Working with the crew, talent and producers in live television is a symphony that can be very dissident if just one person is out of tune,” observes Phyllis Digilio, a former vocalist and music major who knows a thing or two about creating “safety zones” for the world’s best performers.
As a longtime stage manager for the daytime hit The View, Digilio has shepherded more than her share of musical icons onto the set. And there was the time she had to stand in for one of The View’s hosts to help block a rehearsal with Ringo Starr for a version of “With a Little Help From My Friends.” “We’re just too busy during the show to think about the whole celebrity thing,” Digilio laughs. “But I remember saying for weeks after that, ‘Hey, I got to sing with a Beatle.’”
This past January, Digilio witnessed a piece of history when she worked the Neighborhood Ball for President Obama’s inauguration. “Here I was at this historic event standing in for Mariah Carey, in the midst of a cast that included Stevie Wonder, Sting, Mary J. Blige, Beyoncé, and Shakira. And all I’m thinking about is doing my job.”
And that is basically being the eyes and ears of the director on the floor. “We organize everything from the crew to the talent, and also help to make sure all the cameras are in position,” says Digilio. “We basically are there to fulfill the director’s vision for the show, whatever that may involve. Of course, we also make sure the talent gets to the stage, which has resulted in a few close calls over the years.”
For instance, there’s the dreaded “bathroom break,” that inevitably overtakes performers 90 seconds before their cues. “I have literally stood outside the door counting down the seconds wondering if I was going to have to actually go inside and drag them out.”
Despite live TV’s obvious pressures, Digilio says she thrives on the excitement. In addition to The View, her resumé includes stage-managing for Live from the Metropolitan Opera, The Tony Awards, and Live From Lincoln Center.
So which performers have left the most indelible mark? “We had Aretha Franklin come on The View to sing, and that was a remarkable experience,” Digilio says. “But my all-time idol, [jazz vocalist] Dianne Reeves, was standing right next to me when I worked the Hurricane Katrina benefit for Jazz at Lincoln Center, and that took my breath away. For a brief moment, I was a fan like everyone else.”