As a theatre major at Winthrop, I knew I was required to work on the running crew for at least one production. Not only did I have to, but I wanted to. Being behind the scenes working with scenery, props, and other technical elements influenced me to become a theatre education major in the first place.
I first gained an interest in technical theatre and being on running crew my freshman year of high school, after searching for a club to join. Throughout high school, I would be on the crew for eight shows- two per year; however, none of them were musicals. I had always wanted to try working on a musical and was super excited at the chance when I heard Winthrop would be doing a production of Rent. Now that the show has been closed, I wanted to reflect and share this experience, especially to those who may be unfamiliar with theatre and the behind-the-scenes work that goes with it.
One thing about the running crew is that our time working on this show is fairly short, at least to what I expected. From start to finish, I was only at the theatre for ten days. However, those ten days were long! On weekdays before the show, I would be there for around four hours, and on the weekend it was eight hours. Then came the show days, where we all needed to show up an hour and a half before the show started, and often stay after to clean and reset the stage for the next show.
Now, I’m not complaining at all. I know exactly what I signed up for, and I genuinely loved every second! I just wanted to state the time dedication that needs to occur during tech week, when actors and crew work together for the first time to make the show what it is! So, what did I actually do?
On the very first day of our running crew meeting, a “crew view” was held. Here, the crew got to watch a full run of the show so that we could get a grasp on the material as well as begin to understand what tasks we may be assigned. I was assigned to work with the props for the show, so I made an effort to look at set pieces and smaller items that I may have to keep track of or move around in the future.
Then came the more menial tasks- again, something I don’t mind and actually quite enjoy! For example, taking off and replacing all of the spike tape (specific tape meant to mark where items go on the stage) is a small task that I actually think is fun. This day, I also got to get acquainted with who and what I would be working with and some of the tasks I’d have to do before, during, and after the show. We also had a “dry tech,” the next day, where the crew runs talks through the show without the actors and hits all the major cues.
Tech weekend followed: two eight-hour days, Saturday and Sunday. The cast and crew were here and working out all the little details together. Personally, I didn’t have too much to do for a good portion of the show, which I was okay with. With Rent being my first musical, first college show, and first show since before COVID shut everything down, I was just excited to be involved. Most of my tasks during the show included helping people move objects, adjusting a light, and making sure our props were in the right places. My pre-show setup was similar: cleaning off cups, refilling bottles, and placing props and furniture for the top of the show. All in all, nothing too crazy.
Is this to say it went flawless? Of course not. This is live theatre. There’s always going to be a missing prop, a fallen wig, or a hole in the wall. Although it’s stressful to watch backstage, I have to give props (pun intended) to the actors for when those moments happen during performances where the show must go on.
The shows themselves were so amazing to be a part of. When I wasn’t actively helping with the show, I got to (quietly) sing, laugh, and cry just like the rest of the audience, only with the cast and crew with me backstage. I had the chance to share so many small moments, and that’s what I’ve always appreciated about being involved in theatre. I love the art form, I love the work, and I love the people. After the last show is strike, where the cast and crew work together to take apart the set, put away props and costumes, and essentially set the stage back to normal. As if nothing ever happened. It’s a long, physical, strenuous process, but one crooked pair of glasses and many tears later, it was all over.
As I stated, Rent was a lot of firsts for me: my first musical, my first college show, and my first show in over three years. For all those reasons and more, it meant the world to me. I will repeat forever how much I’ve loved working with everyone involved and how talented everyone is. Coming back to theatre and having this be my re-introductory experience reminded me of why I’m majoring in theatre and what I loved about running crew to begin with.
I always hope to find more people interested in theatre or introducing new people to the idea of being involved. It’s obvious that I am huge on supporting live theatre! If running crew sounds interesting to you- look into it and give it a shot! Acting? Audition! None of the above? Check up on what the Winthrop theatre department is doing throughout the year and watch a production yourself (especially if you’re a Winthrop student in need of cultural events)!