Participation in theatre involves much more than acting

Participation in theatre involves much more than acting

by Drew RiebhoffStaff Writer

Conversations about my major usually start the same way:

Person: “What’s your Major?’

Me: “Theatre”

Person: “Oh, so you’re going to be an actor?”

In a perfect world, where we all get what we want, live happily ever after and have no problems, then yes, I would be an actor. In fact, I would love it! In real life, though, acting is a hard business, and the chance of me becoming a successful actor with a steady career is slim to none.

A large number of people in the theatre business aren’t actors. Actors depend on others. They need make-up, costume and set designers. They need directors, playwrights and stage managers. These are the people who are necessary for an actor to even have a job.

The amount of work and creativity needed to be a designer is ridiculous. Take costumes, for example. The costume designer doesn’t simply say, “Well, I want the actor to wear this.” The costumes are based on the era the play takes place in, what happens in the play, what the script/playwright may say and the personality of the character (instead of wearing a simple black dress, the vivacious red head would wear something short, sexy and scandalous). Then there’s the sketching of the costumes and construction, plus numerous hemming and changes.

With lighting, the designer doesn’t simply light the stage so the audience can see the actors. He interprets the script and uses the lights to set the mood, to help the audience feel the characters onstage. I also learned there’s a science to the lighting concept when it comes to choosing colors for the stage-some complement each other and other colors should never be put together.

The same goes for a set designer. She analyzes the script and gets into the lives of the characters to make the set their “home.” Set designers make it seem like a person could really live there. Then the designers use their imagination to create a unique set that looks amazing and allows the actors to perform.

When you’ve gone to a theatrical production, have you ever thought about the number of people it actually took to put that show on?

While you may only see the actors on stage, there are plenty more people in back making sure things run smoothly. The stage manager is in the booth calling cues, the light board operator is running lights and another is running the sound. Costume and makeup crews are helping actors change, and assistant stage managers are keeping track of everyone. The front of house crew makes sure you found your seat and the theatre stays clean. This doesn’t include the people who built the set, sewed the costumes or hung the lights. There is also the director who told the actors what to do. All these people are necessary for just one show, and few of them receive recognition.

I’m not trying to say actors don’t work, because they definitely do. They spend countless hours memorizing lines and rehearsing. I just wanted to bring to attention the unsung heroes of theatre.

So, next time someone tells you they’re a theatre major, or the next time you go see a show don’t just think about the actors. Instead, think about the people who helped the actors along the way–designers, stage managers, crew hands, directors and playwrights. These are the people who spent countless hours doing their jobs so you could see the actors, just one small piece in the giant puzzle of theatre.