Who works in a theatre?
A lot of work goes into creating a theatre performance. It takes the work of many different specialised teams to complete all of the tasks required before the actors can even step foot on stage.
The number and range of people who work in a theatre depend upon its size and type. But whatever the scale of the theatre or the production it has always taken a team of people to get there.
Today, theatres can generally be divided into two types: Producing theatres or presenting theatres, but some do both.
Producing theatres have creative teams which develop new productions from existing or new works. This includes directors, musical directors and choreographers, as well as designers of sets, props, costume, lighting and audio-visual media. They might be freelance or based at the venue, with additional specialists being brought on as required. Often these theatres will also have craft departments to make or install the design elements chosen for the production. The performers are usually hired for a specific production although some venues do continue the tradition of having a venue company contracted for a longer period of time.
Presenting theatres, sometimes referred to as ‘receiving houses’, host visiting companies whose productions have been developed elsewhere and are touring to a number of venues.
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. They oversee the planning of the theatre’s programmes and have 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, websites and social media. They oversee the content, design, production and distribution of this 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
Finance and administration staff 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
Education and outreach staff 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.
Front of house staff
House Manager and Duty Manager
These managers are responsible for the safety of the audience and all front of house staff before, during and after a performance. They monitor audience arrivals and ensure that those who need assistance receive it. They have some operational and fiscal responsibility for the running of the bars, box office and merchandising. They also liaise with the back of house team, giving “clearance” when the audience is sat and the performance may begin.
Box office staff
Box office staff are generally the first point of contact for most audience members. They provide information about upcoming performances and sell tickets. They do this either from the box office at the venue, by phone or online. Some larger theatres also sell their tickets through an external agency.
Ushers and bar staff
These front of house staff are the public face of a theatre and work during performance times. Ushers or Theatre Hosts greet the audience and direct them to their seats, or to the cloakrooms, toilets and bars. They also sell confectionery, programmes, souvenirs and merchandise, and refreshments in the bar, all important sources of income for a theatre. Front of house staff is trained in health and safety, including the safe and speedy evacuation of the theatre.
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 of the team is never seen by the audience.
The Producer is responsible for finding the money to finance a show and managing the financial risks. They will also source the performers and the team which 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 Artistic director develops and oversees the implementation of the artistic vision and focus of a production and often the overall programme presented by a theatre. Depending on the size and style of the theatre management this role may be combined with that of the Chief Executive. The artistic director may also direct individual productions.
The Director may be a permanent member of a theatre’s staff or a freelancer hired for an individual show. They may be the theatre’s Artistic Director. This person conceives, develops and implements the artistic vision for the specific performance in collaboration with designers from the different departments. This includes collaboration with and directing the cast. The Director may work with an Assistant Director, with a Choreographer, responsible for any dance or movement design, and with a Fight Director, to ensure fight scenes are carefully choreographed, rehearsed and managed.
These are the key creatives who alongside the Director or create the setting for the production, allowing the audience to believe they are in a different place or time. Sometimes the different designer roles overlap with one another or with technical roles, depending on the size of the production. They are generally freelance roles that are hired for a specific performance although some theatres will recruit for long-term positions.
Set Designers design the set and Costume Designers design the costumes for a production. The positions can be combined for smaller productions. In that case, the person responsible is known as a Theatre Designer. Set Designers work with the Production Manager, Stage Managers and Carpenters in the workshop to build the set according to a set of plans, working drawings and scale model, and to make sure the props work with the design concept and needs of the performance. Costume Designers work with the Production Manager, Stage Manager and Wardrobe to source and create the costumes. Theatre Designers may do their own construction and sourcing if the company or theatre does not have a workshop or wardrobe.
Lighting Designers create the lighting for a show, contributing to the overall atmosphere of a production and helping to create the impression of different times of the day. Sound Designers are responsible for how a production sounds, including creating sound effects and making sure the show sounds as good as it can for the audience.
The Stage Management team is responsible for the organisation of the backstage crews and cast during performances as well as in the rehearsal room. It is often made up of a number of different stage management positions although in smaller productions there may only be one stage manager. Stage Managers are usually associated with a company either as a permanent member of staff or as a freelancer.
The Stage Manager is the most senior member of the Stage Management Team and is responsible for the health and safety of the performers and crew for every performance as well as for ensuring all departments have completed their tasks for the production to be performed during both the rehearsal and performance periods. This includes pre-show checks, particularly safety checks, including at fight or movement rehearsals.
The primary role of the Deputy Stage Manager is to call the show. Following the prompt book (the full script along with the prompts and cues for the performers as well as lighting, sound and scene changes), they talk to the department operators and technicians over a headset to coordinate the show. They will also use a public address system to summon the actors from their dressing rooms and to coordinate with the front of the house when the performance is about to start.
Assistant Stage Managers are the most junior members of the team, organising props and assisting with set and costume changes. The may also cover roles such as Dressers and Mechanists. Other duties include preparing the rehearsal room and stage.
The company manager is responsible for all aspects of the staff’s welfare, including dealing with pay. They travel with a touring company. They are the most senior member of management backstage during a performance and are the connecting person between performance staff and the producer’s office.
The Production Manager is responsible for coordinating all the technical and staging requirements in a production. The Production manager connects the producers with the creative team and holds ultimate fiscal responsibility when reporting to the producer.
This team manages technical aspects of a show covering sound, lighting and AV. This including the safe and effective use of equipment such as lights, projectors, speakers and microphones.
Every venue has a Technical Manager although this role may be combined with operational roles depending on the size of the venue. They are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the technical equipment for the venue. They may also act as liaison with visiting companies providing them with technical information including venue plans and safety requirements when using the venue.
Operators are usually technicians who know how to work with the technical equipment such as a lighting board, computer or sound desk to ‘plot’ the technical cues on and then operate during the show. The usually sit in the control box so that they can see the stage.
The staging department is responsible for the setup of the stage and venue before a production moves in. Sometimes it is part of the technical department. Depending on the flexibility of the venue this could include changing the seating or stage configuration.
Flymen and Mechanists
Flymen operate the flying system in venues with this equipment. This may be a counterweight or power-flying system which relieves a significant amount of strain on the technician, but historically, flying systems were operated by teams of men using ropes made of hemp.
Mechanists operate the systems used for moving the set such as revolves, lifts and trucks (any set on wheels).
Orchestra or band
The orchestra or band provides the music for musical theatre, opera, ballet, pantomime and sometimes for theatre. A few theatres still have a resident orchestra, although they may only be needed on a casual basis. Touring productions will create a company orchestra which tours with the production. The orchestra or band can usually be found in the pit or orchestra pit but sometimes may be given a space on the stage from which to perform. TV monitors can be placed stage right and left above the stalls audience so that the cast may see the Musical Director conducting.