By Ria Vahi
Have you ever seen a dance concert (or a performance) in a theater or concert hall? Then you have probably seen how choreographed everything is, not just the dance. You would have noticed how the lights come up at specific times, how the sound starts to play before or after the dancer has entered the stage, or how the dancers even know when it's time to enter the stage. Well, all of the above and many other such tasks go behind making a full-fledged dance concert, thus creating more job opportunities for artists to build sustainable careers.
Depending on each concert/show, an artist would need props, specific lighting, and/or sound for their work. Thus, one would need someone to set up cues for light and sound cues, cues for when the dancer has to enter and cues for when (if needed) the props need to shift on stage. All of these and many more tasks fall under the role of a Stage Manager. The stage manager serves as the right hand to the director and looks after all the technical aspects of the entire concert. It is the responsibility of the stage manager to make sure the show runs smoothly and to work out any quirks and errors during the technical runs. To be a stage manager, one would need to have adept knowledge of the technical aspects of the production and be an efficient communicator. The career trajectory involves an undergraduate degree in the arts and then joining a technical/backstage crew before working as an assistant stage manager and then moving on to be a full-time stage manager.
While the stage manager looks at the overall picture to make sure the concert runs smoothly, there are also small teams within the oversight of the stage manager that work towards the development of the concert. One such role is that of a Costume Designer, which is very similar to the role of a costume designer for a movie. The designer is responsible for telling the story and expressing the mood, tone, setting, and characters of the production with the use of clothing. Through clothing, the designer needs to make sure the characters and the story come to life on stage under very specific lighting. A huge aspect of being a designer is doing a lot of research into the production and script. For example, if the production is set in a specific time period in history, the costume designer will need to do some research on how people dressed during that period, the accessories involved, the cloth material needed, and the trending colors of that period. The designer will then use this research to bring the vision of the production on stage. To be a successful designer, it is recommended that you have a Bachelor's and Masters, and gain experience through internships. From there, one can progress to an assistant designer position before working as a full-time costume designer.
Another team that falls under the stage manager is the Lighting Design, which is responsible for lighting the production and bringing attention to the darker sides of the stage to make sure all bodies on the stage are visible. Through the use of light, the lighting designer (LD) makes sure the right emotion is captured to support the theme of the play and operates a lighting board through which they can control the intensity and type of light that needs to fall on the stage. An LD will work closely with the costume designer and stage manager to ensure each team is capturing the vision of the production and portraying the same on stage. This is also helpful to make sure everyone is on the same page in terms of the emotions or mood the work is trying to invoke. The cues for each section of the play are set during the technical runs and then during the show, the LD follows the instructions of the stage manager to make sure each cue is switched at the right time through the click of a button on the lighting board. Similar to a Stage Manager, the career trajectory of an LD involves starting as a member of the lighting crew and maybe working as a spotlight operator or engineer before receiving the opportunity to be full-time Lighting Designers.
Similar to an LD, Sound Design is another team that works under the stage manager to ensure the mood or setting of the production remains consistent. Just like an LD, the sound designer will create or find sounds that portray the vision of the production and work closely with the director and stage manager to ensure sound and even sound effects invoke the emotions the director is looking to gather from the audience. The sound designer also sets the cues for the sounds to play at specific times during the technical runs and then follows the instructions of the stage manager to make sure the appropriate sound is played for the right section.
The stage manager needs to be in constant communication with the Backstage Crew, which is responsible for every technical aspect that goes on behind the wings. The backstage crew will follow the instructions of the stage manager and let the dancers know when it is time to enter the stage, when the crew needs to go on stage to move the props (if any), and generally ensure that everything runs smoothly behind the stage. For example, if the production requires papers to be thrown from the ceiling to the stage, the backstage crew will make sure this is achieved by finding a way to get to the ceiling with the necessary props. Additionally, the stage manager will appoint stage manager interns to communicate with the backstage crew through the use of comms and headsets. Continuing the example from before, upon communication from the stage manager, the intern will let the backstage crew know when to start throwing papers to make sure they fall at the appropriate scene as asked by the director.
While there is a lot more that goes into building a concert/show, this is a small list of roles and responsibilities that are required to set up a concert. This should hopefully also give an idea of the wide array of jobs available for artists to build a more sustainable and viable career. There is a job for all your interests that one can pursue alongside performance and choreography.