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By Eric Weld   Date: 5/11/11 Bookmark and Share

Profile: Class of 2011

Leaving Show Biz Behind for the Life of the Mind

Eight years on the road was long enough for Kathleen Daly ’11, an Ada Comstock Scholar graduating with a major in the study of women and gender, and a minor in Afro-American studies.

As a stage manager for a national touring production of Phantom of the Opera, Daly spent eight years traveling about the country, packing up several times a year and taking up temporary residence in city after city: Denver, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston…

“The first seven and a half years were fabulous,” she said recently, relaxing in the Campus Center. “We had a lot of fun. I was quite the carnival worker.”

But it was a burnout gig, Daly says—work-hard-play-hard, long hours, a lot of pressure and you’re never home. “It’s for the young kids,” she adds.

When her touring days needed to end, she sought a clean break, a direction away from show business and toward something more intellectually inspiring. She packed her trunk one more time and moved from Los Angeles to Northampton to enroll in the Ada Comstock Scholars Program.

“I gave up show biz for the life of the mind,” recalls Daly about her decision four years ago to enroll at Smith. “I had my fun, now it was time to have my ass kicked. This was all about work.”

Daly’s intellectual inquiry and research at Smith have hovered around her interests in education and its importance, especially for women, and more specifically for women in later stages of life. She plans to pursue teaching to gain experience in the classroom, and eventually contribute in some way to educational policy, particularly regarding the education of older women.

Programs like those at Smith and Mount Holyoke College that welcome women of non-traditional college age to further their education are an invaluable service to maximize the potential of society’s human capital, she said.

“It’s valuable to have life experience under your belt and return to college,” says Daly, who is 54. “I have things to teach people.”

Though she remembers her days in the high-pressure theater world with fondness, she has no plans to return to that way of life. “I’ll dip in every once in a while, perhaps,” she says, as a stage manager with smaller, local productions, but nothing that will take over her life as theater once did.

Coordinating and running a $10 million production with a crew of more than a hundred for thousands of fans made for an interesting life, and the stories abound in her memory. Her job in those days was primarily “calling the show,” that is, directing cues for lights, sound effects, music, curtains and actors’ entrances at theaters such as Boston’s Wang Center and equally reputable venues. “As a stage manager at that level, you’re always staving off disasters.”

In fact, without an alert stage manager, any production will quickly fall apart. Daly recalls one incident at the Wang Center in which her attention drifted, only momentarily, resulting in disaster. During a staged curtain call, as part of the Phantom of the Opera plot, she gave the cue a split second too early, so that when the lavish, 10,000-pound velvet curtain came down, it did so right on the backs of the bowing actors. “I sent at least two of them to the chiropractor that day,” she admits. “But then, a thousand shows will go by without incident.”

Daly also misses the sense of community in the theater, the way people from different backgrounds come together around a single endeavor. But then, she sees that community at Smith, too, especially among Adas.

“Adas are very different from one another, with different backgrounds,” she says. “But we come together in these learning communities. And we bring all this experience.”

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