Teaching Drama Technical Theatre

Good Enough for Theatre

My university required all theatre students, even acting students, to take two technical theatre courses. I dreaded, nay – feared these courses. Part of the course was acting as building crew for the drama department’s shows. Despite the fact that my first job in tech theatre was “master carpenter” I’m still not sure which end of the hammer you’re supposed to hold.

The courses didn’t prepare me for a job behind the scenes in theatre, but they sure gave me a wake-up call to what those people go through. Especially props. Props is the #1 worst job in theatre as far as I’m concerned.

But I digress.

The main thing I learned in tech theatre classes was this simple phrase:

Good enough for theatre.

Our teacher had a background building houses, houses that were meant to last for decades. So he knew how to build stuff to last. But he also knew when things didn’t have to last.

He’d have a look at a couple of flats that we built. (Yes, acting students building flats.) They’d be slightly askew, not quite square, not uniformly tall. We’d be shivering that we were going to get F’s because the flats were so far from perfect. But he’d stroll in the shop, look them over, shrug his shoulders, and utter this magical phrase:

Good enough for theatre.

On one hand, it’s an appalling phrase. Shouldn’t everything be perfect? Or at least shouldn’t we be striving for perfection?

On the other hand, it’s an acknowledgement that the flat is just one small piece in bringing the set to life. The flat gets painted, it’s splashed with light, throw in some props and furniture, then add some actors to interact with it. Soon enough, the audience is drawn into believing that we’re in a 17th century French drawing room. The average audience member wouldn’t notice the 1/4″ difference in flat heights if they tried.

I think we should strive for excellence in everything we do. All of the various theatrical craftspeople should strive for the best work they can possibly do. But we should also acknowledge that one slight imperfection is hardly going bring the production to its knees.

About the author

Craig Mason

1 Comment

  • As a professional prop master and professor of technical theatre I have some thoughts about your post.

    Do you know why your theatre required you to learn about tech theatre or so I assume? So that you would be well-rounded and so that you could appreciate all of the work required (on stage, off stage, and back stage) to mount a production. I am glad that that lesson has stuck with you and am quite pleased that you seem to really recognize the challenges of propping a show. Of course, I do not consider it the “worst job in theatre” – I enjoy the challenge of finding that perfect item that helps tie everything together.

    But I digress:

    This idea of “good enough” is almost on target, but with one addition – the scenery, properties, costumes, lighting, sound effects should be “good enough” to help the actor *tell the story*. Telling the story is the most important bit. It does not matter if you have professionally built flats that are artistically painted perfectly, but it does matter that your background is good enough not to be distracting and helps tell the story.

    It’s all about the story.