Lisa Dawn Cave

It’s like I got my card twice.

When the Billie Holiday Theatre did Golden Boy in 1984, I got my card replacing a dancer who, at the last minute, wasn’t able to do it. They asked her if she knew anyone, and she recommended me. I went and auditioned for Lewis Johnson and got it – and that’s how I got my card.

I went to college for concert dance, but I could sing, too, so I was always interested in musical theatre. To get out and be able actually to get a job in musical theatre within a year of graduating was pretty cool, and to get my card then meant I was on my way to what I was going to be doing. It was exciting.

I switched to stage managing in 1994 when I was performing in the national tour of Guys and Dolls. I started off in the show as one of the Hot Box Girls, and then in the second year when the swing was leaving, I asked to be moved to her position because my knees were starting to hurt. I was in my 30s – not old, but older for a dancer – and I thought, “What am I going to do when my body says, 'You can’t do this anymore?'” I wanted to stay in the theater, so I started talking to the stage managers on my show and asking them if I could watch them load in, just to see what the backstage stuff was really about.

Then, unfortunately, I was in a really bad car accident. I never went back to tour because my foot and knee were too messed up. My doctor said my healing had plateaued, and he didn’t think I would be able to do eight shows a week as a full-time dancer anymore, which was devastating.

When that happened, I realized it must mean I would have to concentrate on making the job transition, and that’s what I did. I called friends who were stage managers. I lucked into the right place, right time, right person, because the employers of Show Boat on Broadway needed four stage managers. They already had three and were looking for one more, and believe it or not, they wanted a black female to fill out the team because they wanted diversity on the stage management team to match the diversity in the cast. They called my friend Clayton Phillips, and he said he knew somebody who had never done it before, but knows the business. I went to four interviews with people like Hal Prince – and I got the gig. And from that point on I was able to learn hands on. This has been a very rewarding career – from dancing to singing and then switching over to stage managing.

Originally published in Equity News, Winter 2017.