I was pacing in a corner backstage during "Carrie" last week, running lines, when I came out of my circle of concentration for a minute and looked around.
I saw people in costumes, getting ready to go onstage, and some were coming off. I saw people in tech blacks, setting props. I saw blue-light silhouettes and shadows, weaving in and out of each other. I saw ropes and pulleys and run lists and set pieces. I saw costumes laid out for upcoming quick-changes. I saw masking. I saw props tables laden with incongruous items like a basketball, a candlestick, a laundry basket, a chopping knife, a skateboard, a pin cushion, drug pipes, a tiara, plates of apple pie, and empty beer bottles.
People were running to get where they needed to be on time. People were waiting for their cues. People were quietly joking with each other. People were hugging. People were tucked in corners, trying to get focused.
I sat in a chair behind the set and looked up at the two levels, joined by steep escape stairs. I saw screws and staples and stage light filtered through "window" coverings. I saw the shadows of actors onstage, and listened to their amplified voices singing, so richly. I imagined the stage manager in the tech booth, calling cues to the light board op and the sound op. I thought of the spot ops in their crow's nests, above the audience's heads. There are a lot of tech cues. A lot.
Backstage is not pretty. It's plywood and 2x4s and glow tape, stitched together in workable, but decidedly unattractive ways. It is usually crowded and often dirty. I get splinters constantly.
I took all this in, the sight of a place I've been thousands of times before, and I started to cry.
All these people, working together to create something that the audience won't ever completely understand the workings of. Even if they're in the industry, if they're not backstage, right now, they have no idea. And I don't either, when I'm the one sitting in the audience.
It's amazing. It's mysterious and inspiring. The energy and passion represented backstage during a performance is staggering. The whole of the production process is hidden away behind the curtains and flats. It's this massive, delicate secret that even the people involved don't always realize they are inside. It's fragile and ugly and chaotic and really, the most gorgeous, magical place there is.