The uniform is black: shirt, pants, shoes. One theater I worked at would cover t-shirt decorations and colorful or reflecting sneakers with gaffer’s tape. It’s not because black makes stagehands invisible (we don’t wear masks, after all), it’s to distinguish us from the performers, to emphasize our function over appearance.
At the original Broadway production of Proof, the stagehands dressed in jeans and plaid flannel shirts. They were all too visible during scene changes. Were they supposed to look like students? (The play is set in a college town, and concerns academics.) Was the costuming a clue to judge their performances in the context of the play?
My daughter, Sarah, gets irritated when her classmates audition for shows and say, “If I don’t get a part, I’ll just work on the crew.” The message is that being a stagehand is inferior, the consolation prize. Know this: stagehands can make good performers look and sound great; they add to or detract from every aspect of a production.
But, stagehands shouldn’t bow. Sarah and I have been to shows lately where the stagehands came out during the curtain call. Please, brothers and sisters. Have some self-respect. Every clap for every performer is also for you, implicitly. What message is sent when the stagehands come out? “Oh, there’s the people who couldn’t get into the show. Poor dears. Clap for them, Harold.” It’s embarrassing. Black-clad, squinting into the too-bright stage lights – we look like moles, anxious to return to our backstage burrows.
On a recent show, a first-time followspot operator arrived on opening night in black dress pants, black shirt, black shoes, black tie, and freaking black sport coat. His light was in the auditorium, in the midst of the audience. You bet they were impressed (I was), and he ran a mean spot, to boot. That guy knew what he was about. His very presence said, “Thank you very much.”
Company, feel free to give us a wave or two when you indicate the orchestra and the director after your own bows. That’s pride of place, anyway; welcome and appropriate. And when you get a standing ovation, trust that we know it’s for us, too. You’re welcome.