“The other side of the curtain” – a students insight into alternative careers in the industry of Performing Arts

We live in a world where the performing arts has been divided into two fundamental areas: performance and behind the scenes.

The performance side is, considered by many, the most memorable aspect, for example when people think of the musical Wicked, they think of the iconic song ‘Defying Gravity’ and who it was performed by. And while this is not necessarily a bad thing, it is something that concerns me and many theatre practitioners around the world.

There have been thousands of essays and critical writings about this idea because the performing arts is not just about the acting and the singing. There is a lot more to it than that: directing, costume design, vocal coaching (for singers and non-singers), then there is the dramaturgical side, the musical direction, the technical aspects…the list goes on. A show would not be the spectacle that we see without the combination of all these areas and it is these behind the scenes elements that interest me the most about the performing arts.

Not everyone can or wants to be a performer, nor should anyone think that performance is all that is important. When going to the theatre, I have always been intrigued by how it all comes together for example, who built the set? Or who puts all the ‘x’ marks on the stage because it is certainly not pirates! Yes, the performers are who we watch for two and a half hours but they are not the fundamental creators of the show.  All the backstage team are listed in the program of every show, and it frustrates me that they are very rarely remembered in the same way as the performers.

I got the opportunity to have a Skype call with Ken Cerniglia (the dramaturge at Disney Theatrical Group) during my first year at University. He discussed the new stage adaptation of Frozen and how everything came together. He also discussed the more corporate side such as the marketing and the financing of this project. To have been in discussions with him was a very inspiring and eye-opening experience and really made me enjoy the backstage elements more than I already did because it is fascinating to look at everything and think about how the stage built by this person, supports the lyrics written by that person and how that relates to the lines those characters are saying.

I also had a personal email correspondence with him and we discussed the musical Newsies and how, over a seven-day period, it was made into a live recording, that is now accessible to theatre fans all over the world. This was an element of theatre that also really interested me because not every show can come from Broadway to the West End and vice versa. So how does it become accessible? How can someone from London experience the successful shows of New York even though they have not had an international transfer? And why are live recordings becoming so popular?

There are so many questions and there is so much to think about besides the performance and for myself this captures my attention as much as the performance does. But still there exists an idea that they are not equally important in how people perceive theatre and I have since learnt that these two ‘fundamental ideas’ should not be mutually exclusive. I appreciate both areas, not because of what they do alone, but by what they do together.

A performer does not have a performance without a script, but a script does not have success without characters. They go hand in hand and survive together.

Author – Megan Webb – Theatre Student

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