In the theatre, there are various phases in the production process that are used in bringing the page to the stage. And, as is the case in many other aspects of the theatre, there are certain words and phrases that are used in relationship to that process. Often these are borrowed from other areas of commerce or, over time, sometimes other areas of commerce have adopted them from the theatre. In this Theatre Speak Buzz Blog, we look at some of the more common phrases used when we are about to get a show “on the boards.”
On the Boards
When you get a play on the boards it means that it is open and running. This phrase refers to the fact that a stage is made of wood or boards. The stage floor is often referred to the “deck” and the technicians who move scenery on the floor are called the “deck crew.” That’s because the stage borrows many of its terms from the era of the sailing ship. This is due to the fact that in those days often those who worked the rigging (yes, another nautical term) in the theatre were the same men who sailed on the tall-masted ships.
The next four terms in this blog are used when getting a show on the boards. They refer to the process of refining a show for the stage and dealing with scenes.
When you “work” a scene in a show that means that it has already been staged and that it has some amount of detail in it. Working a scene involves stopping and starting the actors in the scene, giving them direction, and trying the new directorial choices. Actors may certainly also add new details to a scene or their characters and work those into the scene. Often after a scene is worked from start to end, stopping and starting, it will be run at least once to see how the changes affect it.
When you clean up a scene you’re actually doing very different things than when you work it. A scene that needs to be cleaned up is nearly finished. It has a high amount of detail in it, the actors have set just about everything they are going to do, and the scene runs nicely. Thus, clean up usually involves working on one or two specific parts of a scene. The work that has to be done is not extensive and often it takes a relatively short amount of time to attend to a problem. Clean up most often focuses on a part of a scene that is sloppy and needs adjustments in staging or a slight tweak in character motivation.
In the theatre, blocking refers to the act of staging. When a director “blocks” a scene, they are physically placing the actors within the scene and deciding where they will move to and when they will move. When a director “re-blocks” a scene then it has already been blocked.
Re-blocking means that much if not all of the staging will be changed due to the fact that it is ineffective. Blocking may also have to be altered dramatically because the set has changed in some way. With new plays, a scene may need to be re-blocked after it has been rewritten.
Cut Your Losses
In the theatre when getting a play on the boards, directors will often “cut their losses” as opening night draws near. The major way in which a director will cut their losses will be by determining which scenes will “play” for an audience (despite the fact that they are not exactly the way the director wants them to be) and which need to be worked, cleaned up, or re-blocked. Those that really need some care because they will not play well and will damage the production will need to be addressed in some manner.