The Perfect Stage Crew
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The Perfect Stage Crew

The Complete Technical Guide for High School, College, and Community Theater

John Kaluta

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eBook - ePub

The Perfect Stage Crew

The Complete Technical Guide for High School, College, and Community Theater

John Kaluta

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About This Book

Here is a must-have book for anyone producing a stage show without a Broadway-sized budget. Written by a technical theater veteran, The Perfect Stage Crew explains the pitfalls to avoid and provides solutions to the most common—and the most complex—stage performance problems, even for theaters with a lack of resources. An invaluable guide for middle and high school theaters, college theaters, and community theaters, The Perfect Stage Crew teaches readers how to: Stock, organize, and store the essential backstage supplies
Conceptualize, design, and build sets
Manage a stage crew effectively
Paint scenery and backdrops
Test, design, and hang lighting
Operate and repair sound equipment
Set cues
Promote your showThis expanded second edition covers up-to-date technology, including for use with recording, sound, and lighting. Chapters also cover such crucial topics as running technical rehearsals, gathering props, and creating and selling tickets. Theater groups that need to learn the nuts and bolts of putting a show together will discover how to turn backstage workers into The Perfect Stage Crew.Allworth Press, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, publishes a broad range of books on the visual and performing arts, with emphasis on the business of art. Our titles cover subjects such as graphic design, theater, branding, fine art, photography, interior design, writing, acting, film, how to start careers, business and legal forms, business practices, and more. While we don't aspire to publish a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are deeply committed to quality books that help creative professionals succeed and thrive. We often publish in areas overlooked by other publishers and welcome the author whose expertise can help our audience of readers.

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Information

Publisher
Allworth
Year
2016
ISBN
9781621535218
CUE 1
REAdy
You can start stage crew work without a director, without a venue, and without a show, but things won’t seem real until the entire staff is on board and a few things have been decided. This book covers pretty much everything except directing, costumes, and music, but your assignment may be just sets, or just sound, or maybe everything. I’m going to proceed on the assumption that you are working with a director, and that someone else is handling the costumes, the music, the dance steps, and the singing. Assembling the staff is a job in itself, and if someone gets sick you may just have to take over volunteer assistant dance coordinator duties as well as the traditional stage crew duties. Let’s keep the choreographer healthy; that way you can keep your mind on your job instead of everyone else’s job. In a nutshell, your job is to instruct the stage crew on the technical aspects of the production; in reality, you’ll be involved with every aspect of the production, the glove on the director’s hand.
DECIDING ON THE SHOW
It’s not really your job to decide on the show, it’s the director’s. And the director is always under a lot of pressure to pick a show that the kids will like, a big show so a lot of kids can participate, a popular show so you won’t lose money, a cheap show…. Let’s just admit that the director has pressures. You don’t really want to make things harder by even suggesting shows. No, no, no, what you want is … veto power. Veto power means you get to say no to a show, for any reason whatsoever, and it should stick. Needless to say, the choral director and band director should have veto power over musicals—the same as you.
Our principal (actually it was an assistant principal) thought he had veto power over our newest director, and screwed up his face when she decided to do Shakespeare for the second time in three years. I’m not a big Shakespeare scholar, but our director is; guess who won that battle. It helped that she’d just returned from London, acting at the Globe. The concern was that it’s sometimes difficult to win the student audience over to Shakespeare. Try one of the comedies—Much Ado, or Midsummer—and remind everybody involved that it’s a comedy … When Flute refuses to play Thisby (a woman) it’s because, “I have a beard coming.” That’s a joke! Y’know … woman/beard. Get it? A joke. People are always surprised to learn that (done right) Shakespeare’s comedies are actually pretty funny.
I don’t recall actually vetoing any shows, except maybe while we were still in the musing stage. I did get to pick a show, though, once. It was my first director’s last show before retiring. We started our career together with a screaming argument, and then, five years later, he asks, “What show would you pick?”
Fiddler,” I said, “for two reasons. First, because I’ve always wanted to do it, and second, I’ve always wanted to do it with you as the director.” He chose Fiddler. I figured it was a compliment to me. If you do Fiddler, figure out a way to make Frumah Sarah really fly. Be careful, but do it.
ONE-WEEK RUN/TWO-WEEK RUN
Once you’ve decided on a show, and gotten permission from the licensing agency to actually produce it, you’ll have to decide how many performances you can pull off. For several years we did three-day runs, and I was actually pretty happy, as there was only one weekend of pure panic and dread. But the truth is, I’ve come around to feel that you should have a two-week run—that is, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of the first week, and Friday and Saturday nights the next week, with a Sunday matinee. At least for the musicals. You’ll find the musicals generally are more work all around, so the longer run might be more easily justified. And a two-week run can turn a financial loss into a profit, as the only extra expense is the royalty.
Opening on a Thursday does not guarantee a full house—rather the contrary—but the best part is the buzz the next day at school. Kids who saw the show will talk it up (presuming it’s good) and more kids’ll come the remaining days. Try a student discount on opening night to pack the house. Closing on a Sunday matinee gives more time for set cleanup—called a strike party. Try to get everything done since no one will want to come to a stage crew meeting the day after a show is over.
You’ll have to check with all adults involved, and be cautious about overexposing yourself. As the years go by, you can vary the number of performances. When you finally get to do Annie and Guys and Dolls, you should schedule as many performance dates as you can.
A Saturday-night closing can be great too; most parents will allow the kids to stay late at school to strike the set. You’ll have to buy the refreshments unless you can talk a parent into doing it.
DOUBLE CASTING
If you decide on a two-week run, the director may be tempted to double cast major parts. This is a very noble idea. It allows more kids to have starring roles and does attract a few new customers the second weekend. But it’s not worth it. It encourages student rivalries and is hell on the director, not to mention the costumer. To top it off, the kids will rarely work together to make both performances better; instead they may actually (consciously or unconsciously) work to hurt the performance that they don’t star in. If you have that many kids, then put on another (different) show, or let the drama club do it.
UNDERSTUDIES/CHANGES
You do have to be prepared in case somebody falls out or quits the show. Luckily for you it’s more the director’s problem; you just suggest and lend support. Mostly my suggestions were to put some kid from stage crew on stage. Many of them want to act but hold back, probably just due to shyness. We put Alan on as a judge, Cindy on as a waiter, everyone on as “The Mob” in A Tale of Two Cities, and a few kids in a few other places. I always encouraged the kids to try out—for the play, for cheerleading, for sports (I lost a good carpenter to the soccer team), but when a crisis hits, you promote from within. So an actor or stagehand gets pushed up, just like in the movies. Magic.
The truth is, a kid would have to be pretty darn sick to leave a show. We considered putting a “ringer” in the pit to sing Prince Charming’s song in Into the Woods, but the (incredibly sick) kid did it, and the other Prince harmonized to lift him through the tougher sections. From on stage. Nobody noticed except the people who were coming back to see the show a second time, and his effort earned him extra applause. Magic, magic, magic. Life memories of the best kind.
If you see trouble brewing, pull a kid early and get the replacement in there. I think we did that once.
RESERVING SPACE
In almost every case, the location of a show has to serve other masters. In a school the orchestra, choir, and even the school photographer will put demands on theater space. In community theater there can be as many as three shows in production at the same time. This leads to quite a few problems, most of which can be solved with a great big padlock. Lock up every single item that you can’t stand to have damaged, stolen, or used up. Lock up the tape if you expect to have any when you need it. Lock up the extension cords, or be prepared to buy more (perhaps you can attach them to a pipe with plastic cable ties). Lock up everything the other groups have no right to. They’ll use your water, and even your makeup, which is gross (all the actors should buy their own, but they never do). Outside groups may rent your space, right in the middle of your production. The superintendent of schools may come in to make a budget presentation. It stinks. You’ll have to work with the director and reserve the space. Use this opportunity to begin a comprehensive calendar of the next few months of your life. (Don’t forget to schedule in time to pay your bills.) Someone in the office will have an arcane, cryptic form that you have to fill out in triplicate; be sure to get three copies. There is no question that the first time you reserve space you’ll do it wrong; for instance, you may skip the box that means you want the heat on, and the show is in December. In Pennsylvania … oops. Try to coordinate the school calendar, the community calendar, your social and religious obligations and account for possible bad weather … trust me, you’ll overlook something. But—and here is the most important lesson in the book (fancy that, page 4)—the better you plan and try to figure out things ahead of time, the fewer your problems. And the smaller your problems. And easier to solve. So … think ahead. Don’t worry, think.
And find some alternate work locations for when you get kicked out of the theater.
REHEARSAL SPACE
Occasionally you will have the luxury of a long stretch of uninterrupted time available to you in the theater and the associated workspaces—the costume shop, the scene shop, makeup rooms—make the best of it. Since the crew will need a lot of extra time and space, try to get some of the rehearsals placed elsewhere, especially in the beginning, when blocking isn’t quite so important. Directors want to block pretty early, though, so make the most of any early time you get. Turn all of your lighting technicians and painters into carpenters. They won’t like it, but the jobs have to be done in their proper order. And it’s not really fair to any group to dawdle. You’ve got time, you’ve got the theater (because you reserved it), you’ve got labor … GO! The actors can run lines in the drama room, or practice dance steps in the wrestling room (unused out of season). Beg a bit of time to rough in the major, major pieces. And do it, don’t let the time slip away. You’re going to be extremely busy later in the production, and the director will never give up the theater again if you don’t take advantage of your week or two and at least get the stairs built and the bigger set pieces begun. Plus, it gives the kids a thrill to see the set taking shape. (A great trick is to save some major painting until the night before the first tech rehearsal, and stay late. Saturday morning, everyone comes in to find the set miraculously transformed—what a boost to the show. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.) The thrill is when the actors come in and see a set, not a shambles of unbuilt sticks.
One little detail. If you have to build elsewhere and move the production in later, you have to measure everything, including door widths and heights, and build to fit. And budget a little extra time for the move.
EQUIPMENT INVENTORY
If you are just starting out, you’ll need to take account of all of the junk in the place, and you’ll have to determine if it works or not. Inspect everything and sort it out as best as you can. Put all of the tools in one place; test the staplers, saws, sewing machines, etc. Put old props away in some logical fashion. You won’t be able to reorganize the entire theater, especially if your predecessors were slobs, but you do need to get down a layer or two just to see what you have. Write down things like the blade size for the circular saw, the model number of the sewing machine, all that stuff. Use a permanent binder of some kind, something that will last the year through. Eventually you’ll have to reorganize the binder. Think of that as a good sign. Little drawings of how things are hooked up go in the binder, notes about repairs made, dimensions you know you’ll need later, a wish list….
In effect this little book becomes a substitute brain, remembering things you have no room for in your head. At the beginning of each workday, at the conclusion of each workday, every day during rehearsal, Sunday nights, and every day at lunch, you’re going to take a peek in this little book and try to get a task done. Of course, the master calendar is in the book. Post copies of it on the callboard. Usually you end up adding to the list, but be of good cheer—I found that the list getting longer was a sign that things were going well.
A fun task when you are tired and aren’t actually going to do anything is to rewrite the lists in the book in priority order. You’re just kidding yourself, of course, but it’s cathartic, and you can pretend you actually accomplished something.
After a time, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’ve got to work with, what you need, and what you want. You’ll have a list of things that don’t work and problems to solve. If you don’t write it all down, you’re going to forget something important.
ORGANIZING THINGS
I’m going to presume that the place is a mess and it’s your first day. Your predecessor left you a huge pile of junk, including about half of the set from the last show. You can’t find any tools, the paint cans are open and all dried up, the lumber rack is a total shambles (actually, that never changes), and if you had had any sense, you wouldn’t have taken on this job. Too late, you signed the contract. Poke around a little. Eventually you’ll see something that’s worth keeping. Let joy fill your heart. Look around, and decide where you want to put it. You don’t want to move things more than once, well, twice probably, but not a lot. Don’t actually move the thing, just mentally note the best place for the paints (behind lock and key), the tools (same), the wood, the flats … everything. You may end up moving things to a poor location, but the truth is, just getting everything organized (and the trash thrown out) is an incredible first step. It’s a step you’ll want to be ready to take when you call your first stage crew meeting in September.
Try to think ahead as far as where things should go. At my old school, I felt strongly that the props room was too close to the stage entrance (in the wings). There was always a bottleneck of actors right in a bad place. I made the props room the paint room, and moved the props room further offstage, where they had room for a table and a wall to hang costumes on. We didn’t need the paints during the run of the show (except when we did), so actors could use part of the paint room for quick changes as the dressing rooms were in a really bad place (upstairs).
It worked great. The kids didn’t like me changing things around, and let me know in many not-so-subtle ways, but the new layout worked better, especially as the tools were also put in a place closer to the wood. Just try to imagine how things will move on- and offstage, where you want to set up the paints (near a sink)—brilliant! Figure out where you can fit the larger set pieces. Be flexible. Then call your first stage crew meeting.
STAGE CREW
If things are really bad, just start ordering people around and doing everything your way. Make it clear that you’re the boss, and that this place is going to present a quite different appearance from now on. If things aren’t so bad, let the elected officers run the proceedings. That is, if the club even has elected officers. (We did—though being an officer was no guarantee of getting a choice job for any show.) What I mean here is if things aren’t in good order, your job is to put them in good order; conversely, if the ...

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