As the stage lights in the Grant High School auditorium dim, a voice from backstage speaks into a headset: “House to half. House out. Light cue one, go.”
The curtain rises, and actors assemble on stage. Giving the cues from backstage is junior Kate Petralia. She’s the driving force behind many theater productions at Grant.
Petralia paces with an iPad in hand, directing actors into their positions and giving cues for lighting and sound effects. But despite the chaos, she stays composed and organized. Minutes later, the director yells “Cut!” and the lights come on. Petralia enters the stage, busy but content.
When acting fell through for Petralia in 2014, she found her niche in stage managing. The position has provided her an opportunity to work with professionals and peers and mentor those younger than her. This isn’t just a hobby for the 16-year-old Petralia. It’s the beginning of her career.
Spending 15 to 21 hours a week stage managing different shows, Petralia has little time for anything else. “I do stage management for the opportunity to constantly grow and learn while also being able to show others the magic of theater,” she says. “It’s a place where I know I can always be myself and will always be surrounded by fellow supportive artists.”
. . .
Born on Jan. 28, 2000 in Portland, Kate Petralia is the first child of Rich and Alison Petralia. From the beginning, her parents recognized their daughter’s immediate connection to theater. “She got involved right in the beginning,” says her mother, Alison Petralia. “I think it goes back to when we saw ‘The Lion King.’ She was really young.”
Having parents who support the arts, Petralia participated in the 6 a.m. choir practices at Beverly Cleary Elementary during third grade, and a year later, she joined band. These platforms helped open other doors of interest.
Petralia then attended da Vinci Arts Middle School where she carved her artistic path. While she’s never had a tough time making friends, it was in theater where she found herself.
“It was an environment where they were self positive,” she says. “I think that definitely helped me feel really comfortable in who I am, and that’s definitely translated to high school.”
She had never been an actor when she tried out for “Attack of The Pom-Pom Zombies.” She was not expecting much from her audition but received a background role, which made her content.
During the same time, Petralia also was introduced to the world of tech, as she started working the light board for the school’s talent shows. Everything from the lights that allow the audience to view the characters to the sound effects was now Petralias’ responsibility.
“It opened my mind to … how much effort people who often never get credit put into those things,” she says.
She continued to do tech for the talent shows after she was denied a role in the school-wide da Vinci production, “Black Mask.” But because she had been learning tech, she was happy to contribute to the production even from behind the curtains.
“It was new and exciting and always challenged me,” she says. “There were so few people that tech’d for them in the first place. I was on headset backstage and felt important.”
While taking the masters drama class in seventh grade, Petralia was picked as stage manager for the fall show, “The Lost Princess of Oz.” By this time, she had already started climbing the ladder in the world of theater.
Stage managers are responsible for correcting actors’ lines, keeping track of when props need to be used, giving cues for lighting and set changes and serving as the voice between the actors and the set designers.
Petralia started leaning away from acting and focused her time on tech and stage managing. In eighth grade, Nicole Accuardi joined the da Vinci faculty as the new drama teacher, and Petralia became her right-hand person.
Accuardi says of Petralia: “She … went on to pretty much run the light board at every talent show we had. She would run it for the music concerts. Any time someone needed anything regarding the light booth for tech or anything, Kate was right there.”
After performing in the play, “I Ain’t Got No Home,” Petralia didn’t feel like herself on stage. It wasn’t where she wanted to be, so she decided to give up acting.
“I assistant-directed, and honestly, that was the most fun I have ever had in a production,” she says. “I was essentially a personal assistant during that show, but it was also an interesting look at the mind of a director, and it was something I had never done before, which was really cool.”
Before Petralia entered high school, Accuardi talked with Grant’s theater teacher, Chris Lane. “I told him … ‘You have the greatest student coming to you who will be your life saver,” she recalled. “‘This is someone who you can rely on at all times.’ It seemed pretty quickly he figured it out, lucky for him.”
Petralia easily lived up to the expectations. “People definitely thought coming into it that I was older than I was,” she says. “People would be like, ‘You’re a junior or a senior right?’”
Petralia became a member of the Thespian Troupe 1657, the Grant chapter of the International Thespian Society, where thespians come together to share passion for theater.
The spring flew by with Petralia spending time in Grant productions like “Tartuffe” and assistant directing “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Even with her crazy schedule, Petralia never stopped lending her time to Accuardi. Petralia would come back to help at da Vinci with anything that needed to be done.
“Honestly, at this point I’m just flattered that she takes the time to come and be with us at da Vinci,” says Accuradi. “I honestly do not think I would be able to survive my first three years of teaching had Kate not been there.”
At the end of freshman year, Petralia applied for the Young Professional Program, which provides highly skilled teens advanced training in the theater department. After being turned down the first time she applied, she was finally accepted.
In the spring of 2016, Petralia stage managed her first Young Professionals show, “Chrysalis,” which gave her professional training. It also helped her make connections to increase her chances for a future career in stage managing.
“I felt really supported, and it was all very professional, which was a change for me coming from Grant but a nice change,” says Petralia.
Accuardi sees nothing but good fortune in her former student’s future. “It’s definitely a challenging place to get a foothold in and for Kate to have done that,” she says. “She’s working on productions that hundreds of thousands of dollars are going into … and Kate is one of the people responsible for them running smoothly and effectively.”
When not at rehearsals for the Youth Professionals, Petralia helped Accuardi organize paperwork at da Vinci and had a job as production manager since the beginning of junior year, even suggesting that they do the show “The Lion King” for their spring play – which ended up running.
“I think that she’s really a real role model for a lot of people who are younger than her,” says Accuardi. “I know when she comes back to da Vinci, there’s a lot of kids that really look up to her and admire her, and I really love that she is a woman in that position.”
Last summer, Petralia found herself at the Newmark Theatre in a room full of local artists and actors. She was honored at the Portland Tony award ceremony, called “The Drammys.” Having been nominated by her director Matt Zrebski, Kate was the youngest of four high schoolers to be nominated.
“I was really nervous because it’s very rare that I am up on stage, so having everyone watch me was a different experience,” she says.
A week and a half later, Petralia flew to New York for the National Student Leadership Conference. For a week, she was surrounded by other thespians and attended workshops, shows and building activities.
But, when the summer ended, she was back in school, attending rehearsals for the fall mainstage show, “Goosebumps.”
Young Professional member and Grant junior Heidi Osaki has closely worked with Petralia. She says: “I think that her domain is very much stage managing, and I definitely would look up to her as a mentor in that aspect … I am just amazed at how she gets around because she does so much stuff.”
Petralia’s love for stage managing propels her to combat the odds. Her hours are long and tiring, but she’s in a world where men have dominated all the jobs and positions. Getting to Broadway in New York City is slim for anyone, but it may be her only way to reach the top.
“It’s a place where I know I can always be myself and will always be surrounded by fellow supportive artists” – Kate Petralia
Accuardi says of the industry: “Women were not even allowed on stage at all until roughly 300 years ago. Still, the majority of the cannon of work that people do has more male parts than female parts. So when we look at what’s happening on the stage, it’s really male dominated, just like in all of society. Males have an easier time of being taken seriously for their roles of directors or technicians or any of those things.”
This situation is something that has been recognized by younger people involved in theater like Petralia, and it hasn’t gone away. The Young Professional company makes a point of giving equal opportunities to both genders.
“From what I’ve seen, it’s pretty even but leaning more towards the female,” she says. “I think it is kind of hard because we are definitely at the tail end of the time where females can do everything, and I think if you went to Broadway right now, it would be mostly male.”
Petralia will be starting rehearsals for the main stage Oregon Children’s Theatre production, “Flora and Ulysses” and spending the rest of her time on Grant’s production, “Chicago.”
Of getting back to work, she says: “I’m really excited. I always like a challenge, and I’m ready to face the challenge this spring.”
She’s planning her future and doesn’t want to stop her busy schedule of stage managing.
“I have given a lot of time to it, and it’s something I love, otherwise I wouldn’t give it this much time,” says Petralia. “I definitely want to go equity, which basically means I get higher paid stuff, and it’s more national than regional. I think it would be amazing to work in New York. It’s a cool, unknown world.”
Accuardi has worked with Petralia for five years and has no doubt that she can achieve her goals.
“My hopes for Kate is … that she continues to get involved in theater, and I hope that she actually gets to work in stage managing on Broadway,” says Accuardi. “Because I know that she loves Broadway.” ◆