Working in a tidy and organised area is something that is a must for me if I am going to be in any way creative, motivated or productive visual and feel of my space is vital. If you go to someone’s house as a visitor you’d expect there to be level of hygiene and organisation at the very least in the areas ‘designated’ for visitors. So I think there should be at the very least the same expectation of theatres.
Most theatres spend a lot of money making front of house look pretty for the public as first impressions is so important when it comes to strategies to bring punters back week after week, show after show and this is understandable as it’s the audience that bring the revenue. But that revenue can only come in if there is production companies will to put on shows.
Many of our theatres, for whatever reason, seem to be neglecting their backstage areas. For some this is purely they don’t have time or resources to sort it. For others they are just hoarders of stuff, keeping everything just in case it is needed again in thirty years or so from now, well that’s what it seems anyway.
Theatre is, by far, are one of the most dangerous workplaces in the world, which makes housekeeping so much more important and with the EU threatening to pass legislation that could see every light from the rig replaced, theatres need to be tidy and organised it’s even more important as this will be a huge job. Personally I have worked in theatres where stage level backstage is fine, but the gantries have been the issue, with cables, lights and gels just left all over the place after use.
Over the years one of biggest lessons I have learnt is that if you ‘tidy as you go’ then even the big spring clean becomes an easy job not needing a huge team of people or time as its near enough done. Maybe the carpet’s need a wash or a new coat of paint on the stage is required these all become quick jobs as extra time is not wasted by having to do things that could have been done weeks ago.
And this is not just about housekeeping, it’s also about keeping things maintained. A simple quick fix is not always the answer, especially when it potentially put people at risk where the rain is coming in close to a lighting rig or into a high traffic area of backstage where the dangers of slipping are greater as artist and crew dash around frantically during performances for costume and set changes.
Ensuring audience members come back is one thing, but keeping your incoming tour companies happy is even more important, because when they decide not to come back and go to your competition instead there will be a risk of closure for your venue, bad reputations get round quickly with word of mouth.
These problems with conditions backstage have got so bad that actors union Equity have motioned at their Annual Representative conference to take action to tackle these problems.
With more young and less able people involved in theatre it becomes more apparent that safety should be paramount. As for crew not only should their safety be considered, but also welfare, basic things like kettles, fridges and microwaves should all be provided as it’s so often the crew that will do the longest shifts during touring so all the basic facilities should be functional.