Nikki Wills earned the 2022 Thespy Award for stage management at the International Thespian Festival! Below, she tells us how she started her role as stage manager and what she’s planned next for her theatrical career.

Nikki Wills
Bishop Gorman Catholic High School
Troupe 4347 | Las Vegas, NV
Check Please: Take 2 by Jonathan Rand

What are your top 3 tips or advice about being involved in theatre?

The best pieces of advice I have ever received are:

  • “No advice is useless, some advice you use and benefit from, some advice is only useful because it showed you what not to do, or the advice shows you a third new solution.” No advice is useless, even when it seems as if it would make things worse. Trying something anyways can either prove your initial opinion wrong, or it can show you a third way — a blend of your way and the advice. Of course there are the off times where their advice really didn’t work for you, but even then you learned from it.
  • “Say yes to everything, you never know what’s waiting on the other side of the barrier you created for yourself.”
  • “Show others respect and they will respect you in return.”

Tell readers the most important steps you took to win the 2022 Thespy for Stage Management.

The most beneficial part of my process was my “burner copy” of my portfolio. For me this was a glittery pink binder that I swore was only a rough draft and that I would later completely re-make for my final copy. I tore pages up and scribbled things out with a sharpie, and by the end of mangling this tester binder, I knew exactly what I wanted my final product to look like, what I wanted it to contain, and how I wanted it to be designed.

How long have you been doing stage management?

This might be shocking, but I only started stage management less than a year ago. I’ve been in the performing arts for most of my life. However, I didn’t experiment with stage management or tech at all until recently. I sort of fell into it. I had just auditioned for a show and some of us were joking about how I loved the show so much I could direct it myself. The director overheard and offered me stage manager and assistant director, and I said yes! I fell in love and the rest is history.

Tell us a story about a major potential disaster you overcame as stage manager.

Our school always makes sure that the assistant stage manager (ASM) gets to call one of the shows. For this show, the ASM called two of the three spotlights suddenly went out mid-run. Specifically, one turned off on its own and the other started smoking, and due to safety concerns I made sure it was turned off immediately. Obviously, this could quickly become a lighting disaster. We hadn’t planned for this, as it had never happened before.

How I handled it is I asked the ASM to not call any of the spotlight cues in order to not confuse me or the last remaining spot operator. I then climbed the ladder to the last spot and used my knowledge of the show to call the spot based on importance. Sadly, the show couldn’t be perfect but I was able to make sure no actor was stuck in complete darkness.


Thespy winner headshot

Nikki Wills

What’s next in your theatre career?

This fall, I am attending Drexel University’s film and television program to continue my career in the arts. Film and theatre are two unique disciplines that often intersect — an example being how actors often act on stage and on camera, or in my case, a stage manager can also work towards being a film director. Theatre will always be a part of my life, and I intend to stage-manage shows through college. The film school I am attending only accepts 64 students every freshman class, which makes for a very small and tightly knit community. Because of this, I am pushed to create connections with artists in our community, which I hope I can also use to my advantage as I advance my stage management career.

What would you like to say that we didn’t ask you about?

In this position, I always get asked about where I find joy in this. And I honestly cannot blame anyone who hasn’t experienced it themselves for asking. An actor often finds joy from things such as the applause they get, or nurturing the character they created. A technical designer often finds joy in their creation — for some, that’s a set they enjoyed building, or a costume that the designer gets to watch be brought to life.

As a stage manager, I’ve always struggled to put it into simple words for it’s a little less of an obvious answer, for me at least. But after thinking on it, I’ve been able to pin it. The joy I find in this is, in part, all the little things: getting to pack a backpack and challenging myself to organize everything I could possibly ever need into it, all of my beloved sticky notes that I get to ball up after solving the issues written on it (p.s. I seriously make a massive ball for each production and see how big I can make it), or finding the best erasable pens.

Then there’s also the bigger things, such as when everything is going wrong and your heart is racing and all that time you spent memorizing the show is suddenly coming into play because unlike anyone else, you don’t need the scripts or the call sheets or the rosters anymore — you can just run with your brain and fix things in show time. Or that feeling after you have a perfect show, and everyone is just beaming with joy. And, of course, I can’t forget my guilty pleasures, such as letting the spot operators and orchestra manager go off-com early [and disconnect their headsets] to hop into the audience, helping usher people out so everyone else can get moving to close up the night and get to the after events I helped plan. Even after spending over an hour on those three sentences, I still feel as if I couldn’t do it justice because it’s such a different experience for everyone, and it’s something I encourage everyone to experience themselves and find their own points of joy within it.

View all of the 2022 Thespy Award winners, and get ready for ITF 2023! Watch for deadlines to be updated soon at ♦

Natalie Clare is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Dramatics. Visit her work at

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