How long have you wanted to get into show business?
Jean-Louis Sbeghen: From a very early age, I have always been fascinated by the world of entertainment and theatre. The first time my parents took me to see a play, I was immediately taken by the world of entertainment. It was in my home town, in the North of France, I must have been about ten years old and we went to see a troupe performing Molière’s “Le malade imaginaire”. I immediately understood that the world of the stage was something that attracted me and that I wanted to evolve in. But at that age, I didn’t yet know what profession would suit me. It was during my teenage years that I became more interested in the performing arts and discovered the job of stage manager. At that point, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to become a stage manager.
What is your initial training and background?
Jean-Louis Sbeghen: After completing my schooling without any great difficulty, I obtained my baccalauréat. After high school, I decided to take a BTS (Brevet Technique Supérieur) specialising in the audiovisual sector. I chose to take the production management option in order to benefit from a complete training, capable of helping me become a director. This BTS helped me to learn the basics of the profession, while being surrounded by competent teachers who know the world of entertainment well. Moreover, the BTS also required me to acquire experience in the field, which is a prerequisite for the training of any good stage manager. So I did my first internship in a theatre in Lille and it was a real revelation. I was lucky enough to take my first steps in the career of a stage manager with a friendly and efficient team. I was very well surrounded and I was able to learn from very talented people in the field of stage management. And after this BTS, I decided to continue my studies and to do a degree in “arts and design, entertainment option”. And after obtaining my bachelor’s degree, I chose to continue to the master’s level by integrating a master’s degree specific to stage management, mixing skills related to sound, lighting and the coordination of the whole team. And after two years of hard work, I finally got my master’s degree, and I am now ready to put both feet forward in the world of entertainment.
In your opinion, what are the essential qualities of a stage manager?
Jean-Louis Sbeghen: I would say that a good stage manager needs to have many different skills. Firstly, there is artistic sensitivity, which is almost compulsory in this job. And this sensitivity develops over time, but it is forged in youth. For my part, I read a lot of plays in my teens and I went to the theatre very frequently to get inspiration and observe the different techniques presented on stage. This knowledge favours the development of artistic sensitivity, which can help us to give our opinion and make it relevant. Apart from artistic sensitivity, a stage manager must first and foremost master many techniques related to sound and light, which are also called scenographic techniques. This quality is an essential part of the job of a stage manager, whether he or she specialises in sound or light. In addition, mastery of several computer tools is essential in order to carry out all the manoeuvres required for the smooth running of a play. Finally, a stage manager must communicate with the rest of the team and agree with the various technicians or actors. A relational quality is therefore mandatory to become a good stage manager, taking advantage of a sense of listening and understanding of others. Finally, you must not neglect good stress management, as stress and pressure are often present in the entertainment industry. It is important to be able to overcome stress easily, and to be able to react quickly in all circumstances. The theatre is full of unforeseen events to which a stage manager must respond by finding quick solutions.
What are the most memorable experiences of your life as a stage manager?
Jean-Louis Sbeghen: With almost 25 years in the business, I have had many memorable experiences! Whether they were good or bad, you could say that I have “bottle experience”. The first experience that stood out was at the “Point-Virgule” where I took my first steps as a stage manager. I learned all the tricks of the trade in this famous Parisian theatre and it was very formative. I was lucky enough to work there for several years with a very competent team, which took the time to accompany me at the beginning of my career. But if I had to remember only one experience of my career, it would certainly be my work in New York. Indeed, I was working on a play that was first performed in Paris and Berlin before playing a few dates in New York. So I had the opportunity to work in the most famous city in the world in the world of entertainment and theatre.
What would you say to a young person wishing to embark on the same career as you?
Jean-Louis Sbeghen: I would tell him to go for it without hesitation! I often say to myself that as long as you have the desire, anything goes. So if a young person feels attracted to the job of stage manager, I can only advise them to go for it! However, despite all the positive aspects of this job, you should also take into account the negative points. Indeed, as a stage manager, you have to be prepared to work a lot, sometimes at difficult hours and often condensed into short periods (very late evenings, weekends, etc.). This can sometimes have a direct impact on your private life. Your free time is often out of sync with that of those around you. But someone who is truly passionate about the world of entertainment will be prepared to make some sacrifices in order to do the job.
What are your plans for the coming years?
Jean-Louis Sbeghen: It’s difficult to talk about future projects, because we are often asked to keep a low profile until the play is out in the open. However, I can tell you that I’m going to travel again! Whether it’s all over France or other European countries, I’m currently working on a project with many European artists and it seems that this big project will soon be talked about! To be continued…
Outside of your professional life, what are your hobbies?
Jean-Louis Sbeghen: I’d say I’m a rather solitary person by nature. Apart from my work, I like to read and listen to music, activities that I prefer to do alone. Indeed, I have a passion for literature, especially for theatre. My library is full of the greatest classics of theatrical style, from Molière to Ionesco, via Corneille and Shakespeare… my collection is impressive. Furthermore, I have a real taste for travelling, whether for my work or during my holidays, I really enjoy discovering new cultures and new landscapes. Finally, when time permits, I also enjoy playing badminton. I have been loyal to my club for many years, and I mainly play doubles because I really appreciate the cohesion with my partner.
With the omnipresence of the internet in our society today, what do you think about the influence of the web on our lives, and more particularly the image we reflect on the web?
Jean-Louis Sbeghen: I’m not a web specialist, but at my level, I can see that the world of the web can have serious repercussions on our daily lives and on our image. In the world of theatre and performance, reputation is now based on e-reputation and managing one’s image on the net. Whether it is through social networks or the press on the web, the world of entertainment is constantly scrutinised on the internet. Sometimes this can be beneficial but sometimes it can also be very complicated for an actor’s or technician’s career. I think you have to be very careful with your use of the internet. We should not show everything of our private life on it because it could impact us. In short, I would say that the internet should be used in moderation and that we should not forget reality.