At the end of each of our shows, directors, stage managers, and sometimes designers meet with a couple of staff members to discuss their projects and to reflect on the ups and downs of their processes. Here is a selection of the advice past crews would like to pass on to future shows:
Don't be afraid to contact Second Stage staff
On that note, also make sure your designers know who to contact on staff and encourage them to contact us if they have any questions! We join staff knowing how big of a time commitment it is, and a large part of that is answering your questions and helping you on shows.
Go for that ambitious & Crazy project
There is no typical Second Stage production. We welcome dance groups, performance artists, festival-type-thingies, devised pieces, experimental pieces, original musicals and plays, and everything of the sort. If you feel at any point that we are excluding your interest or passion (either in dialogue or in our Show Application form), please contact us and we'll figure out what we did wrong.
Don’t forget to get purchases approved
This one should be self-explanatory.
Use this website— It's awesome...
...says the person who made the website. Anyway, everything covered in Monday meetings is also readily available here, as well as a rich history of Second Stage productions and upcoming events. Plus, if you ever need to contact staff, all of our info is right here!
Don’t do multiple major projects in a semester
Committing to too many things will make life difficult for you and everyone who has to work around your schedule. Being prolific is entertaining, but can often damage the quality and fun of your work.
Know what you're getting into
This goes for designers, actors, and the entire directorial team. Theater is challenging and tends to suck up a lot of time, but it's often worth it for the amazing things you will learn and make through the process. Just don't accept a project without knowing all the things that go into it, because you may be coerced into working on something you aren't super passionate about.
Never lose sight of the fun in theater
Working on a show is usually stressful, but it should always be fun. Otherwise, there's no point in making theater. If you feel like you're losing sight of why you enjoy working in theater, maybe take a step back and see where you're pushing yourself unreasonably hard for a level of perfection that may not be worth it, especially since we are putting on student theater with a focus on learning.
Work on other peoples' shows before deciding to direct
It's a big job. It's not that you can't do it, but that you'll have a much easier time if you know what's expected of you going in. (Plus, you may not like it, and that's a big commitment to make if you don't know what you're getting into!) Maybe be an assistant director or stage manager first, but feel free to take your time.
don't be scared of classic texts
Putting your own spin on a well-known play gives you unlimited creativity, and that's what student theater is all about. Just do what you want and what you think will be awesome, and put your heart and soul into it to put on the best show that you can!
Go up earlier if you want a more intensive rehearsal process
We do offer a winter intensive program, where one show can rehearse over winter break and go up in the first few weeks of a semester, but this advice goes for anyone who wants a more rigorous rehearsal period. When people's schedules aren't as packed, they are more likely to really focus on your show, and you may end up getting some amazing performances out of that.
non-traditional production teams should meet early on
If you have a non-traditional production team configuration (e.g. co-SMs, a large number of directors, a playwright-director partnership, etc.), sit down with your team and write a “roommate contract” of sorts. Discuss who can be expected to perform each task, how potential conflicts will be dealt with, and what the dynamic in the rehearsal room will be. Actually, you might want to do this even if you have a traditional production team.
Don't assume everyone is on top of everything
Followup: don't do other people's jobs for them. Be sure to give clear communication of what you expect throughout the process (such as deadlines, job expectations, etc), even before a person accepts a position on your team.
pre-casting isn't the best way to do things
Sure, you may have specific people in mind for roles when you put on a show. Your audition process should be fair nonetheless and you may be surprised by the unexpected talent that some Wesleyan students have. Also, keep in mind that student theater should be an educational process, and sometimes it's better to work with people you want to learn and improve with.
Don't be afraid to cast someone with little-to-no experience
Student theater is a place to learn, and Second Stage is no exception. We've provided you a place to experiment and try out new things, including giving more people the opportunity to participate in theater. In the end, it's about having fun more than putting on the best show of all time, just keep in mind that we are all students.
cast people who are committed to spending time on your show
Don’t cast people who you know have ridiculous schedules if there’s another good option. It’s always better to have to do more work with someone who will actually be present. Busy schedules can often lead to tense relationships when it comes to rehearsals, and that's a big bummer for theatrical work.
Book rehearsal and performance spaces as early as possible
It's much more difficult to book a space later than earlier, and you don't want that headache when your show is about to go on. As for rehearsal spaces, Wesleyan is a busy campus and you want to make sure your team gets adequate time in comfortable rooms. Just keep in mind that other shows need to rehearse too (so don't overbook!), and if you book any rooms in the Theater Department, you are liable to get booted if a department event requires your space.
If you are having a problem booking, come to us
Second Stage has been around for quite a while now, and we've gained a bit of leverage when it comes to booking because of that. If you are having conflicts with the people who are running a campus space, we can help you negotiate with them.
Second Stage is not centered around the '92
Yes, it's awesome that we have an amazing theater available for numerous student productions every semester. But, that's no reason to idolize the space over the show! Shows in campus spaces have the added benefit of theater intimacy that's often unreachable in the '92, and unique locations can actually contribute to the tone and aesthetic of your show. Second Stage productions have even thrived in locations such as Foss Hill and Olin Library.
Along with that, WestCo is not the only campus space option.
MatinÉes can affect the amount of light in the space
This is especially true in campus spaces. Also, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but something to keep in mind!
Pay attention to what other shows use and do
Pay close attention to what you see in other shows in terms of props, costumes, etc. because many Second Stage shows share resources. Additionally, this is a good way of getting a general idea of what's possible to achieve in a Second Stage production.
Let limitations inspire creativity
Since we're all students, we have limited money, time, and space to put on amazing shows. That shouldn't prevent you from doing what you want to do though, and you should figure out how to work within your limits to achieve creative solutions.
Don't every put aesthetic before safety
At the same time, there is often a way to make your aesthetically pleasing designs very safe. Regardless, no one should ever have to put themselves in dangerous or uncomfortable situations during a show because that is just a ridiculous and unreasonable thing to ask of your team.
use a fight choreographer for violent or dangerous moments
This is essential. Fight scenes and violence should always have assistance from a fight choreographer to make sure the actors are comfortable and safe in every situation.
Always tell your DSM team when you won't meet a deadline
Don’t wait until you are already behind schedule to tell them. Be honest! Shows will always survive as long as people on the team communicate, but when expectations aren't met and no one on the team is aware of these issues beforehand, problems are much harder to reconcile.
use your show to give new people more experience
Have inexperienced people on your team as long as they are known to be competent, because you will facilitate in the process of creating more experienced people. For example, pair inexperienced people with experienced ones, such as inexperienced (but enthusiastic!) scenic and lighting designers paired with experienced master carpenters and electricians.
Ask for help early
Get carpenters, electricians, etc. much earlier than you think you'll need them, and don’t wait until things aren’t getting done in time. If you can get as many people as you can and as early as you can, then you should be okay in any situation.
Use anystage as a stepping stone to a full production
With AnyStage, you can do as many readings, workshops, and talkbacks as you want at each stage of your writing or revision process. Hearing your work out loud, working with actors, and receiving feedback from your audience are invaluable as you revise your play. You want your play to be the best it can possibly be before you embark on a full production and using AnyStage will get you there.
Figure out your relationship with the director of your work
Some playwrights prefer to direct their own work. Others write better work when collaborating with a director they trust and who genuinely cares about the play as much as they do. If you are working with a director, talk to them about what your role in the rehearsal process will be. Also, see the "roommate contract" idea above in the DSM section as well.
Be mindful of the time it takes to write
If you are writing or re-writing your play throughout the rehearsal process, manage your time well. Agree on deadlines with your cast and director, and let them know in advance if you don’t think you can make a deadline. Don’t ask your actors to memorize a ton of new lines during production week, or throw off the rehearsal schedule because you couldn’t meet a deadline.
Don’t underestimate the time and effort tech will take
The rule of thumb tends to be that tech will always be more work than you expect, and more will go wrong than you expect. Don't be scared though, just be prepared!
Give yourself strict deadlines
Have a detailed plan for tech and stick to it. Tech should be about getting your rehearsed product onto a stage for people to see. Thus, this isn't the time to try out crazy new things out of nowhere, since you want to make sure everything works for opening night.
Don’t limit yourself because you want a shorter strike
Strike will be fine no matter what. Even the craziest productions are okay with strike. When making creative decisions, you should focus on putting on the show, not taking it down.
Educate your cast on how to move around the set safely
Some shows have sets with edges or obstacles or things to fall off of. Make sure your cast is comfortable moving around the space and thus not have to worry while they act. This is especially important during scene transitions if the set will be only dimly lit.