BroadwayGirlNYC: Those Who Go Unseen

By: Jun. 23, 2011

Theatre is a living art; cast & crew give it breath. We must give thanks to all who make our shows each night. Even those we do not see. xo 

This is the tweet I sent last night before bed, after spending several hours poring through twitter posts and news sites about a death at How to Succeed in Business.  When I went to sleep, there were rumors that someone had a heart attack, and others saying an accident had killed a crew member.  No official word from the production had been released, but we knew that Daniel Radcliffe told the audience that "a tragedy" had occurred backstage.  By  morning, the New York Times had reported that a stagehand died in a Hirschfeld Theatre bathroom, shortly before the 8:00 curtain, after taking an overdose of drugs.  The performance was set to be How to Succeed's 100th; it was canceled when cast members decided en masse that they didn't feel up to going on.  An aura of sadness wafted through the Broadway community, largely by way of social media.  And as a result, I began to ponder -- and pray -- about all of the people behind the scenes.

As Broadway fans, we idolize actors.  We follow them on twitter, we wait for them at the stagedoor, we collect autographs and "fan" them on facebook.  We snap photos with them, and DVR their appearances on TV.  We choose what shows to attend based on the performances we've loved in the past.  All of this makes sense, and comes with the territory, since the actors are the ones we see.  It's their voices we sing along to, their faces we peruse in the playbills, and their bodies up on stage bowing in the spotlight.  And certainly no one can fault us for coming to love the people who so beautifully embody the stories and music of Broadway; they inspire us, and earn our respect via the inspiration they impart on stage.

Could theatre exist on actors alone?  Surely not.  In fact, performers are only the visible tip of a huge theatrical iceberg.  Under the surface -- or behind the curtain, in this case -- reside the unseen and oft-unappreciated crew members who make every performance possible.  In almost every case, the crew far outnumbers the cast -- and yet receives probably less than 1% of the accolades.  I say, it's time for that trend of imbalance to go out of style. 

Ever wonder how those costume quick-changes happen in a matter of seconds?  Ask the dressers, who not only stand backstage to facilitate changes-of-clothes, they also work long hours keeping every costume clean, pressed, and rip-free.  What happens when a light goes out mid-show?  The electricians, who are on-hand at every performance, make a fix.  A prop breaks? A replacement is quickly fetched by a props handler, from an impeccably organized backup stash, so fast that the audience never even notices the switch.   From master carpenters, to stage managers, to hair & makeup teams; from follow-spot operators (the people who sit in the rafters and point spotlights on our beloved stars) to sound engineers, to riggers & flymen (who manage the equipment whenever a show requires actors on wires); from the stage technicians who actually move the sets, to microphone wranglers (it does matter which actor uses which mic!), to light- and sound-board operators... there is a plethora of necessary workmen (and women!) without whom Broadway wouldn't -- couldn't -- exist.

I must also mention those upon whom we rely who might not be in the building when the show actually goes on.  Ticket-sellers, theatre managers, construction crews who build the sets (and the theatres themselves)!  Publicists and marketing teams!  Company managers, doormen, security guards!  There are too many positions to comprehend, much less list, although I'd love to be able to personally thank every single human who facilitates theatre: my greatest passion in life.

Would the stagehand who died at How to Succeed last night have been drawn to drugs if he had felt more appreciated in his craft?  There's no way to know.  But it certainly couldn't have hurt him to hear "thank you" from those of us who enjoyed the fruits of his labor.  Without knowing the circumstances surrounding his death, I can still definitively say that I wish I'd had a chance to thank him.  No matter what his role was in bringing How to Succeed to life, he had a part in allowing me to see it.  I hope he knew how many people to whom he helped to bring joy.

It's time for a new trend on Broadway -- a trend of appreciation for those that go unseen.  So today -- in addition to this essay -- I'm hand-writing thank-you notes to the crews of every show on Broadway.  To share in the love, tweet and tag with #TheatreThanks.  I'll print & include these tweets in the cards I mail this weekend.

How to Succeed as a theatre-goer?  Be grateful for those who make it.