Post-show strikes are made easier when more people lend their hands to the cause. Many actors avoid them as much as possible, however, because they simply don’t know how to help. While technical skills are of benefit to every performer, and I heartily recommend every actor get the gist of as many backstage skills as possible, many times the issue is simply “what can I do besides stand around the whole time?”
Here is a set of suggestions for everyone, no matter their strength, skill, or abilities, regarding making themselves useful at strike. The list starts with the least technically-inclined options, with the “hardest” options at the end.
- Don’t be afraid to ask where you can help. The director, stage manager, and technical director should all be able to point you in the right direction, and many of your cast and crew will also happily accept help if you offer it. Of course, use your best judgement– asking for direction repeatedly while others are busy with their own work can get annoying and makes it seem like you lack initiative.
- See if any painting needs done. The stage or walls may need primed and repainted if such is practice in the theater. This is almost always one of the last steps of strike, but it’s one anyone can do!
- Get on cleaning duty. Strike requires much more than tearing down sets and lights. The lobby, house, bathrooms, greenroom, and dressing rooms may all be part of strike. Find out what needs cleaned– anyone can take care of organizing scattered materials, gathering items for the lost and found, vacuuming, or wiping down surfaces. However, remember that strike is messy business! Don’t bother cleaning anything that is likely to be trashed again by the end of the process until all of the work is done.
- Take out the trash. As the set gets ripped apart, a surplus of discarded hardware, bits of wood, and miscellaneous trash will likely quickly accumulate. Gathering this and throwing it away keeps the space clear for other, more important work. Just because something has been used doesn’t necessary mean it is garbage. Again, use your best judgement– Large sheets of plywood or bits of lumber at a reasonable length can be reused, as can screws that aren’t stripped (meaning, the “X” on the head is not deformed in any way) or otherwise mangled. Anything broken, badly damaged, or under a reasonably useful size should be trashed.
- Assist with costumes, props, or furniture. Returning these pieces to the theater storage is often relatively light work. If you have the muscle, lifting furniture into trucks or up and down stairs can be very helpful at this step– the “heavy” muscle is typically assisting with the technical work at this time.
- Return reusable lumber and hardware to storage. Make sure you are clear on what should be trashed and what should be kept. If there are no organizational rules about where these things should go, strike may be a good time to do some organizing!
- Be ready to help lift, lower, and store structures. Small structures like legs and flats can be taken to storage by those with less strength. Often, large structures like platforms need to be lowered onto one side or moved in order to be taken apart. Even if you lack muscle, lifting these as a group effort is easiest, and more hands are always beneficial. If you see people struggling to lift something, don’t take the time to worry about if you’re strong enough to help– just help!
- Don’t be afraid of the tools. Even if you’ve never used certain tools before, there will likely be someone willing to show you what to do with them. Removing screws or bolts from structures is a necessary step in the process. Hammering staples and nails flat in pieces to be trashed or stored is also an easy, low-stress, but important job.
Now that you have some suggestions for how to make yourself useful, here are some friendly reminders of what isn’t useful:
- Don’t get in harm’s way. If you feel unsafe with something, leave it to those better equipped to handle it. Everyone would rather you pass off the job to someone else than be injured. Further, if you’re waiting for a job or for instruction, make sure you’re not, say, in the path of a light rail coming in, or underfoot when people are lifting heavy objects. Stay aware of your surroundings.
- Don’t play supervisor. Regardless of how poorly you feel others may be doing their jobs, nothing is worse than watching someone simply stand back and tell others what to do. If you feel you must give direction to someone, do it, and then return to your own work. However, make sure you ask yourself, Am I a reliable authority on this issue? If the answer is no, consider keeping your advice to yourself.
- Don’t hide. This is a popular pastime for those who don’t know what to do with themselves at strike. Yes, we have noticed you’ve been mysteriously missing for the last three hours. No, it’s not a good look.
- Don’t leave. Even if you have to leave early for any reason, try to be helpful in some way before you go. It’s better for everyone (yourself included) if you do a little rather than nothing.