When going to see a play or musical, you're often completely dazzled by the set, lights, sounds and costumes. Most viewers do not even consider how much work goes into a show behind the scenes of what they are watching. But there are countless hours of rehearsals for the actors, many production meetings for designers and stage managers, and hours of tech for everyone involved in the production. While the actors are a very important part of a show, technical theatre folks are also crucial to putting on a great production.
What many people don't realize is how many elements they see during a show are happening due to the technical team working on a production. To give you a better idea of how much work there is to do and how many people there actually are working on each production, here are the roles that techies play.
This is who runs the entire show from a technical standpoint. The stage manager is who keeps everything in order, making sure that each person is in the correct place at the correct time and that everyone is ready to go when the show is scheduled to start. During the rehearsal process, the stage manager follows along in the script in order to give forgotten lines to actors and sends out a rehearsal report after every rehearsal. They lead the production meetings in which the designers and director make sure they are on the same page when it comes to the larger meaning of the play.
During the show, the stage manager calls the show by being on headset and talking to the sound and light board operators and assistant stage managers to tell them when their cues are coming up (putting the board operators in "standby") and then tells them when to go with their lighting and sound cues. After the show, the stage manager makes sure everything is reset for the next day of tech rehearsals or the next show. The stage manager is who keeps everything running smoothly.
Assistant Stage Manager
As you can tell, being a stage manager is a huge job. No one person can do this job well when they do not have help. The assistant stage manager, or managers in many cases, do many jobs for the stage manager. While the stage manager usually stays in the booth during a show, the assistant stage manager(s) stay backstage during the show to make sure everything is running smoothly there. They are the ones who do the physical work backstage such as setting props and costumes and sweeping the stage pre-show, as well as standing by as a go-to person for catch-all jobs before, during and after productions.
The costume designer is who comes up with the ideas for what each character in the show will wear based off of the given circumstances such as where and when the play or musical is taking place according to the script. The costume designer has to research the time period in which the show is set and also creates more meaning to the show through the clothing they select for the actors. There are often multiple outfits for each character, and many times they are extremely detailed pieces. The costume designer is who decides the hair, makeup, clothes and accessories for each character in each scene of a show. They often find the costume pieces, or if they can't, create them themselves. The costume designer must have some knowledge of sewing and pattern making in order to best explain their designs to a dressmaker or costume constructor.
The lighting designer creates all the lighting looks in a show. This means they decide what colors the lights should be, how bright they should be, and where and when they should turn on or off. They facilitate the light hang and instruct the board operators how to use the equipment. They also tell the stage manager when they want each light cue to happen.
Light Board Operator
A light board operator is the person who actually makes the lights happen during a production. This means that each performance and technical rehearsal, they are on a headset with the stage manager and operating the lights from a laptop, light board or iPad when they are given their cues by the stage manager. They also set everything up lighting-wise before each technical rehearsal and show.
The sound designer puts together any music or sound effects that happen throughout a show. They are in charge of obtaining or creating the sound effects or music to be used in a production. The sound designer trains the soundboard operator on how to use the equipment and sets up everything sound-related for all technical rehearsals and performances for a show.
Sound Board Operator
The sound board operator is in charge of making the sound effects and recorded music happen at certain times during the production based on the cues from the stage manager delivered over the headset. They also set up everything sound-related before the show, such as checking the speakers and volume of the sound.
The properties master goes through the script and sees what kind of items are called for and used in the show This does not include furniture but often includes things such as a tray with drinks, phones, etc. The properties master also is in charge of finding or otherwise obtaining the props by designing and making them. The props master makes up a props table with a specific taped-out labeled location for all the different things the characters use throughout the show on it. Props masters also teach actors how to use the specific props they are given.
The costumers work with the costume designer to learn to do the hair and makeup for the actors, be it old-age makeup, an updo or anything else a character may require. If a character has a quick change between scenes, the costumers will stay backstage and make sure that the actor has help getting out of one costume and into another. The costumers must keep track of the costume pieces and make sure that everything is in place costume-wise both before and after a show.
The set designer creates the physical location on stage using different materials to create walls, floors, furniture and other aspects of each location in a show.
The run crew takes instruction from the set designer for when to move certain pieces of furniture, walls and other set pieces. They often stay backstage and wait and must move the set in a blackout, which means total darkness onstage. This means that the run crew must understand what pieces need to stay and go onstage and where they should be stored offstage during scenes in which they are not in use. The run crew often hands the actors their props in between scenes. The stagehands also operate the curtains and fly system for parts of the set and keep track of where the props are before, during and after tech rehearsals and shows.
There are many other people who are part of technical theatre, but these are some of the main roles that you will find in nearly every production. These roles make full productions possible and create the world in which the actors play. Most people do not even recognize the work that these people do, and it often goes unappreciated, even when they are working just as hard as the actors on a production.
There is, of course, a lot of work that goes into being an actor, but they are usually congratulated post-show, whereas when someone does a technical job for a production, they are less likely to be thanked or recognized for their contribution to the show.
Those who do technical theatre put just as much effort and creativity into their work as the actors put into theirs. The entire show does not come together without these people who are behind the scenes.
Techies do so much work, and it is often thankless, so the next time you see a production and someone comes out from backstage wearing their all-blacks, let them know they did a good job!