The audience shuffles in through the glass doors in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. The ushers smile warmly as they attempt to guide the crowd to their seats, anxious to see the show. The theater is buzzing with excitement as the lights dim. Actors file onstage in the darkness to their places, recalling the hours of rehearsals and preparation that have brought them to this moment. The stage manager holds their breath as they await the perfect moment to call the first lighting cue. Countless hands, minds, and hearts have worked tirelessly to make this exact moment happen. But how exactly did we arrive here at opening night? What all has to happen to put on a production at a professional theater such as Triad Stage? Here’s a backstage look at the process that puts shows on their feet from the perspective of an intern.
For the past month, I’ve had the privilege of being the multi-purpose intern at Triad Stage. I participate in a different department of the theater every day, from learning about the financial procedures of the company, to observing educational workshops, to helping out with alterations in the costume shop. Every member of the Triad Stage team gives 110% to whatever they do. It is almost immediately evident to anyone who observes them is that they act as a family in communion with one another. The tireless work that goes on behind the scenes to make their shows happen is incredible.
In the costume shop for the past month, I’ve observed designers, assistants, and apprentices working side-by-side to create masterpieces from fabric. The journey of the costumes begins with countless hours of research. For period productions, such as the upcoming A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, which is set in the 1950s (and runs at Triad Stage January 28th-February 18th), costume designers research the popular styles of the time through online resources and even vintage magazines from the appropriate time period. The actors send in their measurements, and then the design process begins. At the first rehearsal that both the entire creative team and the cast attend, the costume designer, as well as the scenic and lighting designers, presents sketches of their proposed costumes. I was able to witness this meeting, and was blown away by the details of each design.
Actor costume fittings begin immediately following the first rehearsal. After those, alterations pile up. The designer, the shop manager, and the apprentices work with the actor to make a costume that enhances their character and does not restrict them in any way. Some costumes are made from scratch, like the African “Buba”, a woman’s blouse, that appears in A Raisin in the Sun. Others are pulled from the shop’s stock and altered to fit the actors. Still others, like some of the dapper men’s period shoes, are ordered online. Often, the theater is working on multiple shoes at once, meaning every department, including costumes, is juggling enormous amounts of work for many shows at once. Each show is able to flow seamlessly to the next.
There are always alterations to be done!
Rehearsals are equally as interesting to observe. As I observed one of A Raisin in the Sun’s rehearsals, I witnessed an incredible partnership between actor and director. The goal of theater is to tell stories in the most compelling way possible. To tell truthful stories, actors must know everything about their character, top to bottom. The director works right alongside them, guiding them along the story’s line. Triad Stage prioritizes working with many different directors, actors, and designers. Each work is always new and original, regardless of its age or number of production.
The rehearsal I observed focused on a scene in the household of the Younger family, the play’s central characters. Some of these actors had never met each other in their entire lives before the rehearsal process began, and yet they were able to create what seemed to be a family that had lived together for decades. The relationships created in only the first week of rehearsals was incredible.
The everyday running of the theater not only includes the current show, but also educational outreach to the community. Offering workshops to local teachers, Triad Stage hopes to integrate the arts with academic learning in schools. In one such workshop that I attended, teachers were led in a series of theater games that were geared toward building skills necessary for academic learning. We played games like ‘The Truth About Me” in which one person stands in the middle of a circle of people. That person says something about themselves, and if that truth applies to anyone else, they all move about the circle. This game is meant to enhance learning skills such as effective communication, information processing, and making decisions. I believe this movement toward fusing the arts and academics is vital to childhood development.
The Arts Integration Workshop I attended led by Lauren Smith, Triad Stage’s Learning Director.
Triad Stage picks their shows with the audience in mind. Each show of the season is selected with care based on what shows could be appreciated in the community. For example, A Raisin in the Sun is a play about race relations, but also the complexities of family. The show is a gateway for communication about racial discrimination and family relationships.
Audience members come to see the culmination of the long hours of work in a performance. Many sit comfortably in their seats, blissfully unaware of the tireless toil of every single member of the production’s cast and crew. This is exactly as it should be. The actors, gliding around the stage in the paths they’ve walked dozens of times in rehearsals, play characters that exist to lift the audience’s spirit out of their own lives into the story of another. Triad Stage creates an atmosphere of “nationally recognized, locally produced” theater that allows anyone to enjoy the spirit of theater.
Meredith Brown, Intern at Triad Stage