Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

By on 16 December, 2016 in Art, Fun, Sarah Thornton with 1 Comment

playhouseholidays“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” -Helen Keller

You decide to spend an evening at the theater. You buy your ticket, sit in your seat, and prepare to be entertained. You laugh, you cry, you compare the experience to Cats. Hopefully, you think a bit about what you saw. But there are so many elements to crafting that experience that you may never have considered: the unseen players that work tirelessly because, “the play is the thing.”

I’ve always said that theater is a team sport. Nobody can make theater happen alone. It is by its very nature a community, an ensemble, a company in its truest sense. So, I’d like to take you on a backstage tour of what it takes to put on a play at the Playhouse!

First, a committee of knowledgeable artists decides which plays will be in the season. This involves much research, creativity, discussion, weighing of ideas and concerns. Once the play is selected, the royalties must be applied and paid for. After we have been given permission to do a certain number of performances and agreed to meet all of the guidelines for a particular show, we begin assembling what we call a “Production Team.” The Production Team is made up of the set, costume, light, and sound designers, stage manager, director, Artistic and Managing Directors, technical director, props team, etc. We all sit down and discuss ideas and requirements for the play: technical needs, budgets, schedules, etc. Then, we begin assembling our teams of volunteers to help.

While all of this prep work is going on, the Managing Director is hard at work fundraising, doing mailings and advertising, ordering the show artwork, designing the program layout, and working on the budget to make sure everything runs smoothly. The Box Office Manager is taking ticket orders and organizing volunteers to usher and help out in the box office during performances. The offices are very busy during this stretch!

Simultaneously, we are holding auditions! The show’s director casts the actors, and then rehearsals begin. The Stage Managers (the real unsung heroes, in my humble opinion), keep everything organized, keep the cast on task, send out rehearsal schedules and updates, stay “on book” taking note of every character’s blocking, prop use, and everything else that comes up in rehearsal — all while handling the other duties assigned them during the production meeting. The Stage Manager is the director’s right-hand man, and he or she will take over the operation once the show is in performance.

The actors are downstairs in rehearsals, learning their lines and blocking, attending costume fittings, and often pitching in to help work on costumes and sets when they can. Our fearless director sits at the helm with a watchful eye on all of these moving parts.

Upstairs, there is also much happening! The costume team is hard at work constructing new pieces, searching the racks all over town for found items, doing costume fittings with the actors, and working with the director to ensure the vision created in the production meeting stays on course. The set designer is doing the same thing, but rather than needles and thread, they are building with hammers and nails. The set crew does a lot of heavy lifting to ensure our actors are safe and to create the very foundation they stand on. Meanwhile, lights are being hung and focused, sound cues are being recorded and set, and on and on.

Then, there is an event that is infamous in the theater world: Tech Week. During Tech Week, we put all of the pieces together. The actors are on the set, in the costumes, under the lights, hearing their sound cues, etc. This can be, understandably, a bumpy and tedious process, but it is also incredibly rewarding to see the whole world of the play coming together, to see the amazing work that the other parts of the building have been doing, and all for the greater good of telling this story.

So, once we approach Opening Night, there is one final piece to add: the audience! None of this journey will pay off until the seats are filled with people eager to listen, laugh, and join the rest of us on the trip. As we approach the 2017 season (our sixth year in Cloverdale), we welcome you to join us. Whether you want to take the stage, build the costumes, stage manage, focus the lights, hunt for the props, build the sets, record the sound cues, donate financially, promote the play in town, usher, take ticket orders, bake for the Opening Night reception, water the plants, or cheer from the audience, the theater needs you. We are all a team, and we can’t do any of it without you!

Sarah Walker Thornton is the Artistic Director of the Cloverdale Playhouse, who walks like a New Yorker and waves like an Alabama girl. She is a product of a Montgomery arts education, with several years of life in NYC thrown in for extra flavor.

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  1. We are sooooooooo fortunate to have Cloverdale Playhouse in our midst! It is a true neighborhood and community treasure!

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