November 29, 2015
To My Wonderful Subscribers ~
Thanks to all of you for your overwhelming response to my last post: “The Fun and Terror of Being Cast in a Play”. I’m glad you liked it. It was fun to write.
I also want to welcome my many new subscribers and thank all of you for your very kind comments! I read every single one. I’m sorry I couldn’t publish them all.
Oh, and while I am at it, I keep meaning to tell you guys that you totally crack me up! You have email addresses that are so long and encrypted, the CIA could not break your code.
Okay, here we go:
In professional show business, a Backstage Pass is the most sought after thing to get. It means you are allowed total access to the backstage of a Rolling Stones Concert, or Broadway play, or popular TV show.
So, my blog today is to give you a Backstage Pass to see what goes on behind the scenes of a community theatre production.
I will address only those positions I have filled, otherwise we’ll be here all night
ASSISTANT SET DESIGNERS
This is the perfect place to start if you want to get your feet wet as a volunteer. It is called: “working on the set”.
The Set Designer is a paid employee. He needs a ton of volunteers. He’ll keep you busy, and there are so many volunteers, it is impossible not to have fun.
The Designer has the blueprints for each scene in the play. His assistants (you) do the following: saw wood, put up walls, build staircases, paint sets, and anything else he needs every single night for the next four weeks.
You are not locked into volunteering every night. Just let him know you can be there only on certain days.
You also don’t have to saw wood or do any heavy lifting. Just tell him you want to paint sets. That’s fine.
Here is a cool true story that I actually witnessed: The lumber delivery for a particular show got so screwed up it was going to be three days late. The Designer was so well respected, that unknown to him, word got out that he was in serious trouble. On the day the wood was finally delivered, he was stunned to see all the carpenters from a huge construction company come marching into the theatre at 5:30 pm. They read the blueprints and got to work. That set was up and running in two nights. It usually takes 3 weeks….or more.
I volunteered to paint the floor of one set that needed large 12″ x 12″ black and white squares. It set the tone for the feel of a wealthy home.
Everything worked out fine, until I realized I had just stepped on a wet square that was white. My color was black. So were the soles of my shoes. I hastily fixed my mistake as a large groan went up from the other painters.
DRESSER – An Assistant to the Costume Designer
This position is pretty low stress and I enjoyed it a lot. You are helping an actor change his costume behind the stage because he has to be back on stage in three minutes.
I stood in the wings with both arms straight out from my side like a scarecrow. On one arm, I had the layer of clothes the actor needed in a logical order. My other arm was used as a coat hanger. The actor quickly undressed, threw his old clothes onto my empty arm (or floor) and quickly grabbed the ones I had on the other.
One of the perks of this position is that you get to see a lot of hot guys almost naked.
There are many volunteers who absolutely love this position.
I am not one of them.
I tried to do it, but was totally defeated after two days. I had never done this before. Why I volunteered for this position, I will never know.
My first day, someone shouted my name: “Ann!” I ran over to them. They said I needed to help coordinate the crew. “Uh, what does that mean?” They told me, but I was not sure who the crew members were.
Then, I heard: “Hey, Ann! Where are you?” “Oh, I am by the lighting board.” Their reply was: “You need to be downstairs helping the costume lady!” Oh, okay. It went on like that the whole night.
The next evening the same thing happened. “Ann, where are you? You’re supposed to be at the sound booth to help calibrate the levels for sound effects.” Okay. So, I ran upstairs. It looked like the cockpit of an airplane. All night it was: “Ann, where are you?” Go here, go there.
The next time I heard: “Ann! Where are you?” I shouted back: “I don’t know, yet! But, my plan is to go to the nearest bar before checking myself into the psych ward!” I left and cried all the way home.
As I said, some people are superb at this. Plus, they know exactly what they are supposed to do. That helps.
I helped a little bit with this and learned something interesting. There are these lights way up in the balcony just like you see in the movies. They are huge, heavy and very expensive. Sometimes a light blows out and needs to be replaced.
You must wear cotton gloves to put in the new bulb. If a single bare fingerprint accidentally touches the bare bulb, that area of the bulb’s surface is compromised. Once the lights are turned on, the bulbs get very, very hot. That little fingerprint with your oil on it will cause the bulb to explode.
You order CD’s that have certain sound effects on them. There are hundreds of these with all kind of noises you didn’t even know existed. So, when the Director told me he needed: a squeaky door, a train whistle, a screaming woman, a barking dog and a fire engine, I would look through the catalogue to find a CD that hopefully had all of these sounds on one of them.
The Director was a friendly guy, so I told him: “You know, Mike, they have other sounds. Need anything for hot sex?”
I covered the casting process in my previous blog: “The Fun and Terror of Being Cast in a Play” if you want to check it out. However, I did leave out an important point. On that casting sheet, you can indicate if you do not want a speaking part. You can still get cast for crowd scenes. That might be a good way for many of you to start.
HEADS UP: This is related to sex. I was in a production where I saw a female cast member (with generous breasts) trying to slowly remove herself from the scene to go into the wings. She was wearing a rather revealing top, but the snaps did not stay snapped. The blouse started to slide down her chest as she tried to grab it (not quite fast enough) and ran off the stage into the wings. The guys backstage said they got quite an eyeful. She made a lot of friends that night.
Publicity involves writing and mailing press releases to all the local papers to announce that a casting call is being held on certain days and times. It will also include the types of actors the Director needs. For example: 4 boys ages six to nine; 3 elderly women ages fifty to sixty; 2 middle aged men ages forty to fifty, and 6 women in their 20’s.
As it draws closer to the show’s opening, more press releases go out.
Do you have any idea what the worst mistake you can make when you type a press release? No, it’s not misspelling anyone’s name. It’s getting the date wrong for opening night. The Director caught it before I mailed it.
These are the little pamphlets the audience gets as they come into the theatre.
Your name will be in there no matter what you did to help the production. It may not seem like a big deal as I write this, but when you suddenly see your name in print, it’s exciting.
No drugs. Just lots of soft drinks, beer, wine, great food, and rehashing the things that went wrong. Throw in some light gentle gossip and you have a party!
This is how it works: The night the show ends, everyone piles into their cars. As pre-arranged, someone’s mother or more, volunteer to bake all day and lay out a feast. Everyone brings what they want to drink. The Director rarely attends this party, so as people start to loosen up, they start confessing to all the mistakes they made during the show. It’s fun to compare notes and find out your not so dumb after all.
So, this blog is your basic Backstage Pass which gives you a small overview of some of the volunteer positions in a community theatre.
Please remember, that in most cases you do not need to know anything. This is amateur theatre, so there are plenty of nice people to help you out. Especially if you tell them this is your first time.
In closing, please don’t be intimidated by all my prattle. I lean towards Drama Queen and should be tranquilized on a daily basis.
Thanks again for your kind support. My best wishes to all of you.
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