When seeing a show, you might not realize how much is going on behind the walls of the stage, or even in a room hovering high above the audience.
Inside of the Gershwin Theatre, the home of Wicked, there is an astounding number of people running the show. In addition to the 36 actors telling the story onstage, there are 175 people working behind the scenes! This includes 25 costume/props coordinators, 4 stage managers, 24 musicians, 13 light/sound operators, 13 carpenters, and 2 company managers. In the lobby alone, there are 10 ticket takers, 24 ushers, and 1 lottery manager. Accompanying them are 12 cleaners, and 34 merchandise/concession sellers. All of the staff in the lobby are led by 8 treasurers, 2 house managers, 2 directors, and 1 chief.
Personally, I have had several experiences working behind the scenes, from school choir concerts to full-scale productions. Preparing to teach a show is definitely a huge part of whether the show will run smoothly or not, and that is something that I focus on when I join the production staff for a new show. Since I most frequently volunteer as a student assistant (you can think of me as a mini stage manager), I keep track of kids ages 5-12, move things on and off stage, help with costume changes, write down blocking, play music from the sound booth, and more!
One of my first tasks of the day as a stage manager in training is to enter the building and begin taking attendance. I use a sheet with every cast member’s name on it and circle the ones that I am expecting to attend that day. After the scheduled call time, if anyone is late to rehearsal, I call parents and ask if they will be attending. When everyone is accounted for, I head into rehearsal and pull out my rehearsal CDs and script. I make sure to write down all blocking that is assigned to any of the kids, especially those who are conflicted (which is a fancy way of saying that a child has an excused, scheduled absence).
My usual habitat is at the sound booth, where I run sound through the speaker system during rehearsals. This helps all of the actors get more of a feel for the show in terms of what the volume will be like during the actual run of the production. It helps me get a better feel of the order of the show as well- during actual shows, I am responsible for getting everyone on and off stage, and making sure that they don’t miss any cues.
During actual productions, I tape a setlist of the show to the wall and get to work. I make sure that all of the props are in order, all of the cast members are in costume, and everyone’s hair and makeup are ready for the stage lights. Before each show, I participate in “circle” with the cast, where everyone holds hands and makes wishes for good luck for that show.
When the show begins and the curtain speech is finished, you can usually find me running behind the wall of the stage, calling out numbers to everyone waiting in the “black box”, where actors sit and wait for their time to go onstage. I’m usually also residing behind the wall, helping cast members into costumes during quick changes!
I am responsible for quick fixes behind the scenes, such as costume fixes, re-doing hair and makeup, and finding replacement props. One of my craziest stories was when I had to run and send several kids through the lobby to an alternate stage entrance, and run back around the building in time to move a gigantic set-piece, which happened to be the “Cave of Wonders” from Disney’s Aladdin KIDS.
Although my job behind the scenes is rather hectic, it is definitely one of my favorite things to do. I’m currently working on the production staff of my 3rd show, Winnie the Pooh KIDS!
Remember (if you are a theatre kid yourself) to always thank your “techies”! Their job can get rather stressful and they put in more work than you may think. They may not be seen or heard- but that means that they are doing their job extremely well! So remember, thank everyone you work with (your cast, production staff, and volunteers), and remember that there are so many people required to put on a successful show!
Break a leg!