The cast know their lines, the rehearsals are finished and the director hasn’t slept in a month. Production week is easily the busiest time in a theatre, with every department putting the final touches to a show that has been months (if not years) in the making.
We went behind the scenes at Hull Truck Theatre to take a look at what the audience usually never gets to see, as the cast and crew prepared for the opening night of Educating Rita.
As Educating Rita’s Stage Manager, it’s Sophie’s job to make sure the production runs smoothly. She manages rehearsals, looks after the actors, sources props, manages costume fittings, and generally makes sure everything is going to plan. Here she’s checking the script (also known as the prompt copy) to make sure all the lighting and sound cues are in the right place.
Sian, Head of Wardrobe, works closely with the show’s Designer James to make and source all of the costumes. Production week in the wardrobe department is all about making sure the actors feel comfortable in the clothes they’re wearing on stage, as well as figuring out how they can change in and out of their costumes quickly during each performance.
Each set is custom built to fit the auditorium, with the production team installing the large pieces on the first day of production week. Once the set has been built, the design team start to ‘dress’ the set and add the finishing touches, down to tiny details like the individual books on these shelves. The set for Educating Rita is a university tutor’s office, so the design team have sourced plants, paintings and over 900 books to create a realistic set.
As the production’s Lighting Designer, Elliot spends production week overseeing technical sessions to plot in his lighting design. With hundreds of lighting states in every performance, the technical team run through each state one by one and plot them into the lighting desk. That way a technician can run the same sequence of lighting changes for every performance at the click of a button.
To make sure Elliot’s lighting design looks perfect, lighting technicians focus individual lights on specific parts of the stage. Hull Truck Theatre have a walkway over the top of the stage, so the technical team can easily access the lighting rig and make manual changes to the focus. They need a steady hand though, as every one of the 80 lights has to be focused in exactly the right place.
Hull Truck Theatre’s Deputy Chief Technician (and Sound Designer for Educating Rita) is Mathew. He works closely with the show’s Director Mark Babych to find the right music and sound effects to use in the production, before programming these cues into the sound desk. Sometimes when he’s working he needs to ask all of the technical team to leave the stage, so that he can test his music and sound effects at the right volume – without making anyone jump at the top of a ladder.
There’s a soundproof room at the back of the auditorium called the tech box, which is used by technicians during performances to operate lighting and sound. This all changes during production week, as the team move the lighting and sound desks into the auditorium (and borrow the audience’s seats) so that technicians can easily talk to actors and crew on stage, and also hear and see the show from the audience’s perspective.
The Stage Management team source every prop for the show, making sure they suit the time period of the play, what the writer has included in the script and what the director wants the show to look like. During the performance these props live on the props table in the wings of the theatre, at the side of the stage. They have an exact place on the table which always stays the same, so that the actors know where their prop will be when they need it.
Photography is really important when selling a show. The theatre’s Communications team organise two photo shoots for every performance, one during rehearsals and one at the very end of production week to capture the actors in character. Here Andy Billington takes a few photos during the final dress rehearsal that the theatre will use to send out to the press and help promote the show.