Theatre with DCP: Risks and Rewards

Introduction

When you come to a DCP audition with hopes of landing a role or finding a back-stage function you will be asked to sign a waiver.  Youths under 18 will also need their parent or guardian’s signature to certify they understand what we will be asking from them and the processes and habits or traditions we have in place to ensure everyone learns and perform their role in a safe and enjoyable manner.  This page explains what these activities are, some of their risks and our approach to making it a pleasant and safe experience for all involved.

You will find here the roles of supervisors of the production, the activities and the environment of actors, technical staff and front-of-house staff.

Production, Direction and Management

These people are responsible for the success of their production.  The producer, director and stage manager form a team appointed by the executive committee of DCP to create and manage all the details of their production.  The producer oversees publicity, finance, ticket sale and front of the house activities.  The director chooses the cast, interprets the play and determines the style of the set, lighting, sound and costumes.  The stage manager handles administration during rehearsals and documents and implements the director’s artistic decisions once performances start.

Actors

So you’ve been given a role!  Now what? First let’s describe the facility.  DCP has been using the second floor of the Old Town Hall since 1996 for rehearsals, meetings and storage of properties.  All the action moves down to the theatre on the main floor about 4 weeks prior to opening night.

Rehearsal Hall

Stairs

Your first encounter with the rehearsal hall (the second floor of The Old Town Hall) is the long, steep and often dusty staircase.  Use the railing for safety but mind the protruding radiator, half-way up this single flight of stairs or you may bump a shoulder or your head on the lower corner.  This is a heritage building  and its old-fashioned charm makes up for its inconvenience.

Storage

As you pass through the double doors, you will be impressed by the massive, nearly 4 meter tall shelving holding wood, furniture, suitcases and boxes.  Never climb on it if you need something; ask for help with the ladder.  There is also a locked room for costumes.   The rehearsal hall walls are generally layered with furniture and boxes.  DCP tries to secure all our properties safely but you should still look-out for sharp corners and tall or heavy object that may be just leaning against the wall.

Rehearsals

For rehearsals, a section of the floor is cleared, marked and furnished to approximate the final set.  These objects are not always standard home quality and rough edges or loose boards need to be handled carefully.  The stage manager will advise the actors of what to watch for and how to deal with issues.  Any problem or perceived risk should be reported to the stage manager immediately.

Lending a Hand

The cast and crew are a team working together to produce the best audience experience we can.  You might be asked as an actor to help move set furniture, to handle props of any size, and that even in costume.  Walk!  Don’t run!  Let the stage manager know if you are uncomfortable with any such off-stage activity.

Activities in the Theatre

The rehearsal activities move to the main floor and the theatre of the old town hall approximately 3 weeks before opening night and for the whole duration of the production, usually 2 consecutive week-ends, for 6 performances.  You will find yourself milling about the lobby, green room, stage and theatre seating area.  Generally keep it clean and tell the stage manager immediately if something seems wrong.

Green Room Routine

A few hours before the start of a show and during the performance actors and backstage crew will live mostly in the green room.  For most of these 4 or 5 hours, and certainly once you are in costume and make-up you will stay away from the lobby to avoid being seen by the audience.  This small room must accommodate a large group of people, sets, costumes, makeup, cast street clothing and technical equipment.  To avoid chaos, the stage manager designates certain areas for specific purpose and sets up sufficient chairs for everyone.

During the show, if you are not on stage, sit down and remain quiet.  The green room has reasonable sound-proofing but actors enter and exit the stage and stage doors are often open.  You may bring a book or just watch the play on the repeater TVs to follow the on-stage action.

Food and beverages are often brought in by actors or front of the house staff, especially at intermission.  If you have food allergies, let the stage manager know and please bring your own safe food.  If you bring food with nuts or seafood, or other common food allergens, tell everyone and label you food accordingly.

Normal Entrances and Exit

An assistant stage manager normally sets up a prop table or shelves and a check-list near one of the green room door leading to the stage.  Another assistant stage manager may notify actors due to go on stage a short time before.  Someone may help ensure you get on stage with all the clothing and props the director intended but you should also take responsibility for this.  Remember it will be dark backstage and take extra care. Pay attention to and cooperate with assistant stage managers and remain alert.

Acting

Usually, you will go from the green room to a space on-stage behind a side curtain (a leg) and wait there until the exact moment in the play when the audience must see you.  Apparently, the expression ‘break a leg’ comes from this event.  This part is done in relative darkness and you must learn to negotiate the darker parts of the stage during rehearsal, when there is plenty of light.  Remember not to leave anything in areas backstage where others might trip over them.  Don’t leave tall things leaning on the wall, from where they may get pushed and fall to great noise or injury.

Once on stage you play your part as rehearsed.  It is easy to be absorbed by your acting and not pay sufficient attention to steps sets or set furnishings.  Stay in role but be aware of your surroundings.

Stage Fight

Some roles are very dynamic but dances, chases, fights or any rapid movements carry risk.  With props added, the risk increases.  Such actions are always rehearsed extensively for extra safety.  The director or a fight director will guide the actors through every move of a fight or chase so that you know exactly what to expect from the other actors and they from you.  Attend all rehearsals, follow instructions and practice frequently.  It is critical that you be exactly where you are supposed to be at every moment for all rehearsals and performances.

The Technical Team

This group of theatre people take great pride and pleasure in their contribution to the performance, even if the public never sees them.  The technical team designs, builds, and paints sets and furniture, designs lighting and sound and produces them in synchronization with the action on stage.

Set Construction

This involves sharp tools, rough wood, pointy screws and nails all with potential for harm.  It can also involving heavy lifting.  Work safely, using proper tools and taking care.   It is safest not to work alone.  The set building chief is generally present to direct other volunteers to the next best task to move the project along safely.

Painting

Once the set is built, a painting crew sands, patches, primes, paints and otherwise decorates the elements of the set.  The main danger here is soiling clothing and skin.  Make sure to wash up soon after finishing painting.

Light

Lighting is the result of design, under the artistic guidance of the director, light selection, positioning and programming from the control boots for each scene of the play.  The riskiest part of the job is hanging the heavy lights in place, while you are perched on a ladder with your hands full.  Proceed slowly, one item at a time and be sure you have help.

Sound

After getting a general impression of the soundscape the director intends for the play, a sound designer will collect or create sample sounds and bring them back to the director to confirm the plan and expand on details as needed.  The sounds are saved on a CD. DVD or on a computer hard drive and sequenced to match the cues associated with each scenes.  The stage manager will usually call cues for sound and light a few seconds prior to the required time.

Props & Costumes

Loose clothing, swords, chains, elaborate wigs and jewellry can be dangerous.  Take care  and be kind to your costume, too.  It has to last through rehearsals and performances and hopefully many more plays.  Be especially care of any sharp props or costume parts that can pose a special risk of injury.

Front of House

Some of the most useful people don’t even get to see the show.  They prepare beverages, serve food and clean-up in the lobby kitchen performance night after performance night.  They work around sharp utensils hot liquids, and bleach in a crowded kitchen, serving a large number of visitors in a hurry.  Experienced staff guide others and early preparation makes things easier and safe.

The front lobby usually gets decorated along a theme related to the play for the duration of the performance.  It involves pinning, gluing cutting material or moving display items and heavy display cases.  Back injury are always possible when moving items.  sharp objects can puncture or cut the skin if you don’t treat them with the utmost respect.  Work slowly, purposely and be aware of others.

Psychological Risks

Theatre, under a good director, can be a very uplifting experience.  The rewards of hard work are obvious and enormous.  Nevertheless, you can ‘die’ on stage, not literally but figuratively.  It can hurt.  Your fellow actors understand the stress you are under and are usually an excellent source of support.  If the pressure gets to you, talk to the director, the stage manager or other actors.  They will provide support.

Conclusion

That covers just about everything you can expect to see during a production, from casting to curtain call.  If you have any questions or suggestion for this page, please let us know.  It remains a work in progress.

 

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