Exit, Stage Left: Professor Elsbeth M. Collins retires

Elsbeth M. Collins

Elsbeth M. Collins

Beloved faculty member Elsbeth M. Collins, Professor of Theatre Practice and Chair of Production and Stage Management, has retired after 19 years of service at the USC School of Dramatic Arts.

“The common phrase with Els’ departure has been ‘big shoes to fill,’” said Associate Production Manager Leia Crawford. “All the things she did behind the scenes that folks weren’t aware of, or the ways we had grown to lean on her or lean towards her, like flowers in the sun. But it’s also the fact that she is woven into the fabric of this school, inextricably. Els is the cement in the foundation of what SDA is today.”

Professor Collins joined the staff at USC after an already impressive career as a veteran stage manager of 25 years working with the likes of Sir Ian McKellen, Al Pacino, Jane Alexander, Alan Alda, Bea Arthur, Victor Garber, Alfred Molina, Peter Falk, Roger Robinson, Wren T. Brown and Doug Wright, among others.

But when she joined the USC School of Dramatic Arts in 2005, she was looking for an even bigger challenge.

“The last show I did—the biggest show I did—was at the Ahmanson [Theatre],” Professor Collins said laughing, referring to the 2004 production of The Royal Family. “It had five dogs in it and a pretty big cast, and it still wasn’t enough.”

Professor Collins (l) and Associate Production Manager Leia Crawford (r) at this year’s Design and Production Showcase. Photo by Loreen Sarkis/Capture Imaging.

Professor Collins joined initially as the School’s Production Manager, a role that leaned on her skills as a stage manager but required a whole host of new skills that she quickly sought to learn and master.

“I thought it would be stage management times 15, since there were 15 shows a year at the time,” Professor Collins said, laughing. “I just sort of dove in.”

Over the years, her role continued to grow and evolve.

“I think the teaching was the scariest part for me,” Professor Collins said. “I never imagined myself teaching. It requires a great deal more preparation than I, as a student, had realized.”

Throughout it all, Professor Collins felt that the most meaningful part of her job was helping students learn and grow through mentorship and support.

On May 1, the SDA family came together to celebrate Professor Collins’ career with a warm retirement party. Friends and colleagues from over the years toasted Professor Collins’ past and future, and shared cherished memories from her time at the School.

Professor Collins (l) and Dean Emily Roxworthy (r). Photo courtesy of Jen Franco.

Most will remember Professor Collins as an essential support for the many productions put on every year at the School, and as a kind and generous mentor, friend and colleague.

“When I got upset or burned out, Els was there, unflaggingly positive and supportive,” Crawford said. “Every time she reminded the students to lead with grace and curiosity, she was reminding me to do that too, because that is just how she sees the world. That is how she’s found joy in the work and in life.”

Transitioning from the fast-paced world of production management to retirement may prove a new type of challenge for Professor Collins, although she is not ready to give up the theatre just yet. This summer she will travel to Croatia to stage manage The Wax Factory’s production of LULU XX. She also continues to publish her blog, and is working on a book—part memoir, part how-to manual on the soft skills of stage management—as well as indulging her green thumb and tending to her garden.

When asked what she would miss most about working at SDA, Professor Collins did not hesitate.

“The people,” she said. “The relationships. There are people I know here who work so hard. We got so close because we were working side by side. That’s what makes the people here so phenomenal.”

The SDA Community will forever be grateful for Professor Collins’ nearly two decades of service to the School, and will look on with fond anticipation for the next chapter in her story.