We are all theatermakers trying to make the production process smoother and more enjoyable for all parties involved. At the end of each of our shows, we talk to the DSM team to discuss the project and reflect on what went well and what could have been improved. We've collected advice based on feedback (as well as our own experiences) to better inform students on what they can do to put on a great production.
Using Second Stage as a resource.
+ Don't be afraid to contact Second Stage staff.
Our responsibility as staff members is to communicate with students and help them make theater! Make sure your designers know who to contact on staff to help them out, and then encourage them to actually contact us. Second Stage staffers are the most familiar with our equipment, performance spaces, and production process, so all we want to do is make your show as smooth as possible.
+ 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 else too. Second Stage is the best way to experiment in a safe theatrical space, and we love big ideas and even bigger passions.
+ Don’t forget to get purchases approved before making them.
Since Second Stage has been around for so long, we have a good relationship with the school for funding our student projects. Therefore, you shouldn't have to spend your own money! Make sure to get your budget approved so you can buy what you need and use Second Stage funds to make the purchase.
+ Use this website!
We developed this website to be the easiest way to get answers to your questions, to get a sense of Second Stage's history and past productions, and to learn how you can get involved in Wesleyan's theater community. It's all useless unless Wesleyan students use it! We try to be as accessible and transparent as possible, and this site is our greatest attempt at bridging the gap to get more people into theater.
Managing the workload of Second Stage and student theater.
+ Don’t overcommit yourself.
Wesleyan students have a habit of wanting to do everything. (We know: Second Stage staffers are the first to admit they're doing too much!) Sometimes it's better to focus your attention on one or two projects rather than taking on more than you can handle. It also sucks for the rest of your team if you can't commit to a project fully, so think about how your work affects others when saying "yes" to more shows.
+ Know what you're getting into.
Theater can be intimidating, time-consuming, and technically difficult. Designers, actors, directors, writers, and stage managers all face their own challenges throughout a theatrical production. Nevertheless, we love theater because it is challenging and also incredibly fun and rewarding. Just make sure that you know the scope of a project before saying "yes" so that you don't realize later on that you either can't tackle the project or aren't passionate about it.
+ Never lose sight of the fun in theater.
While theater may be stressful, it's also incredibly rewarding. If you ever feel that you're not enjoying working in theater, it might be wise to take a step back and see what's making the experience unpleasant for you. Theater is about learning and having fun, so if you're not having a good time then it's completely okay to readjust your workload for future projects.
Staying on top of your show as a director.
+ Work on other peoples' shows before deciding to direct.
Directing is a big job, and you'll have a much easier time if you know what's expected of you going in. It's not for everyone, and there are plenty of ways to contribute to productions without directing (like designing, assistant directing, stage managing, etc.). There are a limited number of spots for directors every semester and more show applications than we can put up, so if you're not super passionate about directing you might want to look into another way of getting involved!
+ Don't be scared of classic texts.
You are welcome to put your own spin on a well-known play and make of it what you want. Remember that Second Stage is all about experimentation and creativity, so make use of this unique opportunity to try out something you never would be able to otherwise!
+ Choose an earlier performance weekend if you want a more intensive rehearsal process.
The earlier a show goes up during a semester, the easier it is for your actors to commit more time to your project. Longer rehearsal periods don't necessarily make for a better show, while a rigorous few weeks can keep the production fresh and exciting.
We also offer a winter intensive program, where one show can rehearse over winter break and go up in the first few weeks of a semester. Since this is a popular request, we ask that anyone who wants to put up a winter intensive have a particular reason other than it's convenient for timing purposes.
+ 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” to balance the power dynamic. 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.
+ Don't assume everyone is on top of everything.
Often, people aren't on top of what they are responsible for. It's not your responsibility as a director to do other people's jobs for them. Instead, you should be sure to give clear communication of your expectations for designers and actors, including deadlines and check-in points. It's wise to do this even before your production is approved.
Who/how to cast for your show.
+ Pre-casting isn't how we work.
You may have specific people in mind for roles when you put on a show, but you cannot pre-cast your show. Your audition process needs to be fair and you'll often be surprised by the unexpected talent that some Wesleyan students have. Student theater is primarily an educational process, and it's often better to work with people you want to learn and improve with.
+ Don't be afraid to cast someone unexperienced.
Second Stage is a resource that directors, designers, and actors benefit from. Every show is the opportunity to get better at your craft, and there aren't always many outlets for actors to improve their abilities or try out new interests. In the end, student theater is about having fun and experimenting, so don't exclude people to put on a "flawless" production (since the goal of student theater isn't to do that).
+ Cast people who are committed to spending time on your show.
Rehearsals are a very time-intensive extracurricular activity that not everyone can commit to. Find out the schedules of people early on so that you don't have to compromise on scheduling down the road. Busy schedules can often lead to tense relationships when it comes to rehearsals, and that can lead to a strenuous production process.
Selecting your performance location.
+ Book rehearsal and performance spaces as early as possible.
Spaces fill up extremely early in the semester, and you don't want a headache of trying to figure out locations later on. Talk with our Campus Space Coordinator at the beginning of the semester to book your performance space, and book your rehearsal spaces online as soon as you can for every week up until your production. That being said, don't overbook because actors are students too and other shows also need to rehearse!
Keep in mind that if you book any rooms in the Theater Department, you are liable to get booted if a department event requires your space. We recommend any rehearsal spaces that are just sizeable, comfortable rooms (they don't have to be theatrical locations!).
+ Booking spaces can be difficult; come to us for help.
Second Stage's reputation makes it a little easier for us to book campus spaces (and yet we've still had some crazy issues in the past!). Our Campus Space Coordinator will help resolve conflicts with the people who run your requested campus space, as well as the school's administration.
+ Second Stage is not centered around the '92.
Yes, we have an amazing theater available for numerous student productions every semester. No, that doesn't mean every show gets or needs to use the space (or idolize the space over the show!). Shows in campus spaces are often more intimate, and the uniqueness of each location contributes greatly to the tone and aesthetic of your show. Second Stage productions have even thrived in locations such as Foss Hill and Olin Library.
(Also remember that WestCo Café is not the only campus space option.)
+ Matinées can affect the amount of light in the space.
While we can cover the windows in the '92, campus spaces often have a lot of natural lighting pouring into them. Second Stage productions typically occur at night, but keep this in mind if you choose to do a matinée performance (it's not necessarily a bad thing to have extra light!).
Learning to be an effective designer.
+ Pay attention to the designs of other shows.
Watch closely to see how other shows use design elements and what equipment they have at their disposal (e.g. lights, microphones, props, costumes, etc.). Most Second Stage shows share the same resources, so seeing what other people use and do will give you a good idea of what's possible to achieve in a student production.
+ Let limitations inspire creativity.
Second Stage is not about putting up flawless productions. We encourage creativity and experimentation because we are not a professional theatrical environment; you are not presenting your work for a paying commercial audience. We have limited money, time, and space to put on amazing shows, so come up with creative solutions when you reach a roadblock instead of getting frustrated at the limits of student theater. Second Stage has an inordinate amount of resources for a student theater company, so be sure to effectively use what we do have!
+ Don't put aesthetic before safety.
There is always a way to make your dream designs very safe. If there is ever a situation where someone is in a dangerous or uncomfortable position, then you should reevaluate your design choices and find an alternative. This isn't just a suggestion, but a Second Stage requirement and also a rule to follow indefinitely.
+ Use a fight choreographer for violent or dangerous moments.
We did not always require fight choreographers, and fight scenes or onstage violence would often be dangerous and unrealistic. Fight choreographers are not just there to teach safe methods of onstage violence, but know the best ways to make such violence seem as realistic as possible. We now require fight choreographers to assure safe conditions are met and all actors are comfortable.
+ Always tell your DSM team when you won't meet a deadline.
You should never be the person who holds an entire production up. Tell your director and stage manager when you are falling behind schedule, and tell them as soon as possible. No one will criticize honesty if you alert the appropriate people in a timely manner! You can always enlist additional help in the form of assistants, 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 designers more experience.
If you feel comfortable designing a show, reach out to students interested in designing to let them help out and shadow your work! It can often be difficult to break into the theater scene when you have no prior exposure to it or experience. Chances are someone taught you the ropes, so pass it on to someone else!
+ Ask for help as early as possible.
If you need assistants, or if your show requires extra carpenters, electricians, etc., then make sure to reach out to recruit people as early as possible. Getting help can be a huge headache when everyone is busy later in the semester, so you want to prepare and save yourself a huge logistical hassle.
Writing plays for student productions.
+ Use AnyStage as a stepping stone to a full production.
Through AnyStage, you can have as many readings, workshops, and talkbacks as you like for each stage of your writing or revision process. It's invaluable to hear your work read aloud as well as receive honest feedback, and your fellow students are more than happy to help you succeed. If and when you eventually want to produce a full production of your work, you will save a tremendous amount of time by avoiding major revisions during the rehearsal period.
+ Figure out your relationship with the director of your work.
Some playwrights prefer to direct their own work, while others prefer to write when collaborating with a trustworthy director that genuinely cares about the play. If you are working with a director, talk to them about what your role in the rehearsal process will be. Remember that even if your director recommends changes to your work, you are still the sole owner of the script and have the ultimate say. (This is actually a legal issue, and you can learn more about how ownership works at the Dramatists Guild.)
+ 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're falling behind. Don’t ask your actors to memorize new lines during tech week (the last week of rehearsals), or throw off the rehearsal schedule because you couldn’t meet a deadline. Once you enter the production process, the emphasis is no longer on revisions but on the show that needs to go up as flawlessly as possible.
Working out the kinks of tech week.
+ Don’t underestimate the time and effort tech will take.
Tech will always be more work than you expect, and more will go wrong than you expect. That's a rule though, so don't be scared when it actually happens! It's best to be prepared for things to go wrong, so definitely do not leave important tasks for the last week of your production.
+ Give yourself strict deadlines.
Create 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 new ideas, since you want to make sure everything works for opening night. Remember that the audience doesn't get to see your trying out new things, because they only get to see the final product. If you make a significant change that doesn't pan out, your whole show will suffer as a result.
+ Don’t limit yourself because you want a shorter strike.
Don't even worry about strike. All of Second Stage staff assists with strike, and even the worst of it hasn't been so bad. When making creative decisions, you should focus on putting on the show and not taking it down.
+ Educate your cast on how to safely move around the set.
Some sets have dangerous edges, obstacles, or platforms to fall off of. Furthermore, some shows have sets that can be easily damaged if people aren't careful. Take care of your team and your set by communicating with everyone on your production and setting up rules for tech week. (This is especially important if the set is dimly lit at any point.)