Cheryl Stansfield, of Westminster, has been involved with theater in some capacity since she was a teenager.
A 2004 graduate of Westminster High School, Stansfield was working as a stage hand in Baltimore, helping set up shows coming to town from artists such as Justin Timberlake and Billy Joel. One day last fall, she said, she receieved a call out of the blue from the Broadway touring production of "Dirty Dancing," based off of a general application, and was offered a job to go on the road with them for the next year.
The only issue, was that the company was leaving town within the next three days.
"I didn't have time to think about it," Stansfield said. "I had to make a quick decision, so I said yes and thought I'd figure it out on the way."
In the company, she fills the role of props assistant, handling everything from handheld props to set dressing. In addition, Stansfield aids scene changes during the show, essentially becoming a ninja and resetting props in their proper place before the cast returns to a setting.
Stansfield said she thinks people would be surprised by the crew it takes to put on a show like "Dirty Dancing," which is being performed at the Hippodrome in Baltimore this week. She travels along with a dozen technicians from town to town, and when they arrive, it can take up to 50 local hires to ensure the production goes off smoothly, from additional carpenters to electrical technicians.
"Earlier this week, we rode into our show at the Hippodrome, and we were there at 6a.m. and working until the show starts at 8p.m.," Stansfield said. "After the show ends, people assume everyone goes home. The crew is waiting around for the show to end, to take everything down for about another six hours. It's a very glamourous life."
Stansfield said she's been interested in theater for as long as she can remember, and performed in her first play when she was 13.
"At first, I thought performing was what I wanted to do," Stansfield said. "When I went to high school, I was involved with the drama club, but I was just kind of there. I was never the star, and I was often someone who didn't have any lines. I was just a space filler."
The first year she didn't land a role in the show, Stansfield asked if she could be a part of the crew backstage. There, she found she actually preferred working on the sidelines to taking the stage.
"From that point on, every time I would audition, I would secretly hope I wouldn't be cast, because I wanted to be backstage," Stansfield said.
In college, Stansfield studied filmmaking, but soon got a job at Toby's Dinner Theatre in Baltimore to earn some extra cash. She rose through the ranks, starting as a running crew person and leaving as stage manager after five seasons.
"Dirty Dancing" is her first experience on a long-term national tour.
"I worked with a cruise ship back stage, so I traveled to the Caribbean over and over and over and over again," Stansfield said. "Last year I was briefly with 'Sesame Street,' but only for about eight weeks. With them, you only get to stop for two to three days. With this, we're in each city for at least a week."
Stansfield said she loved having the opportunity to travel the country and get paid to visit the biggest cities of the U.S. So far, her favorite spot has been Portland, Oregon, but she said she's enjoyed seeing them all.
She started with the company last September and her tour will last until July. Following that, the members get a four-week vacation, then re-enlist for year two.
"With Facebook and email and text messages, you're never really away from anybody," Stansfield said. "I don't see my nieces and nephews often, but their pictures go up on Instagram. I talk with my best friends every couple of weeks. It's like you live down the street, but are too busy to meet up."
The group travels both by bus and plane, depending on the distance to the next venue. Stansfield said she quickly became used to the travel.
"It really just becomes routine. The only difference is I'm racking up more frequent flyer miles," Stansfield said. "I pretty much consider it my morning commute. Going through TSA and flying for four hours is like hopping on the road."
Performing on her home turf of Baltimore is a welcome change of pace, Stansfield said. For the two weeks, she gets to stay with her parents instead of in a hotel and catch up with old friends. Because there are so many people to see, though, Stansfield said being at home leaves her less chance to just relax than normal.
Her mother, Diane Gordon, said it's been nice having Stansfield home, even though the two don't get many opportunities to see each other.
"When I'm at work, she's home. And when I get home, she's gone for work," Diane said. "We got to have dinner Monday night, but other than that, we've mostly been missing each other."
Stansfield said the mobile life probably won't be a permanent choice for her, but for now, she's plenty happy to see the country and support a show she believes in.
"I just like creating and being a part of building something or being part of a team," Stansfield said. "I don't like being in the spotlight. I like watching others be in the spotlight and helping achieve that."