By Jenna Campbell
I was a freshman in high school when I first got involved in theater. I auditioned for a part but, ultimately, wound up as stage manager. This was my first experience with the backstage aspect of theater. I enjoyed it, but always knew that I wanted to act. So, less than a year later, I auditioned for and earned a role onstage. It took one part in one play, I was hooked. For the next two years, theater became a passion and love of mine. I began dedicating large portions of my time and life to the stage, but I never forgot about my backstage roots.
When it was time for my school’s annual play my junior year, I decided I not only wanted to act, but also learn something new. I asked my director if he would mentor me and allow me to be the student assistant director so I could understand the thoughts and creative process that go into making a show come alive, and he agreed. I saw things from an entirely new perspective. I was inspired to learn about every job I could so I would be well-rounded and have an understanding of what it took for a production to be put on.
Though I managed a stage in the past, I still wasn’t that educated with the inner workings of the backstage, so I decided to take a stagecraft class, or “techie training,” over the summer. I learned about lights, sound, rigs, props, the building and painting of sets, how to properly stage manage and be a run crew member and, most importantly, just how much work goes into the show. I was in awe because the little stage managing I did was nothing compared to what I learned in the class. It opened my eyes and gave me a new appreciation for the theater, which is what I desired from the start.
With my new (but by no means professional) knowledge, I became a one-woman light and sound crew for Off the Wall Theater’s “The Harvey Wallbangers.” Being above the audience in the dark lighting booth just to time out and pick the precise cue that coincided with the events happening on stage was an unforgettable experience that I would do again in a heartbeat.
I know some actors who have never been on the backstage side of things and not only question why people do crew, but they also see them as less important and blame them for problems out of everyone’s control. I can fairly say the previous statement because I’ve now been on the director, crew and performance side of the spectrum, and actors don’t always realize just how important every single person involved in the show is. Whether you have a small part, big part, paint set, take care of props, choreograph dance moves, play in the pit, open the curtain, what have you, you are necessary in the creation of the show and are no less important than anyone else, and I can’t express that enough.
In fact, if there was one thing I’m glad I learned, it is to look at things from all perspectives – walk a day in another person’s shoes and do their job for once. People running props get the same thrill as a performer walking out on stage for the first time. Messing up a light cue is just as nerve-racking as forgetting a line. A stage manager has to memorize just as many things as the lead role. A director is responsible for knowing the show in, and out and so is a stage manager and their crew – just like the performers.
Now, I’m going to wrap this up, but before I do, I have a few more words of advice. Whether it’s as a passion or a hobby, I always recommend participating in theater no matter what task you want to do. If the stage isn’t your thing, try something else. The possibilities in theater are endless. Don’t be too quick to get locked into one specific thing, push yourself out of your comfort zone and try something new (like I did). If you are brave and audition for a part, don’t be discouraged if you get a “small part,” come up with a back story if you don’t have one, and put everything you have into it, they’re the most difficult to play. Lastly, if you’re on the fence about participating in a play or musical, do it! The experience will change your life. If you’re already an active member of performances, spread out and learn what you can about the different areas of theater. It will make you better at the things you already know. Having a well-rounded experience will open doors and, once again, change your life; I know it changed mine.