Behind The Scenes


A crucial part of a live performance happens behind the scenes, both before a production is mounted and during its run.

Whether you have experience working backstage or want to learn about working backstage, you should consider taking THEATRST 350.2 to learn the basics of technical theater at Duke and get academic credit for working on the mainstage!

You're also invited to get in touch with Theater Operations at Duke. There are both paid and volunteer opportunities for students to work behind the scenes in Reynolds and Sheafer Theaters, Page Auditorium, and other theaters on campus. Theater Operations can be reached at 660-1711.

Pre-production (also called "prep" crews) Positions and Activities

Scenic Construction -- Builds the set designed by the set designer. Opportunity to learn how to make a set happen from the blueprint to the finished set on stage. If you like to hammer and nail or want to know how things go together, this is a really fun place to be. Closed toe shoes required; no opened-toed sandals.

Scenic Paint -- Once the structural pieces are built, this crew paints the scenery to create the illusion of the world of the play, creating the structural environment of the piece. The paint chargeperson will instruct the crew on various techniques of paint illusion as indicated by the current show and how to basecoat properly.

Prop Master -- Acquires the list of objects the set designer and director put together of all things attached to the set or carried onto it by an actor. The set is like an empty house you purchased. Whatever you bring into the space is a prop, such as furniture and luggage carried on by the performer. The props master oversees the gathering crew much like a soccer team: the ball starts rolling and together you make it happen.

Prop Prep -- Works with the prop master to find, build or secure props for the play, including some rehearsal props that do not have to be the real thing. This is a fun crew because you do research for pictures, receive research from the set designer, go shopping, and get to create many things for the set. One of the most creative crews for people who like to paint and do crafty-type things.

Electrics Prep -  Selects lighting instruments from a list, learns how to hang the lights in designated spots in the theater according to the light plot. Once in place, focus occurs and the lights are aimed to the area assigned. This crew comes into action closer to tech week.

Costume Prep -- Works in the costume shop learning to hand sew and machine sew while creating costumes. We deal with shoes, hair, costume props (purses, jewelry, cigarette cases) - whatever the performer wears on his body or is directly related. We have fittings of the costumes with the performers and work closely with them in enhancing the style of dress their character requires. This comes from costume designer vision, director notes, and character choices.

Sound Crew -- The sound crew locates sounds needed for the show in the sound library and from other sources. You would learn how to record, time, and discharge cues on tapes.

Run Crews -- These crews are responsible for all aspects of the production during technical rehearsals, dress rehearsals and actual run. Positions include light board operator, sound board operator, flymen, props, costumes, scenery shifters. Attendance is required at all scheduled rehearsals and being on time is extremely important. With each show, the number of crew people changes, so we may need a few people or a lot of people.

Scenic and/or Props Shift Crew -- These crews work together before the performance each night setting up the stage and the props in their correct slot. During the show each person is assigned a list of jobs to complete and given ample time in rehearsals to know when they do what and how to do it the best way. Tasks include activities such as moving furniture, clearing dishes, setting a lamp, removing previous scene props, etc.

Fly Crew -- These people pull ropes on cue during the show that brings in and out the drops that help create the scenes. It operates on a counter weight system.

Board Operator – Operates the light board and executes the cues as called by the stage manager over the headsets during a show. Participates in dimmer checks each night before the house opens.

Electric Run Crew -- Runs dimmer checks and replaces any bulbs or instruments as needed. They generally come from the electric prep crew.

Sound Board Operator -- Executes sound cues as called by the stage manager.

Costume Run Crew -- Assists actors in the dressing room getting ready for a performance. Assists with quick changes as needed during the show. Ensures the actors put things away properly after a performance.

Wardrobe Crew -- Does the washing, ironing and steaming of costumes in between shows, and general maintenance depending on the needs of the production. Duties could include polishing shoes, jewelry, checking hooks and eyes and snaps to ensure they have not been weakened during performance. One person does not do all of this everyday; it is divided up among the crew.

Design Assistant -- In all areas, helps the designer do research and sometimes builds the model or draws designs, depending on skill level and desire. This position is involved from the ground up with all the prelim design discussions. You are the left hand of the designer, handling details for him or her. A very committed and responsible position.

Stage Manager -- Responsible for the total production from opening night until strike.  Everything is their problem. They ensure the look of the show and contact the appropriate person if things are not maintaining their look.