Can We Tech This? : Tips for Small Theatre Companies
OnStage New York Columnist
Congratulations on selecting your shows! I know you considered the larger tech elements while in the selection process, but now that you've got your shows picked, it’s time to start looking at specifics. I have seen many cases where theatre companies didn't take into account everything they would need going into a production, and this inevitably leads to hair-tearing-out levels of stress for producers, directors, designers, stage managers, and potentially anyone else involved in the production. Here are some tips to make sure your production at your small theater is adequately staffed and prepared for:
Your production can become a logistical nightmare right out of the gate if you don’t budget it properly. Chances are, no one expects you to be able to give them a huge budget, but make sure your budget makes sense. Don’t assume you can set the same budget for every show in your season, and don’t assume that you can set the same budget for each department. Each production has its own needs. You’re going to need a bigger costume budget for your nine-person play that takes place in 1857 than you are for your two-person play that takes place 2015. Doing a site-specific production? Be prepared to rent or buy lighting or sound equipment if the space doesn’t have that kind of thing. You need a bigger props budget if your show has more props. Speaking of props...
This, by far, is the most overlooked area of production. Many times, it seems almost as though no one has given this a thought, and rather just assumed that props will be taken care of easily. Here are some quick tips about props:
- Your stage manager is not your props master
- Neither is your scenic designer
- Furniture, by and large, is a prop rather than a set piece
- Basically, if it’s being bought or borrowed rather than built as part of the set, it’s a prop
- Though some props are custom-built or made. This requires a specific props person
- Unusual props, such as swords, exercise equipment, samovars, vintage items, etc, can be expensive and/or difficult to obtain
- Food and drink props need to be replaced as they are eaten. Perishable or cooked food needs to be discarded at the end of each week, if not more often.
- Food isn’t the only thing that’s a consumable. There will be wear and tear on paper props, candles will get used up, etc. I know you have a small budget and maybe can’t afford specific personnel unless you really need them. But you may need a props person - you can’t just assume you don’t. If your show just needs a few fairly simple props, you’re probably fine going without. However, if you need a large number of props, or if any props are difficult to obtain or need to be custom-made, then you need a props person.
A Sound Designer
You need one. Yes you do. Don’t fight me on this.
You wouldn’t do a show without a scenic designer, a lighting designer, or a costume designer. So don’t do one without a sound designer.
Adequate Time to Tech the Show
Make sure your staff has adequate time to get all the tech right before the show opens. A theatre company I worked with once had not scheduled adequate time for us to be in the performance space and tech the show. We did not get to a full run of the show during tech. The stage manager’s worst nightmare became the stage manager’s worst reality for me as I had to do a full tech run through for the first time in front of an audience. Needless to say, all did not go smoothly - I fumbled on about 10 of my 90 cues during first preview, and the cue mishaps, along with the general feeling of being unprepared, made the actors nervous. Don’t ever put your staff in this position. Don’t give your first audience a lower-quality show just because you weren’t ready to open.
Keep these things in mind, and keep your show running smoothly! Join me later this week as I share some tips on having proper tech for your show once it opens.