“Backstage”, I hear you cry?! Well, yes and no. Of course, every actor wants and should be doing their thing onstage, displaying their talents and improving their craft. That’s a no-brainer. However, aside from standing in the wings for your cue or bustling through a quick change, I believe that every actor should experience working backstage at least once in their career.
We all know that a show would be nothing without the many hands feverishly beavering away behind the scenes. From lighting to carpentry, wigs to laundry, props to stage management…the list is endless. But, as an actor, do we truly appreciate each and every individual member of the crew? And I don’t say that to diminish the actor, but instead to remind ourselves that it’s easy to get carried away focusing on our performance and the overall feel of the show, while forgetting the busy work that goes on backstage.
Most drama programs now actively encourage (or insist) that students log hours working backstage as part of their training. And with very good reason! There are so many valuable skills and lessons to be learned from backstage life, so let’s take a look.
On the most basic level, you really get a grip on who is who and exactly what each of their roles entails. Think of backstage like a finely crafted puzzle, where each part (individual) has their own place but slots in perfectly with everyone else. Learning about everyone’s jobs really helps to see a production through a wider lens. If you’ve ever complained about the long hours of tech as a performer, running the 10 out of 12 from the other side of the curtain might provide a new perspective! Or, if you’ve never considered why the director is insistent that you “find your light”, try your hand as a spotlight operator (and calm those shaky hands!). Now, of course, we can’t all undertake the extensive training that the crew go through to be so great in their jobs, but gaining an understanding of the intricacies of their roles goes a long way.
Collaboration & Connection
Theatre is family and, above all else, it’s a collaborative space. Spending time backstage enables you to make true connections and friendships with your non-performing colleagues. And, if you’re about to enter the professional world, these connections may prove highly valuable further down the line. A recommendation or a kind word might help you land that gig. Or, a crew buddy might give you a tip-off about a job opportunity. Valuing your colleagues and respecting their workspace may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many performers forget a simple ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to the backstage crew who make their performances possible.
Skills, Skills, Skills
If nothing else, the challenges of the last two years have confirmed that it’s more important than ever to have a wide and varied skill set to call on. It’s not simply enough anymore to stride onstage and announce your fabulous presence. After all, creativity is not confined to the spotlight! What else is in your back pocket? Spending time as part of the crew is a great way to pick up new, practical skills that will help you in your career. Whether you’re gaining experience in sewing costumes, building sets, fixing wigs, or actually running the show from the desk, you are building your portfolio of skills. It’s worth remembering also that many summer stocks or small theatre companies will hire an actor with backstage or technical experience as they will be more useful than those without.
Check out our blog post on Generalizing Your Portfolio to read more about expanding your skill set!
Rejig Your Focus
As a performer, we naturally get swept up in our own performance and our connection to each scene, character etc. Spending time backstage is a great way to step back and watch other actors at work. Observing others on stage through a detached lens is a valuable opportunity to learn what (or perhaps what not!) to do. Whether you’re in a school production, starting out in the professional world, or about to appear in your umpteenth community theatre production, as actors we are always fine-tuning our craft. And we can always learn from others. So, step back and enjoy!