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How many stage hands/crew members for a show?

Discussion in 'Safety' started by miriam, Mar 16, 2008.

  1. miriam

    miriam Active Member

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    Hi,

    I did a show last week that had a lot of dead time, and the director blamed "technical problems", which means me, basically. I called the cues for the lights and ran the sound, which can definitely lead to being late and missing things. There was no stage manager. Or maybe the director was the stage manager?

    But I don't think it was me. I think it was because the show was props heavy, with four different backdrops, and 17 people sharing 10 mics, and getting miced up by people not completely familiar with mics.

    There were two props people for each side of the stage, one for backdrops, and two on mics. FOH there was me and the lighting tech. And no tech week. Just three rehearsals with props and CDs, one rehearsal with mics, lights, and backdrops. And none of the rehearsals were run straight through with no stops.

    So what is a normal amount of people to have on the crew for a show like this? And how much dead time between scenes is considered "okay", and how much is too long?

    Thanks, everyone.
     
  2. Spikesgirl

    Spikesgirl Active Member

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    The best news is that you survived the run. That is always a boon. Just consider it a learning experience hard gained. it is insane to think of a TD trying to also SM - how did they get through rehearsals? Wait, don't answer that. There are no hard and fast rules for how many people you need, I've run shows with four crew people, including myself. Last musical we did, we had 25 crew members. We were tripping over ourselves at times. The reality is that it's almost impossible to have too many crew, but all too common to not have enough.

    For a show like the one you described, I would try to have about 10 to 12 various crew members: SM, ASM(2 - one for each side of the stage), a deck chief, flyperson, props (one or two, depending upon the need), a floater - someone who could help wherever they needed help and the deck hands for scenery. Then there are the techs in the booth, light, sound board ops. We would also have several dressers, who could also pitch in whenever or wherever we needed help.

    Did you assemble the running crew? If so, then you know you'll need more hands for the next one. If you didn't, then I don't see how it could be your fault - ultimately - for not getting things done as quickly as the director would like.

    Time between scene changes - those can seem like hours even when they are just a very seconds long. We had one that we had to hold the lights because the actress needed time to change. Set change was done in less than 45 seconds, but it seemed much longer. Did you have any music for the set changes - some times that helps make them seem shorter for the audience. If your set change is longer than a couple of minutes, then you need to think about ways of picking it up - usually that means adding more folks to help.

    Will you have to opportunity to work with another director, because, quite frankly, the one you just finished with is pretty bad news for a tech crew. I don't care what anyone body, ultimately the show goes back to the director and I would avoid working with this one again unless some ground rules are met.

    Sorry you had such a bad go of it - but the good news is that which doesn't kill us (or drive us out of the theater) makes us better prepared for the next one.

    Charlie
     
  3. len

    len Well-Known Member

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    I agree it sounds like you were understaffed. Some of the shows I've crewed for there have been as many as 3 people on the rail alone. Props can be as many as 6 people, etc. I don't know who sets staffing levels, but if they can't be met the volunteers and/or cast need to step up and work together.

    Hopefully, the director didn't make a public issue of it with you. I would have been more upset about that than anything else.
     
  4. mixmaster

    mixmaster Active Member

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    Something else that determines the number of running crew for my shows is the time we get to rehearse. I remember several shows in high school where we had 1 or two guys (or gals) on the deck and two guys in the booth. The ONLY way we made that work though, was by having lots of rehearsal time to practice things. It takes time for people to find short cuts and time savers. It sounds like you got the short end of the stick on both time and crew though, and there's not much you can do to get out from behind the 8-ball then. Typically we have a crew member for both boards, a stage manager, and however many deckhands we can find. Costumers are another depart. and not my problem, and if the actors lose/break their props, thats not my problem either.
    If you can afford it, there is always a technological solution. I recall doing a one-off in a venue where the light and sound boards were linked with a MIDI connection. Light cue 103 or whatever was turning on a special light for an actor. Light cue 103.5 was a MIDI command to the sound board to turn on the actor's mic. The SM sat in the booth, tapped GO on the lightboard, and cued the stage. Not having a full crew in the booth saved his limited resources for the deck crew. I wish I had money....
     
  5. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    The number of crew we use varies from show to show, though many times we have as many crew as cast, sometimes more, and sometimes less. Of course when you add in the dressers and costume people there are almost always more crew than cast. it all depends. Some shows we have a big crew because we need them for the one scene shift, but the rest of the time they just sit there. Sometimes the crew works like crazy.

    What we always have are:
    1 x SM
    2 x ASM
    1 x LX op
    1 x Sound op
    2 x Props Staff
    3 x Dressers
    Then we add crew as needed, so we may have an automation operator, more deck hands, a fly crew, up to 6 follow spots ops, up to 2 additional AEA SMs for musicals, and many more dressers. it all depends on the show, and really you want to have at least one person from each department on staff during a performance.

    As for your question about dead time, no time is too long. We did a show this season with a 50 minute scene and the other scenes were not short either. All that and there were only 2 major scene shifts. The SM and I played 2 games of scrabble every performance. The crew had an hour long break, almost, every show. It is what it is, you just do whatever the show demands. That was also a show where we had almost twice the number of crew as we had cast.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2008
  6. Hughesie

    Hughesie Well-Known Member

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    one production they tried to elimate the snd guy by using one of those auto mixers. it didn't work with 4 radio mics did it. no because people would talk off stage
     
  7. themuzicman

    themuzicman Well-Known Member

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    I am not sure what size place you are at, but coming from a high school perspective I know what you mean.

    I am stage managing the final show of my Senior Year, my first time stage managing. Our director mandated the number of crew in our last few shows, always having way too many. She wanted to get a lot of people in on "the experience".
    I prefer to have efficiency to experience, so I refused to allow more than 8 kids. A few read through's with the script, and talks with TD and props got me to this number. Our last show had something like 20 kids, 2 asm's and 1 sm. The 2 asm's were useless, and only 12 of the kids were utilized. The other's just sat around and complained. I refuse to allow any scenario like that.

    Honestly though, it is hard to figure out (at least in my level of experience), exactly how much help is needed and where to place them at the beginning.
     
  8. Spikesgirl

    Spikesgirl Active Member

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    We tended to have an overabundance backstage at the college was I with, merely because if you were on a running crew, it satisfied your class requirement (we had three classes - two were general eds - that required a minimum of 15 hours in the shop or on a running crew, reports on five plays and a term paper (or another 10 hours in the shop or crew). needless to say, we frequently had a mess of folks who just got in the way and don't even talk about the strike! Once we had 78 people show up - eek!

    Miriam - this is another experience thing and it does get easier over time. Be firm, but make sure your director never puts you into this position again because you have as much right as everyone else to succeed!

    Charlie
     
  9. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    Miriam... knowing very little about your show... I would say your biggest problems were a lack of pre-planning, a lack of rehearsal, and a director who doesn't understand how to rehearse tech into a show.

    1) Pre-planning. As the T.D. I meet with the director and we talk about set changes weeks before the show goes up. I'm looking for trouble points in movement. We talk about what set pieces go on and off, where they go etc. Long before tech rehearsal, I can tell you where the bad points will be. With this information I can work with the crew to plan how they are attacking the difficult set changes during tech rehearsals. Sometimes it is literally necessary to slow the whole thing down and rehearse it step by step just like a fight is choreographed one punch at a time in slow motion.

    2) Enough Rehearsal. We typically run one long tech rehearsal, sometimes followed by a second full tech rehearsal, or just a cue to cue tech. Then we run three full dress rehearsals. If crew is still having a hard time on the first dress, I call them in to run the changes before the 2nd and 3rd dress runs.

    3) The Director factor. Some directors don't fully grasp the role they play in making tech more or less complicated. As the T.D. I watch rehearsals and stay involved as much as possible. Then I go to the director and say... "can this prop be removed in the previous set change?", "can we move the placement of this set piece to the left?", or "when that actor leaves can he take this with him?". Other times they just direct a scene in a way that makes a clean set change impossible. Again being involved in the process and working with the director can help a lot.

    As a side note, you mention issues with 17 people sharing 10 mics. Unless every scene there is a different group of people on stage, that shouldn't be too hard to do. I've certainly seen much worse. Have you been taught how to do a mic plot? A well organized mic plot and well rehearsed crew should make that quite easy. If the mic person is good, well practiced (and you are lucky with timing in the script) on person can probably handle that... two if there are some quick switches. Let us know if you need more help with that.
     
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  10. miriam

    miriam Active Member

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    I think that is definitely it. And also, getting a strong commitment from the crew. I do not think the director understands how much goes on backstage, and how much it is an entire show in itself. This is her third show in a proper theater. It used to be much more amateur, and nobody expected anything major, but now since it is in a theater, the pressure to make it as professional as possible is there. And she doesn't have theater experience. Some of the performers do, the choreographer does, but the only one with backstage experience was me.

    And I told her way in advance I was not going to be the stage-manager-wannabe-technical-director this time. This time I was a sound tech and operator (and also cueing lights). And I called someone I had worked with previously specifically to be in charge of mics, and they put her on props, and two props people they put on mics. I found this out during intermission, and they would not switch responsibilities.

    And also about the mics, I do not think it was the number of mics necessarily, but the fact that the seven main actresses were also main dancers, and they had lots of scenes together. They had to change costumes many times, and reattach mics that came loose during costume changes (they usually had the same mics). I do not think the intervening scenes were long enough for them all to do that, especially with two props people who had not previously handled mics and no people helping with costume changes.

    So anyway, enough complaining.

    The director writes the script herself, then gives it me to read for sound and light cues and changes. I did not think to read it for scene changes, costume changes, or trouble spots. I think she would be open to any suggestions I have, but what suggestions do I have? I am not used to reading the script that way. I used to do her shows going in twenty directions at once, and I do not want to do that again. So what should I look for when I am reading it the first few times?

    Definitely more rehearsal time with tech is needed. We have never done a rehearsal with just tech, what is that like? Are the performers there? And is it possible to rehearse it without a stage available?

    Thank you so much!
     
  11. Spikesgirl

    Spikesgirl Active Member

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    Miriam I'm not gaff, but this is my two cents worth. When I approach a script, the first time I read it is simply to read it and get a feel for the storyline. This sounds like more of a dance show, so perhaps that wouldn't work as well.

    Then, I break the scenes down and decide what is the most important aspect of each one; that's where I start building cues - it will tell me the central point of the scene and I go backward to see where entrances and exits are. I also try to determine the overall feeling of the scene and that helps with light levels and gel colors.


    Also determine if there is anything happening off stage, where a mic should be coming up so that the actor/ actress has sound the second the entrance is made.

    Lighting and sound are not my strong points, but for the few shows in which I've had to design both or either, that's how I approach it

    As for tech rehearsals, we usually have two - one is a cue-to-cue in which only the crew is on hand and you run through all the cues so that the crew is familiar with them. Then we have what we call a dry run tech, in which the actors are on stage and move through their blocking so that we can fine tune things, We don't necessarily do the entire show, just the parts where there are cues built. Then we have a dress rehearsal which combines everything and we get to see how it looks just prior to our preview audience.

    Not all theaters have that sort of lead time, but that's what we have done in my last two theaters and it really cuts down on the errors or suprises come opening night.

    Hope this helps a little.

    Charlie
     
  12. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    There are basicly Fourt types of tech rehearsals. If you have lots of time in the space then running all of them is GREAT, but often there isn't enough time to do that. First there is the "paper tech". You should definitely be doing paper tech. It's best to do it a week or two before the performance. The director meets with the entire crew and goes through the script and discuss every entrance exit, light cue, sound cue, set change etc... it's done around a table and everyone takes notes.

    Next there is the "dry tech". This is the crew in the space practicing their work without the actors in the way. It sounds something like this... "Ok this is the transition from Act 1 scene 2 to Act 1 scene 3. We have sound cue "E" light cue 13 and 14, lineset 17 goes out, lineset 19 comes in, there is a quick costume change up right, and there is a set change from the kitchen to the bed room. Everyone ready? let's go. Hold please. The people bringing the bed on I need you to wait until the table has been removed... let's do it again."

    A "Wet Tech" takes this one step further and includes actors. The actors are there they come in and do their entrances and exits but they often get cut off and asked to skip to another point in a scene or they are asked to go back and repeat something over and over until the tech crew gets it right. This rehearsal is critical if you have a lot of things being hauled on and off by actors.

    Finally a fourth option is a "Cue to Cue" (or "Q2Q"). A Q2Q is a quick version of a Wet Tech. It is typically done for a show that has lots of complicated changes if things aren't going so well in the previous techs. Actors literally walk on say one line, the S.M. calls hold, and we skip to their cue line at the end of the scene and do the next bit of tech.

    Actors HATE Wet Tech and Q2Q. They are boring and there is a lot of standing around while the crew makes changes and does things over and over. But it's critical to a seamless show.
     
  13. miriam

    miriam Active Member

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    You know, what I have been calling cue to cue was a bit off, and I can see lots of places for us to become a much stronger team for next time.

    Maybe we can measure the stage and wings, and then tape out sections of it somewhere. They do that for the dances, but they do not tape out the wings also. Then we can practise properly the scene changes, props, costume changes before the dress rehearsals even if we do not have the sound and lights set up until the afternoon of the show. I can't imagine anywhere big enough, though, that we won't have to rent.

    But that would make a huge difference.
     
  14. Spikesgirl

    Spikesgirl Active Member

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    It's funny that we do the same thing, but with a name reversal (well, sort of - I've never heard of a wet tech). However, the name isn't as important as the rehearsal itself. The only way a show will run smoothly (or as smoothly as it is likely to get) is to rehearse the tech as well as the actors. It's only fair - you wouldn't think of having actors sit at a table and run lines until the opening and then send them out on stage with a list of their blocking and expect them to get it all right.

    Charlie
     
  15. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    When my college rent's the big theater down the street for shows we run a full afternoon of tech on Sunday, followed by a second tech/dress rehearsal Monday, dress rehearsals Tuesday, and Wednesday, and finally run the show for an audience starting on Thursday.

    It's expensive and it may be impossible for your school Miriam, but there are always tech issues that don't get smoothed out until our 3rd dress rehearsal... sometimes opening night. That's four full rehearsals plus a day devoted just to tech. It simply takes a lot of time to get it right and even the best tech crews have a hard time adapting to a space.

    Remember our previous discussion about how Cirque takes their whole theater with them in a tent rather than try to adapt to existing buildings. Those who do adapt to buildings have a very detailed designed set that is designed to fit a certain size stage. When they move in and its sort of like they are installing their theater on a truck to inside another building.

    Shows that have to travel to a rented space are very difficult as renting get's VERY expensive. You can save yourself a lot of pain if you carefully consider how every bit of tech works and fits into the place that it will be performed.
     
  16. achstechdirector

    achstechdirector Active Member

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    we are usually overstaffed at my school

    What do you do with them?

    If you know let me know.
     
  17. len

    len Well-Known Member

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    As someone who does nearly 100% of his shows with no rehearsal (corporate, weddings, product reveals, etc.) and most with not even so much as a program or a run sheet, it can put you in a difficult situation. I have learned a few things:

    1. accept the fact that there are a million things that could/would/should have been done differently had you known. But you never will because there just isn't enough time and the client is often just one of many people making decisions, ALL of whom will forget to tell you anything; and,

    2. learn to add in a lot of stuff into the bid so that you can cover more eventualities. I always build a lot of "buffer" into bids I put together, simply because no matter how many questions I ask, they don't know, don't plan, and likely just don't care. Until the moment comes in the middle of the show when they say "I want a sort of dark, industrial look in happy colors on the whole area right now." And yes, that kind of stupidity has been asked of me before.

    Finally, your attitude will get you through a lot of these situations. Act as if you know what you're doing, even if you don't; and no matter how stupid the request, act like the client is brilliant for asking it. Never say no to any request. First, re-state what they want (which usually makes them understand how ridiculous the request is) and then say "I can do it, but it'll take this and this and this and this and this and about X hours of time. I need you to marshall all your people right here and put them under my command right now and we'll get it done." Then start doing it. Chances are, they'll rethink the situation and leave you alone. But sometimes they won't.

    Always be willing to do the impossible for the ungrateful. Most of the time it won't make anyone any happier, but it will keep the client out of your hair for a while.
     
  18. ChickenLive

    ChickenLive Member

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    I have had a similar problem with number of crew members and stuff. The biggest one was when we did the musical "Hello, Dolly." We had a couple months to prepare and get things done, but not enough crew or management to get it done effectively. We have the director/drama teacher that basically manages everything. I was very hard to do things when she was the only one and it being my first year and not many others skilled enough or willing enough to step up and work. Our set construction crew consisted of me and mostly others that were also actors (who usually didn't know how to build or never had time to help). To my knowledge, this set was the biggest and hardest one that we have ever done. The lighting was also crazy because we didn't have enough help from the couple of people who actually knew some about it (mainly because they were actors in the production). So, lighting was done by me (basically had to self teach and ask around to learn how to do it) and someone else who had done it somewhat before but was is very timid about making decisions. Sound was done pretty well by someone who knew her stuff but the mics didn't always want to work.

    Next, set, choreography, and final rehearsals were all down to literally the day before and the hours before. Next would have to be, not enough time to ever do a full tech rehearsal with lights, sound, and props all completely ready. I had actually never seen the full show front to back from my spot in the booth until the opening production. Which consisted of coordinating two light boards and a spotlight (which I had never touched before) in a complex sequence. In all, we probably had 8 or so techies, a couple makeup artists, and 30 or so actors, that had to handle most of their own props, running the 2 hr production. Oh ya, I also had to flip a wall and door section during intermission because no one else knew how to do it (Sprinting down the hall with a drill and a ladder, LOL).

    So, through the whole ordeal, I wasn't too impressed with how the techie side was managed. It was just too much for the drama teacher to work with the actors all the time and the techies. I did the best I could for doing it my first year and some people luckily helped out a lot, but it was a workout. Though, I wish I would have gotten into being a techie earlier, considering that I'm a senior, despite the crazy experience.

    Boy, maybe I should have put this in the rant section?

    Cheers!
     
  19. Spikesgirl

    Spikesgirl Active Member

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    Everything that doesn't kill you just makes you mad as hell. Everyone has had at least one or two (or a hundred) experiences such as you described. I truly feel that it's the PTB's way of testing you - to see if you have what it takes to be a tech. If you still want to do the job afterwards, then you'e started paying some of those dues everyone talks about. Doesn't make it any easier or pleasant, but do know that you're not alone and that it does get better with the more experience you have.

    Char5lie
     
  20. rustystuff

    rustystuff Member

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    I couldn't have put it any better....

    I had some shows in high school that were similar to what you described, although not quite as "challenging". As painful and frustrating as they were, they did serve as an incredible learning experiences. It helped me learn how to deal with utter chaos, and how to prioritize.(No flames, no problem....)

    Because of this, you WILL be a better tech, and much more valuable to your orginization in future shows.

    Keep smiling....
     

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