When a play is in performance, while what happens on stage may seem the most important to an audience, equally important is what goes on backstage. Equity stage manager Laurie Hendricks provides the expert advice below.
Two Hours Prior to Curtain: Crew
This is entirely dependent on the needs of the production. You want to allow time for everything to be completed without feeling rushed. Also, leave time for troubleshooting and repair. Things will come up unexpectedly, and you want to have the time to react.
During the crew call, all equipment must be checked to make sure everything is in working order.
LIGHTS: Staff should conduct a dimmer check. This is a thorough inspection to make sure each instrument is working and focused properly. Cue lights and run lights should be turned on, and the ghost light struck.
SOUND: Speaker check, microphone check, playback source checks, dressing room monitors on and headset system in working order.
SET/RUN CREW: Sweep, mop and clean the stage. Run of all moving elements, hydraulic lifts and flies. Pre-set all elements for the beginning of show.
PROPS: All props are pre-set for the beginning of the show. All food items prepared.
WARDROBE: All laundry is clean (i.e. ironed and steamed). Wigs are set.
All quick changes are pre-set backstage. All costume pieces ready for performance prior to the arrival of the acting company.
One Hour Prior to Curtain: Actors
In most situations, the cast is called an hour prior to curtain time. Often, group warm-ups are a great way to develop company morale as well as an opportunity for all actors to focus on the task at hand. Vocal warm-ups are a must for musicals. During this time actors should also do a personal prop checks, etc. Remember that the house will typically open 30 minutes prior to the show, at which point the stage will not be available.
For young actors, I would suggest taking into consideration their reliability (or parents' reliability) when it comes to being on time, the length of time it will take them to actually get ready to go on stage, and, if they are given too much time to hang outm whether they will lose focus prior to performance.
AEA requires that actors may only be called 30 minutes prior to the beginning of show.
Thirty Minutes Prior to Curtain: House Opens
The stage manager will communicate to the house manager that the stage is ready. The house manager will then open the lobby doors and usher in the audience. At this time, it is proper theatre etiquette that no one “break stage.” This simply means the stage area should not be interrupted or invaded by actors, crew, etc. so as to maintain the sanctity of the magical place that is the stage.