San Fernando Valley native Alissa Levisohn compares her role as a stage manager in live television to her youth playing competitive sports: “I played volleyball all through high school and college,” she explains, “and I just loved the pressure and adrenaline of staying in the moment. You’re part of a team all working toward the same goal, and that’s exactly what has kept me in live awards shows for some 20 years.”
Like any finely tuned athlete, Levisohn has had experienced coaches to help her stay on top of her game. That started with her father, whose career as a live event camera operator stretches back to Bob Hope’s USO shows. Dad landed daughter her first gig as a production assistant. Her first job as a head stage manager was for The American Comedy Awards, and “fortunately,” she recalls, “there wasn’t much drama that night.”
Which is usually not the case. Stage managing celebrity-studded televised events, such as the Oscars, the Grammys and the Critics’ Choice Awards, often means massaging superegos and divas who don’t always adhere to a tightly wound schedules. For example, on a recent BET Awards show at the Shrine Auditorium, the dressing room trailers were located across the street out of headset range.
“We had it worked out with walkie-talkies how we were going to get this one singer to the stage on a golf cart,” says Levisohn. “But I could tell it was not going to happen. So I got a car from transportation and drove over to the trailer to pick her up myself, which meant I was totally out of walkie-talkie range and had no idea where we were in the show. It worked out, but that was a really stressful situation.”
Live television crews live and die by their headsets, and Levisohn is no exception, noting that she and her team rarely take them off, even for a potty break. From rehearsals to the end of the broadcast, she consults her notes as multiple conversations play over her headset for hours on end.
“When I first started this job, I’d still hear voices in my head when I got home,” Levisohn laughs. “But you learn which conversations between the directors and producers will impact your area. It’s all about being part of a closely knit team, and maintaining constant communication to make sure the ball never gets dropped.”