When you go to the theater to see a play or a musical you are likely focused on the story being told, the bright lights, the beautiful sounds and the incredible talent of the performers. While these are all the objectively correct reasons to see a performance, many people forget about the workers behind the scenes.

Mount St. Joseph News

Dressed in black from head to toe silently sitting and waiting just off stage or up in the loft, you’ll find an incredibly devoted and hardworking crew.  Between lights, sound, production, costumes, props, set building, set dressing, house management, stage management, box office, art, and promotion, to say “it takes a village” would be an understatement of the man-power, time, effort, and energy poured into these productions by the crew.  While actors get the praise and limelight, the crew is usually scrambling behind the scenes before and after each show prepping for the next one.

So this begs the question…why do we do it?  Unless you take time to read the entire playbill, you won’t even have an idea of the number of people who worked on a production.  Why do we pour hours into a project for seemingly no recognition?  Here’s what two of MSJ Theater Art’s crew members have to say.

My name is Theo Schulte and I am a sophomore at MSJ Studying Social Studies Secondary Education and Computer Science.  By the end of this semester I will have been a part of over twenty productions with roles ranging from acting to student directing to light designing and set building.  Short of making costumes, I’ve done just about everything you can do in theater. With as busy as my life can be, I find myself having to make sacrifices to get everything I need to get done finished.  My very first semester here I actually quit theater after being cast in a show because I didn’t have time to memorize my lines and do character work in addition to my studies.  To keep my Renaissance scholarship, I ushered the performances and scanned tickets.  When the next show came around, one of the actors couldn’t make it to cue to cue and they needed a body so I stepped in.  From there I’ve found myself involved with every single production since. 

When writing this article, I had to ask myself why I kept coming back, and it took me a long time to find the answer.  After mulling it over, I’ve come to the conclusion that I stay involved because theater challenges me in a way nothing else can.  When I’m working as the props manager I have to do research on the setting of the play and do my best to make the props as accurate as possible to the time. 

For example, we set the show “Marian, Or the True Tale of Robin Hood” in 1930’s Appalachia.  For me, that meant hours of research into day-to-day lives of Appalachians during the Great Depression.  Theater also challenges me with creative problem-solving and has taught me how to adapt at the drop of a hat.  Do you know how to take the finish off of galvanized steel or how to weld plastic?  Neither did I!  But, the show called for it so I learned.

When acting as a production assistant and stage manager, I get to stretch my organizational and management muscles.  I get the opportunity to manage schedules, take production notes, and ensure that all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.  When I’m able to watch a show that, two months ago, was just words on a page, turn into a symphony of lights, sounds, and staging, it makes me feel like a proud parent watching their child walk at graduation. Theater allows me to challenge my unique skill set and broaden my knowledge.

My name is Savannah Coomer, and I am a first-year Middle Childhood Education major with a concentration in literature and social studies. I have been involved in fifteen different theater productions. Throughout those productions, I have been stage manager, student director, and prop manager. “Marian, Or the True Tale of Robin Hood,” MSJ’s latest show, was the first theater performance that I have worked on at MSJ. Lauren Carr asked me if I could stage manage the show, and at first I had doubts given stage managing is a huge commitment, but I eventually agreed because I’ve missed the joy that this role brings me.

So, you may be wondering who is a stage manager, and what do they do? These are two valid questions, as you don’t physically see the stage manager when you go to see a play or musical; however, I promise they are there.

A stage manager is an individual who is highly respected in the theater community because they make the show run! Once opening night hits, they call the shots backstage since the director is now one with the audience. The role of a stage manager is going to change from theater to theater because what they need to do relies highly on what production is being produced and what their cast and crew look like. What doesn’t change however, is the fact that the stage manager is the go-to person for cast and crew. If a cast or crew member has a question or needs help, they go to the stage manager. My main job as a stage manager is to make everyone’s life easier, and to make the show a success.

The number one reason why I love to be a stage manager is the fact that I get to help others succeed. As a future educator, I want to help my students flourish in their education by helping them learn the content, make them use higher-level thinking skills, and I get to answer the questions that they are having trouble figuring out.

I use my heartfelt passion for teaching in my role of stage managing all the time. I help the cast learn their lines and blocking. I help the crew find out when and where sound and light cues are getting called. I do all of this because it gives me joy to help others grow to their full potential. I wouldn’t stay up til two in the morning writing call sheets, and putting information in the rehearsal reports if I didn’t love this role. It is hard work writing those documents, and then sending them to over 30 people each night, but it makes all of us better.

My role is constantly changing, and I am forever learning new things. For example, with “Marian,” I got to learn how to write and call cue lines for the show. What this means is that anytime you see a light change on stage, or hear a sound effect come from the booth, a stage manager calls that. They have the script in front of them, and when they have a cue coming up, a line or two before the cue needs to be called, they talk to the booth on a headset and say “Lights…”. Then as the actor says the last word before the cue needs to be hit, they say “Go”. This was a very different experience for me because I never had to do it in high school. So, to say that I was anxious on how well I would pick up this new practice would be an understatement. I loved it though, and it has been one of my favorite parts of working on this production! Being a stage manager is hard work, but it is also very rewarding when the show all comes together, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

So, next time you go to see a theater production, make sure you take the time to enjoy the tech aspects of the show: how beautiful the lights are, how perfect the props match the setting and time period, and how the costumes come to reflect the actors and their characters. Crew members have spent countless hours, days, and weeks pouring their time and dedication into making those aspects of the show flawless. Their jobs are not easy, but the show wouldn’t run without them. So next time you see someone dressed in all black at a show, make sure to thank them for their part in the production--it will sincerely make their day