Hello! Have you ever gone to see a production, and wanted to go backstage? Well, I'm going to lead you through what happens behind the curtain. Ready? Let's begin!
At auditions a director might ask you to come with a memorized monologue, which is a line that lasts a paragraph or more. Sometimes, you might do a cold reading, where you read off a script for the first time.
In larger casts, you may be invited to a callback, the next level of auditions. This is how the director narrows down his/her search for the perfect actors. You're more likely to do a cold reading in a callback.
After cast lists are posted, rehearsals begin. Directors request that lines are memorized as soon as possible. The first few rehearsals actors normally sit in chairs and read through the play together. This is a good time to work on emotion and facial expressions. After actors are fully memorized, blocking begins. Blocking is when a director links actions and movements to the script, so actors don't just stand around and recite dialog during the play. Any stage combat (pretend fighting) is normally added at the end of blocking.
At this point, actors are still "working" scenes. To work a scene is to go through it, but your director might stop you or give directions in the middle of the scene. When scenes are "polished" (completed) the director will start to run the play, or just go all the way through like the real production. Any problems that arise are discussed at the end of the run.
This is where it starts to get fun! The final touches don't necessarially have to be done in a certain order, they just happen when it's convenient. They typically are done when actors have access to the venue where they'll perform.
Tech Week: This means adding sound effects and lighting. It might take a week or a couple days, but this is when the tech crew is involved. The actors might do run-throughs and get interrupted to add technical cues, or if time is limited they will perform a "cue to cue" which is where they skip over bits that don't have any cues to be added.
Costumes: Costumes really depend on who is doing the production. A large theater normally has a big stock of costumes, but a smaller youth production might have to rent from a costume shop, or do blackbox. When you hear the term "blackbox" that means that actors will be in all black, without any costumes. Sometimes the term goes further to mean few or no props and scenery. Many productions require new costumes to be bought or made. Like tech week, the time it takes to do costumes depends on the production.
Props: Not unlike costumes, props can be taken from a theater's stock or they can be rented. Many of the props you see in a production are brand new, especially if that particular production has not been performed in a while. Actors are generally left out of the decision-making for props.
Makeup, etc.: It is very rare to not have to put on makeup for a produciton. Spotlights are very bright and you will need a coat of blush on your face to prevent you from looking like a ghost. You might also get eyeliner. Of course, there are roles that will require a great deal of makeup, and others where makeup is hardly applied.
When you work with stage blood, BE CAREFUL! It stains. I've worked with it and it tinted my palms pink for a couple days. Stage blood isnt what it looks like. It's hardly a liquid at all. I would compare it to toothpaste, or soap. It doesn't drip and it's pretty sticky. Did you know? In Macbeth, the porter scene was added after the murder scene to give the actors time to clean the blood off their hands.
I performed as Lady Macbeth in a 40-minute version of Macbeth recently as part of a showcase of four productions. Here's what my schedule was:
6:30 It's my call time. My hair is not styled and I'm not wearing makeup. I enter through the back door of the theater and sign in. I go to the basement to meet with my cast.
7:00 The showcase begins with an improv act. We (the Macbeth cast) watch from a designated area in the audience.
7:40 The next act is about to begin. We head downstairs to the dressing rooms to get ready. I get in my costume and my makeup artist applies a little makeup and leaves my hair down. I do some stuff like go through my script and freak out 'CAUSE I'M NERVOUS AS HECK! We do a quick warmup and then we're ready.
8:20 Intermission begins. We head backstage and set our props where they need to be. Then, we all get in place for the beginning of the play.
8:30 The play begins. I wait quietly backstage for my cue. The whole play is mostly a blur, so I'll just document the craziest (and most memorable) scene.
8:45 It's time for the murder scene. (this was our first run using actual stage blood, so I didn't know what it would be like) I walk onstage, say my monologue, and then watch as Macbeth enters with bloody hands and daggers. "Ick, that blood looks gross!" I think, but I don't show it. There's some dialog, then I walk off to get blood on my hands. I don't have long. There's someone there with a bottle of fake blood. He puts some in my palms and quickly I rub it all over. "Ewww, it's sticky!" I walk onstage with my hands all gross, say a line, then go off with Macbeth.
8:50 Macbeth and I run to a small backstage bathroom. We have moments to get the blood off, especially having our porter scene cut down to save time. Great, there's only one sink. Macbeth goes first, because he comes on before I do. I frantically shove paper towels at him as he exits. I get the blood off quickly (no time for soap) but there's still a pink tint. Who cares? I dry off and run back just in time for my cue.
8:52 The rest of the play goes well. Actors rush around backstage, props get thrown everywhere, and I enjoy the rehearsed chaos.
9:10 Curtain call! We run on, bow, and smile! Curtain call is the only time when an actor is allowed to be just an actor while on the stage.
9:12 We head back downstairs with our props to the dressing rooms to change back, congratulating each other all along the way. I haven't stopped smiling yet.
9:30 We go back into the auditorium during a transition (between scenes) in the next show. We watch the last half of that, then get to go meet our families in the lobby.
10:00 I'm just barely exiting the theater after elbowing my way through a crowd of actors. I'm walking down the steps outside of the theater with my family when a group of girls comes up to greet me. They go nuts congratulating me and I forget all of the words except "thank" and "you". That meant so much to me.
And there you have it! Please click the Love Button if you enjoyed! If you have any questions at all I'll answer as many as I possibly can in the comments. Thank you!
Originally published on August 4, 2013.