I have been involved in small elementary productions and larger scale junior high school shows. I was lucky enough to attend an elementary school that held everyone from kindergarten to grade eight. This school has one of the most amazing theater programs for grades five through eight. This theater company produced high school caliber productions in an elementary school. We had professional-level sets, costumes, and overall shows. I was lucky enough to be a part of this program for four years. When I went off to high school I did not end up becoming involved in that theater program, and that is my biggest regret now that I have graduated. My junior and senior years my friends and I went back to this theater company to assist our former director in two of her shows. The experiences from both onstage and off have taught me some valuable lessons.

1. Flexibility/Improvisation

One lesson I learned both onstage and backstage is flexibility and improvisation. Nothing ever goes as planned, and you need to adapt fast because the show does not stop. If someone forgets to say a line or does not bring out a prop, you cannot freak out onstage, you have to keep going and not let there be any dead space. If stage crew gives you a new prop to use or you need to fill in for a sick cast mate, you have to be willing to step up to the task. If a lead becomes ill, someone has to be willing to step in for them.

This also applied backstage because every night did not go exactly the same. I remember when I was in "Beauty and the Beast," there was a night when none of the flatware went onstage for “Be Our Guest.” Those who were already onstage had to just go for it, sing loudly, and do the best they could. You have to be able to adapt to changes because chances are each night will not be perfect. Backdrops could get stuck, microphones may stop working on stage, props may break, but you have to put on the best show possible anyways.

2. Trust

At the end of the day, you need to be able to trust your cast mates. Each of you has a job to do and you are responsible for doing that job. You can not worry about someone else’s job; rather, you need to have faith that they will be focused and will perform to the best of their abilities. You need to know where you need to be and when you need to be there, and you need to trust that you cast mates will know the same for them. While I was working backstage in a junior production last year, I overheard some of the younger kids frantically looking for someone about to go on. One of the leads turned around and simply said, “She will be here.” This young actor demonstrated that trust that you need to have in your cast mates. A sense of trust amongst a cast leads to the cohesion needed to put on a fantastic show.

3. Teamwork

Theater includes working with a myriad of people, and there is always the chance of having to work with someone who you do not particularly like. You need to remember that you each joined the show with the common goal of putting on a fabulous production. All differences must be put aside in order to allow the show be a success. You need to be able to work with not only cast mates, but also the tech crew and director. You should be capable of leaving all differences or grudges at the door. When you step into rehearsal or the show, you become your character. If you cannot work well with others, the cast will become detached and the show will not come together.

Generally by the end of a production the cast is more than a team - they become a family. Before each show my theater company would play Pass The Pulse in a circle, sing "Amazing Grace" (still holding hands), and then our director would say a prayer for the cast and crew. The key to an amazing show is a cohesive cast and crew. One of the most amazing byproducts of theater is the bonds formed within the cast and crew. You have the opportunity to meet some of the best people in your life, and it would be a shame if that was missed.

4. Acceptance

This goes hand-in-hand with teamwork. You need to accept differences amongst your cast mates in order to be able to work with them successfully. Theater is diverse, meaning it contains people of all races, genders, ages, and sexualities. Being a part of this program showed me how different people can come together. This year I was a peer tutor and when the eight-year-old girl I was tutoring laughed that a boy would want to be in a play, I was taken aback. I forgot that at her age it seemed a little weird. Theater does not have a gender or a sexuality. It is open to everyone. It was nice to be exposed to this at a young age.

5. Time Commitment

In order to put on a fantastic performance, you need to rehearse. This does not mean simply showing up to the weekly rehearsals. You need to put the time in at home to learn your songs and your lines or you will look foolish at rehearsals. You need to show up to all of the rehearsals because you will miss something important. It could be a dance number, or blocking a scene. You need to be there for it all because the director will not reteach it just for you. Also, if you miss too many rehearsals, there is a chance the director will cut you from the show. When you are considering skipping a rehearsal, think about your director. They spend their entire life for a good chunk of the school year on this show. Think about the amount of time you have put in and multiply it by ten. They are blocking numbers at home in their spare time, they are out shopping or making costumes and they are staying after rehearsal three hours later to work on the set. They come in on school vacations to put the finishing touches on. They work their butts off to make you look good. When you get a standing ovation, it is because of the work that they put into the production. You are only putting in a fraction of the work that your director and stage crew put in.

The night before one of the morning shows that I worked on for stage crew, we were at the school until 11:30 p.m., and back at the school at 6:50 a.m. the next morning to make sure the set was prepared and we were ready to go. While all this time is put in from by the director, you need to be willing to put in the small amount that he or she is asking of you.