From my first grade acting class's rendition of Mary Poppins, to my college tap dance shows, I’ve always been the kind of person who enjoys finding myself onstage. While I frequently act as a performer, I have rarely gotten to see the other side of the performance–the view from backstage; however, that changed for me this semester. As the tour guides often say, Tufts, as a liberal arts university, deeply values that its students broaden their horizons and gain experiences doing things outside of their normal spheres of interest. In accordance, the dance department requires that all dance minors complete a backstage credit, working as the crew for one of their shows. Two weekends ago, I fulfilled mine by serving as an “usher” and “backstage crew member” with my friend, James.
When I arrived at Jackson Gymnasium (pictured above), our dance studio that can be transformed into a beautiful performance space, I did not know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect that the assistant production manager would toss a clipboard and headset at me and tell me that I was in charge! Thrust into this fast-paced environment, James and I had to pick up the ropes quickly. Our main tasks included opening and closing the curtains, opening the doors to let the dancers in for their numbers, and assisting with quick changes backstage. We also doubled as the ushers at the beginning of the show, checking for tickets and counting the number of seats we had.
Luckily, we weren’t completely on our own, at least during the tech rehearsals. Rosie, the assistant production manager of the Tufts Dance and Performance Studies (TDPS) department, worked with us to make sure we knew how to read our run sheets, which listed the order of all of the things we had to do. The costume designers showed us how to load these lit orb balls onto a belt and then fasten the belt around a dancer during a quick change. Jenny, one of my teachers in the dance department, taught us how to pull the curtain the most efficiently, and when we missed the mark (quite literally, taped to the ground to show us where the curtain should end up), the stage manager, Noah, told us how to fix it over our fancy schmancy headsets.
Did we do a perfect job? Not even close. As the superstition warns, a perfect dress rehearsal means a messy show, and that was the exact situation we encountered. During our first performance, the belt slipped and some of the orbs went tumbling off of the belt. As they hit the ground and rolled away like bowling balls, we scrambled to grab them and reload them onto the belt. With limited time, we only managed to secure three of the five, before sending the soloist out to dance. During another part of the show, James and I moved the curtain inward to close it. Both of us were so concentrated on where we were pulling the curtain that we ran into each other in front of the entire audience. Oof!
Despite these mishaps though, I had a great time. James and I were allowed to participate in the full cast warm-up, taking a ballet barre with a guest teacher, Heidi. We also got to eat amazing chocolate whoopie pies, made by the department's staff assistant, Lindsey, as a thank you for our efforts. And best of all, between dance parties behind the curtain with James, and reassuring remarks over our headsets from Noah telling us that we were doing okay, we got to join a lovely, supportive community of crew members backstage.
Was I great at crew? Not at all. Will I do crew again? Probably not, but I am so glad that I got the opportunity to try something new and to see everything that goes into making a performance a success! My Emma’s advice for you today is, break out of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. After all, even if you mess up, the show will go on!