This question comes from Andrea Macy from Bellmore, NY.
Question: What time are Broadway actors required to arrive at the theatre? Stagehands? Is there a difference between arrival times for Off-Broadway and Broadway actors?
Answer: To help answer this question, AskPlaybill.com checked in with our regular source for all things stage management, Ira Mont, currently the stage manager of Young Frankenstein and the third vice-president of Actors' Equity.
First, for both Broadway and Off-Broadway actors, Equity contracts state that actors should be at the theatre no later than a half hour before curtain. Each show has a sign-in sheet posted as close as possible to the stage door, where all actors have to sign in when they arrive.
Actors who need lots of hair and make-up work each night — think the Beast in Beauty and the Beast or the monster in Young Frankenstein — have to come in earlier to get ready (the extra time gets counted towards their number of rehearsal hours for that week). Actors are, of course, always at liberty to arrive as early as they wish to prepare their hair and do other things.
So what happens when an actor is late? When does the stage management decide to call in the understudy? "This is where you will find slight differences based on the needs of the show or the management style of the stage management or general management," Mont says.
Typically, the first thing you do when you see that an actor hasn't checked in is make sure the actor isn't in the building and simply forgot. "What you do is page 'Joe Smith, we're at half hour, if you're here please let a stage manager know,' and a phone will ring or someone will holler from the stage door, and they're embarrassed, but they're there," Mont says.
Technically, if an actor is not there at half hour, the management has the right to not let an actor go on. "Truthfully, that's rather archaically strict," Mont says, and many stage managers give leeway.
Some stage managers encourage actors to call if they're running late. So, "if they've already called you and said, 'The number one stopped at 59th Street and I'm running late,' then you're not concerned," Mont says.
But what if they're not in the building and you haven't heard from them? Some stage managers have stricter cutoff times than others, but "if you haven't heard from an actor at twenty of eight and they're not present, you're probably going to get the understudies in motion, and probably not going to turn back the clock" and let the actor go on if he shows up late, Mont says.
Still, sometimes it depends on the nature of the performer's role. If a role requires a lot of costume pre-sets, for instance, you're going to call in the understudy earlier, since understudies need their own costumes pre-set. And, in a musical, chorus members tend to have more costumes pre-set (it could be around a dozen) than the principals.
But the tricky part of this issue is that there is a system for fining actors who show up late (but still perform — if they don't perform it's considered an absence, which has its own separate consequences). And that fining system must be applied universally, with no special treatment for stars. Again, stage managers do sometimes give leeway regarding the fines.
Many actors forget about the relatively new 7 PM curtain times for some shows on Tuesdays. The stage manager will call them to see what's up, and they'll still be at home. "There was an occasion," Mont says, "where an actor, a principal actor who didn't appear in the show for almost the first hour, forgot about the seven o'clock curtain. We called them, we got the, 'Oh my God!' and we actually allowed them to come and do the show."
As for the stagehands, each department (props, electrics, etc.) has a department head, and each stagehand reports to his or her department head upon arrival.
According to Bruce Cohen, a spokesperson for the stagehands union, on Broadway, the stagehands are required to report to work a half-hour prior to curtain. But "in reality, the shows are so sophisticated now" that it takes a lot more time to set up, he says, "so 99 percent of the shows now have a pre-set hour, which means stage crew show up at 6:30 PM to accomplish these tasks" for an 8 PM curtain. It's not necessarily the entire running crew that shows up that early, though.
The tasks include re-setting sets, props, costumes, etc., so that everything is where it's supposed to be for the beginning of the first act. The crew members also check out the sound systems, computerized lighting systems and automated set and projection systems to make sure they're working properly.