What happens in the backstage stories…


I do love a good theater. Image courtesy of phegenbart, Morguefile.

I’ve been fascinated by the theater for about the same time that I’ve had my lifelong affair with books. There’s something magical about how you take a script, some talented actors, props, costumes, a set, lighting and sound to create an incredible experience that captivates an audience for a couple of hours. (Even better when it’s a movie and stuff like CGI is added.)

During my college years, I had a part-time job working in the theater, doing set construction, props and running crew. The interesting thing about being on the running crew was that you could never predict what was going to happen onstage. The script called for one thing, but other things would accidentally happen and the actors would have to cover for it.

One play we did was a play called “Holy Ghosts” by Romulus Linney, about a religious sect that handles poisonous snakes as a test of their faith. Most of the action takes place inside a church in the rural South and we had some old folding chairs for the “congregation” to use as seats.

One chair was a bit too old. During one performance, the actor went to sit down in the chair in the first act…and kept on going. He had to be helped out of the seat by the other actors and coped with the chair disaster very well.

Another play was “Jesus Christ Superstar” by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber. This musical had a lot of set problems. We didn’t have wireless microphones for the singers, so people had to constantly sidestep the power cords. The set was this gigantic pipe organ (some type of symbolism there) with a raked stage (a.k.a. a ramp that sloped upward to the back) in front of it to serve as a performance area. The raked stage had a curved, hollowed-out area in the front (think something fan-shaped, like an amphitheater). The poor cast, wearing Biblical clothing and sandals, constantly missed a step and slid forward, barely managing to keep their balance. Yikes.

But the real problem was the nooses. During one scene and after the famous betrayal, the actor playing Judas sang and moved around the stage. He was supposed to go to stage right and a noose would swing down. (Again, the symbolism.) Then he went left and another noose would swing down. Yours truly, as a member of the running crew, was responsible for yanking the two levers (one at a time) attached to release cords that would allow each noose to move downward.

We had a problem with one noose. (!) Somehow, one of the nooses never worked quite right and the entire thing would plummet to the stage. Arrrrgh.

There were also the Last Supper’s edible props, which had an odd habit of disappearing…wonder why? (Three words: hungry college guys.)

I also remember a performance in a community theater. During a musical featuring a group of women, the spotlight on one of them went unexpectedly dark, pretty obviously. When the singer’s light came back on, she stayed in character and pretended to scold the light’s operator from the stage. The audience loved it.

Ah, the stories from the stage. Readers, got any funny stage stories to share?







Filed under Writing

13 responses to “What happens in the backstage stories…

  1. I loved your opening paragraph, about the magic of theatre. It’s so accurate! Also, I’m a drama student so I agree and can relate to everything you’ve said. The funniest thing that has happened to me on stage happened when I had to play Juliet, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I had just fallen to the ground and died when the spotlight that was supposed to be on me switched on. Turns out, I wasn’t underneath that spotlight. So, dead me had to roll across the stage to get underneath it. The audience laughed for a good 10 minutes before realizing it was supposed to be a serious scene!

  2. It would have been hard not to laugh at the chair collapsing!

  3. Ahh.. I would’ve loved to be part of something like that. Sadly neither my school nor my college were involved in theatre. 😦

  4. I loved working backstage in college. Later managed on of the Carbonarc spotlights. (had to stay awake there – but what a view) A couple of times a year big stage productions like Man of La Mancha would stop between Dallas and Houston and do performances for the University’s Fine Arts series. We worked the performances then, too. Real actors! Real productions! (and cast parties)
    Great times, indeed


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