AUBURN | When Patti Laird graduated from Auburn High School in 2004, she never dreamed she was quickly on her way to working with a national company, touring a different part of the country each night.
But today, just five years out of college, that's exactly where she is.
The Auburn native visited her hometown last week after happily agreeing to volunteer as stage manager, her full-time profession, at the children's show "The Very Hungry Caterpillar." Since starting her current job with a company called Troupe America, she has spent the last few years traveling the United States and has helped produce hundreds of shows.
Laird credits her start in theater and stage management to her days in Auburn, dating back to when she was a student at Auburn Junior High School and was just discovering her interest in theater. She dabbled with different parts of theater production while in school and was always involved in the show, either on stage or in the orchestra, and entered college at SUNY Potsdam's Crane School of Music with the intentions of becoming a music teacher. But during her second semester, she made a realization that would lead her to her true calling: stage management.
"I took a stage management class, and our first show was a dance show," Laird said. "I just remember looking at the stage manager and thinking, 'How is he doing this?,' so I jumped right in and I didn't stop."
From then on, Laird took on the task of learning everything there is to know about how musicals and other shows are produced, and along the way, she found that her true passion was behind the scenes.
"I learned that I'm much better backstage than on stage," she said. "I like being that person behind the curtains that no one knows about, but is a huge part of the show. And if I'm doing my job right, you won't even know I exist."
Laird refers to herself as the "right-hand" to the director, and with every show she tours, she is in charge of making sure that the overall artistic integrity of the show stays exactly as the director wanted it, she explained. Throughout the remainder of her college career, she gained valuable, real-world experience in stage management while working at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse and learning from some of the best in the business.
Eventually, Laird went on to earn her bachelor's degree in theater and, soon after graduation, she was contacted directly by Troupe America about the job she now has. She said that her time spent at Merry-Go-Round and Auburn's schools was essential to her getting where she is today, and she still returns to both whenever she can to help with electrical and stage jobs.
"It's still a huge part of what I do," Laird said of her schooling in Auburn. "Without learning music here, I would never be where I am now."
Like any profession, Laird said her dream job comes with some disadvantages, like spending each night in a different city. She spends most of her off-time in Minneapolis, where Troupe America is based, but when asked where she lives now, Laird said she often doesn't know how to respond because of the amount of time she spends traveling.
"I tell people I'm a gypsy," she said. "It can be hard, but I love it. I love every aspect of theater. It takes people out of their reality and lets them join our world for a while. It doesn't matter what's going on in their lives, because when they walk through that door, they're in ours."
Laird is getting ready to embark on a five-month tour throughout the United States to run another series of musical productions with Troupe America. Though she said she can sometimes get weary of the lifestyle she has chosen for herself — one that has taken her to more than 30 states in the past three years — she knows that she has built a career doing what she loves, and when she does get a chance to stop and rest, she is reminded that Auburn will always be her true home.
"I've always wanted to get out and enjoy the world, but Auburn will always have a place in my heart," Laird said. "I started touring at 25 years old, and to be able to say that I was doing what I love at 25 is a huge thing. I'm truly lucky."