The ins-and-outs of deconstructing productions after the curtains close

(PHOTO/ Rojan Maharjan)

“Mamma Mia!”, which premiered on campus last year, had an intricate set and a large cast, requiring a lot of work both to put the show together and to take it apart. 

Andrea Hammack

Staff Writer

Have you ever watched a theatrical performance and wondered to yourself: what happens to the show when the final curtains fall?

Theater revolves around preparation – preparing scripts, casting roles, learning lines and building sets.

All of that preparation leads to a finished and polished performance, and eventually an organized take down. 

“So, we have this thing after a show called ‘strike,’” said Madeline Hill, a sophomore theater major from Alabaster. “That means we take everything down.

“We deconstruct the set and keep salvageable wood and other pieces and get rid of materials we can’t use or store them in the hangar. We will also take costumes to the hangar to use in the future.”

David McGinnis, a lecturer and scenic shop manager for the theatre and dance department, further explained how the set is torn down and what happens to the materials used. 

“Most of the scenery is torn down, and any portions that are not able to be reused are cut down to manageable proportions and discarded,” McGinnis said. “With that said, though, any portions that are still of useful sizes or dimensions are saved and stored for use in future projects as long as our storage space allows for it. 

“Any hardware that is still useful is saved and returned to stock, and of course, all tools are maintained as needed to extend service life to the maximum possible.”

The cast also has to perform a deconstruction of their characters and leave the play behind.

Christian Carlson, a senior theater major from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said that he is usually “drained” after a production is over. 

“Doing a show takes a ton of energy and focus, and just dropping that kind of commitment to a show is hard,” Carlson said. “It just generally leaves you looking for the next play to do.”

Besides feeling drained after a performance, the actors also have to step out of a familiar character. 

“You want to make sure that you are fully invested in what is happening in your character’s life, but can leave the stage and continue your life without it hindering yourself,” Hill said. 

“Sometimes people pick up things their characters do in a subtle way. I’ve seen someone play George Gibbs and then for a month or two after the show closed, he would still keep his hand in his pockets as he spoke, allowing a tick for his character to invade his everyday life.”

Carlson said his character, The Interesting Man/Lord of the Underworld in “Eurydice,” might take a bit longer to drop for him than others. 

“I still find myself doing the hand movements and occasionally the creepy smile of my character,” Carlson said. “I’d say it usually takes me a week or two to completely drop a character, but I think this one might take close to a month.”

Carlson attributed these habits to how big of a personality The Interesting Man possessed.

“He’s just such a big character with so many little quirks that leaving him completely behind is hard,” Carlson said. “Hard in the way that you almost forget certain traits are his until you go, ‘wait, I don’t laugh like that. And why is my hand up?’ 

“I’ll be honest, if I found myself on a tricycle, it might take me a second to realize that it’s not my normal ride.”

Hill, on the other hand, rarely has problems dropping her character’s traits and often learns more about herself from them. 

“‘Eurydice’ sparked my love for books back to life, so during the process and even now I am reading more than I used to,” Hill said. “I had a character from a one-act I was in stick with me for a while once. 

“I played Miriam in Tennessee William’s ‘The Parade.’ She was the first really honest person I had played since coming to college, so it was interesting being able to explore her problems through my life experiences, and it helped me learn lots about myself.”

Hill also believes that you never fully drop a character that you have portrayed. 

“If you’ve done well, that character is not a separate being, but rather a part of you,” Hill said. “There is truth to every character an actor can play, and it is the actor’s job to recognize these similarities and bank on them for creating a genuine experience.”

Associate professor of theatre and dance Quentin Cockrell also has a lot to move on from once a production is over. 

“Theatre is an ephemeral art,” Cockrell said. “Theatre is very much of the moment. 

“It is a live performance. Part of being in the theatre is knowing that every project will end. Over the years, I have found the best way to combat the ‘post-show blues’ is to do the best possible job you can on the play while you are working on it. You can move on more easily from a project when you know you have given your all and the work feels ‘finished.”’

Just because it’s easy to switch tasks, doesn’t mean there aren’t aspects worth missing about producing plays. 

“What I normally miss about working on a play is the relationships you develop with the cast and crew,” Cockrell said. “It is a cliché, but you really do become a family.  

“Everyone is working together toward a single goal, trying to do their best work. When it’s over, you miss the people.”

The Theatre and Dance Department is constantly working on new projects and a list of upcoming shows can be found at

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