The Backstage series, a three-book co-publishing agreement between Routledge and USITT has produced its first work of the series; Theatre Artisans and Their Craft: The Allied Arts Field.
The series consists of books that focus on the various aspects of the technical theatre industry. It celebrates the professionals that make theatre happen in the shops, backstage, and every other corner of this field.
Aimed at theatre and film practitioners in the allied arts fields, Theatre Artisans and Their Craft profiles 14 remarkable artists and technicians who elevate theatre production to new levels, explore new materials and technologies, and introduce new safety standards and solutions.
Readers will learn how the featured artists delved into entrepreneurial ventures and created their own work for themselves; researching, studying, and experimenting, seeking answers when none were available. The book explores how to make an impact in the entertainment industry from behind the scenes, and how students can model themselves after these successful professionals to jump-start their career in theatre production.
Leading the editing charge are costume designer and VP of communications, Rafael Jaen; costume designer Holly Poe Durbin; and Associate Professor of Theatre History at Vanderbilt University Christin Essin. All sit on the USITT Publications Committee.
“As I started the research for the potential book, I came across a group of likeminded individuals on the USITT Publications Committee,” Jaen said. “Those who strongly believed in my original idea joined the project right away. The journey included compiling a list of names of about two hundred theatre artists, and a pool of writers consisting of experienced authors alongside folks who had never written before — the latter group would get mentoring along the way.
After gathering the aforementioned stockpile of writers and artisans, the idea of a series began to take shape. What had started as a singular idea from Jaen had grown into heaps of fascinating material that would need to fill more than one book.
“We gathered so much material that it made sense to agree to a three-book series (to start with) focusing on the work of craftspeople, management, and technical folks,” Jaen said. “After FOCAL Press accepted the original proposal, USITT and Routledge came together forming a publishing agreement and the Backstage series was born. The editors of this first book, juggled busy schedules, demanding academic calendars, and numerous professional engagements while keeping the publishing deadlines. We stayed inspired by the writers’ efforts and what we learned about the featured subjects. I am elated with the result, and I’m proud to be the main editor of the series.”
An excerpt from the book’s foreword can be found below.
The idea for this book was born at a Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) six years ago. After showing a jaw-dropping art portfolio, the owner, an art student from a community college, told me that he didn’t think that he had a future in the theatre arts because it wasn’t his major. Luckily, prop master Jay Duckworth (who is featured in one of this book’s chapters) was attending the same festival, and after seeing the work ended up offering a summer internship to the student to join him during the summer at the Public Theatre in New York City. What got my attention, at the time, was that the student did not realize that it takes a village to produce effective storytelling, and that many allied arts translate effectively to the needs of a theatre or screen production. This collection of masters presents several ways to create an impact in entertainment from “behind the scenes.” Some followed a formal path, studying their subject in college. Others followed a guild model, apprenticing with masters in their field. One forged a journey that led from Renaissance fairs and cosplay to the online forum DeviantArt. They come from all over: North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin, England, and many other places. They’ve made careers around the country as well: New York, Portland, Santa Fe, Washington DC, and Houston, to mention just a few. Some became entrepreneurs, running their own creative businesses, and some combine regular employment with a freelance career. What do these artists have in common? They all combine exceptional artistry with technical skills. Recognizing that formal education cannot always teach mastery of handcrafts, they added personal research and practice to expand their knowledge. They all experimented with materials, diving in to explore for answers when none were available. They all took their art to new heights, stretching traditional methods to meet new challenges. And they all created their own work for themselves, establishing portfolios that showed what they were capable of dreaming and making. None of them waited for that “big break” to find them—they made it for themselves. We hope that you will find this collective offering as inspiring as we do.
-Rafael Jaen, Holly Poe Durbin, Christin Essin