Occupation: Associate Professor of Theatre Practice and Technical Director at USC
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 11th, 2012
Primary Language: English
Informant: “One actress friend of mine was in a play where she had to kill a canary in the second act. So for the first act they had a live canary in a cage and then at intermission the canary was supposed to be switched for a stuffed canary which was then killed during the course of the action. And one night, I don’t know what she had done to the crew but they were feeling evil and they left the live canary onstage to see what she would do. And of course she couldn’t kill the live canary, that would be mean. So she put it under a bowl in the kitchen portion of the set and left it on the drain board in the kitchen. Uh, which would have worked fine except for the rest of the act this bowl sort of went ‘THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!’ as the canary tried to get out from under the bowl.
There were also the people who, she had a quick change* that involved running out of one side of the stage, dropping her skirt, climbing out a window, running around the back of the theatre and changing various articles of clothing that were placed along the route as she went. And the last step in this quick change was to step into her shoes and pull up the full skirt that was on the ground right inside the door that she then made her next entrance from. And one night they nailed the hem of her skirt to the floor so that she couldn’t get in the door. So she played the whole rest of the scene from the doorway.”
My informant’s story reflects an aspect of theater culture that has been built on stories such as this and stereotypes of cast and crew members. Cast members are those who are the performers such as actors or actresses and appear on stage. Crew members are in charge of production side of theater such as scenic design or working as a stage hand. There is a negative stereotype in theater that perpetuates the idea that cast members are high-maintenance and crew members are mean. This of course is not true, and every interaction with an actor or crew member will be unique to what kind of person he or she is. Generally these two sides of theater production work peacefully and collaboratively, as they are united with the common goal to put on a good story for the audience. However the exchange of stories such as this help build a stereotype in each others’s mind that the other is difficult, or in this case that crew members like to play mean jokes on actresses. This can lead to dangerous assumptions and conflict if problems in the production occur.
This is because working on a theater production can often be stressful due to time constraints or budget restraints, and people tend to look for someone else to blame the problem on, which is an unfortunate aspect of human behavior. For example when a show is having problems, it is easier to say that it is the fault of a difficult actress or crew member than to get down to the real problem. And when someone puts the blame on a cast or crew member, the story is generally believed because in theater we have accepted these stereotypes without realizing we are generalizing people.
There are moments when these stereotypes seem to hold true, such as my informant’s story about the crew members. In addition to that, I once worked on a television program where the musician was upset that the set was gold and not pink. However, these occurrences are rare. But the stereotype that cast members are high-maintaince and crew members are mean is an aspect of theater culture that affects the way people interact with one another.
My informant was born in 1961, Connecticut. He has more than 30 years of experience in theater and has worked on over hundreds of productions. He continues to work on theater productions today, and serves as the associate professor of theater practice and technical direction at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.
*Quick change: a term used in theater to describe a point in the play’s production where the actor must quickly change his clothes backstage before emerging back onstage. Stand hands, also known as the backstage crew, often help the actor put on their costume to insure the speed and effectiveness of the quick change.