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Creating a Pre-Show Checklist

Being organized before a performance keeps everyone calm and prevents offstage drama. A great way to stay organized is to create a pre-show checklist — a list of all the tasks each theatrical department must complete before the performance can start. Here’s what you need to do to create your pre-show checklist:

Start working on the checklist early.

Before you even start auditions, you’ll inevitably go through your script many times, making copious notes about characters, costumes, props, and more. While you’re at it, note moments that appear in the script that will necessitate a task. For example, if there are obvious quick changes in the script, a pre-show task might be to check all quick-change costumes and pre-set them backstage. Or if a character needs to eat something onstage, a pre-show task might be for the props team to get the food prop from the staff room refrigerator and arrange it on a plate. 

Being aware of those moments early on will help you when you get closer to show week and your brain is full of a million other things. This is also a great job for your stage management team. Have them go through the script and note anything they think should be added to the pre-show checklist that you might have missed. You’ll inevitably add more tasks throughout the rehearsal process and during tech week, but it’s great to get a head start.

Don’t forget to include front of house pre-show tasks, such as printing and folding programs, having adequate change in your concession and box office cash boxes, and ensuring bathrooms are clean. Once you’ve produced or directed a few shows, you’ll have a better idea of what tasks will be involved, and you can create a basic template that you can adjust for each new production. Check out our giveaway below for a sample task list.

Determine your format.

There are many ways to format a pre-show checklist. You may want to create one large master list for every department and keep it in one central location, or you may want to make mini lists of tasks for each department and keep them in relevant areas (such as in the tech booth for the sound and lighting technicians and in the dressing rooms for the costume team). You may want to post the lists on the wall and have students initial tasks when they complete them, have a department leader keep the list on a clipboard and have students check in with them when they complete a task, or use a digital list or app for students to check off on their smartphones. You know your students best and which method would work for you and them.

My tried-and-true method is to create a simple three-column table with the headings Task, Department, and Complete (Initials). The first column lists the tasks students must complete, the second column indicates which department is responsible for completing the task, and the third column is for the appropriate person to initial when the task is complete. If you use this method, you can either print one master copy, put each page into a plastic sheet, hang it on the wall, and have students initial with a dry erase marker (then you can erase it after each performance and reuse it on multiple performance days); or you can print multiple copies and use a new copy for each performance.

Always leave extra rows on your pre-show checklist, as additional tasks you didn’t think of will inevitably pop up during tech week or the actual run of the show. This way, you can write those extra tasks on the list so you don’t forget them.

Determine who is responsible for each task.

It’s usually obvious who will be responsible for each task — the costume team maintains the costumes, the props team pre-sets the props, the lighting technicians check the lights, and so on. But some tasks aren’t as clear. Will your stage manager be responsible for sweeping and mopping the stage, or will you delegate that task to someone else, like an assistant stage manager? Can any member of a particular team complete the task, or do you want to assign each task to a specific person? Instead of using a general Department header on your list, you might want to list the name of the specific person who is responsible for each task (“Mikhail” instead of simply “Costume Team”). You also may want to add a fourth column to the table with the header “Approved,” if you’d like a department head or teacher to confirm that each task has been completed to your standards. Again, use whatever method works best for your students.

Classroom Exercise: Brainstorm a list of tasks your students think they would need to complete prior to a performance. Give students a scene from a play. Have them read the scene and make a list of at least three tasks specific to that scene they would need to complete pre-show.

Additional Resources:

Click here for a free blank pre-show checklist template and sample task list.
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