In performance, mishaps sometimes just happen. The show always goes on but every dancer, crew member, and volunteer can do his or her part to make sure all goes as planned on and offstage.
The following is a list of 16 things to do behind-the-curtain to put on a fantastic show every time because, when a performance runs smoothly from an audience’s perspective, it’s a win. When a performance runs smoothly from the perspective of the people backstage, it’s a dream come true!
1. Check in.
Cast members typically arrive at an appointed “call time” for the show. Avoid being late and make sure you check in as directed so that the stage management team knows their cast and crew are in the building.
2. Be where you are expected to be.
Crew members should always know where to find you. Stay in the dressing room, “green room,” or lounge where you are supposed to wait to go on stage.
3. Say thank you.
While you should always show gratitude to those around you, this is more than just a common courtesy. It is customary when crew members make announcements like “10 minutes to places,” that the performers respond, “Thank you, places,” to show that you heard the announcement.
4. Wear shoes backstage.
For your safety, you should have slip-on shoes on in the backstage areas. In a place where sets are constructed and lights may break, you never know what’s on the floor.
5. Stay quiet.
In many theaters, sound from backstage or the wings travels easily to the “house,” where audience members are seated. If you need to talk, speak softly.
6. Bring something to do.
There can be a lot of waiting around during the run of a performance. You should always have something that will keep you quietly occupied before or during the show.
7. Respect others’ pre-performance rituals.
Every performer has a certain way of doing things as they prepare for a show. Some energetically jump around to stay warm, and others are quiet or meditative. Watch and be courteous, especially if your pre-show routine is different from your neighbors.
8. Keep calm.
Performers handle nervous energy and the post-performance “high” in many different ways. It’s okay to feel excited about the show or what just happened on stage but mistakes happen when those jitters get out of control. Maintain an even keel by focusing your energy or at least waiting until an appropriate time to release it. That’s what the pros do.
9. Know your show.
Hopefully by opening night you are well rehearsed but take responsibility for knowing the order and where you are supposed to be at all times. If you miss a cue or entrance because you’re not paying attention, that’s on you.
10. Look after your own body.
Dancers especially need to prepare and keep their bodies ready to perform as showtime approaches. Be sure you are properly warmed up and stay warm.
11. Be responsible for your own stuff.
Large productions may have crew members dedicated to managing props and costumes during the show. If your show is smaller scale, you may be in charge of your own stuff so always do a check or two to make sure what you need is placed and in good condition before the start of the show.
12. Stay away from other people’s stuff.
It is the job of the stage management crew to look after performers. As a performer, typically you are responsible for you and your performance alone. Other performers’ props or costumes should not be touched or moved even if you think it’s set in the wrong place. If you are positive something is misplaced, report it to the person in charge of the item.
13. Don’t bump the drapes.
Even the smallest touch can cause a curtain to move and the eyes of the audience will catch even the smallest ripple. Avoid touching the curtains, legs, cyc, and other theater drapery.
14. Stay out of sight.
When waiting just offstage in the “wings,” ensure the audience won’t see you by staying within the triangular space closest to the “leg” and border curtains. If you can see audience members, they can see you.
15. Be aware of tape marks.
Some lines and marks are placed for your safety. For example, when the front curtain closes, you don’t want to be caught in its path. Others, like the spike at center stage, are there to help orient you on stage. It’s your job to familiarize yourself with these markers.
16. Wait for the right moment.
Light from offstage can mess up the lighting onstage. For that reason, wait until it is “safe” to open doors between backstage and the wings or offstage area.
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world. Read Nichelle’s posts.