So I admit before one and all that finding there are working actors who are rude to the crew and staff backstage astounds me. How are they working? If an audience member is surprised by how many people it takes to run a show smoothly it should not be news to any actor. Sometimes we actors help run the show, especially in Non-Equity Land but even union actors may bring on or off stage a set piece if they are making an entrance or exit. I’ve been in shows where the set changes got applause and I’m glad to say there was also applause for other parts of the performance as well.
Why is there a perceived class distinction by some actors and the backstage crew? Is it because of college productions? Still, not one major I knew got out of our department without a tech class just as no designer got out without an acting class. We all stayed for strike after the closing show before the party officially started. We came to respect the guys and gals who could ramble up the scaffolds, scurry across the catwalks and make shoe string budgets look fantastic. We were expected, even as actors, to have run at least a few technical aspects on other shows. I ran an old light board, and I mean with my hands and feet, ran sound which then was sound cues not mics, was an ASM and once on a mercifully short play SM. I came to marvel at how my classmates could make the magic happen. I learned how to understand a floor plan and work out the set details with my designers but I never mastered being able to build it. Like my Dad, I am not handy.
In one dinner theatre our leading lady seemed like a nice girl. She’d only been out of school for maybe two years and in the small world we live in I found she was a classmate of a chap I’d done stock with two years before. As a housemate she was all right even if she would take single ice cubes without refilling the tray and throw off my Martini chills sometimes. Once she broke a chilling cocktail glass but left a nice, sorrowful note but no replacement stemware. On stage together, playing her father, I had to hold her a bit longer in our post duet embrace, yes and I was paid to hug the pretty thing, because she had to learn to wait and make them applaud. It was a pleasant teaching experience... for me at least. But at other points she was quite the devil of a diva. “Why is there light on them during my solo?” “Can that curtain be faster? Slower? Moved?” I’ll admit what passed as stage management at that theatre didn’t impress. How titular stage manager kept a job after so many missed cues was always a mystery if one didn’t believe the dirty rumors, so working in our collective interest, we, the cast, who were the crew too, learned to work around it. Our diva did too but only with complaints. When I talked with my colleague who was her classmate I got a chuckle of, “she’s always been like that,” to which I replied, “and they allowed it? Wasn’t it supposed to be a professional training program?” Well, no matter. As far as I know she didn’t work much again after the next show she left us to do. The shame of it is she had talent but no tact. Know this one and all, producers and directors talk to each other about us and unlike actors with vitriolic places like Non Equity Deputy to spew some venom, producers, CD’s, CM’s and all other powers that be talk about all of us but behind very closed doors. Behave!
When we’re on that P-Word level there’s a huge difference because when the unions are involved there are things we actors are not allowed to do or touch. Our job is to act. There are some non-union houses I’ve worked where the basic forms are followed and it is reassuring to know that I can trust somebody who cares about a job well done to preset and track items for me. On a recent show I had a few costume changes where I needed help. I’ve had more complex changes but these were for fussy period clothes and with a cranky, at times wonky knee I couldn’t do as much for myself as I’d have liked. Now I knew they were being paid to help me and I knew I was saying “thank you” all the time but it didn’t seem enough for all being done for me. Closing show I had some Barnes & Noble gift cards for my main dresser and her wardrobe crew. I’m only sorry I couldn’t have made the amounts a bit sweeter but like a lot in the theatre, forms and gestures are maybe more important than the actual action. By her and her crew taking such great care of me all I had to do was go out there and act. Thank you.