Setting the Stage: Theatre Preparation and Production


For many of those within Augustana’s halls, January and February are times of change and uncertainty, at least as far as schooling and work are concerned. What will one’s courses turn out to be like? Will hours remain agreeable? Perhaps most importantly, will one of our professors schedule a midterm at an incredibly inconvenient time near the February break? Change and uncertainty are not only the purview of these two fields, of course. They are indeed present in another area: the realm of theatre. I am an actor–some may say by trade–and have been for a greater portion of my life, so this is nothing new, but in light of the rapidly-approaching debut of our present musical production (of which I will speak more of at this article’s conclusion), I felt it may be enlightening for any reader inexperienced or unaffiliated with the dramatic arts to gain a small piece of insight into what it is like preparing for a show. To that end, I have split this article into three main points which I believe encapsulate the most important aspects of late-process production: rehearsal, score, and staging.


Nearest and dearest to the hearts of any actor or producer is rehearsal, if occasionally more for the sheer amount of time one spends with it than true adoration for every moment spent within. Nevertheless, rehearsal–which, for a typical production, begins roughly six months ahead of a given string of performances, with a few months on either end depending on the company–continues to be as important in the last weeks as it is in the very beginning. Rehearsals are the times in which one comes to understand not only their lines, their motivations, and their specific positioning, but also their true camaraderie with those who they’ve worked with for so long; with rapport so firmly established, the actor is able to connect at a far deeper level than they may have been able even a few months prior, and move past the title of colleague, co-star, and even friend to become true brethren united in the spirit of the production. In the few weeks before a show, when all have learned their parts inside and out, it often becomes a matter of perfection more than one of adequate standing. Competing against oneself, in other words.


Strange as it may seem, one of the core components of a stage musical, the music, often does not arrive for quite some time. In the meantime, the actors must make do with what is known as a rehearsal score: a list of tracks mirroring that of the final production, but designed more for familiarity than precise correspondence. In other words, every song one receives is similar, but not exact. It should be no surprise to the reader to hear that this creates no shortage of problems when one finally has access to the final score. Imagine, if you will, a class presentation that you’ve been working on for months off of a textbook given to you at the beginning of the term. You are only a week away from your presentation date, but your professor tracks you down and hands you a textbook; ‘to replace the old,’ they say. ‘Don’t worry! It’s just like the other one!’ Unfortunately, when you crack its spine, you find that everything is not quite right– perhaps three-quarters of your presentation remains the same, but the last quarter haunts you, the thought of the work you must put into updating it like a spectre hanging at the edge of your vision. This imaginative scenario is something similar to what it feels like to learn on a production score instead of a rehearsal track.


Not so much the purview of the actors as it is the production crew, but an important factor nevertheless. Most companies, at least those arguably worth their salt, will attempt to find a rehearsal space that closely resembles their final performing area if they are not already working in that same location; if this is not possible, they will instead ingeniously recreate the bounds and lines of the stage within their allotted area, whether with tape or more permanent affixtures. Chairs, tables, and other important physical settings are often present from the very beginning, or at least they are favoured to be, if one does not desire to sit on the floor for weeks. Closer to the performance, however, comes the true challenge in constructing the set. What exactly this means and looks like varies from production to production, but at its most basic level generally sees employed an obnoxious amount of woodworking in all forms and styles. Walls are raised, doors are carved, ceilings and facades are painted, and all is made to work well under the blistering lights of a theatre. This is often one of the most backbreaking portions of the preparation, as sets may still be a work in progress until days before the opening. More than a few prayers to God or other assorted deities are offered by the craftsmen here, when they are not cursing for want of an uninjured thumb.

Rehearsal for the upcoming performance of Rock of Ages by the Churchmice Players. Photo courtesy of the Churchmice Players, used with permission.

I would wish to go on much further and in greater detail, but in the interest of brevity will curtail the elucidation here. Suffice enough to say that the final weeks of a musical are filled with no shortage of things to do, but, while tiring, they are some of the most fulfilling. For those who are interested in the production referenced here of which I am a part, Churchmice Players ( will be performing the jukebox musical Rock of Ages at the Jeanne & Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre from February 9th to 19th. Tickets and other information may be found online through their website.

Scenes from backstage. Photo courtesy of Josh Wade.

The construction portion of the staging process. Photo courtesy of the Churchmice Players, used with permission.

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