Graduating from college can often be a scary time for students as they transition from classroom studies to the real world. But for Winnie Lok ’01, being a professional stage manager wasn’t a stretch from what she encountered as a student at the USC School of Dramatic Arts.
“I feel like I came out of school not being too surprised,” the BFA stage management graduate said. “Even though it is a conservatory program, the school treats you like a professional. It prepared me for what stage managing is like in real life.”
Lok’s credits have spanned Broadway (Outside Mullingar, The Big Knife, An Enemy of the People, Venus in Fur) and dozens of off-Broadway productions, including her favorite playwright August Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Piano Lesson.
I’m very lucky to keep working with great people and great theater companies.
“I’m very lucky to keep working with great people and great theater companies,” she said. “When you freelance, sometimes you don’t know when the job is coming so it’s good to go from show to show.”
Lok is also co-producer of Facing Page Productions, which creates new theatrical experiences from classical works and themes, serving as a creative outlet for her aside from stage managing.
The New York-based production company most notably hosts the annual Company’s Marathon, a nonstop, 85-hour reading of Shakespeare’s canon that was first created by director-playwright Gordy Hoffman in 1996. Facing Pages revived the beloved marathon in 2013 in New York and received an overwhelming response from hundreds of writers, actors, theater lovers and Shakespeare fans.
At the first event two years ago, Lok read for 11 plays — doing midnight to 8 a.m. shifts after stage managing, then slept for three hours before heading back to work for a matinee or understudy rehearsal.
“It’s really rekindled a love of Shakespeare,” she said. “Anyone can sign up and perform. If you’ve never read Shakespeare or anything out loud, it’s OK. We don’t correct you. It’s just about having fun and listening to the bard out loud.”
A passion for performance
Lok’s passion for performance began as a child. And although her parents were instrumental in exposing her to the arts, it was the applause that drove her to stay with it.
“I knew the applause was something I was not going to get away from and I didn’t want to get away from. … In high school, I did acting and in college, I thought to get a bachelor of arts in theater,” Lok said.
While at USC, after working as an assistant stage manager in her first show, she realized stage management was a perfect fit.
Winnie was a terrific student. I was impressed with her.
“Winnie was a terrific student. Her paperwork was top-notch. Her interest level was high, and she contributed to some very interesting discussions. I was impressed with her,” said faculty member Mary Klinger.
Me and my shadow
As a student, Lok experienced theater outside of the academic realm, shadowing Klinger and former professor Jonathan Barlow Lee, production manager at the Mark Taper Forum, as they stage managed shows for Center Theatre Group.
“Winnie and all my students shadowed me at one time or another,” Klinger said. “I bring them to whatever show I am doing that semester to watch techs or to watch me call a show, and some students have been invited to sit in on rehearsal. We then discuss in class what was witnessed.”
Lok explained: “A lot of the USC faculty are working. They’re working in the city, they know people and it’s really great that they can ease the transition into the professional world. The paperwork, tech, calling a show — we had exposure to that instead of it being all on the page.”
After graduating, Lok was hired by Klinger as a production assistant for Topdog/Underdog, directed by George C. Wolfe, at the Mark Taper Forum. Klinger remembers having to leave the show during intermission due to a family emergency, and assistant stage manager Michelle Blair BFA ’99 and Lok stepped up to the task.
“Michelle went to the booth to call the second act, and Winnie took over on the deck. It was such a gift. I was able to leave knowing my show was in really good hands,” Klinger said.
Since Lok’s days at USC with Klinger, the former student and teacher have become professional colleagues and friends. And although they work on opposite coasts, Klinger said, “I would work with her again in a minute.”