Whether you’re a production manager, company stage manager, or theater teacher, you undoubtedly know just how bad the backstage can get amid preparing for a show. With limited time to build a set, find the right materials, and design the show itself, it’s easy for the tech crew to mess up any attempt at keeping the backstage looking its best.
However, a messy prop department or unorganized costume section both have a chance of becoming not just eyesores but safety hazards and financial sinkholes as well. Making sure everyone understands how to organize backstage for a theater company is essential. Here are tips on how to organize the three messiest sections a company must contend with each production.
The Costume Department
Costumes aren’t necessarily the most expensive items in a theater, but keeping them in pristine condition is still of the utmost importance. Once one is lost or damaged, finding or recreating it is a time-consuming chore that can upset the entire production. This is especially true for community and school theaters where costumes are certain to be repurposed as shows run again every few years. Here are a few ways to keep the costume department organized.
Color coding your costumes can make a massive difference for those trying to quickly navigate a rack they’re unfamiliar with. Placing tags with color-coded dot stickers on the same part of each costume so that they’re easily visible when on the rack makes it easy for the costume designers and performers to find (and put away) the pieces they need.
The color-coding system can be organized by genre and even incorporate specific shows. Colored hangers also suit this purpose but won’t be as visible for costumes with high collars or excessive texture like feathering or fur.
A Sound Sizing System
Another way to organize the process of picking out costumes is to spend time measuring the costumes your company has on hand and create a detailed guide regarding what is available in what size. Not every actor taking on a classic role has the same body structure as the person the initial costume was made for, and not everyone who wears a large size t-shirt will fit into the proportions of the existing outfit.
Instead of risking damage to delicate costumes and your current organization system by forcing actors to find a costume through trial-and-error, create a legend with each outfit’s size and keep tabs on your performers’ sizes as well. That way, your designers can know immediately if they have pieces on hand that will work or if they need to start sewing today.
The Prop Department
The prop department of an active theater quickly turns into a safety hazard, especially when props are tucked away into a loft or trapped in tightly packed shelves. Some props are so small that once they land in the back of an unorganized prop area, they’re lost to time. Here are a couple of ways to keep your prop section looking its best for the next season.
Accessibility and Visibility
The prop department is among the most notorious for losing things in many companies, especially ones where younger students have access to the wall of Styrofoam weapons, retro devices, and food props. The greatest shame is to lose a meticulously handcrafted prop because haphazard storage led to it be bent or broken.
The best way to organize a prop section is to do so with an emphasis on visibility. While not every prop needs its own pedestal, making sure that you can quickly see the vast majority of what’s on hand limits the amount of time wasted digging through shelves and undoing any previous attempts at arrangement. Brightly colored adhesive label tape is ideal for sectioning out storage and saving time by giving an instant visual cue on what items are where.
It’s also important to consider accessibility as you design your prop section backstage. Theater techs come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s not ideal for someone to be pushing themselves physically when trying to find the right prop. If things are simply too hard to access for anyone, props will either go “unfound,” or someone can hurt themself trying to make the director happy. Keep pathways in the prop section clear and detail a specific procedure for reaching high-up props before giving any techs access to the area.
Another way to make the whole process easier is to keep documentation as to where everything should be. If you opt to use colored tape, keep a legend (yes, another one) ready for techs to quickly reference when they enter the area. Even designing a prop section map provides direction for techs on not just where to find the prop but exactly where to put it back when it’s done.
Whether your theater uses individual prop names or general systems like genre, size, or type is dependent on the size of your prop collection. Keeping tabs on how many props should be in each section allows your company to do effective inventory at the end of the year and prevent any instances of prop hoarding at the same time.
The Technical Department
While keeping costumes and props in great condition saves time, keeping the technology necessary to light the stage and get great sound throughout the room organized and protected saves money—a lot of it.
Limiting access to expensive tech is perhaps the best way for a company to keep their equipment organized, but it’s also wise to make sure that even those unfamiliar with the department know their way around. Cord management, well-controlled equipment bins, and, yet again, a detailed inventory list go a long way to prevent lost or ruined tech.
The technical department can also benefit greatly from neon-colored or bright stickers that are easier to see in the dark. Labeling switches with easily removable stickers allows techs to make running a smooth show easy and cleaning up for the next show even easier.
If you’re looking for the right tools to help you organize backstage for a theater company, our team at Chromalabel is happy to help. We understand the importance of everything going exactly as planned when putting on a great show. By offering labeling options from bright neon tape for stage marking to easy-to-write-on stickers that allow you to efficiently organize your space, Chromalabel’s products can help you find some sanity in the rush of production and simply enjoy the art your techs, actors, and creative teams work together to create!