Live theater. There’s absolutely nothing in the world like it. When the audience take their seats, they immediately fall into a hypnotic trance that is masked by the captivating story told before their very eyes. Compelling and dynamic masterpieces that tell of love and loss; tragedy and triumph; passion and perseverance.
What many neglect to divulge their attention towards, is the how and why the world before them, came to be.
Actors are an essential element of any production. That is a given. They formulate words on a page, into action on the stage. However, the language of a script can only say so much. It is up to the design team to meticulously evolve the production and bring it to life. Let’s set the record straight once and for all; without the each and every member of that dedicated team, live theater would be nothing more than spoken stories on an empty path into oblivion. The role of someone behind the scenes is just as/ if not more important to the show’s longevity, as those who stand front and center.
A playwright sits down at their computer and crafts a vision into dialogue. The next step is gathering those individuals that will take that vision and mold it into reality. Think of it as a silhouette. There is a definitive shape that has been constructed, however the clarity of what is represented has yet to be revealed. Slowly but surely as light, clothing, makeup, and objective are instilled within, the opaque figure strategically and gradually gains a transparency that allows audiences to grasp the entire picture.
The path to success is and will never be a straight shot. You encounter obstacle after obstacle, with numerous setbacks along the way. While it can be hard to see the silver lining of it all, when you take the time to acknowledge what doesn’t work, your mind has the ability to expands into an alternative universe filled with unforeseen opportunity.
The stage is like a playground. You have to play and explore within the barriers set, in order to adequately progress. Take risks and discover what works and what might land you face first in a pile of dirt. And while the original concept you envisioned in your head may not come to be the final product, you go through certain experiences to adapt and grow in order to arrive there.
Everything happens for a reason. Everything you see on stage has a purpose. In every aspect of theater, a goal is set and there is a fight to achieve that said goal.
It takes a village.
A Properties Master works tirelessly to find and create pieces that match the specific time period, location, and circumstance the characters are set in. A show that is set in the mid-west circa 1930, telling the story of a poor African American family, would incorporate elements that contrast that of one set in
2019 New York City, narrating the lives of a mixed-raced, gay, successful couple.
While the two scenarios explore dramatically different storylines, it is up to the Prop Master to effectively incorporate the correct elements for each one. An iPhone would never be seen in a show like Hedda Gabler, because it is unrealistic and is not authentic to the plot. A box of Kleenex tissues would never be seen on Nora Helmer’s side table due to the sole reason that the play is set in the 1870’s and they were not invented until the 1920’s. Instead the actor would be given a handkerchief. This realistically represents the era of the production.
There is a thought out, calculated reason for all you see.
It doesn’t stop there. As an actor projects the emotion of a character, depending which end of the spectrum they display, the lighting designer is tasked with conveying that emotion through color and lines. Blue and grey gels are used to emote a cold, somber atmosphere, while yellows and oranges radiate warmth and happiness. A spot light reveals a counter intent to that of a dimmed room or a vibrant, illuminated stage.
A director blocks an intimate encounter with love interests up on a balcony. The emotion behind the action is eminent. Their love is expressive and dominant, yet when you are sitting in the back of the house trying to be immersed in their profound connection, the distance creates a barrier to do so. With a simple change in location, there is an entirely new definition for the exchange. By bringing the blocking down stage right, having the two sit and embrace each other, the foundation for the audience to be present and involved in their love story, is established. Scenes set upstage versus downstage, as well as those that involve various levels and tempos, topography and architecture, allow for discrepancy and emotion though out a production. With these components incorporated, dimensions are established, eliminating the potential of the play to fall monotone and mundane. The objective is to tell a story that will impact audiences. Therefore, every factor that the director integrates in their work, is done with the intent to effectively do so.
This runs true across the board. High school, community, regional, and equity productions are made to bring a story to life in the most truthful way possible. Much tears and sweat are poured into the elements that often times get overlooked by the lead’s captivating performance. So, the next time you are lucky enough to witness the magic that is live theater, be willing to open your heart to the entirety of the production. Appreciate and respect all that is represented before you. The details are what make your experience. Acknowledge that without them, the show would be nothing of that it was.