ITJA Finalist – The Effect of Team Building on A Successful Stage Production

The following is a student-written work, presented as part of the Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy (ITJA) competition. The views and opinions expressed in this work are the author’s own.

The Effect of Team Building on A Successful Stage Production

By: Samantha Poffenberger

First Year Student, Georgia Southern University

Every piece of theatre consists of the onstage performance delivered by the actors and the backstage performance given by the crew. The crew, comprised of everyone from stagehands to design tech, play a vital part in creating a seamless production. Each crew member acts as a stitch in a piece of fabric, if one stops doing their job the entire thing falls apart.

As KCACTF progressed, I had the opportunity to witness how different crews handled the many tasks of putting on a show, including assembling the set, repositioning lights and making on-the-fly adjustments to make sure the entire show runs seamlessly. Some teams were almost mechanical in the way they moved in synchronized patterns while hanging lights and bringing in set pieces. They resemble a robot army, with their matching expressionless faces, as if they get no enjoyment from their existence and are on this Earth solely to move props around for plays. On the flip side, other crews are a little less organized. Not to throw anyone under the bus, but GSU’s stage crew is one of these. Unlike our robotic counterparts, we actually look like we are having fun, even when we are not. We may not be the most organized crew and we sure are not the best stage crew at KCACTF, but we make up for it with our enthusiasm and passion. I personally feel that the approach taken by GSU’s stage crew is the better one. At the end of the day I believe in the importance of enjoying the overall experience, and that the chemistry that a more casual method builds can actually be helpful when situations arise in the middle of a performance.

I understand why some stage crews chose the more step by step technique. Ultimately, the crew is responsible for making sure everything goes well on the technical side . They are not there to make friends or pull pranks on each other. Their job is to put on a good show and make sure that everything goes as according to plan. They do this not just for the audience, but also for the actors who have spent months of their lives memorizing their lines and sacrificing their precious hours to put on a fantastic show. I, however, think it meaningful to fully immerse yourself into the comradery among the company. I am not going to lie, at times backstage work is not the most thrilling job in the world and the ability to joke around with my fellow crew members makes it not only bearable, but honestly enjoyable.

The other issue with a more formal style of tech is when you treat the production as a job you miss the team building aspect of putting on a show. Not only is the bonding experience influential for the theatre department as a whole, but it is a key component to a successful production. When a stage crew builds chemistry, it allows them to work better on-the-fly. When something goes wrong in the middle of a performance, which happens to even the best of crews, the bond between individual crew members can be crucial. In those critical moments between a diverted disaster and a literal one, the strong relationship between the team allows the crew to anticipate what the other members of the crew are about to do. With the more detached attitude you lack that connection, which can be the deciding factor between disaster and a minor slip up. Slip ups so minute that the audience does not even notice. In that moment where the entire production hangs in the balance, the ability to know the person working alongside allows you to save precious moments. For example, in She Kills Monsters, the final battle involves a five-headed dragon. To accomplish this five ensemble members had to bear the burden of carrying a steel framed backpack with a giant papier-mache dragon head on top. As you can imagine each head was a substantial amount of weight and is incredibly dangerous. During a run-through of the show the biggest and heaviest head started to falter. The head and the actor were about to come tumbling down at any second. Without missing a beat the entire crew simultaneously ran on stage to save the life of our actor and the dragon head. The only way that we all could be on the exact same wave-length was because we were more of a family and less like co-workers. In the end the crew being so coordinated saved one of our actors from being seriously injured.  

In some instances, the dilemma occurs of who may oversee fixing the problem. With the more structured styles every person has there one job they are responsible for, so when something goes wrong the task of fixing it falls onto that person or people. With the more casual attitude, no one cares whose job it may be, they are just worried about fixing the problem as coherent as possible and creating a quick-stitch solution that fastens the rip in the performance.