A Deep Dive Into Theatre

Sydney Gager, Editor

I’ve been involved in theatre since age seven and I love every aspect of it. From the adrenaline rush that is becoming another person (acting) to making sure every set change goes smoothly (one of my duties as ASM) and everything in between. Theatre is undervalued in general, but I think that the amount of work–and the different types of work–that goes into each and every show is often ignored. To combat this, I want to start with just explaining what goes into a show and discussing some of my personal experience.

First, acting is a lot more than just memorizing lines. Character work–including considering motivation and creating backstory–is essential for creating a realistic portrayal. There’s also blocking (movement around the stage) and in musicals, learning complex musical numbers. In acting classes you’ll learn that acting is “Living truthfully in imaginary circumstances,” but you must also balance this with following specific directions and remembering technical aspects of performing, such as volume.

Most recently, I performed in “Sister Cities” and one of the most difficult scenes was calmly (but quickly) cleaning up a scrabble game. Remembering my lines, timing them with the clean-up, and focusing on my character’s calmness (and ignoring my own panic as tiles fell on the floor) made the scene much more difficult than simply reciting lines. 

The next aspect of theatre I got involved in was helping with costumes. I’ve never done costume design or anything like that (a very important aspect of costumes!) but some of my duties were assisting with quick changes (basically an actor runs into the dark wing and you throw a new costume on them), safety-pinning ill-fitting costumes, and making sure everyone tucked in their shirts and generally looked put together.

After proving that I wasn’t useless backstage, my lack of muscles was ignored to allow me to join running crew. Running crew takes set pieces on and off the stage during the black outs. This means moving heavy pieces of furniture in the dark. 

One role I haven’t (officially) filled is prop master. Prop masters will get a list (from the stage manager or director) of needed props and they must locate these (either from storage, the store, or borrowing from someone). Then, they’re in charge of making sure props are preset for each show.

After running crew, I gained the title of Assistant Stage Manager or ASM. How this works depends on the theatre. For me, ASM is running crew plus costumes plus managing props plus solving any other problems. While I only work during tech week (the week directly before the show), in some theatres, ASMs are present for the whole rehearsal process. They work with the stage manager (another theatre role) to take notes on what props and set pieces are needed and which actors are in which scenes. Then, they will often cue running crew during shows and help out in other ways. 

I work as an ASM with children actors, so when I’m not doing my official job (mainly moving set pieces) I’m buttoning shirts, answering random questions, chasing down actors to give them their props, and triple checking that all the actors are where they’re meant to be. I also get to use the headset to talk with sound and light operators. While this can be used to help with cues, we usually only use it to inform one another of problems. Usually being an ASM is a lot of fun, sometimes I accidentally hit kids with pieces of furniture, and sometimes it’s really stressful. 

Stage managers have similar jobs to ASMS. Usually the difference is the amount of rehearsals they’re present for and they are often in charge of doing or delegating the jobs above (such as notes, cues, etc.).

Every so often, I will fill in as lights. Those who usually run lights will do light design (determine which lights go on when) and will program different set ups onto the board. Then when someone (like me) fills in, it’s generally just listening to the show and cueing these light effects. (There is definitely more that goes into a lighting, but these are just the basics that I’ve participated in).

The other role that’s similar to lights (in both complexity and my never having done it) is sound. Sound is in charge of turning actors’ microphones on and off and keeping them at levels that allow the actors to be heard (without being too loud). 

Microphones work hand-in-hand with sound, but work directly with the mics and not the soundboard. This part of the crew sets up microphones (putting in batteries, plugging in wires) and puts them on actors before and during the show and puts them away (taking out and charging batteries, putting away the wires).

The newest role to me was director. We all know that directors have to tell actors where (and how) to say their lines, but I’d never known how hard it was to get actors to dig deep (and MEMORIZE THEIR LINES ON TIME) until I did the job myself.

I got the chance to direct my own scene for senior scenes. As I mentioned it was hard to get actors to memorize lines, but the most surprising part of being a director was what I discovered opening night. Watching your actors perform the scene you all worked so hard on–without being able to interrupt or help in anyway–was more terrifying than actually performing on stage. While nothing went wrong and I ultimately got to enjoy my scene, the anticipation and feeling of powerlessness that directors experience was something I’d never even considered.

While directing for senior scenes, I also dabbled in set design. Okay, choosing a desk and three boxes from backstage isn’t very complex, but technically that was my scene’s set. In reality, set design is usually more complicated. The directors’ necessities (such as specific pieces of furniture) must be combined with their artistic vision. Then you actually have to build the set. 

So now you know the basics of the jobs in theatre–at least on the high school level–and each one is essential. If one person doesn’t do their job, the whole production can fail. 

My next step in exploring the importance of theatre is going to be to talk to people who fill some of these roles to find out how their lives are impacted by theatre.