Backstage Theatre Information

by Andrea M. Zander
Theater performances came indoors in the 16th century.

Theater performances came indoors in the 16th century. Images

All the world's a stage, but what goes on behind the scenes? In Shakespeare's day, the actors were involved in most aspects of the production; the acting company to which Shakespeare belonged built the famous Globe Theater themselves. Today, some productions still rely on their performers to get things done backstage, but the more complex the show the more people become involved. From stage managers to show runners, backstage is the machinery of a successful show.


The term "backstage" is literally the area behind the stage in a theater, but it actually has a broader connotation. Anything that is out of sight of the audience is considered backstage. This may include the area to the left and right of a traditional stage, known as the wings; the actors' dressing rooms; the lighting booth, where the stage and house lights are controlled; the prop room; and the area above the stage, which may include catwalks.


While the show is running, the stage manager makes sure it goes smoothly. Stagehands help the stage manager change sets and deliver props as needed. The costumer may be on hand to do last minute repairs. A show runner can take messages between the director and stage manager. Light and sound technicians follow cues to enhance the show.


On stage, the actors have to hit their marks -- be in the right place at the right time -- for the show. Backstage, people have to listen for cues, too. At a given line, a sound technician may need to make a telephone ring, a lighting technician may need to bring up a spotlight. Even with automation, the stage crew needs to pay attention to the show so as not to miss a cue and to help out if something goes wrong.


Not all stages are the same, which can make it tricky to run things backstage. Indeed, in theater in the round, where the seating surrounds the entire stage, there is no typical backstage. Modern mechanics allow some stages to rotate, so what is backstage becomes what is on stage. Also, some productions call for entrances to be made from the audience or down the aisles onto the stage.

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