WHEN TEXAS NATIVE Cody Renard Richard moved to New York City shortly after graduating from St. Louis’ Webster University in 2010, the aspiring stage manager made a list of places he wanted to work: Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Broadway. Less than a decade later, Richard has built a thriving career that’s seen him check several venues off that list while working on some of Broadway’s biggest shows, from The Lion King and Kinky Boots to Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen.

Through January 12, Richard is serving as the production stage manager of Freestyle Love Supreme at Broadway’s Booth Theatre. Created by Lin-Manuel Miranda with Hamilton director Thomas Kail and Anthony Veneziale, Freestyle Love Supreme is a freestyle hip-hop performance featuring fully improvised musical numbers based on suggestions from the audience. The show provides Richard with a unique stage management challenge: With no script, a rotating cast of performers, and a shifting lineup of special guests that includes not only Miranda but also his former Hamilton co-stars Daveed Diggs and Christopher Jackson, Freestyle Love Supreme is, as Richard calls it, “kind of a choose-your-own adventure each night.”

Cody Renard Richard

Cody Renard Richard

Do you have favorite memories from your time as a member of Thespian Troupe 4901 at Waller High School?
My high school director, Carrie Wood, guided me to theatre. I’m from Texas. I was active on the rodeo team, and I dabbled in a couple of sports. But when I joined the drama club, that was when I felt like I found a space that was safe, a place I belonged. I found this family with my friends at school, and that sparked my interest in doing more theatre.

Initially I was an actor. Then my theatre teacher told me I should stage manage one of the shows. At the time I was confused, and she said something that I still remember to this day. She said I had a way of making people listen to me without yelling, and that’s a great thing to have at such a young age. So, I started stage managing in high school, and it was something I fell in love with. I like the responsibility. I like being the person everyone can come to, whether it’s a problem they’re having personally or a question about a technical aspect of the show. I like being the person with the information, the glue that people know they can approach for anything.

In Texas, we do the University Interscholastic League (UIL) competition. I think we’re all very competitive in Texas, whether it’s sports or theatre, so those probably were my favorite moments. My theatre director was so dedicated to us and to the productions. I remember watching her make the costumes, then all of us learning to sew to help her. It was such a community, all of us pitching in and doing anything to get the show up. That was special.

I was on the state board for Texas Thespians when I was a senior. My school never went to the International Thespian Festival, but the year I was graduating there were four or five of us with an interest in pursuing theatre after high school. So, we put our money together and our teacher drove us to Nebraska. I didn’t know much about what schools I wanted to go to for college, but I had read that Webster University had a stage management program. So, I was at ITF, standing in line at Wendy’s talking to one of my friends, and I said, “Well, I can’t wait to interview with the people at Webster tomorrow.” The person in front of me was a man named Edward Coffield, who was the associate stage manager at Webster. He turned around and said, “Oh, I’m one of the professors there.” I don’t know what I said — I was so embarrassed — but we started talking. The next day when I interviewed with him and Peter Sargent, it was a great jumping off point that we had met at Wendy’s. We hit it off, they accepted me at the school, and that’s how I ended up going to Webster.

Cody Renard Richard served as a replacement stage manager for Hamilton on Broadway for a little more than a year.
Cody Renard Richard served as a replacement stage manager for Hamilton on Broadway for a little more than a year. Photo courtesy of Cody Renard Richard.

You’ve been working on Broadway since 2011, serving as an assistant stage manager for two of the biggest shows of the decade, Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen. Can you describe your role with each of those productions?
On Hamilton, I was a replacement for someone taking time off. I was there on and off for a little over a year. Hamilton is such a phenomenon in every sense of the word. You just mention the name of the show and people light up. It was crazy because of all the press surrounding it. But everyone was so welcoming, and it was such a warm environment to walk into. I joined the show in year two. You would think the attention would have calmed down, but it was just as hot and popular.

When you replace another stage manager, the show’s already running. So, I learned the deck track and eventually how to call the show from the other stage managers. I think the hardest part about replacing on a show is joining a family that’s already in motion. They already have relationships, so you must find your way within the company. Luckily, they were so lovely and welcoming that I didn’t feel I was an outsider. And I knew some of the staff, so that helped as well. I loved my time with the show. Listening to that music every day was such a treat.

With Dear Evan Hansen, I was a substitute stage manager. I was never with the show full time. I would go in to cover vacations or personal days. I still work there when I’m not on another show. I did the same thing with The Lion King, so those shows are both like gifts that keep on giving. But that process is trickier. I’m not there all the time, so it’s harder. The cast changes, you’re learning new people, and you must gain their trust. I need to be “on” when I am there.

As a substitute, you get a couple of shows to learn your track, you do it for about a week to see if it’s solidified, then you’re on call. With The Lion King, I joined the show around 2015, then I was off doing other things for about two years. When they called me back, I was like, “Oh, my God, it’s been two years. Will I still remember it?” But with Dear Evan Hansen, it hasn’t been that much time between performances. Once you return, you’re a little dusty, but after the first show it all comes back. It’s like riding a bike.

As a stage manager, Cody Renard Richard has worked on several television musicals, including Hairspray Live. Photo courtesy of Cody Renard Richard.

You have worked on live television musicals including The WizHairspray, and Jesus Christ Superstar, as well as being part of the stage management team for the 2019 Tony Awards broadcast. How are those experiences similar and different to the Broadway environment?
Those live musicals are insane because of the scope and scale of what needs to happen. The rehearsal process is very similar to the way we do Broadway shows. We get a certain number of weeks to rehearse the cast. You’re in a rehearsal room; you’re working with the director and choreographer to stage the show.

After the rehearsal process, on Broadway you would go into technical rehearsals, but we don’t really have that in television. Instead, you go on set, and you start by dry blocking, which is blocking the show on the set for the camera director to see where people are and so the cast can learn their marks. That’s a learning curve because it’s new terminology, new people. The skill set is the same because you’re still managing people. You’re still looking out for safety, and you’re still making sure the technical elements are working properly. But it’s such a different scale.

The first show I did was The Wiz Live, and it was a lot of learning a new way of doing things. Then Hairspray Live was filmed in L.A. and that felt completely different, even though it was the same style of show. They worked differently from what I was used to in New York. All three were amazing experiences. It’s cool to dabble and see what the differences are. It’s not something you learn in school. You learn by doing.

For the live television musicals, I joined the Directors Guild of America, which is the union required for television stage managers. I met and networked with others who work on big award shows. A dream of mine has always been to work on the Tony Awards. Ever since I moved to New York City, I knew I wanted to be at Radio City at some point.

The stage manager for the Tonys, Garry Hood, has been doing it forever. He’s also the lead stage manager for most of the live TV musicals I’ve worked on. And the Tonys — it’s an amazing job, so no one leaves it. I’m not sure what happened, but there was an open spot this year and because I assume Garry liked my work on the last show we did and he knows I live in New York and work on Broadway, he called me up and offered me a position. He brought me on to stage manage the VMAs with him as well. For the Tonys, watching my community — my friends — run backstage and win awards while I was working on the show was incredible. Rachel Chavkin won for best director this year [for Hadestown], and I had just worked with her. As she came offstage, I was one of the first people she saw, and we just started screaming with each other.

For the Tonys, we had between 15 and 18 stage managers because there’s so much ground to cover. I worked on the creative design awards [which occur before the telecast]. And I was working with the trophy presenters to make sure they had the right envelopes and that the right trophy was going to the right person.

You’re currently the production stage manager for Freestyle Love Supreme. What’s it like stage managing a show that relies so much on improv from night to night? 
This show is insane, and I mean that in the best way. There is a formula to the show: We have a format, we know where the pieces fall, but for the most part it’s different every night. That adds an element of surprise and fun. We did an Off-Broadway run at the beginning of the year, then we did a run at the Kennedy Center in the summer, so I’m very familiar with the show. I can anticipate where the cast is going with certain things. I never know what they’re going to say because they’re incredible and rarely say the same things twice, but at least I can feel where the mood is going, so we’re able to follow them that way.

It’s different from anything I’ve done before because there’s no script and each night there’s a new guest. We have several guests: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daveed Diggs, Wayne Brady, Chris Jackson, James Monroe Iglehart. They’re all busy, but they love the show and they want to be in as much as possible, so they rotate in and out. We don’t announce when they’re in, so it’s exciting for the audience too. It’s so fun, and they’re all so smart. I’m in awe of what they do.

Cody Renard Richard on the set of Freestyle Love Supreme.
Cody Renard Richard on the set of Freestyle Love Supreme. Photo by Cody Renard Richard.

What advice would you give Thespians who want to pursue a career like yours?
I have been very fortunate in my career. I honestly think it’s because I am a “yes” person. I know I’m a positive person at heart, and I know I need positivity and joy. I like to make people happy. I’m always smiling. I try to be a light in the room, and I think that has taken me far. I don’t know the actual answer, but that’s been the throughline.

And then, you know, I freelance. I hustle. I am always checking in with people. I’m always trying to meet new people and network. I’m persistent in finding work. That, coupled with what I bring to a job, has pushed me throughout my career.

There are two things I’ve been saying more and more when I meet younger stage managers. The first thing — and it sounds clichéd — but the first thing is knowing that you’re enough. What you bring to the room is what people want. You don’t have to fit a certain way of being a stage manager. People gravitate toward you being yourself. That’s a lesson that took me a long time to hear. Once I did, I was much happier, and I think my work benefited. Bringing yourself to the room and being authentically you will always serve you more than trying to appease someone else and trying to be a different person.

The other thing I would say is to trust your journey. Know that things happen when they’re supposed to happen for you. That’s another hard lesson to learn because, in this age of social media and instant gratification, we all want it to happen tomorrow. We see everyone’s successes happening around us. So, we either compare what we’re doing to what they’re doing, or we say, “Why is that not happening to me?” Trust that the work you’re doing will lead to something and that the thing you want will happen when it’s supposed to happen.

Being a younger stage manager of color, I want younger people to know that they can do this. Especially when they come from a small town like I did. When I was younger, I had no idea that the life I live now was possible. Not because someone told me it wasn’t possible but because I just didn’t think of it. When you’re from a working-class family, you work. As I’ve gotten older and been able to do things I want to do, I want more people to experience that. That’s why I want younger stage managers — even people who aren’t stage managers — to know that whatever you want to do, you can find a way to do it.

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