Like nothing else.
If you ever have the opportunity, work at a theatre during a show, especially a community theatre. It doesn’t matter how you participate: acting, hair and makeup, stage managing, crewing the stage. It’s only important that you’re there and that you notice what’s going on around you. Observe it all; there’s so much to take in.
Hear the actors in the Green Room, awaiting their turn to go on. Listen to their conversations about past shows and dream roles. Watch them make themselves ready. Some have little rituals, some whisper their lines to themselves or practice them with a scene partner. Watch the nervousness right… before… they… enter only to blossom into confidence and connection as they step onstage. Watch the waiting actors quietly cheer when a particularly tricky or difficult part goes right. Stand to the side, though. People move quickly around here.
Spend some time in the pre-show hair and makeup room and listen to the chatter and gossip. Hear the supportive comments, the secrets divulged, the from-the-gut laughter. What happens in the makeup room stays in the makeup room. Sometimes.
Hear the stage managers radio their cues to the light booth or to the band. Watch them keep an eye on their script, following the action by the faint light in the wings, ready to pull a fly or the grand. See the stage crew, dressed all in black, move incredible amounts of set pieces as quickly as possible, making it look effortless and seamless.
Follow the costumers as they race to fix rips and tears, last-minute hems in their creations. Stand just off-stage to see the carefully choreographed quick changes happen. Wigs ripped off, new ones put on, entire outfits changed in the space of minutes or even seconds. Whole new characters appear onstage in the time it takes to deliver a few lines, the changing crew breathe sighs of relief at a satisfying reaction.
Visit the ticket booth before the show and watch the transactions happen from information programmed in weeks ago. Hang out at intermission, perhaps help to sell candy and pop, and listen to what the audience is saying. Report all good things back to the cast.
Watch the light and sound cues hopefully happen exactly as they should, illuminating some and shading others…