Acting Directing

Backstage Blues: How to Deal With a Messy Cast

How to deal with a messy cast
Written by Kerry Hishon

Cleaning up anybody else’s mess is no fun. Cleaning up a messy backstage after a show is especially disheartening – it takes away any good feelings that were cultivated during a good performance, and creates resentment between the actors, the crew, and the teachers in charge. With teamwork and some carefully laid-out ground rules, though, messes can be reduced and everyone can go home quickly!

Read on for three ideas about how to deal with theatrical messes.

1. What are the general backstage policies?

Establish these early and make sure the cast and crew know what they are. Make handouts and distribute them to the cast and crew. Post the policies where they can be easily seen by everyone. You may even want to make up a contract that each student signs to indicate that they are aware of the backstage policies. Here are some points to think about:

  • Are students permitted to bring personal items (such as cell phones, bags, etc.) backstage? If so, where will the items be kept?
  • Does each student have their own assigned space in the dressing area, or is it a free-for-all?
  • Where are costumes stored when not in use?
  • Is there a place to store boots and coats during inclement weather?
  • Are food and drinks permitted backstage? Are there adequate garbage cans and recycling bins available? Who empties those when they become full?
  • Is there an established Lost and Found area or bin? What happens when the bin becomes full?
    • Items of a personal nature (such as solitary socks) I tend to just throw out. Nobody is going to claim them.
2. What are the rules regarding costumes?

Costumes tend to be misplaced and damaged more often than other items, simply because it is so easy to toss a costume over a chair or drop it on the floor. Oftentimes students aren’t aware of how to properly care for their own clothes, let alone a costume. Discuss with your students how to properly care for and store their costumes – it will make your costumes team’s lives a whole lot easier.

  • The first rule of costume care is that costume team members are not servants or maids – they are not there to pick up after actors who leave their stuff everywhere.
  • If necessary, spend time with your students to teach them the correct way to hang and/or fold and store their costume pieces.
  • My rule is this: If I find a costume piece randomly on the floor (doesn’t matter how it got there, whether it was carelessness on the owner him/herself or if someone else knocked it on the floor), I take it away and put it in “costume jail.” The owner then has to come and find me to get it back, and explain why the item wasn’t put away correctly.
  • I’ve also used consequences, such as:
    • Having to pay a fine (usually 25 cents per item) to buy it back
    • Having to do push-ups or sit-ups to earn the item back
    • Completing another task, such as singing a song in front of the rest of the cast and crew, to earn the item back
    • You will know your students best – use your best judgment when assigning a consequence for a left-behind item
3. What are the rules regarding props?

Props can easily be misplaced between shows. Sometimes they mysteriously vanish. To avoid this, assign a props head or assistant stage manager to oversee the proper care and storage of props.

  • Are props kept out on a shelf or table in between shows, or are they put away after each show? If they are put away, is there a specific plan for the storage?
    • If items are put away between shows, large bins (with lids) are very useful. Attach a list to each bin-lid of what belongs in that bin.
  • Props that are left behind or not put away in their proper spots could be treated the same way as costumes and put in “props jail.”
    • But consider, tt may be more difficult to determine who missed the prop – is it the responsibility of the props head, the assistant stage manager, or the actor who uses said prop to return it?
  • At the end of the run of the show, remind students that all prop items must be returned to the props storage area. Students frequently ask to keep a prop as a souvenir of the show, failing to remember that props may have been borrowed or loaned, or will be used again for a future show. Unless the teacher specifically states that a particular student may take a particular prop home, all props need to be returned and accounted for! (This goes for costume items too!)
Click here for a free contract template (and sample) that you can use with your students for the care and maintenance of the backstage area.

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. She blogs at

About the author

Kerry Hishon

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. View her blog at