Manager at the Crescent Theatre Main House. This production and role let me encompass all the skills I’d developed throughout the three years and manage each aspect of the production, which showed me I had the capability to leave university and step into a Stage Management role.”

Even before graduating in June 2023, Jess had already secured work. “Having worked as a casual technician at the Birmingham Hippodrome throughout my last two years of study, I was able to work as part of the Props department on Disney’s The Lion King UK tour for their 12-week run at the venue.”

“Initially, I was a crew member, working alongside a member of the Touring team to help them reset the props before a show and perform cues. However, I had the opportunity to step up and learn the Touring side of running a show for the final two weeks in Birmingham.”

“Once The Lion King left Birmingham to continue its tour, I returned to doing a few freelance stage management jobs including being a Deputy Stage Manager for Musical Theatre Stafford at The Gatehouse Theatre for their production of Calendar Girls. Being back behind the prompt desk with a new company further developed my skills and was the final job I completed, before starting on The Wizard of Oz!”

“I’ve been very fortunate to work with many amazing people within this industry so soon after graduating and be able to build my confidence and experience working on larger scale productions – to think I’m not even a year out of university is rather wild!”

When asked what it’s like to be coming back to Birmingham on tour, Jess shared how excited she is to be working and catching up with old colleagues.

“It’ll be another full circle moment being on the other side of an incoming show, especially back in my home city. It’s all so worth it when I look back on when I first saw a show at the Birmingham Hippodrome and the countless shows that I worked on there.”

In the future, Jess would love to challenge herself. “I’d love to stay working in stage management for as long as possible. I’ve been so fortunate already to have accomplished so many dreams, from touring the UK for the first time and working in the West End, but I’d also like to assist and advocate for making theatre more accessible for audiences and backstage roles. Theatre is for everyone to experience and enjoy without limitations.”

Jess’ advice for anyone considering studying Stage Management at BCU’s Royal Birmingham Conservatoire is to make the most of the connections you’ll have access to.

“The course gives you a solid base of knowledge about how stage management and the theatre industry operate. In Birmingham, you’ll have access to over five established producing and receiving theatres, which opens networks within the industry very early on in your career and allows you to develop key skills whilst studying. And ultimately, you’ll have a lot of fun!”

Visit our BA (Hons) Stage Management degree course page for full details on entry requirements and how to apply.

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