Ideas, suggestions, and how-to information on
all aspects of theatre, updated monthly
Don't pour leftover paint down the drain. It will ruin your plumbing and cause problems for the sewage treatment plant. Instead,
save all sawdust from shop projects. Use it to stir into old, leftover paint until you have a thick paste. Allow to dry and toss the cans.
Be sure to check local ordinances about disposal of paint,
however. Some localities require special handling of
containers with paint still in them (dry or not).
For actors, the most common injuries are the lower extremities (38 percent), lower back (15 percent) and vocal cords (17 percent). This according to a survey taken by Actors' Equity and reported in the
American Journal of Public Health. Not surprisingly, the majority of injuries were sprains or strains. Much of this can be prevented with good training and reminders from directors and choreographers.
From time to time, theatre companies have to transport larger items such as furniture or building materials to and from the theater. To meet this need,
some organization have established a "Truckin' Pool" of volunteers who have either a pickup truck or larger-size
van or station wagon, and are willing to answer an occasional call for help.
Keep Them In the Dark?
About a week before opening, "when tech rehearsals really start to get to you," director Ron Cameron puts his actors in a totally darkened room and runs lines. The result, he says, is that "they hear a play they really haven't heard in weeks." The exercise returns focus to the lines themselves, and the result, he believes, is a sharper performance.
For a source of free or inexpensive costumes, ask local drycleaners for unclaimed clothing. If your company has nonprofit status, the donor can deduct the value
for income tax purposes. If you're not a registered nonprofit group, you still may be able to get the clothing at pennies on the dollar.
We can't repeat it too often: Make sure you have backups of all computer files relating to your organization. A case in point is a computer crash at a major state
theatre organization. Among other things lost were the names of those who had checked books out of the resource library. A backup
on disc or portable hard drive would have solved the problem. For computer files of greatest importance--membership lists, season ticket subscribers, prop lists,
contracts and major documents, etc.--make sure you have a backup stored off site as well.
In case of fire, flood or other disaster, you have a better chance of saving vital data if there is a copy located somewhere else.
(Cloud storage--backing up files to a secure online
site--is usually the most convenient.)
There, Joan Crawford!
Ordinary coat-hanger wire can be used effectively in many ways. Since it holds its shape when bent, it can be used to simulate vines or metal grillwork, with rope or other materials tied or glued to it for greater visibility. David Welker, author of
Theatrical Set Design used it to make chandeliers for a production of Sheridan's
The Critic. The wire was shaped, then painted gold and hung with crystals.
Too Early for October Planning
Several companies who offer Dracula, The Passion of
Dracula, or other vampire-themed productions in
October, have held a blood drive on Halloween night. Actually, the event
can be much more than a blood drive. The Halloween experience
could include raffles, prizes, candy, and pumpkin-decorating for the whole family. Youngsters
can be encouraged to dress up in their trick-or-treat costumes and come for the fun. Adults
can be encouraged to come and give "the gift of life" by donating their blood to help save the lives of others. Announcements about the Halloween event
would be accompanied by information on the Dracula production,
resulting in a good tie-in that benefits both the theater company and the community.
Go for the Long Term
When costuming a show,
experts say, it's often better to rent specialty items that you'll never use again (such as kilts
or can-can dresses), and spend time only on those costumes you'll use again and again. Build them with extra attention to durability; they'll not only last longer, but take less of your time for repairs.
The Gift that Keeps Giving
An inexpensive money-maker is a gift certificate to your
theatre They cost little to produce and can be purchased easily at the box office.
In most cases, gift certificates have no expiration date and can be purchased in any dollar amount. If the recipient does not use the entire amount at once, the company notes the balance on the back of the certificate. The holder can then continue to present it at the box office until the balance is used up. If a purchase exceeds the total amount (or remaining balance) of the certificate, the difference can be paid in cash, check or credit card.
Some box office management system software allows for this
to be done automatically, as people call or go online to
stage people believe that sound-absorbing tiles will prevent sound from being passed from one area of a room to another. The tiles will certainly help to reduce reverberation in one area, and thus limit the amount of sound likely to pass into the other area, but only proper insulation
in walls and doors will be really effective. Thus, acoustical tile in an offstage hallway will help, but insulating the wall (and door) separating the hall from the stage will also be necessary if you want to cut noise to a minimum. Getting the cooperation of backstage hands and performers helps, too.
your theatre have a clearly defined emergency plan for accidents and medical
emergencies? It's a wise idea to write one and post it where it can be seen backstage. You should have a clear system of handling emergencies worked out among stage management personnel as well. The system should designate who keeps the show running, who calls for an ambulance, and who helps the person with whatever first aid is required. Make sure that you have a backstage first aid kit, that it is easily accessible, and that you check frequently to keep it stocked. A good basic supply includes bandages for minor cuts, ammonia inhalant (smelling salts), hydrogen peroxide
(wound wash, antibacterial), ice packs, and a small oxygen tank and mask. Such supplies may also be used for accidents or injuries involving patrons; large theaters may want to duplicate the kit for use by the house management staff.
Don't Leave Them in the Dark
Here's an intriguing observation by Nan
Withers-Wilson in her book, Vocal Direction for the
Theatre (Drama Book Publishers): We all make use of lip reading and body language to help decipher speech content.
Therefore, she points out, "Given today's visually oriented society, it is usually the case in the theater that the dimmer the lighting the
more the audience will have to concentrate in order to hear the
actors--and the more actively the actors will have to articulate in order to be clearly understood by the audience."
Audience members often dread the intermission rush to the refreshment stand, the long line, and the precious few moments in which to drink or eat.
One company devised an elegantly simple solution that helped boost sales. Inserted inside each program is a "Convenient Concessions Pre-Order Form" listing food and drink available for sale and an order blank. Patrons are asked to present the form and payment in the lobby before the show. Orders are waiting for them at the beginning of intermission on a table located at the opposite end of the lobby. (For plays with two intermissions, patrons indicate on the form at which interval they wish refreshments.)
Having problems getting audiences to a lesser-known production or a play festival? Make admission free or at a discount for those attending one of your regular season or better-known shows.
One theatre granted free admission to its Young Playwright's Festival for those purchasing a ticket to the
main stage production of Death of a Salesman.
Since the festival allows student writers the opportunity to see their work as full-scale productions, the free tickets to
theatre patrons helped ensure an audience for these new plays. Patrons also felt rewarded for their attendance at the
main stage production.
It Easy to Read
If you want your printed messages to come through loud and clear, avoid design techniques that hide the message. Among the worst offenders are these hard-to-read blunders: red type on a pink background; type superimposed on colorful artistic backgrounds; italic type used extensively on a gray background; long text blocks set in reverse type (white on black); and almost anything printed on dark-colored or aggressively fluorescent paper. The latter may work well for posters, that have few words set in large-point type, but cause headaches for readers when used for brochures or flyers.
theatres offer high school students and their teachers
special admission to musicals based on famous plays.
For example, "West Side Story" could be billed
as "the perfect companion piece to Romeo and Juliet
to area students at a 50 percent discount for a Thursday evening performance. Area teachers who
accompany their students are admitted free. This works as an excellent audience development tool, getting young people into the theater, and provides teachers with good discussion material.
Get the Message?
When your production closes and no one is staffing the box office, does your
voice mail or answering machine go unanswered for days at a time? Avoid losing important messages by having your box office staff place a new message before closing the final night of performance. Briefly explain that your production has closed and give the dates for the next one. Close with a message that gives your company's business number, or that of
a company representative, in case the caller must contact your staff. (We speak from experience: More than once we have had trouble contacting theater companies because the box office number is the only one we have.)
the Size of It
When applying sizing to a new flat, mix just enough
paint into the mixture to allow you to see where the
sizing has been applied. And whenever a flat has been
dented, brush water onto the muslin. This should
reactivate the sizing and re-stretch the muslin.
Many local theatre groups band together to form
theatre coalitions. Members meet regularly, often once a
month. They publicize each other and share resources such
as sets, costumes, props, rehearsal spaces, etc. They
function as separate groups, yet use each other for
support, sounding boards, and joint projects. It also
gives them an opportunity to represent small theater to
local government and funding sources. Some groups
also hold a joint open-call audition. Area talent is
invited to audition for all member troupes for upcoming
seasons. The coalition also may keep a master file of
actors and techies for those times when you can't find the
right actor or when your TD bails out at the last minute.
We recently received an e-mail from a theatre
company. After the signature on the bottom was a
brief advertisement of the company's upcoming production
of To Kill a Mockingbird, giving the performance
dates and highlighting the corporate sponsors. Making the
page do double duty is both a good marketing and public
relations idea. However, keep the message small and
uncomplicated. For example, make sure that images
have been optimized so they have a relatively small file
size, so they don't take forever to load when the viewer
opens the e-mail.
Candor can be a powerful tool in fundraising.
"While contributions anytime are greatly appreciated,
gifts and pledges made earlier in the season assist our
budgeting progress," wrote the Artistic
Director to friends of the Sacramento [CA] Theatre
Company. "Making your Annual Campaign contribution
now will mean no additional Annual Campaign requests for
the rest of the season. I'll bet you'll look forward to
Be careful when using old books as sources for
costume designs, advises Stephen Rausch of Schenz
Theatrical Supply. "Most books show haute couture of
the day," he points out, "not what the average
person was wearing. You need to do your research into the
cultural life of the time--art, music, architecture,
literature, social behavior, class distinctions, social
conventions, fads, use of color," he adds. "And
look up terms. In Oklahoma!, for example, Aunt
Eller talks about wearing a 'fascinator.' It's a scarf,
but I've seen productions where it's clear that no one has
bothered to research this."
Is an Art
When you design brochures and other pieces, you can
save money by planning ahead. For example, design your art
so that you can use it more than once--on a brochure,
online, or in a newspaper ad.
If you know that you'll be mailing large quantities
of the same brochure or similarly-sized brochures, but not
all at once, you can preprint some components in large
quantities (such as response envelopes) and save money.
And if a piece isn't date-sensitive (such as a
general company brochure, or a yearlong campaign) don't
put a date on it. That way, you can use them over a longer
period of time.
One of the more popular productions of the Newman
[GA] Community Theatre Company for many years as its
second-season Funny Thing, a potpourri of whatever
company members come up with that might be funny. That
covers a lot of territory, and the quality of material
ranged "from gutter to sublime," according to
the company newsletter, "and there's never any way to
predict which it's going to be." The reason it was
unpredictable is that it was put together at the last
minute--on purpose. "If you ask us on Thursday of
that week, we still won't know. By Friday, we might
actually have a good idea, and on Saturday, we'd be
willing to place limited bets on the contents. Acts
develop, blossom, wither and die, all before the curtain
goes up. Actually," the newsletter explained,
"some wait to get onstage before they wither and die,
but that's another story. If you've ever thought that
Newman ought to have its own comedy club, then the Funny
Thing is the place for you."
The concept enjoyed a healthy run for a number of years,
and seems like a likely idea for some other company to
Bed to Wall
One company came up with voluminous, warm brown
draperies bordered with a majestic rampant lion crest for
its production of Camelot. They were there because
a dauntless set dresser found a way to meet the challenge
of acquiring, at an affordable price, the miles of fabric
needed for the castle decor. Her solution? Ten large
bedspreads from the Bed Bath & Beyond bargain table
and a grand 'un-quilting' bee to remove some of their
One way to provide community outreach and target
businesses at the same time is to match your resources
with unserved needs. An example: a class called
"Acting for Business Professionals," designed
for professionals who find themselves "on stage"
in their jobs (as in meetings, business presentations,
etc.) and who wish to feel more comfortable there. Look at
what's being offered in the way of business workshops in
your area, and price yours accordingly.
Video Blog Promotes Company
Hale Centre Theatre has begun a weekly
video blog/podcast called HCT RAH, to give folks an
inside look at what's going on--including going backstage
for a current production, visiting auditions or rehearsals
for upcoming plays, plus what host Michael Fox called
"a sneak peak at every show's new tricks."
A number of companies have a speakers roster. "Want to find out what we do, who we serve, where we are, how your organization can benefit from our activities?" asks
one company's newsletter. "Let us give an interesting presentation for your organization to enjoy." While it's not unusual for a
theatre company to be asked to make an occasional presentation, having a speakers
roster means you're prepared and ready to go at any time. It's an excellent way to get the word out about your
theatre, its offerings, opportunities for community involvement, and other topics that can build interest in your company.
Get a Glow On
You can recharge glow-in-the-dark tape between acts by using a high-powered flashlight (preferably with a xenon bulb) held an inch or two away from the tape. An even better way--if the curtains are closed--is to use a camera
or smart phone flash. While many people are
familiar with the plain variety of glow tape, not everyone
knows that it is also available in specialized patterns
that can help point the way to exits, around set pieces,
and so on (see images at right). Tapes are a non-electric safety system that easily and inexpensively affixes to walls, handrails, columns, around doorframes, and along stairways and baseboards.
Most tape glows brightest the first 30 minutes after activation has ceased, but
may remain visible in a totally dark area to the night-adapted eye for
A nice fundraising touch allows people to donate money to such specific categories as "Adopt an Actor" (be an actor's patron), "Director's Chair" (sponsor the director for a play), "Writer's Desk" (underwrite royalty costs), "Set the Stage" (underwrite set costs), and "Dress It Up" (help with costume, light and sound costs). Further choices
might include sponsoring the company's interns, and young playwrights, as well as classic literature and dramatic presentations in local schools. Research shows that people give to people, not
organizations-- and to something that allows them to see the benefit of their donation.
Little Things Count
We recently received a press release from a company producing "Rogers and Hammerstein's
The Sound of Music," which later went on to call the show "one of Rogers & Hammerstein's best loved musicals." The problem: The composer's name is
Rodgers, not Rogers. It's things like this that may subtract from your company's image in
your community. If you think that typos and other errors aren't important, think again. If
a newspaper or media website prints the incorrect spelling or production information and gets called on the error, the editors may take the blame, but you can be sure they won't be thinking highly of the company who sent this their way. So check everything twice before sending out releases.
Opening Up to Former Members
Most theatre companies have members who are no longer as active as they once were, or people who have drifted from the fold.
A few years back, one California company decided to "throw the doors open and have an open discussion regarding
our compoany--yesterday, today and in the future," according to the company newsletter. "That's why we're asking all members (past and present) to attend. We want to hear what your desires are regarding
theatre in this valley. If you have grievances regarding
our company's past that drove you away, we'd like to know what they are and work them out if we can." The meeting also served to introduce a new member of the board of directors.
Sanity By Design
Technical rehearsals can be a very dangerous time for designers, according to Francis Reid in
his book, Designing For the Theatre. "Panic can lead to difficult but potentially effective uses of the set being sacrificed before their trickier aspects have been solved with adequate rehearsals." Therefore, designers need to keep that "quiet but determined cool which will help them to insist on complex sequences being given a full chance with properly detailed rehearsal before they are abandoned." However, he points out, designers also need to be flexible enough to modify their work to make it functional, if that becomes necessary.
It's All in the Timing
More theatres are exploring alternative curtain times to draw in new audiences (such as families), or to cater to older audiences' concerns about being out after dark. One
theatre now starts its Friday and Saturday evening performances at 7:30 p.m. and its Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m. The earlier start in the evenings is more conducive to family
theatregoing; also, most shows are over by 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. The later Sunday matinees give people a chance to enjoy more of their Sunday mornings--at church or reading the newspaper--have a leisurely lunch, and still get out of the
theatre by 5:30-6:00 p.m.
"When you get a callback, try to do the
exact same thing you did in the original audition," advises Doug Moston in
Coming to Terms with Acting. "That is why you're being called back. Resist the temptation to 'make it better'. Making it better means you're changing it. Be careful." Moston also suggests wearing the same clothes you wore at the first audition, since that will help the director remember you.
Keep It Simple
Training for company members need not sound formidable, as an
announcement from one theatre makes clear. "House managers are
our direct lines to the public," the announcement begins. "They welcome patrons into the
theatre and act as docents, answering questions and dispensing information about
our company" In two sentences both the value of the volunteer and of the volunteer training is underscored. Then comes the nuts and bolts, about the workshop "for new folks and old hands alike. While such basic topics as the art of ticket taking and flashlight protocol for late seating will be covered, the workshop will also include information on new items like headsets and audio description for people with hearing and
visual disabilities." Not to forget the fun, "The
company will provide snacks and the opportunity to swap stories and catch up on house manager gossip."
According to the folks at Lee Filters, if you suffer burnout problems with saturated colors during the run of a show, you may be able to substitute another color to create the same effect. Choose another gel of similar color, but lighter density (i.e., less saturated).
When you put this replacement color in your instrument, reduce the light's intensity to about 70-80 percent of what it was. This will produce approximately the same color effect, Lee says, but the gel will not burn out as quickly as it did using the darker color.
Take Your Seat
Many theatres use the purchase of new
theatre seats as a fundraising opportunity. Seats
are "sold" for a donation for each, meaning that "purchasers"
have their names placed on a brass plate attached to the arm rest.
Reshaping the Conversation
Male performers balk at wearing tights?
Some high school instructors tell theirs that tights are just cycling shorts with feet, or
that they are the same garment football players wear under their uniform to keep warm.
Who's In Charge?
Some theatre companies forbid
directors and choreographers from appearing in their own shows. "As more new directors and choreographers start working with us,"
said one company leader, "we want to prevent the problems that are an almost inevitable result of
trying to direct yourself. Having done it myself, I know that one finds oneself relying on other ears to evaluate the vocal balance. You can't give the other performers all your attention because you also have to hone your own performance. Other eyes have to watch the stage picture, or you have to step out of the stage picture and try to guess what the whole looks like when you're in it. And there's no one who can tell you if what you're doing as a performer is working or not." Exceptions can be made, but the director will have to petition the board,
That's the Ticket!
A few years back, the Davis [CA] Musical Theatre Co. found good media coverage of its ticket giveaway to local charitable groups and area art directors. The company solicited applications from groups serving the local disadvantaged population and/or youth who
had an interest in attending performances of the regular season or youth
theatre productions. Requests for tickets were to be accompanied by "your group's name and a description of its charitable and/or educational purpose with regard to the disadvantaged and/or youth of our community. Also include your intended use of the tickets, the dates of three prioritized choices of shows you would like to attend, the number of tickets you would like" and a contact person.
Costumes & Lights
Some tips on working with a lighting designer from costume and set designer Marie Anne Chiment: "Get them involved right away. Tell them what you're aiming for, the feeling and mood. Give them adjectives, tell them the mood you're trying to create. They don't want to be told
where to put the lights. That's their job. They want to hear phrases like 'sun drenched beach,' 'gloomy attic,' 'having a good time,' or 'murderous lust.' That sparks their imagination, gives them a way to contribute to the overall look. It's important to create a good working relationship early on, to build trust."
When sending publicity photos to a newspaper make sure that each is captioned
and labeled. There are several ways to do this, but with
digital photos, the simplest is to name each photo
something meaningful, as opposed to the default filename
generated by the camera. In other words, instead of
"IMG_0005-16.JPG" go with "Earnest_Jack_Cecily.JPG"
or "Players_Fall2013_04". Either name is
more helpful to the newspaper in order to identify what
the photo is. When sending photos, also
include the caption for each digital file by name
("Caption for Earnest_Jack_Cecily.JPG") plus the name of your
theatre company, the name of the show, production dates, the names of the people in the shot, and the name of the person who took the photograph.
Good PR Guaranteed
One San Francisco's theatre was so confident of
its offerings that it offered a money-back guarantee on all performances (except works in progress). This is a good marketing ploy, since few patrons will ask for a refund, and the offer suggests not only good public relations but high quality productions.
It Doesn't Hurt to Ask
For its production of Rumors,
a Washington-state theatre company managed a donation of an entire coordinated set of furniture, set in an upscale New York home. The head of the production crew sent letters to furniture stores in the area asking for help in exchange for complimentary tickets and an advertisement in the program. The manager of a local furniture rental firm responded with tables, chairs, a sofa, bar and other elegant pieces--and they delivered and picked up, as well.
The Rhythm Method
One way to begin developing a character is to consider that person's natural rhythm. Some observation in a mall or other large public area will soon reveal some of the ways in which rhythm defines a person. Watch for unusual ways of walking, gesturing, talking, and for ways in which these rhythms change as a person's emotions and moods change. Then try matching these observations with the rhythm of the playwright's words.
Rewarding the Faithful
Sometimes we're so busy finding new donors that we forget to take care of those who have already given. To avoid this,
some years ago the Cumberland County Playhouse, in Crossville, Tennessee,
began the Heritage Club, a recognition group for donors of ten years or more to the company's annual Fund for Excellence.
Not all of these are large donors, but they have been loyal.
A press release noted: "These are the ones who have allowed the Playhouse to expand its
theatre season from the original three to the present ten shows, plus the holiday special. They have encouraged the playhouse to offer programs in related art forms, such as music and dance. And they have been instrumental in the expansion of our programs for children and youth, so that we are now able to serve over 20,000 each year."
Such recognition is an excellent way to enhance your standing with donors and reinforce giving.
Antique Clothing Put to Use
"Often when an estate is being settled, a residue of things that no one knows what to do with remains," writes Shirley Dearing in
Elegantly Frugal Costumes (Meriwether Publishing). "I have 'inherited' Victorian jet, paisley shawls, fans, laces, feathers, old dresses, and quite a few tail coats.
These items are rarely of use onstage, but if you can collect enough authentic clothing, you might consider a fashion show as a method of increasing awareness of your production or raising money to improve the costumes you really need."
Grow Your Own
Stage managers don't grow on trees, but sometimes they do come out of the woodwork. At least that's the idea behind
one theatre company's recent workshop for stage managers. The two-hour workshop consisted of demonstrations and tips by an experienced stage manager, including hands-on experience. The free workshops were open to the public and were promoted as "No experience necessary."
In the Know
John Gielgud once defined "style" in acting as "knowing what kind of play you're in." Different playwrights demand different styles from the actor. This is partly because the content of their plays differs widely, partly because each is writing in a different context--time, place, social situation--and partly because each playwright has a different idea of the manner in which he or she expects the actors to relate to the audience. The result, director Tyrone Guthrie once pointed out, is that an actor cannot successfully impersonate their characters without quite drastic variations in both the imaginative and technical approach.
One Set for Three
A production of Ibsen's Enemy of the
People had only enough money for one set that had to represent three very different locations. Here's how production designer Marie Anne Chiment handled the situation: "I took the three settings and whittled them down to the bare bones of what was needed for the three places--a wooden floor, a couple of walls, window and doors. The main design element was huge, thrusting ceiling beams) that jutted right out into the audience. It set up incredible tension. Sitting in the audience you sensed that something was going to happen. We used the same furniture throughout, merely rearranging it to suggest the new setting. It worked beautifully."