What Are The Roles in Producing a Play?

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

Discover what it takes to put on a play! Explore the many roles on and off stage. Learn about the various stages of production from conception to wrap. In the theater, no part is too small.

The Art of Stagecraft

The job of putting on a play might seem effortless if you're in the audience of a well-rehearsed and professionally-engineered performance. It almost takes a gaffe or an accident to make you realize that it's all just a show. It's a serious endeavor for the professionals committed to the art of stagecraft. Stagecraft is shorthand for the work, talent, and education involved in writing and staging plays. Once the curtain goes up, the audience is supposed to forget that any work is involved. But in reality, it takes scores of workers in a variety of roles to pull off a great show.

This lesson introduces that curious audience member to the many roles involved in putting on a play.

Leave it to the artists to create the self-reflexive genre, which are plays about putting on plays. Movies about making movies are also self-reflexive; the show reveals its own inner workings while you're watching it. A play also becomes self-reflexive when the characters stage a play within the play, such as in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Of course, there are also novels about writers struggling to write novels. If you're curious about what goes into making a theater production, take a look at some of these examples: Noises Off, Fame, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Chorus Line, and The Producers. Often comedic, often musical, these shows give the audience an understanding of what it takes to put on a show, and what happens when things go wrong. Many of these shows are musicals, but, for the sake of this introduction, let's exclude the music department. Let's look at what it takes to put on a one-act play that doesn't include a musical score.

The play within the play
A Midsummer Night

Stages of Development

Of course, every play requires a director behind the scenes and actors on the stage. But before anybody even gets to the theater, you need a playwright to create the story and dialogue. A producer who likes the script will hire staff and locate funding. This stage is called pre-production. Once the director comes on board, they work with a casting director to fill the acting roles.

Once all the roles are filled, both on and off stage, the play enters production phase, which means the cast and crew begin rehearsals. The most important acting roles in a play are referred to as the male and female leads, because they have the most lines of dialogue and their characters are most central to the story. Think of these roles as the hero and heroine of the story.

The lead crew members in the production phase include the designers: costume, lighting, and set. Before anything can be built or sewn, it's up to these artisans to choose a color scheme appropriate to the mood the director wishes to set.


The master of the show lives backstage; she goes by the title of stage manager. In many respects, the stage manager runs the show, both literally and figuratively. She leads the team during performances to make sure everything runs smoothly.

View from the Lighting Booth
Lighting Control room

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