Working with a team of people is inevitable within the performing arts industry. Knowing who everyone is and what everyone does can sometimes be a headache when you are so focused on what you do. Here we break down what different positions you may encounter within a production, and then how that differs between a large vs. small team.
Large teams can typically mean any team over 10 people. Sometimes, depending on the scale, budget and context of a project, it is very necessary to have that many people working on a show. Productions that typically call for a large team include musicals, large not-for-profit organizations, and for-profit performing arts companies.
Here is a breakdown of what your large team may look like, in terms of the personnel you may have involved in your project. This will differ per project, but here are some roles you may want to consider when planning for your own production:
The production manager, or PM, is the head of the production department, whose job is to oversee the development and implementation of the production design of a performance as decided by the design team and the creative lead(s) within the constraints of technical possibility. Not having a production manager can mean a lot of extra work (and headaches) for the producer. Production managers may work either for a single show, as a freelancer; for a venue, as the technical contact for incoming companies and to maintain the venue; or for a theatre company, overseeing their season as a whole. On a single show, the PM's "last day" is opening night, they will oversee the technical director on any repairs throughout the run and generate their final production reports. A production manager has three primary responsibilities: budgeting, scheduling, and personnel.
At the beginning of a contract, it is the responsibility of a production manager to work with the producer to organize the budget for the show. The producer will present the production manager with a budget, which the production manager will take into account while discussing the design preliminaries with the director and creative team.
After these initial discussions, the production manager will do a costing of the show, which will determine whether or not the technical elements can be executed within the budget set by the producer. If the production manager discovers that the proposed project cannot be completed for the amount of money allocated for it, the PM will come to the producer and discuss whether more money can be allocated to production. If not, the PM will come back to the creative team and together they will decide what changes can be made to bring the show in under budget.
Once the budget has been set and decided, it is the job of the production manager to ensure that the budget is appropriately managed by all departments and that they regularly report on spending to the producers, including making sure that they report any potential overages that may occur as soon as possible.
The production manager is in charge of generating the production schedule for a show, which includes but is not limited to:
- Design deadlines
- Build schedules
- Production meetings
- Add/drop deadlines for props, costumes, and scenic elements that may be added later in the rehearsal process
- Paper tech
- A full schedule outlining all activities for the tech week, starting with the first day of load-in to the venue and ending in strike
The production schedule is not the same as the rehearsal schedule, which is generated by the stage manager in collaboration with the director, but elements of each do cross over between the two.
It is important, when generating the tech schedule in particular, to keep local labour laws in mind when scheduling technicians (which will affect many elements, including how many hours you can work an individual per day, when breaks are called, span of day, and how many hours overnight rest an individual needs) and to abide by the rules of the Canadian Actors’ Equity Association on the same points for actors and stage management once they’re on the deck. These rules are outlined in the Canadian Theatre Agreement handbook.
It is the job of the production manager to hire any other staff required by the show that may not already be included in the venue. These positions may include but are not limited to:
- Technical director
- Head carpenter
- Head of props
- Props builders
- Props buyers
- Head of wardrobe
- Costume buyers
- Head electrician
- Head of sound
- Scenic painters
- A2s (sound assistants)
- Casual load-in crew
Over the course of the production period and run of the show, it is the responsibility of the production manager to monitor and assist the various production departments in the execution of their duties.
The technical director, or TD, is responsible for the overall coordination of the technical production process. They make sure the technical equipment in the theatre is functional, maintained, and safe, because of this a TD may be included in the rental of a venue. They work closely with the PM to ensure all aspects of production are completed safely, efficiently, and on budget. The TD is responsible for any repairs that are necessary to the set/lights/sound once the show is opened, and is also in charge of strike once the show closes.
Sometimes, the production manager also takes on some or all of the responsibilities of technical direction depending on budget, scale and complexity of the production, and what's provided by the venue.
The director is the creative mind on the project. This is a person who runs a rehearsal room, generates and/or facilitates creative discussions, and collaborates with all the creatives (and sometimes non-creatives) on a project (ie. designers, stage manager, producer, etc.). They are the person who looks after the entire "picture" of a show, from start to finish, and they have the final decisions in most of the creative ideas (working collaboratively with the other creative team members as well).
An assistant director is brought on to a production to help the director with facilitating the rehearsal process. That may include taking notes, working on new ideas, keeping on track with all of the production elements that a director is needed for, etc.
A choreographer is the person responsible for the creative movement of a piece. That can mean that they are developing the choreography for a dance show, or maybe a movement section in a theatre performance, or the dance breaks in a musical. Either way, they are the creative mind behind the choreography and movement that you see in a performance. In a dance show, there is usually not a director, and so the choreographer is essentially the director in a dance piece.
An assistant choreographer is brought into a production to help the choreographer teach their choreography. They are responsible for teaching movement and choreography to the cast during rehearsals and fine tuning anything. They may be relied on for artistic support.
A music director is hired for any project where performers are singing. They may, but not always, also develop the music. Oftentimes, they are the person who works with the performers that are singing to ensure that they are in tune and know the music by heart. They will use sheet music and a piano, or keyboard, to rehearse with the cast.
The producer of a production is responsible for all of the finances of a production. Meaning, they will spearhead any fundraising initiatives, create and manage the production budget and help distribute fees at the end of the run. They take on many tasks of the production manager, should a production manager not be part of your small team. Apart from that, the producer will also help generate revenue by way of handling the marketing and publicity for the show. They will either assist with, or create themselves, the materials to market and advertise the production. They may also write the press release/media release and invite media out to review the show.
An associate producer is sometimes brought on to a project to help take the load off some of the duties of a producer. The associate will have say in what should be done and how, but the final decision will be up to the producer. They are more of a collaborator on the producing side of things, rather than an assistant.
An assistant producer is sometimes brought onto a project by the producer, to help with smaller tasks that need to get done on the project. As opposed to an associate producer, the assistant is given tasks throughout their contract and asked to complete a lot of the task-based work for the team.
The stage manager is usually hired by the PM in conjunction with the producer and director. Stage management is a separate department, with the assistants and apprentices answerable to the stage manager. The stage manager has the overall responsibility of coordinating the theatrical production (as opposed to the technical production), and the smooth execution of the production's performance(s). They are brought on board in pre-production so that they can effectively act as an overall liaison between the director and designers/PM/TD as you enter the rehearsal process (via daily rehearsal reports).
An assistant stage manager (ASM) is there to help the stage manager with running the production. Oftentimes, the ASM will be in the rehearsal room during rehearsals and then backstage during the run of the show. Backstage, the ASM is responsible for organizing prop tables, ensuring the safety and well-being of the performers and any other duty that may need to take place backstage of a show.
Designers may be hired by the production manager in conjunction with the producer and director. Set, costume, props, lighting, sound, video, and projection design execution all fall under the management of the production manager. These departments may all have additional team members coordinated by the PM in conjunction with the designers. It is the PM’s job to schedule and run as many production meetings as necessary throughout pre-production and rehearsals and make sure that communication is clear between all departments and that the designers are executing their craft on schedule and in a way that benefits the production (i.e. make sure the designers are caught up on any changes that would be noted in rehearsal reports).
A costume designer is the person who has the creative ideas behind what the costumes look like. They develop costume renderings that are then approved by the director. In smaller productions, they may create (or source) the costumes to match their designs. In larger productions, other personnel may be hired such as a head cutter, sewers, etc. to actually create the costumes.
A lighting designer is responsible for designing the lighting looks for a show. They are given what is called a magic sheet from the venue, with this they are able to see what lighting fixtures they have access to and then determine how they will use them throughout the show. They create cues for the show, which are all of the individual changes that the lights make throughout the production, which the stage manager needs to call in concurrence with stage/script based cues. Depending on the production, they also may need to rent or source lighting equipment. Sometimes, they are referred to as the LX designer.
A set designer designs all visual elements that relate to the physical space and/or stage. They work closely with the director to understand the story that they are telling, and create a design based on that. They may also be responsible for sourcing the materials, and then building the set as well. On a larger production, they would provide scaled drawings and pass those along to the head carpenter and crew to build.
A sound designer works on all of the sound elements for a production, including, but not limited to: sound effects, music, how vocal sound sounds in the space, etc. They have a creative say in how things sound within a performance. In a larger show, they may work with (or as) a composer as well to ensure that the created sound and found sound work and blend well together.
A props designer works on the creative design and sometimes, building of all props used for a production. This includes all hand held items that performers use throughout the show. This can have some cross over with the set designer; on a small production, the props designer may also be the set designer too.
A projection or video designer works to develop any projections that are required for a production. Sometimes, this may involve filming footage to include in the show, or sourcing existing videos for a production. Anything that involves showing something via video during a show would fall under a projection/video designers’ realm.
The performers are the ones responsible for performing in the production. You may have them audition in order to help you select the right talent for your production. They also typically have a say and impact on the creative storytelling of a production, and often work with the director to bring ideas forth. These can include actors, dancers, circus artists, storytellers, devised theatre artists, poets, magicians, and any other artistic discipline who consider themselves performers.
The dramaturg is an important part of a project, especially if the show that you are producing is a new work, as they will help construct the piece and develop it. The dramaturg works closely with the playwright throughout the creation or writing process. They ask pertinent questions in order to further the development of the piece, and allow the writing to reach its full potential. Depending on the show, "full potential" could be any number of things, ranging from a clear structure and story line to expertly organized chaos. The dramaturg is an outside eye who isn't interpreting the script to fit their vision, but rather helping it come into existence in accordance with the playwright's dream. Sometimes the dramaturg can also act as a research assistant to the playwright / director.
A playwright is the person who has the creative story and then executes that by writing a play, or concept for a show. Playwrights create the through line, story, characters and text for a production.
The role of a fight director is to help with the choreography for any fighting that may need to be stage during a show. A fight director will assist the performers and guide them to perform a safe fight choreography and teach them ways to realistically demonstrate the violence the director wants to display, without actually hurting anyone.
Another person, similar to a fight director, that you may consider bringing in is a Intimacy Choreographer. They are responsible, like a fight director, to ensure the performers feel safe in their performing environment. They would be brought in to choreograph scenes that deal with sexual or intimate subject matter. For more info on intimacy directors, visit Intimacy Directors International.
A dialect coach may be brought into a rehearsal room for assistance with any varied dialects that the actors may have to perform within a show. For instance, with classical Shakespeare texts, the director may want the performers to speak with a form of British accent, or any other dialect that is present. The dialect coach will help with the pronunciation of words within the text and help the actors find their dialect.
A composer may be brought into a project when there is original music and/or sound that needs to be implemented within the show. A composer differs from a sound designer in that they create an original score of the music and then that is used to create the sound design. Composers will work closely with the director and/or choreographer as well as the sound designer to ensure that everyone’s visions are being met.
A box office representative includes a person who is responsible for selling tickets at a venue. There is often a box office manager who runs the box office and then some staff who will sell the tickets and speak to patrons.
An usher has the role of assisting patrons during a production. They are responsible for ensuring that patrons are comfortable and safe, and also answer any questions that the patrons may have (where the washrooms are, the duration of the show, etc.).
There are many people that can be involved in your production crew. The crew includes all of the minor roles, who have a large impact, on getting various things done for the project. This may include, building sets, costumes, props, hanging lights, running the board in the booth and other various things. Below you will find some of the more common crew positions and their roles.
A scenic painter is responsible for painting any large pieces of art that are required for a performance. This can include large backdrops and murals used in a show. They will work closely with a set designer to understand the vision of what the stage will look like.
A board operator is the person responsible for operating the tech board in the booth. This can include the lighting board and/or sound board, as well as other technical elements that need to be run during a show.
Small but mighty teams can be just as effective when the right team of people work to get the job done. Some companies require a small team of people to put up their show. This doesn’t mean that they are at any sort of disadvantage, but rather means that they may not require all of the personnel in comparison to other performing arts projects. There can be many reasons for this including: funding available to the company, the artistic product is smaller in scale, the company is new and emerging, and many others. Productions that typically call for a small team include: festival shows, independent performing arts projects, new and emerging companies.
Here is a breakdown of what your small team may look like, in terms of the personnel you may have involved in your project. This again, will differ per project, but here are some roles you may want to consider and their duties in a small production. Refer to the job descriptions above for clarity on the role of each of these people.
- Director and/or Choreographer - Depending on whether you are working on a dance show or theatre performance, you will work with a director (theatre) or a choreographer (dance). Sometimes, you may work with both. For jobs that might have an assistant on a larger production (director, choreographer, etc.), they might absorb the assistant positions and do it all themselves.
- Stage Manager - In a small production, you will likely have a one person stage management team who will operate your show. In a small production, they may also act as the technical director, board operator and various other small duties as needed.
- Production Designer - Unlike in a large production, you may only have one or two people who design the elements of your production, which may include: set, lights, props, sound, projection, etc.
- Volunteers - Volunteers can play an important role in a small production and oftentimes, smaller theatre companies and indie companies rely on their volunteers to assist with various duties. These duties may include volunteer box office/ushers and volunteer production crew.