BWW Blog: Omigod! First Time Working in Professional Theatre
When you are a college student, sometimes you get the opportunity to work professional events that may come through your theatre on campus. I recently got the experience of working my first union gig for a national touring company that came through my town, and working on that type of theatre is much different than working a normal college show. I felt like a small kid learning all kinds of new information - impressed and terrified at the same time.
The day begin incredibly early, and as I entered my home theatre, I was greeted by dozens of faces of union workers who were all working the same production that I was - the national tour of Legally Blonde. After filling out all of the union paperwork, I found my crew for the day - the carpenters. I was terrified, I had only started studying Stagecraft this semester and I didn't want to seem incompetent in front of all of these professionals. Even more terrifying, I was the only female carpenter.
My job was helping assist building set pieces. We took Book Flats and put them together to make multiple different pieces, all used in different scenes of the show. At my home theatre, we usually screw Hollywood flats together to make scenic pieces. For this touring company, they took Hollywood flats that had hinges attached, and all you had to do was pin the pieces together - creating a book flat. This was something that I had never seen before, or done - so to me this was a new and almost mind-blowing concept.
Much to my surprise, I never felt out of my element. The guys that I worked with were all making sure that I was able to get my hands on stuff and learn. The head carpenter that was with the touring company itself was honestly the most understanding of them all. He could tell when I was completely confused, and he took the time to re-explain it or answer my many many questions. I was beyond grateful to learn from these guys.
As the day wore on, and more union people were going on breaks for the afternoon until show, the company realized they were short a few people. With me being bright-eyed and willing, I got moved from carpentry to wardrobe.
Usually, I help with wardrobe in my theatre department everyday, so I was excited (yet nervous) to be able to meet some professionals from the field to learn some more skills and tips. I headed downstairs to our costume shop to the sounds of a Harry Potter podcast playing and a younger woman dancing about the room while printing out some flyers for the backstage crew with instructions for during the show. I knew I'd fit in here just fine. She and I joked around for the entire afternoon while throwing in several loads of laundry from the night before. The process they had for organizing it all was different than I had ever seen.
Each actor has 2 sets of costumes, and is assigned a number from the very beginning of their time with this show. Their number is then written on the inside of every costume piece, towel, and bag that the actor owns. As the laundry gets done, you are handed velcro-able numbered cards with of list of everything a certain actor is supposed to have in their bags and a long piece of muslin that is sectioned off equally into squares that have the opposite side of velcro. This is used to section out all the costume pieces checklist style. You velcro the cards down numerically and it makes everything visible at once. When you have all the pieces that an actor is supposed to have, you put it into their numbered bag, and then into the bins to be transported to the next theatre for the next night's performance.
On top of helping with laundry, I was asked to stitch any type of problem that might have happened to the costume from a previous performance. Thankfully, there wasn't much stitching that needed done, but it was interesting to think about the fact that my stitch job would be taken across the country.
Meeting the cast and crew had to be the highlight of the whole day. I got along with everyone that I met, and had the opportunity to give some of them a brief tour of my college campus on the way to the cafeteria. The best part of all was that Maris McCulley, who played the lead role of Elle Woods, celebrated her birthday at our theatre. During afternoon rehearsal we all sang happy birthday, and I briefly spoke to her that evening and personally wished her a Happy Birthday.
As the night wrapped up, I went back to carpentry and helped with tear down. We got to play a lovely game of Tetris in the trucks during a snowstorm. We wrapped up the night around 2 in the morning, and even though I was exhausted from an almost 18 hour day, I left my theatre that night feeling incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work with such amazing people.
Being able to work a professional was so different from what I do everyday, but my training has also been properly training me to work these kinds of performances. Everyone around was so kind, and light-hearted all day. It reminded me that this is what I'm working my tail off for everyday, and I couldn't have asked for a better first experience working in professional theatre.
Until the next one!