Behind the scenes, Webster University alumnus Cody Renard Richard knows how to work the stage. One of the stages he is working on is also one of the most coveted tickets on Broadway.
How coveted? The cheapest ticket costs more than $300.
Richard is the assistant stage manager for the Tony Award-winning Hamilton. He has been working on Broadway since 2011, and his career includes overseeing staged shows and live television.
“I know it sounds cliché, but I’m living the dream,” Richard said.
Center stage, backstage
Richard’s passion for theater and stage management began in high school in Houston, Texas. His high school theater director encouraged him to think about a future in stage management after seeing him do well with the shows there.
Richard attended the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska, an event dedicated to giving middle and high school students the chance to learn from professionals and, possibly, be given the opportunity to audition for prospective colleges and scholarships. It was at this event he met Dean of the College of Fine Arts Peter Sargent and adjunct professor Edward Coffield. Sargent is also the head of the college’s stage management program, which Coffield co-leads with him.
Coffield remembers standing in line for lunch before his workshop when he overheard Richard talk about how there was nothing at the festival for stage management. Coffield encouraged Richard to come to the workshop he was teaching.
After an interview with Sargent and Coffield, Richard began attending Webster in the fall of 2006. He was pursuing his degree in stage management.
Coffield said the Stage Management program at Webster is incredibly selective. Only five first-year students are selected to the program. Coffield said what made Richard a good candidate for the program was the fact that he was a “natural-born leader.”
“He was like a duck in the water,” Coffield said. “He was a perfect fit from the get-go.”
A stage manager knows a production front to back. They make sure the show runs smoothly. Richard said stage management gives him the opportunity to interact with everyone in the production.
“We’re one of the only people in the process who has a hand in everything,” Richard said.
Sargent said what makes Richard a great stage manager is his ability to communicate and lead.
“He’s capable of looking at situations and coalesce people together to move forward, which is a crucial ingredient to be a stage manager,” Sargent said.
The Conservatory’s head of production programs John Wylie said Richard was able to handle stressful situations with a sense of calm and humor.
“He had a great sense of humor, never took it all too seriously, seemed to have fun being a stage manager, but when it got stressful, he was unflappable,” Wylie said.
Richard always wanted to work in New York City. The plan was to go there the fall after he graduated.
Richard worked in stage management at Stages St. Louis for the summer after his graduation, and then made his way to Kansas City where he worked on a production of Saved. Afterwards, he worked Off-Broadway and with Cirque du Solei until 2011, when he joined the Broadway production of Lysistrata Jones as a stage management production assistant.
From there, Richard continued working on Broadway on shows like After Midnight and Motown the Musical.
Then, the phone call came.
Richard had previously interviewed for the touring company of Hamilton. While that did not work out, putting his name and resume in proved invaluable. While in Los Angeles, he received a call seeing if he was interested in joining the Broadway production, as there was going to be an opening. He joined Hamilton at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in December 2016 as assistant stage manager.
“You never really think that you’ll be a part of something so monumental,” Richard said. “It’s a brilliant show. To listen to the words every night, it’s unreal.”
In his position, he works to make sure the show is technically safe and sturdy. He calls lighting cues, makes sure actors are in their places and handles administrative paperwork. He works six days a week, with eight shows every week.
Richard does not know what the future will hold for him, and he says there is still stuff to learn.
“There are so many things that I haven’t done, but I’m very happy and content with where I am right now,” Richard said.
In addition to his New York ventures, Richard traveled to the West Coast to act as a stage manager, but not for typical staged shows. Instead, he worked on two live television productions, The Wiz Live! and Hairspray Live!
These specials premiered on NBC in December 2015 and December 2016, respectively.
Richard knew a couple of people from previous shows involved with the productions, including the director for both specials, Kenny Leon. He reached out to the people involved, interviewed a couple of times and got the job.
This was Richard’s first time working in television, though he was still using his Broadway skills.
“It was the same world, just in a different medium,” Richard said.
Unlike Broadway, these are one-night only events. While they were shot and performed like Broadway shows, the stages were a bit bigger. Unlike Broadway, which has usually one intermission, these television productions have multiple commercial breaks. Richard said this helped to set up stuff properly. Hairspray Live! used the Universal Studios backlot, utilizing both soundstages and outdoor settings. On that show, Richard was one of 18 stage managers.
“We work so hard for this one event, so there’s a small margin for error,” Richard said. “You have one shot, then you’re done.”
Richard says everyone’s journey to success is different, but for those who are looking to make it big, he encourages them to focus on being their best, rather than try to imitate someone else who has had success.
“Set goals and do everything you can to reach them without losing yourself,” Richard said. “Don’t compare yourself to the person next to you. When you do that, you’ll never get to where you need to be.”