Erica Christensen has been a member of IBEW 40 for the past 19 years, yet she’s not an electrician. It’s funny, she noted, that while she’s in an electrical union she’s “not even allowed to turn on the lights.” That’s because she’s a Stage Manager at Universal Studio Hollywood’s theme park.
Instead of actually working with wires and bending conduit, her job is directing the electrical crews at Universal Studios Hollywood – along with all the other crafts needed to put on a show. These days, Christensen works on two different Harry Potter shows, as well as on WaterWorld and in season, Nighttime Lights.
Safety is her key concern. Prior to each show she does a safety walk-through and works with the electrical, animation, lighting, costume and sound crews to confirm that the show is fully operational. After each show she coordinates with the tech departments to reset the show discuss any maintenance issues or updates needed to a show. During the shows she is calling cues and working with the Special Effects Technician, Audio Mixer and Crew making sure the show runs smoothly and safely.
“We’re basically the nervous system of the shows,” she said.
A big part of her role is “solving problems,” she explained. “When the SeaPlane at WaterWorld goes down, or the Jet Ski Launch doesn’t work, I have to help implement the Alternate Sequences so the show can continue safely.”
Despite working almost two decades at Universal, Christensen is still a “day player” there because of her roster status, where she is #8 in line. As a result, she doesn’t work full time at Universal, and works other venues around town to supplement her income. She also helps round out her work schedule and finances by belonging to two other unions: Actors Equity Association and the Directors Guild of America.
She estimated she works from 35-40 hours a week in the summer, but only around 12-15 hours throughout the rest of the year, picking up extra work at Universal for special events, as well as doing corporate events, TV shows, competitions, awards and game shows. “I’m ‘Have Stage Will Manage,’” she quipped.
“I love stage managing,” Christensen said. “It’s not a 9-5 job. It fits my personality. Even when I work the same shows at Universal, I’m working with different people all the time. I have to be literate enough in every craft that I can talk to the crews and help fix whatever problems come up.”
Christensen took a circuitous route to IBEW 40, first arriving in Los Angeles in 2000 with a
a theater degree and becoming involved in 99-Seat theater. There she met some people who suggested she apply for a summer job at Universal, and the rest is history. “Not bad for a summer job,” she said, laughing.
“Stage managing is quite fascinating,” she added. “Every show is different, and my friends think it’s so cool what I do – especially after they see one of my shows.” She noted that while
there are many female stage managers, there are far fewer in the electrical union. “I hope I’m a good role model,” she said. “I work with the crew and get the job done by being respectful not mean or rude. I don’t believe in yelling.” The good news, she said, is “it’s getting easier for working women in the entertainment industry.”
She added, “I’m proud of my IBEW card. This is a delightful, but weird job. I love it!”
By Kelly Hartog