Who works in a theatre?
The number and range of people who work in a theatre depends upon its size and type. Today, theatres can generally be divided into two types: a producing theatre or a presenting theatre, but some do both.
Producing theatres have creative teams who develop productions. They include artistic directors, designers of sets, props, costume, lighting and audio-visual media, as well as musical directors and choreographers. Additional specialists are brought in when needed. In these theatres the performers are auditioned and rehearse under the artistic director.
Presenting theatres, sometimes referred to as ‘receiving houses’, host visiting companies whose productions have been developed elsewhere.
Both will have a core body of specialist staff, some with operational roles; others directly involved in presenting a show.
The chief executive manages the theatre, ensuring everyone is focused on putting on shows, attracting and looking after audiences, and making the theatre a financial and artistic success. He or she oversees the planning of the theatre’s programmes and has overall responsibility for the theatre’s finances, staff and the building itself. They report to the theatre’s owners or trustees.
The marketing manager’s role is to promote and sell tickets. To do so, they manage all aspects of the theatre’s publicity and advertising material which includes, fliers, posters, press adverts, brochures, newsletters and websites. They oversee their content, design and production and arrange distribution of all printed material. Sometimes, in smaller theatres, this role includes press and public relations.
Not all of a theatre’s income will come from ticket sales. Many rely on grants, donations, sponsorship and membership schemes. The development manager creates fundraising strategies, writes grant applications, seeks sponsorship and looks for commercial partnerships. They set up and maintain membership schemes and develop initiatives that encourage people to visit the theatre more frequently. Smaller theatres, unable to employ a permanent development manager, may recruit a temporary fundraiser.
Finance and administration staff
They ensure the smooth running of the theatre’s finances and its business interests. As a business, a theatre has to attract enough income to cover its expenditure. Running a theatre requires careful financial management, as there are many risks. Being able to accurately make assumptions and forecasts about the income from ticket sales, the cost of productions, and the overheads of the theatre is very important. A theatre also needs to prepare financial accounts for its owners or trustees.
Education and outreach staff
They are the interface between schools and communities and the theatre staff. They often explain the workings of the theatre to pre-booked groups as well as offering varied educational programmes. Some education departments organise productions for youth and school groups, as well as offering placements and work experience opportunities for young people.
Box office staff
They sell tickets, either over the counter, phone or the internet, working during the day and early evening. Some larger theatres sell their tickets through an external agency which operates longer hours.
Front of house and bar staff
They are the public face of a theatre, and work according to its performance times. Staff include ushers or theatre hosts who greet the audience and direct them to their seats quickly and safely, or to the cloakrooms, toilets and bars. They also sell confectionary, programmes, souvenirs, merchandise and refreshments, an important source of income for a theatre. Their duties also include assisting less mobile members of the audience. All are trained in security and health and safety, including the safe and speedy evacuation of the theatre.
They maintain and clean the theatre each day and are required to work around performance times. Some work may be carried out during the night.
Who produces and presents a show?
Other than the performers and artists, a large, highly-skilled team is needed to produce and present a show. Most are never seen by the audience.
The producer is responsible for finding the money to finance a show and managing the financial risks. He or she will also source the performers and the team who will create and put on the show. If a theatre is not producing its own show, then an independent producer or production company will be responsible.
The director develops the artistic vision of a production and often the overall programme to be presented by the theatre. If they work for a producing theatre or a production company they will direct productions. Once the production opens or goes on tour, the director passes their instructions to the stage manager or deputy who writes ‘the book’. This is the full script along with the prompts and cues for the performers as well as lighting, sound and scene changes and any last-minute changes or revisions.
Stage management team
A team of stage managers directs the performances of each show – a stage manager (SM), a deputy stage manager (DSM) and one or more assistant stage managers (ASM). The SM has overall responsibility for the stage in performance. The DSM will sit in the prompt corner, usually to Stage Left. From there they co-ordinate all aspects of the show by following ‘the book’, including sound, lighting and all scene changes using headsets and cuelights. They also make the ‘calls’, summoning the actors from the dressing rooms or the green room to the stage using a ‘tannoy’ or backstage public address system. Announcements are made thirty minutes, fifteen minutes and then five minutes before ‘curtain up’. The DSM also calls the audience into the auditorium by the ‘front of house’ public address system at the beginning of a show and at the end of the interval. The ASMs will usually run the ‘wings’ backstage – setting props and performing scene changes.
The company manager is responsible for all aspects of the staff’s welfare, including dealing with pay. They travel with the touring company. They are the most senior member of management backstage during a performance and are the connecting person between performance staff and the producers’ office. They will usually have a temporary office close to the green room.
The production manager is responsible for co-ordinating all the technical and staging requirements of a production. Some theatres have their own production or technical managers who work with the creative team responsible for the sets, props, costume, lighting and audio-visual media. They will also work with the artistic director, the musical director, the choreographer and the engineering team who design and deliver the creative team’s vision.
This team manages all technical aspects of a show, including the safe and effective use of equipment. Technical staff include lighting and sound operators and crew responsible for special effects such as smoke and pyrotechnics. Some work during the night when setting up performances.
They operate the scenery from high ramped walkways above the stage called fly floors. The scenery is ‘flown’ in using a counterweight or power-flying system, but when labour was cheap, it was operated manually by teams of men using ropes made of hemp. These were known as ‘hemp houses’. Some older theatres still are ‘hemp-houses’ or have a mixture of hemp, counterweights and power-flying.
The orchestra provides the music for musicals, opera, ballet and pantomime. A few theatres still have a resident orchestra, although they may only be needed on a casual basis. Most special concerts and musical productions will bring their own orchestra.
They are also known as stage hands and are responsible for shifting props and free-standing scenery during the show. They also operate moving stage machinery, including bridges, lifts, revolving platforms, trapdoors, trucks and wagons. Many are employed on a casual basis for specific shows.