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A backstage coordinator is a critical part of any theater or entertainment production, working both in large productions under a stage management staff or in smaller groups for less complicated shows and venues. Backstage work can vary, yet, generally speaking, involves a series of administrative, artistic, technical and sometimes management duties at different points in the preparation and performance of the production, to ensure that the show runs smoothly and according to the director's vision.
Especially during rehearsals, a backstage coordinator's job involves several administrative tasks, including scheduling rehearsals and consulting with performers and technicians to select the best set-up and time. As the production and set are designed, a coordinator may also be in charge of coordinating purchases, taking costume and prop inventories and selecting or finding equipment for the performance. In larger productions, the backstage coordinator usually answers to backstage managers like stage and technical directors, doing a good amount of the administrative leg work necessary to ensure that their plans for the stage are executed. Small productions or events like fashion shows and corporate functions allow backstage coordinators somewhat more freedom to define their job role and potentially delegate certain administrative duties.
Working with the technical director or other technical staff, the backstage coordinator helps create the basic technical outline of a production. The "prompt book," a master copy of the script that includes all cues and technical specifications including audio and lighting instructions for a production, is used to coordinate events like performers' movements with technical changes, a process that requires the backstage coordinator's detailed knowledge of all the technical elements backstage. Using this knowledge, the backstage coordinator is also in charge of overseeing the execution of the prompt book during every performance, sometimes intervening and improvising in the case of errors.
During preparation and rehearsals, the backstage coordinator is in charge of making sure that the director's vision is correctly executed. This process involves communicating changes to performers and cast members as well as supervising the progress of set preparation and testing. This task is essentially a massive coordination effort, making sure that the different processes that make up a performance are progressing according to schedule and are compatible with each other. Naturally, the level of management and coordination required of a backstage coordinator depends on the size and complexity of the production. A backstage coordinator may supervise a team of technicians in a small event, yet report to a stage manager or area director in a larger production.
While the role of a backstage coordinator may seem overly technical and administrative, the nature of a stage performance makes the execution of his duties an often creative and artistic endeavor. Tasks like the coordination of set changes and the marking of set dimensions actually require a keen artistic vision, capable of creating a believable set for the audience in a way that is consistent with the aesthetics of the performance. In fact, the ingenious devices and processes many set managers create in order to move performers and technical elements across the stage or phase in sound and lighting changes -- to say nothing of the numerous improvisations that keep every play going -- are often works of art in themselves. Backstage coordinator work is a great introduction to the backstage and the world of event production as well as one that can offer significant possibilities for growth in the area or even opportunities to assume leadership roles in smaller productions.
Edward Mercer began writing professionally in 2009, contributing to several online publications on topics including travel, technology, finance and food. He received his Bachelor of Arts in literature from Yale University in 2006.
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