There is, indeed, a reason why Tech Week is interchangeably called “Hell Week” in the world of theatre. Your to-do list is piling up, your actors are tired, you feel like you’re behind schedule … the worries go on (and on, and on).
However, tech week doesn’t have to be hellish. With the right tools, you can coordinate a smooth transition from rehearsals to opening night. On The Stage explores some common not-so-great scenarios that theatre professionals may encounter during tech week, and how to avoid them this time around.
Tech Week Scenarios & How to Avoid Them
Scenario: Your actors and crew are physically worn out.
How to avoid: We’ll be honest, there’s no surefire way to ensure everyone within your production will be at 100% physically come showtime. After all, you can’t monitor their every move between now and opening night. But there are things you can communicate to your cast and crew to help ease the physical burden on everyone. A few things to push before and during tech week include:
- A balanced diet – Make sure your team is eating well, and often. Push fruits and veggies, protein, and other nourishment that will keep them energized and focused. If you, or they, can’t accomplish the ‘healthy’ portion, just ensure they are eating, period.
- Plenty of sleep – While it may seem impossible to sleep during this stressful week, you can get more zzzs by prioritizing rest. Encourage less phone time before bed and encourage at least eight hours of sleep a night for everyone.
- Lots of stretching and warm-ups – The last thing you want during tech week is a pulled muscle or a strained voice. Make sure you’re prioritizing warm-ups and stretching before rehearsals. You have time, we promise!
- Precautionary measures – If you’re worried about cast and crew getting sick, there’s nothing wrong with discouraging extracurricular social events where catching a cold (or the flu, or COVID-19, or RSV… ) is more likely. Additionally, be sure to have vitamins, minerals, and other theatre miracle-makers ready and available for anyone feeling worn down.
Scenario: Your actors and crew are mentally burnt out.
How to avoid: Whether you’ve run the same number 30 times in a row, or a couple of your cast members are in an argument, it’s very likely tensions will be higher than normal during tech week. Depression, mental fatigue, and general anxiety will rear their ugly heads during this time – and that’s normal. A few ways to mitigate mental burnout for your cast and crew include:
- Keeping the atmosphere positive – We know you’re not a god, and getting frustrated at your team is inevitable. But remember that you set the tone and the mood for rehearsals. So, keep positive affirmations coming, allow breaks, and never let your stress get taken out on the people around you.
- Creating a safe space for all things emotional – Breakdowns will happen. Make sure your team knows they can come to you with mental health struggles. Keep the door open for anyone in a funk, and remind them early and often that feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed is not the end of the world. This too shall pass!
- Providing breaks from routine – This week, you’ll probably feel like a drill sergeant, making your team run scenes again, and again, and again. Keep up morale by taking breaks where everyone can loosen up and get silly. Whether those are icebreakers, improv games, or just a quick ‘shake-it-out,’ make sure you’re giving your team and yourself some mental reprieves.
Scenario: Your big scene just isn’t working.
How to avoid: So the climax of your show – or your biggest song and dance number – just isn’t meshing the way you imagined it. To you, and to your cast, this may seem like the end of the world, but you can avoid this scenario all together by doing the following:
- Rehearse your biggest scenes first – When rehearsal first begins, make sure you’re planning ahead. Which scenes will require the most cast members on stage? The most logistics? The most complex choreography and vocals? These are the scenes you want to nail down first. Then, come time for opening night, your team will be confident they can pull it off.
- Go back to basics – The last thing you want to do during tech week is try to perfect something the team has been struggling with all semester. If your team can’t seem to nail choreography or vocals, make it simpler. A cleaner performance without errors will feel more satisfying than an overly complicated one with obvious mistakes.
- If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – You may be hit with a surge of adrenaline during tech week and decide you want to revamp a major scene to make it bigger and better than ever. Our advice? Deny that impulse! Stick with what your team knows. By changing things up last minute, you’re adding more stress to not only your actors, but your crew and leadership team, too.
Scenario: You and other leadership feel underprepared or scatterbrained.
How to avoid: Deadlines are looming. Programs need to be printed. You haven’t sold enough tickets. Merchandise still hasn’t arrived. These are the non-creative issues that plague theatre leadership, and while you may just want to focus on the art, you have to have all your administrative ducks in a row come opening night, too. So how can you avoid feelings of helplessness as a theatre leader during tech week?
- Create a detailed schedule first thing – And do not deviate from it unless absolutely necessary. Having a clear, detailed schedule with major dates and milestones lined up is a surefire way to avoid those pesky feelings of anxiety.
- Set aside time to decompress – You cannot lead a successful show if you are overwhelmed. Make sure to add some self-care into your routine to allow you to put your best foot forward.
- Delegate – Like many theatre leaders, you may think the best way to ensure something gets done well is to do it yourself. But what is a team for? Evening out the load! Make sure you’re utilizing everyone on your staff during tech week so you can unload some of the burden and get back to the creative problem solving you love.
Scenario: Someone gets injured during rehearsals.
How to avoid: Someone tripped backstage and busted their lip. A crew member hurt themselves creating a new set piece. During tech week, injuries are more likely. Why? There’s a frantic, frenetic energy in the air, and people are operating with less sleep and more anxiety. So, how can you avoid injuries this and every week of rehearsals?
- Move slowly and deliberately backstage – Unless there is a speedy quick change, no one needs to be running backstage. Make sure to emphasize the importance of a slow gait behind the curtain.
- Keep your backstage organized – The last thing you want is someone tripping over a prop that’s just lying out on the ground. Not only does this increase the risk of injury to an actor or crew member, but you may also damage your props, which creates another item on your to-do list. Instead, ensure your backstage is fully organized, with tables for specific props and costumes. Make sure there is also enough light for stage managers, crew members, and actors to move around comfortably without fear of running into something. Have your team practice moving around the space before tech week.
- Do not attempt to build elaborate set pieces yourself – Like we said, anxiety and adrenaline are at an all-time high during tech week. So, make sure your major set pieces are complete and safe to use before tech week. The last thing we want is a nail gun accident.
- Have professionals around – Speaking of nail guns, be sure to have licensed professionals around if you’re working with power tools.
Scenario: Everyone is inundated with outside obligations.
How to avoid: Your lead has a major calculus exam. Your stage manager has a rehearsal dinner. You have a work deadline you can’t miss. These, and many more obligations, will likely crop up during tech week. Some may be unavoidable, but you can set yourself up for success by:
- Nailing down your rehearsal and performance schedule very early – This way, everyone knows far in advance what days they’ll be occupied, and can turn down other obligations or reschedule them.
- Clearing your schedule for the week – We know, we know, life sometimes isn’t that easy. But with proper planning, you can ensure any major assignments or projects are already completed, social events are moved, and you have the time and space to clear your mind before opening night.
- Keeping lines of communication open with your team – Things will change, and emergencies will arise. Make sure you’re keeping your team updated as soon as shifts happen. Encourage your team to continuously communicate with you to avoid any surprises.
Scenario: Props and costumes go missing.
How to avoid: Depending on how big your cast and crew are, it’s likely that something in your complex ecosystem of props, costumes, set pieces, makeup components, or tech pieces will go missing at some point. You can avoid losing things, and the ensuing hysteria, by trying the following:
- Stay calm – The beauty of your theatre is that it isn’t that huge. Take a moment, try to remember when you saw your prop last, and then retrace your steps. Odds are, you simply left it on the wrong table by mistake.
- Delegate responsibility – Unless you’re directing a play for toddlers, people are generally able to keep track of their own things. Communicate with your team and share your expectations: each person is responsible for the care and keeping of their own props, shoes, costumes, and the like.
- Have specific areas for every person’s items – Much like having your backstage organized will help with avoiding injury, keeping your classroom/office/storage spaces organized will help everyone keep track of their things. Have designated areas for costumes, props, makeup, hair pieces, and other items, and keep them clearly labeled.
Scenario: End-of-rehearsal notes are long and mood-dampening.
How to avoid: During tech week, notes at the end of rehearsal can be exhausting, nerve-wracking, and time-consuming. So how can you avoid dampening the mood and help your actors and crew leave rehearsals on a high note?
- Utilize voice notes – If you have the tech, record your voice notes and send them to actors/crew members individually so your entire team doesn’t have to sit through a long notes meeting.
- Split notes into sections – If you have other creatives helping you, split your end-of-rehearsal notes into smaller groups to save time. Leads can be in one group, featured dancers in another, along with featured vocalists, ensembles, etc.
- Be discerning – Make a determination about what notes are genuinely constructive and which, with only a few days left before opening night, aren’t a priority.
- End on a good note – No one enjoys getting criticism, even if it’s constructive. Make sure you’re also staying positive, doling out compliments, and making your team feel valued before they head home for the night.
How On The Stage Can Help
Tech week is, without a doubt, one of the most stressful points in your show’s journey. But any chaotic situation can become less so with a little help from the pros. On The Stage can help with any tech week woe – from program mishaps to low ticket sales or minimal engagement with marketing strategies.
Additionally, OTS has created the Director’s Guide to Tech Week, available for download now. Whether you’re a theatre veteran or this is the first time you’ll be helming a production, every tech week will feel like your first. This pivotal week can truly be a theatremaker’s nightmare, without the right tools. Luckily for you, we’ve put together an all-in-one guide with everything you need to coordinate a successful tech week.
If you would like a partner in your theatre journey for more than just tech week, book a personalized demo with On The Stage today.