Preparing for Performances Takes More Effort Than You May Realize…
When you attend a performance at the Playhouse, the show you’re seeing on stage is a final product. What you may not realize is that our technical and front of house staff begins to prepare for a performance weeks before it reaches the stage.
Last season, the Playhouse hosted 120 events. I thought it might be interesting to take a behind-the-scenes look at the process our staff goes through to prepare for each and every one of these shows.
With as many as three to five performances on our stage during an average week, Playhouse staff members are easily communicating with 15 to 25 different artists or groups at any given time.
A member of our technical department typically reaches out to the artist about a month before their show. Sometimes we’ll communicate directly with the performer, sometimes with a tour manager, technical director or production manager.
This early conversation, known as the “advance” is an opportunity to describe the Playhouse’s specifications; touring artists perform in a wide range of different venues, all of which have different lighting, sound and stage capabilities, so it’s important that they understand our particular details. It’s also a chance for our technical department to determine whether the artist will bring their own technicians, and to discuss how many Playhouse crew members will be needed.
Over the weeks ahead, our technical staff will discuss the artist’s needs in great detail, depending on the type of performance. For example, in the case of a band, we would need to know elements like the artist’s “stage plot”, which determines where the instruments and equipment should be located on the stage.
Most dance and theatrical performances will provide us with a detailed technical rider, a document that explains how to set up the stage, lighting, sound and sets for the show. The rider provides our technical department with a solid understanding of elements like lighting cues, and the ways we will need to use our fly system to raise and lower sets. About a week in advance, the technical department will send along a confirmation sheet to summarize all the technical details, as well as the schedule for the day and the crew requirements.
Our patron services manager also reaches out to the artist about two weeks before the show to begin preparing their “front-of-house” experience. This is an opportunity to discuss everything from catering and merchandise needs, to the artist’s photography policy, as well as the details concerning any special post-show receptions or meet-and-greets that might be planned. This department is also responsible for scheduling volunteers, bartenders and merchandise sellers to work during the show.
The day of the show is when all of this behind-the-scenes work pays off. Most often, touring artists will load in their instruments, sets and other props and equipment earlier on the day of the performance. Our technical crew will set up lighting to the artist’s specifications, and will run sound checks and rehearsals if required. In the meantime, our front of house department sets up catering, prepares merchandise areas, ensures any show programs are prepared and ready to be handed out, and checks in with the artist to make sure their needs are met.
Some shows are more complicated than others. While a standup comedian might just require a single microphone, a full theatrical performance could require complex sets, which may need to be changed during the show. All of these factors are taken into account during the planning and execution of the setup.
Once the performance is finished, the technical crew works quickly to remove all of the artist’s equipment and load it onto their truck, making sure the stage is ready to go for the next day when, often, our team will start the process over again from scratch.
Thanks to these extensive preparations, performances at the Playhouse should appear effortless from the audience’s perspective. But make no mistake; there are many more hours of planning and preparation than there are hours of performance. We work hard to ensure our patrons’ only job is to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Tim Yerxa is the Executive Director of the Fredericton Playhouse.