MAKING A DIFFERENCE: ‘Lion King’ production supervisor has come a long way

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

HOLLYWOOD — Lisa Dawn Cave has worked long and hard to carve out a successful career in the world of theater. Her efforts have paid off.

Currently, she is the production supervisor for Disney’s “The Lion King” tour, currently running at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre through March 26, and “Frozen The Musical” tour currently playing at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa through Feb. 19.

“The first time I saw ‘The Lion King’ in 1997, I was blown away,” said Cave, who joined the show in May 2022. “There was nothing like it. It has lasted so long because it’s timeless. It’s universal. The first time I saw ‘Frozen,’ which was at the very beginning of 2017, I said, ‘I’m blessed.’”

Cave’s role with ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Frozen’ is to connect the associate designer and designers with the other touring companies.

“There are eight ‘Lion Kings’ around the world,” said Cave, who has put up five shows for Disney in the states and abroad. “I make sure all of those associates have a trip to all of those companies to make sure the shows are up to the standards of Disney. 

“For instance, there are scenery maintenance trips. Once a year the associate looks at the scenery. It may need some paint because of chips, or maybe the lights might be dim. Are the colors fading? Things might need brush-ups and touch-ups. We have to make sure the puppets are up to standards. We keep the standards up.”

Cave said the creative people also do checkups.

“They assess the cast,” she said. “They make sure the cast is doing 100%.”

Cave, whose job takes her to Germany, London, Brazil, Japan, and other locations around the world, said the best part of her job is interacting with every department of the theater.

“Lighting, costume, video, sound designers, people who run the show, hair, actors, wardrobe, you name it, I interact with them,” said Cave who, over the years, has been a stage manager, production stage manager, and now production supervisor. “I’m very communicative. This job permits me to have all of these relationships.”

Cave, 61, is an enviable, prominent position with enormous responsibility. She savors every minute of it because getting to that high point wasn’t a cakewalk. She had to earn it.

She started her showbiz career as a dancer and singer for 10 years.

“I was on the road performing when I realized, the dancer has the shortest career,” said Cave, who earned a bachelor in fine arts degree in dance from State University of New York Purchase. “I asked myself what I was going to do when it was time to put up the shoes. I had to have a plan. 

“I thought stage managers are always with dancers and actors and ran rehearsals, and had connections with the designers. I had strong relationships with stage managers. I reached out to them and trailed them. I thought I’d get a gig maybe five years down the line.”

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, fate took a hand. Cave was in a bad car accident, which left her unable to perform.

“I had to spring forward my idea,” she said. “Fortunately, I was in the right place at the right time. I was with people who wanted to help. I learned the stage managing craft hands-on. I was determined to learn this craft. I soon got a gig.”

While honing her craft, the married Brooklyn native realized she didn’t see very many people who looked like her in the role of a stage manager. She worked even harder.

Her Broadway, off-Broadway, and regional production credits include “Shuffle Along,” “Fun Home,” “Rocky Broadway,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Bring It On,” “West Side Story,” “Come Fly Away,” “The Color Purple,” “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial,” “The Woman in White,” “Julius Caesar,” “Caroline, or Change,” “Hollywood Arms,” “Into the Woods,” “Parade,” “Smokey Joe’s Café” and “Showboat.”

Long story short, her tireless and fruitful efforts paid off.

What makes her story worth mentioning, is that once she made her mark, she made it her business to reach back and mentor other people of color interested in becoming stage managers.

In December 2020, Cave, Beverly Jenkins, Jimmie Lee Smith and Kenneth J. McGee, all veteran stage managers, launched Broadway & Beyond: Access for Stage Managers of Color, an organization that provides opportunities to aspiring and current stage managers of color to learn from industry insiders and meet industry leaders.

It also provides insights to help Black, indigenous, people of color stage managers start, maintain and advance a career in the arts and theatre through free networking and educational events.

Since its launch, Broadway and Beyond alumni have accepted dozens of jobs via connections made through the organization, opening doors and creating new pathways for stage managers of color throughout the industry.

“When we all realized the injustices and the disparities, we knew we needed to do something,” Cave said. “There weren’t many Black stage managers of color around there. We kept hearing people say, ‘They want to change but they don’t know where to find people of color.’ So, we asked the question, ‘If we do the work and show them where they are, will they interview, and open the door and hire?’”

After reaching out to the press with the help of the press marketing person on “Frozen,” having someone build the website, and accepting volunteers who could help build the organization, Cave, Jenkins, Smith, and McGee held four successful networking events.

“It was about just getting to know each other,” Cave said. “General managers and stage managers were brought together. We brought together those who were graduating and those who have been in the business. We had Broadway managers and producers. 

“We had a great discussion. We did networking for Broadway, regional, touring and off-Broadway. It was successful. They were calling us. We were building our roster. In 2021, when theater opened back up, at least 15 stage managers who were people of color had their first shows on Broadway.”

Cave said Broadway and Beyond: Access for Stage Managers of Color is committed to its mission. Last September the organization had a fundraiser and held a hybrid event on the East Coast.

For those who couldn’t afford to make the trip, the organization flew them in, put them up for two days, and gave them a per diem and money for child care.

“They were offered child and elder care if they lived in New York or New Jersey,” Cave said.

While she loves its mission, Cave looks forward to the time when an organization like Broadway and Beyond is no longer needed.

“That is the ultimate goal,” she said. “What I love about our organization is that we change lives.”

Cave’s life was also changed. Sometimes she has to pinch herself when she thinks about how far she’s come.

“When I think about what I do, it gives me a huge uplift within myself,” she said. “My upbringing. I grew up in a poverty-stricken area in Brooklyn. A lot of people didn’t make it out. They died or were in jail or on drugs. It was hard.  

“Sometimes I say to myself, ‘I’m amazed at what I do now. A girl from Brownsville Brooklyn ended up here — walking down the street in Brazil.’”

Cave said her strong faith allowed her to dream and to believe she could do and be anything.

“You have to get out of your comfort zone,” she said. “When I saw space and fields, I knew there was more to life. I thought, ‘I’m going to make it.’”

“Making a Difference” is a regular feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to dwanlass@wavetv.net.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.

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