Making It Onstage Can Start Backstage

by Justin Lang
Ditch the drink tray and pick up a toolbelt. Photo credit: A creative commons image from flickr user jwcline
Ditch the drink tray and pick up a toolbelt. Photo credit: A creative commons image from flickr user jwcline

[While I’m on vacation, I’ve asked some friends to contribute blog posts. Today we hear from Justin Lang. Today’s post comes from Justin Lang Justin is a lighting designer and programmer in the Washington, DC area.  He is also the editor of our sister publication, Projection Lights and Staging News, (PLSN.com).]

Aspiring to be a professional actor is a wonderful and rewarding career. Getting there is a nightmare! I applaud those with dreams of being on Broadway and beyond. It takes years of practice, coaching and determination to get paid to do what you love. The road is different for everyone. Some take the path of moving to New York and working odd jobs like waiting tables or retail jobs while auditioning for part after part. Some make it, but many don’t. While you’re working towards your dream, consider ditching the waitstaff job for a backstage position. Yes, I’m asking you to consider the tech side of the force.

I have come to know quite a few actors in my career. Each has their own opinion of working the tech side of a production. For some, they embrace everything regarding theatre, from helping to build a set, to hanging a light, to running crew or make-up. They still have the dream and aspirations of making it on stage, but need to make a living until that happens. Rather then working a dead end job, they work behind the scenes.

We all need money to live, and until you land that break-out part that sets you on easy street, consider picking up a hammer or wrench. It may not seem glamorous, but it can pay the bills. A couple of bonuses of working crews is you gain an appreciation of what all of those people in black clothing do. You’ll begin to understand that a show can’t go on with out the combined efforts of various departments working countless hours well before the show makes it into the theatre.

An added bonus, you’ll have an additional craft to include on your resume. Silly as it seems, listing an understanding of basic stage lighting can be the deciding point between two actors. Casting an actor that can hang a light or help on the crew is very tempting to some producers. Not only are they getting an actor, but someone that can jump on a crew if deadlines are looming. And in theatre, deadlines are always sooner then we anticipate.

I encourage you to increase yourself worth by not only perfecting your acting abilities, but learn a side of tech theatre that interest you. Getting paid to act is the ultimate goal, but having a backup talent can help you stay on your feet and help you pursue that dream of winning a Tony.