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Friday, August 6, 2010

Every little piece

The other day my (amazing!) aunt and I were discussing the world of the theatre. Well, maybe discussing is a bad choice of words here. I was babbling like the loony bin that I am, and she was managing to interject a question or comment every five minutes or so. But anyway, I digress. One of the things that came up was how much behind-the-scenes work goes into putting on a play. My aunt, who appreciated the theatre but never studied it in that much detail before I became involved, mentioned that she'd never really thought about all the effort, time, and investment that went into the sets, costumes, props, sound, lights, scene changes, production, direction, etc.
When you go to see a show, you're looking at the final product of many weeks' work. What you see is a well-oiled, finely-tuned machine. You see the actors. If you look carefully, you might spot a member of the crew. You might see the director giving the curtain speech. What you don't see is the costume designer sitting in the dressing room frantically mending the lead actor's jacket in time for act two. You don't see the light board operator hunched over his script, waiting for the next light shift. You don't see the stage manager poised in the wings to cue the scene changes.
Today we had our last performance for Alice in Wonderland. Starting this Tuesday, my acting will take a backseat to more technical pursuits: I've been asked to design props for the next show at my theatre, and I've got a stage managing gig and an assistant directing gig lined up for next year. I'm planning on auditioning for a Christmas show, but that's, of course, an uncertainty. I may get a part, but I may end up stage managing. We shall see.
My point here is, it's really easy for people to forget how important the non-acting components of theatre are. When I tell my non-theatre friends that I'm in a show, I get huge reactions. "Wow, that's great! Good for you! When are the performances? I'd love to come!" When I tell them I'm stage managing or running the sound, notsomuch. "That's interesting. Is anything else new?" When I'm in the cast, friends and family crawl out of the woodwork to see me perform. No one but my closest family members and most hardcore theatre friends show up when I'm on the crew.
Now, don't get me wrong. I realize it's much more fun for the people who love me to SEE me onstage in all my glory. But what non-theatre geeks don't always understand is that being on the crew is just as much of an investment. If I'm the stage manager, I have to attend every rehearsal and every performance, just like the actors. I don't have lines to learn, but I have scene changes and cues that I have to memorize and practice. And while I don't get to take a bow, the actors couldn't do their jobs without me backstage making sure the technical aspect runs smoothly.
Without production, lights, sound, costumes, sets, props, and direction, a play is left mostly to the audience's imagination. The acting is there, but it's left to the viewer to imagine the world the characters inhabit. With those components, the audience is automatically transported to wherever the playwright invisioned. All they have to do is sit back and let the actors tell the story.
If you're a theatre lover reading this, you already know the truth in my rant. If you aren't, well...consider yourself enlightened. :)