by Abigail Meredith, Assistant Arts Editor
Just as the body dies without its heart, so theatre dies without a backstage. To be part of backstage is to be a part of everything in a performance that isn’t acting or directing. It involves giving your all and never being recognized by the public for your actions. The process may seem crazy to most, but to those backstage, the sacrifice makes perfect sense. They are willing to be the beating heart of theatre so the actors can thrive.
Grace Wohlschlegel, a theatre major and main stage manager of OBU’s upcoming performance “You Can’t Take it With You,” explained why she participates in the process.
“We’re supposed to be invisible because everything is about what happens onstage. The general populace and the audience doesn’t see anything or know why we do what we do because that’s not what it’s about. Everything we do is to help and enhance everything the actors do.”
This isn’t to say that the backstage is more important, or less important than the actors. Sometimes it is enough just to bring attention to the efforts of those not seen. Rachel Stine, a sophomore theater major, explained how much work went into just designing one costume.
“What you first have to do is create your drawing idea. To do this you have to look at the script and do an analysis of your character, like what they would say, and their personality. Depending on the colors and textures, and if it’s a primary character or not a primary character, your costume will say different things about the person onstage,” she said.
“After the analysis, you draw your idea out. You show it to your production team. They have to ‘OK’ it. Then you begin the design process. If you design it, you have to make your pattern pieces. But if you don’t, then you can just find pattern pieces and construct your costume from there,” Stine said.
The backstage crew spends a minimum of one-six hours a week working. Often they work more.Wohlschlegel, for example, discussed how many hours a week she spent involved.
“For me personally, I’m in shop,” she said. “That’s working on the set, working on the costumes, working on whatever we are doing at the time. I’m in shop 18 hours a week. But because I’m the stage manager, we also have rehearsals five nights a week. Those are usually three hours, but my job requires me to be there before and after. That’s four to five hours, five days a week. So 20 hours a week, not including the 18 from shop.”
That is 38 hours a week. There are also work days where both actors and backstage crew wake up on weekends to continue preparing for the upcoming show.
“You Can’t Take it With You” had a work day Saturday, and the stage was alive and buzzing from 8 a.m. until noon. All the furniture was piled at the back of the auditorium, and actors and crew alike spent hours on their knees glazing the wood floor, huddled together on a staircase painting wallpaper or hanging paintings around the “house.”
Doubtless more happened, and by the time lunch came, the set was very close to completion.
“Actors have performance nights, and we have every day until then.” Stine said, confirming just how much unseen work goes into a production.
Wohlschlegel ended with a statement reflecting the ideals of every backstage worker.
“I love what I do and I don’t do it to get recognized,” she said.
“Everything I do is to make the actors’ jobs easier. Everything is about them. All they have to worry about is going onstage and becoming an entirely different person, because that is insane and crazy and so incredibly hard. Everything is taken care of for them so they can focus on going out onstage and doing magic. That’s why we (actors and crew) do it–so the audience gets to experience something wonderful and incredible.”