Backstage

The Diary of a Production

Long before the audience sits in their seats, members of the group are planning and working towards a new production.

CommitteeThe process starts several months beforehand, when a play is selected and the director chosen. r_meadowsaLots of things will already have been considered, such as audience appeal and whether the play will be performed as a conventional proscenium arch production, in the round or some other format, and any special requirements e.g. video projection, and a working budget is agreed.

Auditions are held, the play is cast and the first production meeting is held with the stage manager to discuss set design, construction, lighting and sound effects and get the appropriate teams set up. Props and costume teams are usually agreed at this stage too.

The director starts thinking about blocking out the various positions and moves the actors will make during the play; the director’s assistant will organise the rehearsal and set building schedules and lighting and sound start their planning.

Meanwhile, the cast will start their rehearsals, which usually begin six weeks before a production. Early rehearsals are always with books but learning lines is a priority and ‘books down’ is a key point of the rehearsal schedule!

set construction Feb 2017When the set design is finalised, construction begins. This can take several weeks for a complicated set and requires many practical skills and often quite a bit of engineering know-how. The set builders generally make a day of it with a hearty communal lunch.

Once the set is constructed, those with an artistic bent are called on as painters and decorators. While this job calls for some home decorating skills, it often needs the skills of an artist to deliver the required effect.

Meanwhile the lighting team will be planning the design of the lighting plot and agonizing over when they can start rigging and focussing lights. This is quite a complicated task, which starts as a paper exercise to choose which lights to use, where they should be hung, the type of coloured gel and which dimmers will be used. For the actual rigging a clear stage is needed; then the final step is a lengthy session with the director to plot out the various cue states.

At the same time as the lighting team is working to ensure the show is seen, the sound effects team are putting together sound and other special effects. Sometimes only some theme music will be required but frequently skills are tested when either special audio or visual effects are needed. Nowadays many sound effects are available as pre-recorded CDs or online but frequently multimedia is employed, such as a combination of video footage and off-stage sound clips.

Many plays require a wealth of properties ranging from pictures, ornaments and the personal effects used by the cast, through to suites of furniture or even mock weapons. The properties team will often be found begging and borrowing from friends and members as well as visiting car boot sales or second hand shops to obtain suitable items which are in keeping with the genre and period of the play. Sometimes a visit to a specialist property hire firm is called for but that can often prove expensive for an amateur group.

Stage makeup is also considered, to match an actor’s natural appearance to that of the character in the script. Stage makeup needs can differ depending on what kind of stage the play is being performed. For example, on a small stage the makeup should be subtle but for the large stage it can look really grotesque at close quarters yet completely fit the bill.

snake_largeMeanwhile, just as much effort is going into making sure there is an audience to see the show! This is where another set of skills come in to use, as posters and flyers are produced to advertise the play; patrons, members and people on our regular mailing list are contacted, programmes and tickets are printed and PR is arranged. Mdg is lucky to have the support of local traders who hold tickets for purchase and of course, our web site is important for publicity.

As opening night draws near all the various activities dovetail together. The technical rehearsal and dress rehearsal take place a couple of days before the show opens, as final checks that everything is in place before opening night. From this point, the production is in the charge of the stage manager. It’s show time!

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