For a project to go smoothly, you'll need a solid team in place. Who do you need, what do they do, and where do you find them?
First of all, don’t panic! When you read the list of Production Personnel below, your first instinct might be to run for the hills – there are so many! And so many things to do!?! However, not every position is needed for every production. If you’re producing your school’s annual spring musical, chances are you don’t need a Casting Director. If you’re doing a straight play and not a musical, you won’t need to fill a bunch of jobs particular to musicals. If your show is a contemporary drama, and the actors are close in age to the characters they play, the cast may be able to do its own hair, makeup, and even costuming.
It’s also quite possible for one person to fill several positions: many directors also choreograph, the producer often performs the tasks of a production manager, and so on. The important thing is to decide what your production needs, based on the parameters of the show and how much money and/or volunteer people power is available; outline the tasks to be performed and set reasonable deadlines; and make sure everyone, no matter his or her title, knows ahead of time – and agrees – on who’s responsible for which tasks. Oh yeah – and everyone needs to realize it’s critical to let everyone else know ASAP if he or she can’t perform any of those tasks by the deadline.
To this end, it’s a good idea to have a simple written agreement with each person, outlining what he or she is expected to do, and a timeline. That way, you avoid the awful “I thought you were taking care of that…!” which sometimes happens.
Herewith (some of) the many people who contribute to a production…
The Creative Team
PLAYWRIGHT [for Musicals, also COMPOSER and LYRICIST]
The creator(s) – and owner(s) – of the work. If you’re not doing a new piece, most of the time you won’t come into contact with the writer(s), as you’ll be licensing the work from a publisher or other agent. But if you’re doing a new work, you’ll most likely be dealing with the writer, and this can be a wonderful thing if you take advantage of it. The writer can tweak the script as needed and may come up with great new stuff for the production.
In any event, though, it’s important to remember that the writer owns the work you’re doing, and is “renting” it to you – which means you cannot change or cut or add anything without his or her permission. Think of the play or musical as a house you’ve designed and built and have decided to rent out: while your tenants can certainly make it “theirs” by bringing in their own furniture and decorations, what would you think if you came by one day and found that they’d removed the front porch, and painted the whole house with a zigzag design in your two least favorite colors? Chances are you wouldn’t be happy – especially if they did it without telling you.
In the same vein, if you choose to do a play, you cannot change dialogue, or cut scenes, or put in a different ending, unless you have the playwright’s written permission. It’s not only a question of politeness: if you violate the writer’s copyright, you can be sued for damages which can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. For more details, see Contracts for Playwrights.
A person in Hollywood used to introduce himself by saying “I’m a producer. I make things happen.” Which is about the gist of it.
The producer is responsible for putting together and supervising the entire production: obtaining the rights to the play or musical; raising or administering the money; booking a theatre and making sure it’s staffed with box office personnel, house managers, ushers, and even janitors; assembling the “creative team” of director, designers, and cast; setting schedules and deadlines; publicizing the show; hiring the business staff, and seeing that bills, salaries, and royalties are paid; and then basically overseeing every aspect of the production from the first rehearsal through to closing night and beyond, especially if there are investors expecting a report.
Many of the producer’s tasks can be delegated to others, but the producer is ultimately the person who says “yes” or “no” to pretty much everything, including expenditures.
The director is responsible for successfully getting the playwright’s work up on the stage, by coaxing from the cast and the designers the best they can offer to bring the play to life in an entertaining way.
In film, the director is often considered the godlike creator who answers to no one. In the theatre, that’s not necessarily the case, but most of the time, the director is indeed the person with the ultimate say-so over the artistic side of the production. S/he confers closely with the producer and playwright on the choice of a design team and cast, and is the one who gives answers to all artistic questions.
In the most basic terms, if the producer is responsible for the business success of a production, the director is responsible for its artistic success.
A DIGRESSION: We should talk for a moment here about “muscle,” as William Goldman outlined it in his seminal book about Broadway, The Season. (Note: this digression applies primarily to professional productions in which the playwright is an active collaborator.)
Ideally, the “Big Three” – the playwright, the producer, and the director – share a mutual vision for the play, and are on the same page as to how to accomplish it best. In the real world, though, some people have more clout than others. The playwright can, depending on the contract, pull the work if he or she doesn’t like the way something is being done. A strong-willed, award-winning director may be able to set the tone of a show more than the other collaborators by virtue of how s/he stages the play, or works with the actors. A leading actor may even have the “muscle” to get a director or an actor fired if s/he is displeased, as the producer may feel the star’s continuing presence is more important than the person(s) to be let go.
Most of these exercises of power work against a production, but you should be aware of them – theatre is most definitely not an ego-less profession!
Responsible for all music in the production, including vocal (singing) and instrumental. Arranges for audition accompanist, and sits in on auditions to verify ability of potential cast members to handle the music, then teaches/ coaches actors in rehearsing the score. Arranges for hiring of rehearsal accompanist, and band or orchestra, does arrangements of the score where necessary, and runs music rehearsals with orchestra and singers. Conducts orchestra in performances. If amplification is used, works with sound designer to assure proper balance between orchestra and singers.
Discusses set requirements with playwright, producer, and director, then designs set, subject to approval. Draws up plans for construction of approved set, taking into account allotted budget. Presents detailed groundplan, showing placement of furniture; presents scale model of set, showing colors of walls, etc.. Discusses placement of elements, colors, etc., with lighting and costume designers to coordinate overall look. Supervises gathering of furniture, painting, set decoration, and so on, to ensure fidelity to design.
Discusses costume requirements with playwright, producer, and director. Designs and/or selects costumes (from rental houses, cast members’ wardrobes, and so on) subject to approval and budget. Consults with set and lighting designers regarding colors and practicability (e.g., does a character wearing a long train have to navigate around a lot of furniture, or will a character wearing very high heels enter down a steep staircase?). Takes measurements of all cast members, does fittings, tailors and adjusts pieces as necessary. Organizes quick changes when necessary, adapts costumes to permit same, and trains and rehearses dresser(s) to perform the changes, in coordination with the Stage Manager. If desired, organizes costume parade for creative team. For more information, see Costume Design A-Z.
Discusses lighting requirements with playwright, producer, and director. Creates lighting design subject to approval and budget. Arranges for purchase and/or rental of additional equipment as needed. Supervises hanging and focusing of lights prior to tech rehearsals. Supervises writing of cues in conjunction with director, and modifies lighting plot as needed. For more information, see Lighting Design A-Z.
Discusses sound requirements with playwright, producer, and director. Creates sound plot subject to approval and budget, and delivers it on media suitable for the theatre. Supervises installation of sound equipment as needed. Supervises writing of cues in conjunction with director, and modifies sound plot as needed. If cast is to be miked, supervises fittings and sets proper levels. For more information, see Sound Design A-Z.
HAIR AND WIG DESIGNER
Creates hairstyles proper for the period and the character, and styles and fits wigs where needed. In shows where characters change hairstyles, this person may also be part of the running crew.
MAKEUP CONSULTANT/ DESIGNER
Someone who can make normal people in life look like normal people under stage lights, and who can create out-of-the-ordinary effects (scars, wounds, a big nose for Cyrano de Bergerac) when necessary.
Discusses casting requirements with playwright, producer, and director, after reading script. Submits pictures and resumes of potential cast members for each role, and arranges for actors to audition for the creative team.
Verifies appointments by checking in auditioners. Collects pictures and resumes. Distributes sides as required. Keeps the flow of actors going at the audition session.
An experienced pianist and good sight-reader to play whatever sheet music auditioners might bring in. Yeah, Patti LuPone would probably bring along her own piano player if she were to audition for you. But if you think Patti LuPone is going to audition for you, you need to have your doctor adjust your meds.
Getting the Show Up and Running
Outside of the “Big Three” of the creative team (playwright, producer, director), the Stage Manager, or SM, is the most pivotal person on the production team. The SM’s responsibilities straddle the artistic and technical realms, and make forays into the business realm as well. The SM should be considered the Chief Operating Officer of the production.
While the SM may delegate or share responsibilities with one or more Assistant Stage Managers (ASM), as well as staff for props, costumes, and the like, he or she is ultimately responsible for everything onstage and backstage, including the dressing areas. The SM’s duties include:
During the initial Rehearsal Period:
- maintain the prompt book, noting all changes, additions, or deletions to the script
- record the director’s blocking in the prompt book, for later reference
- consult with the director to devise a rehearsal schedule, and distribute it to all personnel
- ensure presence of necessary personnel for each rehearsal, calling no-shows as necessary
- set up rehearsal room to be ready for scheduled start time, arranging for furniture, rehearsal props, and rehearsal costumes to be available as needed; at end of rehearsal, secure all props, costume pieces, etc., and close room
- monitor rehearsal times to allow for contractually-mandated breaks
- “sit on book” when actors are off book, prompting as necessary
- give line notes after each rehearsal, informing actors when lines have been said inaccurately
During Technical Rehearsals
- consult with director, technical director, design and technical staffs, crew chiefs, and theatre management to determine load-in and tech schedule
- supervise load-in and technical rehearsals, and determine when actors are needed
- write sound, light, and other technical cues in the prompt book
- plan set changes and arrange for and rehearse needed personnel
- assign backstage personnel as needed for costume changes, live sound, and so on
- supervise placement and spiking of onstage furniture, as well as placement of Glo-tape on and offstage as needed
- make sure adequate light is provided backstage for safety, as well as to provide for quick changes or other necessary business
During the Run of the Show
- make sure dressing and backstage areas are clean and free of debris
- supervise preset of stage and backstage areas, including furniture props, and costumes
- ensure that all personnel are present in the theatre at their assigned call times
- collect and secure valuables at half-hour
- give calls to cast at regular intervals to alert them to how long to curtain
- consult with House Manager as to when house will be opened, and alert cast
- consult with House Manager as to when places is to be called, and alert cast
- check communications between SM station and backstage and front of house personnel
- call sound and light cues for each performance
- stop the performance in case of emergency, and have access to PA system to alert audience and theatre personnel
- determine number of curtain calls
- conduct understudy rehearsals as needed
- conduct brushup rehearsals as needed
- in absence of the director, give acting, blocking, and/or script notes when needed
Creates dances and movement for musical numbers in the production, working with the director to assure each character’s proper development through movement. Teaches the dances to the cast in movement rehearsals, and assigns one of the performers to be “dance captain” in his or her absence.
Stages fights – whether hand-to-hand or involving swords, knives, or other weapons – battles, skirmishes, or even simple hand-slaps, so as to make them look realistic while avoiding injury to the performers. Stage combat is a very specialized discipline, and injuries can easily happen without proper fight choreography, so if the script calls for a struggle of some kind, it’s worth the investment to hire a fight director who’s properly trained. For more information, visit the Society of American Fight Directors or Fight Directors Canada.
Someone who coaches the actors in specific dialects and accents if they are necessary for the play. It’s important this person really know what he/she is doing, as a Midlands accent is very different from a London accent, and a Cockney London accent is very different from a Mayfair London accent. This person needs to know, for example, that when you do an Irish play, “poteen” is pronounced “pot-cheen” not “po-teen.”
Coordinates and supervises all the technical elements of the production, including scheduling load-ins, building of the set, hanging and focusing lights, sound system setup, and any special effects to be used. The TD should be familiar with the physical plant, so as to know the electrical capabilities, maximum weight the stage can bear, and the like. The TD is responsible for recruiting electricians, sound operators, and other technical personnel.
Everyone needed for loading in and building the set, hanging and focusing lights, setting up the sound system, and the like. While some positions can be filled by people with no prior experience, others require very specialized skill and expertise.
Keeping the Show Running
ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER
Assists the Stage Manager in performing the SM’s various tasks; depending on the size and complexity of the production, there may be more than one ASM, or none at all. In theatres where the SM station is not backstage (e.g., when the SM calls the show from a booth at the rear of the house), it’s advisable to have at least one ASM backstage and in audio contact with the SM in the booth in case of problems.
All those who work backstage or in the booth in order for the show to run smoothly. They may include operators for the light board, follow spot(s), sound, and special effects; dressers; set changers; and hair, wig, and makeup stylists.
Business and Front of House
Typically handles the day-to-day financial and logistical operations of the production, including paying bills, doing payroll, arranging insurance, securing permits, arranging for space rentals as needed, and so on.
Keeps the books of the production, makes tax payments as necessary, and prepares the tax returns and final financial report.
Supervises everything in front of the curtain during and before performances. This includes making sure all public areas – the house, lobby, concession and restroom areas – are clean and presentable; that the box office is staffed and ready for customers; that the concession stand, if there is one, is staffed and ready; and that ushers are in place, with programs to be distributed. The House Manager determines, in consultation with the Stage Manager, whether the curtain will rise on time or will be held, depending on how many tickets remain unclaimed, and informs the SM when it is safe to call places and begin the show; s/he also determines when lights in the public areas are flashed and/or warning chimes are sounded to alert the audience to take their seats. The House Manager determines whether and when to seat latecomers, having consulted with the artistic staff as to when would be least disruptive. At intermission, the House Manager supervises the lighting in the public areas and the sale of concessions, and again consults with the SM as to when places should be called and the show resumed.
BOX OFFICE MANAGER/STAFF
Conducts ticket sales, in person at the theatre and/or online or over the phone. Balances sale of tickets so as to apportion the audience in the most effective way when all seats are not filled. Makes sure to have sufficient cash on hand to make change, and that credit card terminals are operating properly when used. Submits a report for each performance indicating how many tickets were sold at full price, how many at discount and/or to subscribers when applicable, how many press or other complimentary, with a total gross dollar amount for the performance. Arranges for deposit of funds.
Often a theatre or production will engage a professional ticket service to take reservations and sell tickets in return for a service charge, either to supplement the onsite box office staff, or to make onsite sales unnecessary.
Show people to their seats, distribute programs, watch for prohibited activity such as taping or taking of photographs, and eject unruly audience members when needed.
Getting Butts into the Seats
Basic tasks include preparation and distribution of press releases, notifying critics, planning and placing of ads, and the like. Depending on the clout and connections of the press agent, s/he may be able to arrange interviews with production personnel and/or newspaper and magazine stories; and get important critics to come. Some press agents may also supervise distribution of posters and mailings of flyers and postcards.
Creates and executes a design for the show’s publicity and printed materials, which include postcards and flyers, posters, advertisements, theatre marquee, and program.
Does rehearsal shots for advance submission to press outlets, as well as production photos for lobby boards, follow-up press, and archival purposes.
Creates a website for the production with as much information as the creative team wishes to reveal. If desired and feasible, the production website can also be where tickets can be purchased. See Creating a Website.