Striking the Set and Load Out
Image courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress
"After the curtain goes down on the final performance, I can just leave, right?"
After the final curtain goes down, the last phase of the show begins. This is strike.
Striking the set isn’t spoken of very often. In fact, an actor may go through two months of rehearsals for a production and never even hear the words spoken, though for the tech crew pre-planning for strike is, or should be, part of the set design process. Nevertheless, strike is vitally important on a number of levels. In a lot of ways, it’s like planning a funeral. It’s the necessary final step in the life of a show.
"Striking the set," or just "strike," refers to the process of returning the performance space to the condition in which the acting troupe found it at load in. In fact, most simply, it’s the undoing of everything that was done at load in.
As soon as the curtain goes down, sound technicians, lighting technicians and the stage crew all immediately go to work on dismantling and packing up the show. Actors should immediately turn in their wireless mics, if they’re being used, and should change out of costume and into work clothes with all due speed. Costumes need to be turned in to the costumer as soon as possible after the curtain, then you should report for duty to start taking things apart. In general, heading for the stage is a safe bet to see what needs to be done and who needs help doing it.
Just like load in, the technical director is responsible for getting the set dismantled and packed up, and then getting the stage, wings, etc., cleaned up. The costumer will very likely need help getting the costumes packed and getting the dressing rooms cleaned up, and don’t forget the oft-neglected props master who may well appreciate a few extra hands getting the props packed and loaded.
For the cast, there are two things to be accomplished at strike. Pragmatically, there is a ton of work to be done and many hands make light work. There will absolutely be some amount of standing around and looking for somewhere to help, but until the building is empty again, there is work to be done! Just ask your tech director or costumer what they need you to do next.
Perhaps more importantly, though, helping with strike can be very cathartic. Closing a show is a tremendously emotional experience, and it can be overwhelming, even for seasoned actors. Striking helps. It’s physically demanding, and it helps you ease out of "show mentality" a little more gently than just walking out the stage door after the final curtain would.
Yes, that sounds silly. Until you’ve gone through it.
So help with strike. It’s expected. It’s encouraged. It’s the right thing to do, for the troupe and for you.
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