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Costumes and Crew: Behind The Scenes

The inner-workings of Oak Park High School drama productions

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The Oak Park Performing Arts Alliance presents three drama productions every school year. The audience fills the Pavilion with laughter and cheer, especially at the end of the night when the whole cast comes out on stage for applause. But who is behind all of these productions?

Throughout the years, Oak Park High School’s drama department has put on many productions. These plays and musicals require rehearsal time expended by OPHS actors and actresses and the work of the director in preparation for opening night. However, the hard work does not stop there. How these productions get off the ground so quickly? Who decides the costumes, or who sets up the stage sets and backgrounds? The only people that are seen on stage are the actors. The audience may not be aware of what goes on behind the scenes.

Crew and costume crew make up a large part of drama productions — behind the scenes, rather than up on stage with the cast.

Behind the scenes, crew and costume crew work hard to set up the stage, lighting, sound, props and, of course, costumes. The crew will build a set background, paint it, make sure everything fits nicely on the stage, and move around props and stage furnishings during a show.

Senior Yuval Karoly has been the sound director in crew for two years and works the sound in school events, including drama’s productions, such as “Merry Wives of Windsor,” “Hair,” “And Then There Were None,” “Our Town,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Nothing,” and “The Dining Room.”

 

“My job is to essentially man the soundboard, make sure the actors sound good. I make sure that when they walk on stage, their mics are on. Just general sound stuff,” Karoly said.

Crew rehearses, too, in order to prepare for the show.

“Sound prep includes getting a mic list to see who gets a mic, testing the sound, etc,” Karoly said.

Teacher, producer and crew manager, Russell Peters, acts as an intermediary between crew and cast.

“My position is to oversee that everything comes together in a timely manner, in time for opening night,” Peters said. “We don’t require as much rehearsal as cast. We do take 4-6 weeks. Prior to opening night, crew will make sure all the lights are set, the sound is set, the stage is dressed. When the production officially opens, crew runs the sound board and the light boards, crew facilitates the stage, and stands by to make sure any problems that occur are solved.”

The crew will go to the woodshop, measure and cut out stage walls and paint them in order to dress the stage. This creates a possibility of a woodshop accident, such as accidently cutting yourself, or worse, cutting off a thumb (ask Mr. Prescott, this really happened to a student in the past).

The drama department has a costumes crew to take care costumes and makeup as well.

As the costume coordinator for productions under the Oak Park Performing Arts Alliance, Carla Schnurr coordinates and teaches the basics of wardrobe creation to the students on costume crew, which includes the departments of costumes, hair and makeup.

“Costume crew works with the director to create wardrobe for our actors that enhance their performances by reflecting the characters they portray. Although our budget is limited, it is our goal to dress our actors so they look their part and feel confident when they walk onto the stage,” Schnurr said. “We study the fashions and hairstyles of the time period, create ‘lookbooks’ of ideas for characters, design certain key pieces, take measurements, order or purchase items for the productions, learn how to maintain a budget, sew, maintain two sheds of wardrobe and accessories, assist with quick changes backstage, and assist with hair and (sometimes pretty involved) makeup before performances.”

Junior Chloe Schraeder is on the costume crew for the upcoming fall production “The Dining Room.”

“We decide what costumes the cast members will wear, and we take their measurements. Then we take pieces from the costume shed and buy other pieces that we don’t have already to put it all together. We also do everyone’s hair and makeup and we make sure everything stays intact, should something tear or get messed up, which does happen during shows,” Schraeder said. “Within the drama department, which includes cast, crew, and costumes, I think we are respected and appreciated because we are all a team and we all want to put on a good show.”

Crew and costume crew put in many of hours and work towards a production and play an integral role in helping productions run smoothly. “Hell week” is the notorious week before and leading up to the opening night of a show. During this week, the cast, crew, and costume crew all have rehearsal every day for several hours after school, staying there until late into the night.

“We all dread this week, because it is so time consuming and we work super hard,” Schraeder said.

Crew and costumes ultimately ensure that everything goes smoothly for the actors and actresses on stage.

Director Allan Hunt discussed the relationships between cast and crew members.

“Crew is very much a part of any production, behind the scenes. Many years ago, we had outside professionals work on our shows as the crew, but over the years, the students became more involved in the crew program.” Hunt said. “However, the two groups used to be church and state. You never saw them together. Now, they’re very friendly to each other. It’s more of a student production. Kids become friends, and sometimes even a romance kindles between the two groups.”

Karoly said that there wasn’t always a mutual friendship between cast and crew.

“This year and last year, the kids in both areas were good friends. Kids in the show would switch from doing crew to cast, and vice versa. We all knew each other pretty well, so we all kinda had a good relationship,” Karoly said. “My freshman year, it wasn’t really like that. During the shows, cast and crew wouldn’t talk to each other backstage that much; there was some kind of divide. But these past few years, it’s much more friendly and open, I’ve met some of my best friends from the cast.”

Senior and cast member Alex Labrecque said he believes that because crew is not seen on stage directly, they don’t receive enough credit for their work.

“Because crew is in the background and not on stage, so they don’t get seen until the last show of the production. Then, the only recognition they get is at the end of the show, which is really not enough praise for all that they do for us,” Labrecque said.

The crew in the professional world, as Hunt said, is very different. For example, on a Broadway production, the house crew is hired by the theatre owner to work on shows. According to Playbill.com, Broadway theatres will have to hire many different employees to design and build a set, including a permanent house carpenter, house electrician, house propman and a flyman. Furthermore, these house heads will typically hire crew members to work under them, making the construction of a set more efficient. They not only build the sets, they also have to prepare them to be moved on and off stage via a machine on stage as well as other set work. However, one must apply for membership of the stagehands union before being put on a Broadway show crew. In order to join, one must pass a written test during the apprentice program, and work for a certain number of years in local shows before making it to Broadway.

Hunt said that crew receives more credit now than they did in past productions. For instance, crew used to consist of outside professionals that would work on the show. Now, crew consists students, so they are recognized for their contributions as young individuals doing a “professional” job.

“We like to make a fuss about crew. In the professional world, you never know who the crew is. The orchestra is in the pit below the stage, and you never know who they are,” Hunt said. “Crew definitely does get the recognition that they deserve.”

All of the collaborative efforts put forth by each branch of the theatre department are what makes these shows possible. When it’s all said and done, on opening night or at the last show of the production, it’s vital to know that there is more to “Beauty and the Beast” than just the Beauty and the Beast.

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