Former stage managers find a new stage directing COVID-19 vaccinations

When stages went dark across the world last year due to the pandemic, theater artists were forced to evolve. For a trio of stage managers here in the Twin Cities, they found work managing a completely different kind of show.

Tim Markus was stage managing a production of "Kinky Boots" when the pandemic curtain came crashing down.

"In theater it's our work, it's our life, it's our extended family. And it was all kind of taken away," Markus said. "So it was adjusting sort of not just working all the time, but mentally, 'What am I going to do with my life?'"

They say all the world's a stage and for Tim and three other veteran stage mangers, they found a new one at the Mall of America. The trio of artists now coordinate the state's massive vaccination site.

"Somehow theater and vaccination land is all kind of the same. It's all about getting people into a building, out of a building, getting them a product. Normally it's a play, but in this case it's a vaccination," Markus said.

Gone are the days of calling light cues and corralling actors. In their place thousands of Pfizer vaccines and a steady line of Minnesotans all rolling up their sleeves.

"It's still about managing people," Jason Clusman said, a former Guthrie stage manager and now incident commander at the MOA site. "Theater people understand the concept of an opening night. It's the same thing with a site. You know you're gonna open and you're going to have thousands of people going through that door at any moment."

The Mall of America site has the capacity to vaccinate 5,000 people a day. That's a lot of eager customers, but no matter what happens--or what goes wrong--the show must go on.

"It's kind of a lot of alphas, a lot of leaders all coming together and we've all found our niche of what we're going to move forward," Stacy McIntosh Holt said, a former stage manager at the Children's Theatre Company. "It's made this room move incredibly smoothly because all of us can work together."

As for what's next? They all hope to get back to their first love the theater.

"Making the shift over to vaccination sites has given me a huge sense of hope," Clusman said. "See people by the thouands come through that are so grateful for the opportunity and knowing I've had a small part in that has really been kind of awesome."