Backstage view of the Baughman Theatre during technical rehearsals.
I was standing backstage the other day during one of our tech rehearsals for Henry IV, (where, as the name implies, we add all the technical elements of each show.) I was watching some of the crew hauling on the fly lines; the cue was a complex one, with lighting and music cues and multiple set pieces all moving in and out simultaneously, as well as actors entering and exiting. The cue was run, then reset. Run again. Reset again. Three, four, five times, until it was perfect. And everyone - everyone - was so focused. It was a beautiful thing to see. There's a moment in "Apollo 13" when Tom Hanks says, "The astronaut is only the most visible member of a very large team." It's true in theatre, too.
The Michigan Shakespeare Festival employs a full professional company of more than 40 theatre artists. Having worked with over 60 different theatres over the years, I can say with confidence that what goes on behind the scenes is far more important than what happens out front. Not to tell tales out of school, but I have worked in places where the technical and/or organizational aspects of a theatre were such that it made it impossible for me to do my own job well. (The only times I've EVER been anything less than stellar. Right, mom?) But seriously, folks, the quality of the work you see at MSF - and most anywhere else - is far more dependent on faces you never see than you'll ever know.
At the Michigan Shakespeare Festival, shows are chosen more than a year beforehand, even before the prior season begins rehearsing. Design meetings begin immediately after the previous season ends, and continue throughout the year. When summer arrives, and it's time to actually convert all the ideas, renderings, computer drawings, etc. into wood, steel, cloth, and light, MSF hires a top-drawer team. Our directors, designers, stage managers, and technicians come from professional and university theatres all over Michigan and beyond; they literally build our world and make it come alive at every performance. (Between performances, too - you should stick around after a matinee some time to watch them change over from one show to another - we could sell tickets to that, alone!)
What struck me when watching this scene change run over and over was the - not comaraderie, exactly, or even respect, for each of these implies some sort of separation between actors and technicians - but a simple acceptance of the fact that we were all professionals doing our parts to create a single whole. Though some of us work on stage and others off, some figure out just the right way to deliver a line and others exactly the right way to make a transition support the world of the play, we are all, in the end, Theatre People. And that is just about the best feeling in the world. Our designers of sets, lights, costumes, props (how many theatres do you know with their own properties designers?), resident composer (seriously!?! Yup!) stage managers (three of them!), carpenters, electricians, wardrobe mistress - every one of them is a creative professional in their own right. And every one of them is absolutely aces. Come see their work! (I know I will!)