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Backstage: The Drama Behind The Drama

Written by: Chloe Bayliss

Illustration by: Aimee Lee

“All the worlds a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.” – Shakespeare, As You Like It.

What do you think of when you think of the theatre?

The actors and actresses, right?

It does not cross many people’s minds that there is a lot of backstage components that make up the theatre and keep the place running. Most places use touring theatre companies who stay for a couple of days and then move on to the next venue. But the theatre staff themselves are the same. Adapting to different shows several nights a week, the theatre staff is just as important as the cast, and without them, the show really could not go on.

As someone who has worked in a theatre for the last two years, an avid theatre lover and an A level drama student – you could say the stage is like a home away from home. It is a place where you can be anyone, do anything, and travel anywhere. Whether you are taking part or watching, the theatre is a place full of wonder and magic. No matter how old you are, the theatre is somewhere that will help you forget about your life’s troubles for a while.

My primary job is working as a Box Office assistant. More like a glorified receptionist, my main tasks including ticket sales, customer service, answering the phones, collecting post and buzzing in the cast and crew for the shows. This is a kind of job where I get to meet a lot of people; from directors, actors, musicians, agents and even the odd celeb. No shift is ever the same, there is always something going on and it rarely ever quiet.

I am usually one of the first people in the building. I do basic health and safety checks, organise the safe and build the tills up. I also take the meter readings and organise the morning’s post. Mainly, I focus on ticket sales. As with any workplace, the customer is always right, and we must do our best to please them. I want to help maintain the illusion of the theatre and help make peoples experiences as fun and stress-free as possible. A lot of the customers I get are usually lovely little old ladies, who love to hang around for a chat. Then other customers love to complain about the quality of the coffee we serve.

“I’m sorry Susan but I don’t control the coffee and it is not my department, but yes, I will forward your complaint to the manager.

When a show is on, things can get a little crazy. Box Office is full of people queuing to pick up their tickets, others queuing to buy tickets, and even more people on the phone calling to book for a different show altogether. There are only two box office members on shift at a time, and if the other person is on their break, you are on your own to deal with everything. The ‘Front of house’ or ‘bar staff’ as they are sometimes known as, also assist us when busy, and we return the favour.

The tech crew have one of the hardest jobs. Manning the lights, follow spots, moving pieces of set and controlling sound and any other effects like pyros and the smoke machine. They work long, late hours and make sure the show runs as smoothly as possible under very stressful conditions.

Walking around backstage you will stumble across all sorts of things. Last panto season we had a mini Tardis, giant ghost heads, fake fruit and wooden swords scattered about.

This was for Peter Pan might I add.

Being staff, I have seen all the backstage areas, including what is known as the ‘fly floor’, a place where only the techies go. This is the place with all the strings that control moving set, and the wires that help Peter Pan and the fairy godmother to fly. It is also very high up and a dangerous place to go so it is out of bounds to most staff, but they took me up there on my induction and I have no desire to return.

Between shows cast, crew and staff alike hang out in the Greenroom. No, it is not a literal green room. This is a space full of battered old chairs, a kitchen, TV and local art pieces.

There are a lot of stairs and identical corridors, but they all lead straight to the heart of the place, the auditorium. I love to sneak onstage as much as possible, just to soak it all in. Standing there, centre stage, with the lights shining down on you, with nobody else around – it is breath-taking. As a lover of theatre, nothing gets your blood pumping more than standing on stage. It’s electric.

Because of the government’s rules against large indoor gatherings and live performances, the theatre I work at has not been able to open for many months. Though I have been on furlough, that is all about to change. Facing financial difficulties, the large downfall in income since we have not had many shows this year and the fact that panto is most likely going to cancel, there are many fears that the theatre may have to close down. This is saddening, but a realistic outcome. Though watching performances online, through the national theatre, Disney + and YouTube, it is not the same as experiencing it live and in person.

As a student, working in a theatre has been a dream. Yes, it can be overwhelming and stressful, it is not as glamorous as one might think. But the free tickets to stuff is also a plus and makes it all worth it.

One day the curtain will be able to rise again. As they say, the show must go on.

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