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Every day, people stop me - the Production Manager of GCTC - on the street and ask "Seth, ... SETH, ... SETH ..., ... stop walking away from me. Tell me how to make a theatre show happen! How do you do it? How do you get a set onstage?”. This happens on Wellington Street West EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
Due to the frequency that I receive this aggressive line of questioning from average passerby, I have developed a short handout on how a professional production manager brings a set from script to stage.
This abridged timeline is aptly titled:
A SET FROM SCRIPT TO STAGE: AN UNORGINAL TITLE
12 Months + from Opening Night : A Script is Selected
Eric and Hugh, our illustrious Artistic Director and Managing Director, work their magic and select a script. There is much fire and brimstone that happens above my pay grade at this time. This script is handed down to their underlings for reading and assessment (underlings = the Production Manager and the Director of Marketing and Development and other staff of note). The primary concern here is feasibility of a production, audience response, and special consideration of its association with GCTC's mandate and company business plan
12 Months from Opening Night: The Production Costing Takes Place
I estimate the set material (lumber, fabrics, paint, technical equipment, etc.) and labour costs (crew hours, designer positions, etc.) associated with the script. An ongoing dialogue begins between Hugh and Seth to determine rates, fees and expenses for the selected script. Much confusion and blank stares occur when neither remembers what they agreed to over several weeks of meetings.
11 - 12 Months from Opening Night: A Production Schedule is Developed
The crux of a Production Manager's repertoire of paperwork, I create a skeleton of the Production Schedule for the season, laying out the schedule for every work day of the upcoming theatre season, cross referenced with labour hours that will help inform the budget. Labour expenses are, of course, one of the largest overall expenses to the Production Department. I lose my mind around Scenario 7 of this year-long schedule.
11 – 12 Months from Opening Night: A Production Budget is Set
In glorious harmony, the Production Costing, draft Production Schedule and the budgets for the rest of the season shows come together in an overwhelmingly smooth and simple fashion. Not. The result of this cacophony is distilled into a budget for the Production Department. As financial goals for the upcoming theatre season, the budget is then signed off on by the Powers That Be. Now, the fun begins.
8 Months from Opening Night: Production Positions are Selected
An ongoing dialogue about production positions, including the Set, Costume, Lighting and Sound Designers for the production takes place over the next few months. Seth teaches Eric how to use Dropbox so that he can share information between users without being such a Luddite.
6 Months from Opening Night: The Set Designer is Selected and a Contract is Offered
I make an offer to the Set Designer. The Offer includes all relevant dates, budget and fees for the Set for the Designer's consideration. A formal contracting process begins.
5-6 Months from Opening Night: A Set Design Contract is Signed
The Set Designer is now officially part of the creation of the production, meetings are held between creative team members to establish the aesthetic choices and vision for the production.
8 Weeks from Opening Night: The Deadline for the Preliminary Set Design
The Set Designer submits preliminary paperwork for the set, including drawings, images, and source materials for the design. Whenever possible, a meeting is held with the Production Crew to discuss the plan, budget and schedule for the build of the set.
5-6 Weeks from Opening Night: A Set Design Assessment Takes Place, Materials Costs are Estimated
Now that we have an idea of what the Set Designer wants to accomplish, the Production Crew, myself and the Assistant Production Manager assess the material and labor costs from the Preliminary Set Designs. Sourcing of special materials and furniture takes place, ongoing communication with the Designer continues throughout this time, and set design plans change accordingly.
5 Weeks from Opening Night: A Construction Schedule is created
A schedule outlining the daily build plan is laid out over the build period. The idea is to prove that the set can be built within the timeframe established by the Production Schedule.
4 Weeks from Opening Night: The Deadline for Final Set Designs
A second (or third, or fourth) design is submitted, the Final Design becomes the plan that will be built onstage.
1 – 4 Week from Opening Night: Weekly Crew Schedules are Created
Amelia (our excellent Assistant PM) drafts a weekly crew schedule that reflects the Production Schedule and the Construction Schedule, and includes all other company activities to properly distribute our Department resources and to avoid scheduling conflicts. Weekly schedules are issued… weekly.
3 Weeks from Opening Night: Set Building Commences
The GCTC Production Crew does what they do best. Lumber is cut, screws are screwed, the set is assembled and painted. Special materials (like metals, plastics) are tested and retested, then assembled. Gradually the Mainstage is transformed.
1 Week from Opening Night: Tech Week (Duh, Duh, Duuuuuhhhhhh...)
The set should be finished for lighting (at a minimum) and safe for the performers and stage management (or else Seth gets mad).
After a Dress Rehearsal and Preview Performances, the show opens and the public can experience the magic of the set onstage. The mundane nature of this timeline falls away and even I get to remember how super it is to work in theatre.
The Next Day:
We are in the middle of the timeline for one or two other production cycles, simultaneously. While there is an ebb and flow to the theatre season, the workflow is constant. There is always another show at GCTC.