It takes a whole team of talented and dedicated people working offstage and behind the scenes to bring a traditional theatre production to life. But how do each of those specialized jobs translate to a virtual production environment? The short answer is: it depends on your show.
While it's possible for a single person to produce and stream a virtual performance, that's certainly not required (or necessarily recommended!). Here are some of the most common ways that theatre makers are working together—or consolidating efforts—in online spaces.
This role is essential, even if you're producing a completely unrehearsed improv show or staged reading (but...don't do that, please!). At the very least, you'll need someone to maintain the structure of your event and run the production and streaming tools.
Ideally, your director will do what directors do best: create and execute the artistic vision and enable the performers to shine...in this case, while maintaining the structure of your performance in a digital space. But no matter how simple or elaborate your vision or your digital setup, no director should have to go it alone. That's why you'll want a...
Stage Manager/Assistant Director
You'd never dream of producing a traditional show without a Stage Manager, right? Right. Then don't try it in an all new production format either, if you can help it!
Technical tasks and responsibilities that can be delegated to your Virtual Stage Manager or Assistant Director, in addition to the regular functions of their role, include:
- Audition management – Distribute links or files for sides; collect and organize actor self-tapes.
- Casting communications – Outreach to everyone who auditioned; logistical conversations with those to whom you're offering roles; post the cast list to your promotional website.
- Script distribution – Send digital files and confirming receipt with each cast member before the first rehearsal.
- Rehearsal setup – Schedule virtual meetings; manage cast and production team invitations
- Design implementation – Distribute virtual background files, lighting/sound setup specs, etc.
- Performer technical support – Meet with actors to ensure their systems, lighting, external mics, and virtual backgrounds are all set up properly.
- Rehearsal tech operation – Operate production tools; make sure each performer is using the proper lighting, sound settings/equipment, virtual background, etc.; practice live stream functionality; capture rehearsal video and distribute it to director, actors between sessions.
- Day-of-show production – Operate production tools and live stream functionality; check all cast tech/equipment setups before the show; record performance and distribute files to video editor, if you are doing a pre-recorded stream (this is optional, unless you are doing a musical, in which case you will need to pre-record and edit in order for your music/vocal performances to sync properly).
Because performers will be logging in from their own remote locations, traditional scenic design is impossible in a virtual production environment. Instead, consider using virtual backgrounds to set the scene and create a polished visual experience. These can be as simple or as creative as you choose.
Good lighting and sound are extremely important when you’re streaming your show—especially for a virtual production, in which every performer will have their own setup. Fortunately, they’re also fairly simple to get right.
If your designers are up for a new challenge and your budget allows, they could potentially consult on your virtual performance project. But this is by no means a necessary expense. You can learn everything you need to know about lighting and sound in this type of production environment by searching YouTube using keywords like lighting for Zoom, best audio setup for web conferencing, and so forth.
We’ve seen virtual productions with full costumes, delivered to the performers at their homes. We’ve seen even more with very limited costume design (think everyone in a black t-shirt, or with just a single accent piece for each character). Both can work well. It all depends on your vision and execution. Like with the other design roles, these decisions can easily be made by the Director, if necessary.
If you have seriously considered the inherent challenges and are committed to producing a virtual musical, your Musical Director will perform their role in much the same way that they usually do. They will also need to work closely with your editing team in order to ensure optimal performance quality.
Even if you are producing a virtual musical, you probably won’t be able to include any production numbers with your actors working in different locations, most likely in front of their laptops. You might, however, want to think of your blocking with a choreographer’s eye. Your Director will find that simple movements and careful positioning can go a long way toward creating a believable sense of connection on screen.
Marketing and promotion, ticket sales, box office management, and audience engagement can be managed in much the same way for a virtual performance as for a traditional production. No matter how you're creating your work or sharing it with your audience, you'll want to make sure these necessary operations are executed efficiently, effectively, and according to a replicable system that makes your work as a theatre artist easier and more successful.
On The Stage combines all these functions plus professional-quality digital production and streaming tools all in one flexible, easy-to-use platform. And the best part is, it won't cost your organization a thing unless you choose to absorb the standard fees that are usually passed on to the patron at the box office!
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