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Breaking Into Show Biz Through the Back Door
So you didn’t get that shining lead role that you’d been hoping for? Or maybe you’ve been rejected time and time again. You love the theatre, but you just can’t seem to break in. To get roles you need connections and experience, but what do you do if you can’t get either? It seems hopeless. However, there is more than one way that leads to the stage. If you can’t get in the front door, the back door is always available.
This may seem like the lowest of all jobs in the theatre, and in reality, that may be true. It is the farthest job from the stage, and for a while you may be crying because you can’ see the theatre from the lobby. However, no one meets as many people coming to the performances as those in the box office. In fact, the box office meets everyone who comes to see a performance. It may involve simply handing out and organizing tickets, but never underestimate the power of kindness and a smile. You never know whom you will meet or who will remember your face. Additionally, for the record, someone has to do this job, and that someone might as well be you.
As you inch your way closer to the stage, you will find yourself backstage sooner or later. Suddenly, a whole new world of opportunity will open up. First and foremost, if you have any talent with a needle and thread, you should consider doing costumes. Not only are costume assistants very much in demand, but they also have the opportunity for close and personal contact with the actors. From working with a crew of costumers to having a fitting with the actors, this position is ideal for teamwork, time management, and social advantages.
Another backstage work for those whose flair for design differs from elaborate sewing patterns is working in the shop. Constructing sets, painting scenery, and building the stage are all a part of this tedious backstage assignment. In the end, your work will be noticed-after all there is no way that it can be disregarded when its standing right on top of the stage.
Who can forget lighting and sound? Those actors need to be seen and heard! Out of all the backstage jobs, this is the most technical, but with the proper training and determination, anyone can excel in it. Alertness and timing are key to this position. However, while it is hard to succeed in tech, it is very, very (emphasis on “very”) easy to fail. You need to be on top of everything at all times. There is definitely respect to be had for someone who can sit in a dark room with a headset on for an entire run of the show and never miss a cue. Creating a flawless tech show should be your goal, and the final product can most definitely not be ignored.
You would not believe how many connections one can acquire working props. This work is one step closer to the main stage and requires close interchange with the director. Organization and readiness is a must. A director wants a prop master that he can trust to change the scenery, arrange sets, and be able to change plans at a moment’s notice. Generally, they must be completely trusted to run the job on their own once the show begins. It takes a lot of passion for the theatre to want to carry around heavy sets night after night, and with hard work and diligence, directors will take notice of your work ethic. Eventually, you will gain something that is crucial for your advancement in the theatre-your director’s respect.
Having fun yet? All this work really isn’t so bad, is it? Once you have experience in other backstage areas and have made connections with other influential actors and directors, you are ready to take your backstage expertise to the next level. Stage managing takes all skills acquired backstage and rolls them into one position that is in charge of organizing all the show’s factors to the very minutest detail. The heart of this position is to alleviate the work burden of the director and to step in and lead when he cannot.
Although it may initially mean eating crow and humbling yourself, in the end, you will come out on top with character as well as a well-rounded knowledge of the stage. Directors will see your perseverance as your shining quality, and you will get those jobs like those people that you complained only got the jobs just because they knew people. Now you know people, too. What to do next? Help others rise to this challenge.
Article by: Madison M Burtner
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Looking for local stage opportunities in Manchester, UK?
Check out the opportunities on offer at New Live Theatre Company.