by Leslie Jacobsen Meister
(reprinted from Swimming in the Shallows program, July 11-26, 2008)
After the applause for the closing night performance has ended, and the last audience member is wending their way home, the cast and crew grab their belongings and high-tail it to the nearest cast party, right? Not so. Langhorne Players has a long tradition of beginning the strike (the ‘undoing’ of the set) immediately after the final performance. This ensures that all cast and crew members are onsite to help, and also that the stage and backstage are cleared out and cleaned up so that construction and preparation for the next show can begin. The head of the Technical Crew, and several other members will usually volunteer to show up and help, especially if the cast is small, or the set is elaborate.
Once the audience has cleared the theatre on closing night, the cast and crew begin to pull all of the props, furniture and set dressings from the stage. They are sorted for storage on the second floor of the Mill, or set aside to be returned, if they were borrowed or rented. The next time you’re in the lobby, waiting for a show to begin, look at the ceiling above the water cooler. There is a large trapdoor that opens to the second floor; so that large furniture pieces can be hoisted through (since the stairs to the second floor are quite narrow).
Cordless drills are used to begin taking the actual set apart. The deconstruction must be done carefully, so that flats don’t come crashing down. Almost every part of the set is held in place with multiple screws, so it can be quite noisy as the drills do their work. If any flats or set pieces will be used to construct the set for the next show, they are stored temporarily in the audience. All other flats and set pieces are stored in the back workshop until they are needed again.
While the deconstruction is happening onstage, another crew is hard at work backstage. All costume pieces and hand props must be sorted and/or put away. Any dishes used in the show are washed before they are put away, and all food props are discarded. The green room (or dressing room) is cleared of all personal belongings, and cleaned from top to bottom, so that it is ready for the next cast to use.
There are several strike night traditions that take place as the evening draws to a close. The first is that the newest member of the cast or crew must write a poem to the cast and crew of the next show. The poem is written on the mirror in the green room, and usually references the show that just closed, and welcomes the show that will open next. The second is that the cast will often present a small gift and their thanks to the director and crew.
Once the work is done, and the dust has settled, cast, crew and volunteers can head home, satisfied with a job well done, and hopefully catch up on some much-needed sleep the next day!