Ideas, suggestions, and how-to information on
all aspects of theatre, updated monthly
When considering candidates (volunteer or paid) for a position that requires dealing with people, do your first interview on the phone. Listen
carefully: Much of their work will undoubtedly be done on the phone, to it's important that they come across well.
Pro Bono Marketing
approaching a local advertising agency to design a season ticket brochure
as a donation. Such a project gives them the chance to be innovative and creative, as well as something they can enter in a design contest. You get a great mailer. Just be sure to agree in advance that any design they come up with can be produced at a reasonable cost.
Note the coolest place in your office. Store pens,
batteries, and other temperature sensitive supplies there.
The San Luis Obispo [CA] Little Theatre used the occasion of its move to a new location as a fundraising theme. "The San Luis Obispo Little Theatre is a Very Moving Experience,"
said the handsome two-fold brochure. "The new location is our interim theater until our permanent facility is completed.... Our community's financial support has always kept our curtains rising, and now with the cost of remodeling, we need your help more than ever." The brochure
had a detachable panel that gave various donor options, and the entire piece
gave the impression of an organization on the move--literally and figuratively.
to the Wise
According to the publication
The Professional Consultant, "Have a nice day" is said to be the single most grating and disliked message in America. A simple "thank you" is better for your answering machine or voice mail, or even from your box office people.
The best way to get a good response from an ad is to announce a free offer in your
headline (it got your attention here, didn't it?). This shouts to readers that they can get something without charge. What you offer doesn't have to be expensive. For example, you might offer a pen with your theater logo on it, a calendar, or some other inexpensive item. Or offer a free ticket for every three purchased for a weeknight performance.
you're an actor attempting a cold reading at an audition, expect that you may fluff a line or two, and don't apologize. Directors know that mistakes will be made. Instead, concentrate on the next line to be read. Don't go back and correct yourself, either. You spoil whatever momentum or character you've created. Imagine how painful it must be for directors to witness an actor's obvious distress. Don't aid in making them uncomfortable--you want to create a positive feeling about your work.
theatres charge a yearly membership fee. In exchange you receive a season ticket, the right to attend the annual meeting of members and vote for incoming board members. So far, typical benefits. But wait: Being a member of
some companies also means you are eligible to open an account at a local credit
Scouting for theater space in a storefront, warehouse, or other nontraditional space? Assess your space needs by listing the types of plays you plan to present. Determine what size audience you want to reach, and allow for reasonable expansion in the future. Define cast and crew requirements for backstage space and storage. Be honest as you undergo this assessment. Once you're in a space, it may be difficult to change if you find it isn't adequate for your needs.
as a lighting designer, you find that the rest of the
production staff say they are too busy to meet with you
and go over plans for lighting, prepare a synopsis for
circulation. A synopsis is a list of cues, but in a
general sense. Since people often find it easier to edit
than they do to fill in a blank sheet of paper, you can
expect the list to come back with alterations and
annotations which can be reconciled into a master
Where Was I?"
quitting for the day when working on a project, such as
blocking a scene or preparing a report, write yourself a
few notes on where you go next with the undertaking. That
will make it much easier when you pick up the effort
you design costumes for a chorus, allow about four basic
colors in various shades and hues. The more you use colors
in the same hues, the more stylized the effect. Colors can
be close to one another on the spectrum, or mostly earthy
or pastel. Either way, you can drop in a few bright spots
here and there, just as long as they are distributed so
that the result looks intentional.
words to avoid when dealing with ticket buyers over the
phone or e-mail: "That's our policy."
It's better to prepare explanations that sound
credible to your customers; hiding behind policies turns
with Difficult People
dealing with a know-it-all, don’t attempt to be a
know-it-all in return.
When you disagree with know-it-alls, they will
immediately freeze their ideas and won’t budge. Then
you’ve created a standoff.
It's better to ask questions about the idea, since
know-it-alls love to answer questions. As they look
for answers, they might just discover that some ideas you
present could be useful.
In fact, they’ll probably blend some of your
ideas with theirs and think they came up with all of them.
you're trying to create the effect of a radio or
television playing on the set, use the unit's original
speaker if possible. Many old TV and radio speakers had a
thin, tinny sound that is hard to create artificially.
It's usually as simple as disconnecting the leads that
link the electronics inside the unit to its speaker and
running your own speaker line to the built-in speaker.
Make sure that the rewired speaker works properly, and
that it plays as loudly and clearly as you need.
a children's production needed an "anti-gravity"
device, designer Dex Edwards used a balloon half-filled
with helium, half with air, so that it stayed roughly
where it was placed in the air, instead of rising.
The effect almost always drew gasps from the
audience. (Depending on the balloon, you may need to
experiment to determine exactly how much air vs. helium.)
Dennison's Swiftach guns and fasteners (photo,
right) are used by retailers for tagging garments, but
many costume shops find it useful for several projects
that would normally take hours of hand tacking. For
example, keeping scarves and shawls attached to overcoats
for fast chorus changes-- items that might fall off in the
dark backstage. One
designer used them to attach silk scales to a foam pod to
make dragon scales that fluttered when it moved for a
procession in the musical Two Gentlemen of Verona.
The Swiftach gun and fasteners are manufactured by Avery
Dennison, and are available online from many vendors. The
photo shows just one fastener type; there are others
that may also suit your needs.
experienced actor thinks simply but deeply, and tends to
follow a few hunches," writes Hugh Morrison in his
book, Acting Skills. "A dramatic character
will not stand up to psychoanalysis; what's needed is a
deep human understanding, and the profoundest common
a production of The Women, lighting designer Brenda
Berry used intensely bright light to reveal a character's
duplicitous nature with a dazzling display of clarity. In
a profile about Berry in American Theatre, she
describes how the stage lights had been dim for a very
long time, "and we brought all the lights to full and
just flooded the space. The first time we tried it in the
preview everyone clapped. It's one of the few times I can
remember getting applause for a light cue."
number of theatre companies offer special nights
for each of their season's productions: pay-what-you-can
on the first Tuesday of each run, for example; audio-
described; sign-interpreted; Young Professionals Night
(which includes a buffet and post-performance
get-together); Lambda Night (offered as a social gathering
for the gay and lesbian community); and a Half-Century
Singles Night (for patrons who remember sock hops and big
bands). Other ideas: audio-described
performances for some of the run, before which the blind
or visually impaired audience members are invited to visit
backstage for "sensory seminars," where costumes
and props are available for touching.An Adopt-a- School
program involves students from inner-city public schools
who attend performances and workshops and then work in
their own classrooms with theater professionals.
the Hot Patch & Overload
lighting systems suffer significantly from having loads
patched or plugged into the dimmer while the dimmer is on
and its control channel is reading more than zero. This is
referred to as "hot patching," and the resulting
arcing damages the components of the patch system. Another
problem is overloading, which occurs when there is no
proper documentation on what load is in each circuit.
Accidentally patching too many instruments onto one dimmer
will trip the circuit breaker or other over-current
protection device. In newer setups this may cause a
momentary inconvenience, but remember that as circuit
breakers age they begin to fail under smaller loads and
should be replaced. Bypassing an over-current projection
in any way can lead to serious damage to your
equipment--or a fire.
costuming a show set before the present time, remember
that while you're trying to be true to a period,
ultimately it's all illusion. That's the advice of costume
consultant Charlotte French. "You want to create
something that looks realistic in terms of the
period," she says. "However, you can only do so
for example, changed over time, and we don't have access
to all those. So you're stuck with boning costumes or
using merry widows that can at least give you the stiff
body carriage. The best thing you can do for actresses is
to get them into a practice skirt, particularly if the
costumes will have trains. It will give them the chance to
get used to the demands of the costume, and the result
will be a more natural, more realistic, performance."
Past is Vast
companies run a series in their newsletter (one is called
"Company Scrapbook") that offers a look at the
productions and events that made the company what it is
edition focused on the company's 1990s production of No,
No, Nanette, pointing out its shortcomings and
successful moments. This
is a good way to remind long-time members of the company's
progress--and make newer members more familiar with the
achieve a bleak, oppressive look for a production,
professional lighting designer Brenda Berry bought yard
lights and used them for footlights, then hung bare bulbs
from the ceiling. Lighting the show cost $20.
Sometimes New is Better
Should you use authentic antique clothing as costumes? Probably not, says costume consultant Charlotte French. "Most old fabric doesn't hold up well unless it's been stored in boxes or drawers in tissue paper," she says. "However, old cottons and linens do quite well, even from before the turn of the century. At one university where I worked they had a lot of wonderful old things given to
them, like beaded silk chiffon dresses. They were boxed and you could take them out to look at for a pattern or an idea, but you couldn't wear them. More to the point, you really can't use real period pieces on stage unless everyone is wearing them, because they are so obviously different. It's something intrinsic--they just don't look 'new,' which is how they should look on the character in most cases."
Past Endeavors for Future Success
The home page of a typical theatre's website announces its current or upcoming season. Many also have a page or more with photos of previous seasons. This is excellent idea. After all, you can only promise what's to come, but photos of the previous season prove that you can deliver.
Be careful in choosing photos, however, Use ones that are interesting in themselves, that don't depend on the viewer having seen the show. And give your photographers' names major play--it's good exposure for them and may help keep
their fees lower, if they charge for their services.
A number of theatres offer members the opportunity to sign up for a preview call-list. Members get to see shows free in preview and the casts get to play before audiences prior to opening.
A few years ago a Sacramento, CA, theatre sent out a fundraising letter that had response boxes for contributions of $500, $100, $50, $25 and "Other." At the suggestion of an anonymous-but-poor theater lover, the next year's letter asked for a $10 donation only. The company received over $17,000. Almost anyone can part with $10, and we know of one person who said,"They only want $10; I can give them $20." How much better your patrons will feel if they can double their gift rather than think they are at the low end of your gratitude.
Light on the
Looking for a bright
flash to simulate lightning or explosions? One option is a photoflash lamp--use three or four in a group as a
lightning flash. They are really bright!
Oklahoma's Gaslight Theatre developed an unusual fund raising
idea a few years back. Using its marquee, the company offered to create personalized messages or fake theater
billings and photograph them. For $19.95 theater patrons saw their name up in lights as the star of a play or musical of their dreams. Patrons were
encouraged to be creative in their messages.
Ask and Ye Shall Receive
Each year a Washington
State theatre company asks donors, subscribers and randomly selected single ticket buyers to help the company "formulate our
future seasons and give us a report card on how we're doing," according to the company's newsletter. "We received nearly 1100 responses." That is an
impressive result. While that survey showed that most theatergoers were happy with the mix of
offerings, a similar survey in Paducah, Kentucky, indicated that its audiences wanted more musicals and comedies. As a result,
that theatre's 30th anniversary season featured two musicals and three comedies.
Based on survey results, it also removed its December family show from its season package, and
instead offered it as a bonus production with more matinees and earlier evening performances.
Watch their Faces Light Up
The effect of actors illuminating their faces with a hand-held candle or
flashlight on an otherwise darkened stage can be dramatic. However, have actors work in front of a mirror to determine the exact height to hold the light so
that their features are visible. This is particularly important if more than one person is illuminated in this fashion; the audience should be able to see
each actor's face equally well.
Watch Your Words
When a caller asked about ticket availability, the answer was, "I can give you four nice seats in the orchestra section." There was a pause. "Well," the
caller said, hesitating, "we'd really rather sit with the audience." This true story (reported in the Reader's Digest) illustrates that not everyone understands theater jargon. And even if the ticket person explained the term
"orchestra," the caller very likely felt a little foolish when it was all done. And the last thing any theater wants is to alienate people. A good rule is
that before you recommend seating, ask, "Are you familiar with our theater?"
If the caller says yes, you can probably recommend "orchestra" seats. If the caller says no, switch something more generic, such as "downstairs center,
about six rows back."
Sound effects need to fade away. We should not hear it click off. If the
effect is something continuous, like traffic, crowd noise or a train passing, create a very long fade so that the audience is barely aware that the sound
level is dropping. Bring dialogue in when the sound has dropped a bit; this lets the dialogue be heard and also helps cover the fade.
Saved by the Bell
When rehearsing farce or other high-energy play,
some directors use a small hand bell. When energy drops below what is appropriate or needed,
they ring the bell to signal the actors to pick things up. This is better than yelling
and is processed faster than words. It also doesn't stop the action.
A Different Sort of Wish List
You've seen wish lists in various theater programs, usually asking for big-ticket items like computers, sound equipment or office furniture.
But some companies go a different route, asking for treats for rehearsals, nine-volt batteries for headsets,
postage stamps, cleaning supplies, dry cleaning services, and tissues for the makeup table. Also on
some lists: donations for opening and closing (strike) parties.
Skin reactions to makeup among teenagers result from many factors. One of the
most common is due to the use of paper towels to remove makeup. Most are too rough to be used on the face and abrade the skin, allowing makeup and dirt in,
where they can cause irritation. Facial tissues should be used instead for each
makeup session, or actors should bring a clean face towel with them each time they will be using
Getting Volunteers More Involved
Several theatres have a Volunteer Committee that meets
monthly to help facilitate the daily operation of the theater. The three main purposes of the committee are to give volunteers a greater sense of ownership,
to serve as a liaison between the volunteer community at large and theatre staff, and to create social opportunities for volunteers
with the theatre. This ensures that volunteers have a place to go with problems and complaints,
or suggestions and compliments, when they feel uncomfortable talking directly to a staff
person. In addition, there are many ideas that would improve the life of the volunteer
, and this committee can serve to brainstorm those ideas and then direct their
implementation. Sounds like a good idea for many theater companies who wish to do a better job of managing volunteers (and who
Make Your Needs Known
It doesn't hurt to ask. It also doesn't hurt to be specific while you're at it.
A case in point is the want list printed in a recent issue of one company newsletter. Among the items
being sought include black coveralls, treats for rehearsals, 9-volt batteries for headsets, postage stamps, cleaning supplies for set strike,
tissues for makeup tables (see above), sailor hats, truck rental, funding for the set
strike party, and dry cleaning for costumes.
Off to a Good Start
Here's an intriguing way to start up a new
theatre company. In Oklahoma, a group called Act I was formed and organized a community-wide amateur night. Act
I's show had prizes for four age categories. Each presentation was limited to three minutes, and included singing, dancing, comedy, recitation or "any other
legitimate talent." After getting off with a bang, the company then held community auditions and began rehearsals for You Can't Take It With You.
What's Yours is Yours
Fire or police departments in some communities loan out engraving
tools as a public service. Check with your fire or police department to see if it has
such a program. If it does, now is the time to engrave your company name in all those tools, appliances and other expensive equipment you own.
Putting Seats in Seats
When the San Luis Obispo [CA] Little Theatre's production of a little-known
play did not draw huge numbers of people, the company newsletter ran a brief editorial in which
it was pointed out that the small houses were "a double loss. Metaphysically, this gem of a show will only create half the human
laughter and joy that it could, and economically, it means a lost of thousands
of dollars in income each weekend for the theater"--income needed for a number of important
company projects. We like the solution presented to the membership: "Come see the show and have a great time. Bring a couple or two with you, as
well--perhaps friends who haven't been to the theatre yet. This show would be a great introduction to what live theater is really about. And have dinner out
before you come to the show. We're in [an economic] recovery, remember."
Fundraising from the Abstract to the Concrete
Consider creating your own "Walk of Fame" on the sidewalk outside your building.
It can be an annual fund raiser.
You may be able to
increase ticket sales by educating your audience about the historical or literary context of classic plays, or the background of plays that aren't well-known. A subscriber or patron newsletter can do this very well, helping to
interest potential playgoers who might not otherwise come--or help them explain the play to friends.
You can do this even more expansively (and less expensively) on your website.
Looking Your Best
We recently came across a color publicity photograph that at first glanced
appeared to be taken in a wax museum. The cause appeared to be heavy makeup and the result was somewhat repellent, particularly with a young man who
looked like a department store mannequin. To avoid the problem, instruct your actors to use makeup
sparingly for publicity photos. Remember that a camera is like an audience member sitting three or four feet away.
When designing finery for a historical play, bear in mind that sartorial
richness was not always expressed in terms of velvet, satin, ermine and silk. We sometimes forget that portraits of emperors and kings seldom portray everyday
dress. Many dressed very simply in unofficial moments and most great lords had their "second-best" garments as well. A costume designer can use this fact to
good advantage in contrasting private and public moments through dress.
Tabs on Mailers
If you plan to save money by sending out a self-mailer (i.e. a piece that
uses no envelope), make sure you know the postal rules about the tabs that seal the sheets (A "tab" is another name for a self-adhesive sticker.
To quality for automation discounts, your fold must be at the bottom of the mail piece, not the
top [see illustration at right]. The basis weight of the paper must be at least
28-pound for a single sheet with one tap, or 24-pound for multiple sheets.
Make sure your tabs don't interfere with the postage information or bar code area. Never use stables; cellophane tape is safe, though. And remember that
tabs come in different shapes and colors. You can incorporate them as part of your design and make your mail more colorful and interesting.
Some theatres offer "pay what you can"
performances on Thursdays allowing financially pressed people to attend at whatever price fits their
To avoid over- or under-reacting to another actor or events in a scene, try
writing your own sub-text, a scenario of your part in the scene. This might include how you are affected, influenced or changed by what the other
characters say, and how much physical and facial reaction is called for. This should always be economical, true to both character and situation.
When embarking on a corporate fundraising campaign, consider that most
executives judge the quality of an organization by its letterhead and other printed materials. A recent study of 100 executives nationwide found that 92
cited identity materials like letterhead, envelopes and business cards as an indicator of an organization's professionalism and prestige. The survey also
found that readability was also considered important--perhaps because executives are busy people, and the sooner the piece gets to the point the
As you create sound and music cues for a production, take into account
the design and execution of set, lights and costumes. How stylized or realistic other design elements should affect how you choose to build the sound or use
the music. Your design should complement the overall concept that the other designers are expressing.
If you can't find buttons to suit a particular costume, you can make your
own. Cut out pieces of felt and glue several layers together. Size them with varnish, leaving it off the bottom layer so you can sew them on. These will
suffice for costumes that don't put a lot of pressure on the button.
When lighting an actor with darker
skin tones avoid green or blue-greens, and stress warm tones. Blue toning can be injected through heavy backlighting and
careful side lighting, with face neutrals selected from pale warm tints which can be stronger that with white actors. To make this lighting work with mixed
casting, the lighter skin-toned actors will need their makeup warmed up a bit.
If you're planning a new performing space, learn from others' mistakes. The Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco underwent a
multi- million renovation for "perceptible (if not significant) improvement in the acoustics."
some years ago according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Critic Robert
Commanday noted that an Acoustics Committee was formed, including orchestra musicians and others with direct experience. "If such input had been solicited while Davies was being designed by architect Charles Bassett, who had never done a big concert hall before, much of its faults might have been avoided. The symphony and its people with hands-on experience were not consulted. The mistake occurs when the people with the will and ability to raise the money assume the responsibility of directing the project, and when the board members do not exercise their legal and ethical responsibility." Amen.
If you mail similar-looking direct mail
pieces regularly, switch paper color or ink color. Mailing the same offer to the same list, but changing colors--e.g. from green to blue--boosts response, experts say. People think it's different, and they're more likely to open it. Again, the experts switch colors as soon as response falls off--and it usually works. Also, consider trying to get your promotional mail to arrive between Tuesday and Thursday. There's a good chance your prospect will look at it more closely because you'll avoid the "Monday morning mail clutter" and the "Friday before the weekend blues."
What motivates volunteers or staff members most? Recognition and appreciation, according to one recent study. Independence and status are the next most important job considerations. Third, the chance to contribute to the organization's goals.
Getting from Here
"A play is a
series of actions," writes David Ball in his book Backwards &
Forwards: A Technical Manuel for Reading Plays. "For script analysis,
action is a very particular entity. Action occurs when something happens that
makes or permits something else to happen. Action is two 'something happenings,'
one leading to the other. Something causes or permits something else. So the
first thing to discover is how a play goes from one place to another. Find the
first event of each action, then the second, then the connection between the
Knot To Be Missed
Don't let knots develop in rope used for rigging. These can produce bends in that reduce the rope's strength. Under test, the rope will fail next to the knot rather than in the knot
itself. The worst offender is the
simple overhand knot, which sometimes appears on its own. Because it produces a sharp bend it can reduce the rope's breaking
strength by 75%. If you leave it and
stress is applied to the rope, a permanent weak spot can develop.
A play with technical or casting demands beyond the
resources of one company may still be possible if produced with the help of
another group. For example, two
companies in Washington State combined efforts to put on The Little Shop of
Light On the Subject
When considering colors for lighting the stage, remember
that "no color" and "open white" can be categorized as warm
colors. This is particularly true
when used at low light levels. The
range of color from a "white" (un-gelled) light at level one to white
light at full is often astonishing.
If you plan to give a company holiday party, decorate the
tree with inexpensive glass ornaments on which are painted or stenciled the
names of the shows your company has done. If
someone has true artistic ability, add artwork. (If your company has been around for awhile, get started now.)
Don't Nail It
Using nails to attach flats to one another (or anything
else) is at best a temporary solution. Constant
use will eventually weaken the wood. Try
to use nails only when it's essential and not as a replacement for screws,
hinges or lash hardware. Your flat
frames will last longer and remain stronger without nails at all.
"Free" Isn't Always Free
One community theatre company secured the assistance of its
local Kiwanis Club in transporting 80 senior citizens to each of its final dress
rehearsals, and back home again. It
should be noted that even though you don't charge admission for such an
audience, many royalty houses consider it a "free performance" and
charge royalties accordingly.
If you need to build up your supply of tools, put out the
word to members and patrons to donate extra tools or unused tools. Another tip: Many people enjoy hunting for bargains in thrift stores and
flea markets. Find out who and give
them a shopping list of tools you need. If
you plan to reimburse them, make sure you also give some idea of price range. Otherwise, if you are a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, you can
provide a letter acknowledging a donation of the tools, based on the value
established by the donor.
The building committee of a West Coast theatre group got
itself into trouble recently when it set aside opening night for a special,
one-time-only event for potential donors. This
inadvertently caused resentment among many of the company's longstanding opening
night patrons. To resolve the
dilemma, the group quickly held a second "opening night" party after
the first Saturday evening show. The
lesson: When looking for new support, don't alienate or abandon your current
A Family Affair
Consider encouraging company members to attend auditions, whether they intend to try
out or not. Members can greet newcomers, help them fill out audition sheets, and introduce them to others. Their
very presence boosts morale and projects an image of a company that really cares about its people. Announce in your company newsletter that non-auditioning members are invited, with no pressure on anyone to try out. Then
call a few people to act as official hosts. Just make sure that members
give equal attention to newcomers as they do to those they already know.
Season Ticket Bonus
Some companies that sell season tickets offer subscribers a discount on
additional single tickets purchased for friends (based on availability). This is an excellent way to broaden your audience, since newcomers are more likely
to attend a production when accompanied by someone who knows and likes what you're doing. When notifying patrons of this service, you may need to include
a statement such as "Because of assigned seating, it may not be possible to seat guests next to their friends."
Padding the Part
If you want padding under a costume to look natural, it must have direct
contact with the body and be held in that position to conform with the actor's movement. In other words, if the actor's upper torso turns, his "paunch"
should too. Mount padding on a foundation garment which has been fitted to the actor. The unit must be durable but light enough to be worn comfortably and
worked in easily. It must also be cleanable. Since the actor must have time to work with and become accustomed to the padding, try to complete the unit
early on in rehearsals. This will help the costumer as well, since the padding must appear to be part of the body and the costume must be made to fit that
The Eyes Have It
Make up the left eye first and then the right eye (unless you are left-handed, in which case make up the right eye first). Why? If you make up the
right eye first, your hand blocks your view when you try to make up the left one, and this makes it difficult to create a matching effect.
What's in a Word?
About two-thirds of the way through rehearsal, a director may want to call a
"word rehearsal." The cast sits comfortably and speaks the dialogue quietly. There should be no attempt to project. The object is to think about the play
as a whole and to think about it in detail. Not having to project or move around, the actors listen more carefully to the play and to each other. Some
actors close their eyes to concentrate even more on the language. Often, directors find this type of rehearsal brings new insights and subtleties to a
If you have a company newsletter, publish member birthdays in each issue.
Collect the information at auditions, company meetings or during production periods. You need not ask for more than birth month and
day, and you can use a simple computer database program to compile, sort and print this information for the newsletter editor.
If you have membership software, birthday information should already be an
It's difficult to refold tissue patterns and return them to their original
packages. Pattern pieces also get lost and the tissue tears easily. So, when you find a pattern that you know will be used again,
you might want to transfer it to heavy brown paper (butcher paper) along with the size and other identifying information.
Place the transferred pattern in a large manila envelope for storage and tape the original package on the outside for easy identification.
When an actor gestures too much, try this. Tell the actor to put his hands in
his pockets and stand with a book on his head. You'll find that all the energy that was going into movement now goes into line delivery. Now have him repeat
the exercise, allowing just three gestures. Many actors will immediately feel the benefit of this exercise. However, they will soon revert to old habits if
you don't watch them. Technique isn't acquired easily.
Good Neighbor Policy
If your theater borders on a residential area, include a notice in your
program that calls this to your patrons' attention. Ask that audience members help respect neighbors' privacy and desire for peace and quiet when they arrive
at or leave the theater or parking areas. If patrons are not to park in certain spots--such as an adjacent church or restaurant parking lot--let them know.
Find the pauses in a script. People don't talk constantly in real life.
Listen how conversation is littered with pauses, broken sentences, moments for reflection or for performing a task; moments of embarrassment or boredom. Use
these for more realistic portrayals. And remember that a change of thought requires a chance of voice, inflection, tone, pitch, rhythm and/or tempo.
Ask nearby restaurants to offer discounts on dinners to your subscribers. Patrons can show their theater tickets to confirm eligibility. In return,
mention the restaurants in your program. Take this cooperative effort one step further: If you offer special group rates (for example to groups of 15 or more)
make the offer more attractive by offering to help plan an entire evening, including arrangements for cocktails, hors d'oeuvres or dinner at one of these
restaurants. Everybody wins.
Re-purposing: A Warning
When using familiar household items for backstage use, be careful to make their
new use obvious. Mike Bromberg of the Sudbury [NH] Savoyards reported that one of
the lighting crew had used a large plastic garbage can to carry cables to the auditorium where a company dinner was to be held. "Several cables and
two-fers were still in the bin when someone commandeered it (without looking inside) as
a trash can for dinner garbage," Bromberg said. "We found the cables at the bottom of much gummy foodstuff, and we had to wash the cables and hang them up
A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
A publicity photograph in a local newspaper showed the cast of Arsenic and Old Lace. While some care had been exercised in getting the leads into
appropriate costume, the bad-fitting wig for one of the Brewster sisters gave a slipshod look to the photo. Think about it: How would you judge the quality of the show when there is a half-inch gap between a wig and the actor's head?
Audiences make quick judgments based on whatever evidence is before them. You don't have much time to make an impression. Even the smallest details can win--or lose--an potential audience member.
Stretching the Spaghetti
Here's an idea we spotted in the Olympic Theatre Arts newsletter. To make a
batch of "spaghetti" last for 10 performances of <The Odd Couple>, a large quantity of rubber bands--long ones, we presume--were sprayed white and heaped
in a bowl. No one was required to eat the spaghetti, by the way.
Be Careful with Color
Be careful about colors in a brochure or website. We recently saw an expensive brochure
with six large photographs printed in dark green with text overprinted in dark purple. The result was unreadable. In some cases the text could have been
reversed out--that is printed as white letters on the dark background. But some of the photographs had light areas on which the reversed-out text would
have been invisible. When faced with such a problem, decide which is more important--the photograph or the text. If it's the text, then have the
printer screen the photographs to 30-40% of their original darkness. They will still be visible, but won't compete with the text. If the photograph is more
important, then don't run text over it. Use text beside or below, or in a box inset into the photo.
Online, you can do pretty much the same thing, including a semi-transparent
screen over the photo where the text goes.
Audience & Sponsor Building
Offer a specified "rebate" on season ticket prices for the first 25 or 50 subscribers
who renew; invite your corporate underwriters or major donors backstage for a special after-show introduction to cast and crew; split the proceeds of one
performance a year with a local charity.
Tell local businesses or corporations that you would like to receive older equipment as it's being
replaced. Everything from copy machines to heating and air conditioning systems are given to
nonprofit organizations every year as businesses update systems.
Monologues for the Taking
An excellent source of monologues is Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River
Anthology. This book of poems, first published in 1915, is "set" in a
cemetery. After an introductory poem, the rest are supposedly "epitaphs," but
actually each is the story of a dead person's life, and most often how they came
to die. Some are dramatic, some comic, some matter-of-fact. They can be used
individually, or with the introduction, as a group. One person can do several to show his or her dramatic range, or they can be done separately if
short pieces are needed, as in a class. Since the poems are in free verse, they
are easy to speak. And because they cover the full range of human emotion, you
can pick out those which best suit a particular person or performance need. They
make good audition pieces as well. Since they are no longer protected under
copyright, they may be used without permission or payment of royalties, and can
be downloaded from www.bartleby.com
Putting in a Good Word
Offer to include your printing company's name on your
high-profile printed pieces (mailers, brochures, programs) in exchange for a
reduced price. You save on your most impressive pieces and the printer gets a
free testimonial advertisement.
The director of high school production should keep coaches and activity
advisors informed of those students cast in a production or working backstage,
along with a rehearsal and performance schedule. You'll find this kind of
thoughtfulness is appreciated, and allows others to plan around your rehearsals.
The simplest and most accurate way to transfer a drawing to a larger surface
is to project the drawing with a computer projector. First, scan the image, then
save as a JPG or other editable file to a computer. Clean up the image, if
necessary, using a graphic software program like PhotoShop. Then, using a
projector cabled to a laptop or other computer, project the design onto an upright surface,
enlarging it as much as needed. (Be sure the projector is level so that there is no distortion of the
projected image.) Use a pen or marking pen to trace the outline of the
image onto a large sheet of paper, foam core, poster board or plywood--or a
Here's an idea that works for one publicity person. She looks for
offbeat postcards that fit area media personalities and sends the pre-stamped
card whenever she travels for personal or business reasons. "The response has
been amazing and built stronger relationships, respect and interaction," she says. "If the
media hasn't received a card in a while, I'm asked why! They look forward to the
At the box office window, don't ask "Where would you like to sit?" If you do,
along discussion is apt to ensue, holding up others in line. If you say instead, "I can give you two excellent seats in the tenth row center."
That way the transaction will proceed more quickly.
Behind the Scenes
You can improve the appearance of muslin-covered flats by back-painting.
This opaques the muslin and stops light from bleeding from behind. Since the back-paint is normally a dark color, it stops "bounce light" from backstage. Use
a medium-to-dark gray paint; the best source is to mix all the leftover paint
from each production and save it. If necessary, this can be tinted to produce a dark
Making Light of Work
When hanging or focusing lights, it's often difficult to make yourself heard
to either the supervisor below or the technician above. This is especially true
if there are others in the theater who are also talking, hammering, or whatever. Keep directions simple. Even an inexperienced electrician
can focus if he is given clear, intelligent instructions like "up," "down,"
"left," "right", "bigger" or "smaller." Plus, the person giving the orders reduces
the likelihood of developing laryngitis from shouting complex instructions.
Getting Into Character
Nazimova, the Russian-American actress (d. 1945) said of preparing for a
role, "Once you know what she is, what she does becomes easy to interpret."
Sir Laurence Olivier agreed: "To create a character, I first visualize a
painting [the visual and physical characteristics]; the manner, movement,
gestures, walk, all follow."