Ideas, suggestions, and how-to information on
all aspects of theatre, updated monthly
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."
When auditioning actors,
Director Ted Stricklund listens carefully. "You may find speech patterns that are unusual and could be used in some way to add variety to your production," he suggests.
Stricklund is a firm believer in using auditions in
unusual ways. For example, he has given actors a
scene to play--characters, setting, storyline, etc.--and
then told them to speak only numbers. Again, the
goal is to see what an actor might bring to a role, totally
separate from the script itself.
Shoes, which can be elegant or shabby, low-heeled or high-heeled, simple or elaborate, can be a useful indication of a wearer's stage character. When choosing shoes for an actor, keep in mind how footwear might help the actor portray the character. Consider also that few articles are more closely identified with a period than the footwear of a particular time, and substitutions can look anachronistic. When you can't provide authentic-looking footwear, it may be best to use something nondescript that won't call attention to itself. For example, a black shoe of the wrong style will be less intrusive than the same style in white.
The Eyes Have It
Sight-reading is a skill normally linked to musicians, but actors need to be able to read a script aloud--and confidently--at auditions and rehearsals. As Hugh Morrison points out in his book
Acting Skills , a good sight-reader is quick to apprehend the meanings and nuances of a text. When asked to read, the actor must have time to look over the script, develop a short strategy, make an intelligent guess at the meaning of the text and the viewpoint of the character. But where does such a skill come from? From practice. Reading plays aloud with friends is an excellent way to develop this skill. Perhaps you or your
theatre company might want to start a play-reading group. It's not only a good way to develop sight-reading and other vocal skills, but a good way to audition plays for possible production.
Take It Easy
One common mistake of lighting designers is to use too many effects too soon. It's better to hold back a little, using some of your ideas to give a different look to scenes occurring later in the performance.
If you throw every look into the first few scene, the rest of the show's lighting will seem commonplace and become
boring. You also need to allow for the lighting to build with the show's action. If a scene starts out slow or quiet, so should the lighting.
This way if the scene builds in energy or suspense you will be able to reinforce it with your light, building with the
Many high school speech and drama teachers
have found that the best way to make their program known is to go through local churches.
One teacher saw to it that her speech team and some of her drama students volunteered free performances at church suppers and other events. They discovered that many parishioners stopped going to high school productions once their own children had graduated and they no longer knew any of the people involved in the shows. By sending students into the town to perform,
the teacher reintroduced people to the high school program and its performers. The townspeople now knew some of the student performers, making the high school productions more attractive. The result: Audience numbers have doubled.
Some think of spattering as a mere decorative effect, or a way to add depth to painted wall or flat. A more practical use is to hide surface defects and simplify construction methods. When two flats are fastened together by hinging them on the face, and then a dutchman is glued over them, the bulge produced by the pivoting hinge is clearly visible. While there are ways to sink the hinges and then cover them, spattering conceals the bulges and edges--in less time and at a lower cost.
Making a Connection
Some words from the Olympic Theatre Arts
newsletter could easily find their way into your company newsletter as well. Noting how many people in the community never go to
theatre, the article suggests a number of reasons: a) They went once in high school, didn't like it, and haven't returned; b) They assume community
theatre is of poor quality; c) They just don't think about it. We like the suggested solution: If you know people like this, invite them along and pay their way--or go Dutch treat. "Do it any way you can," concludes the article. "Get your friends introduced to an Olympic Theatre Arts performance. You owe it to them and the
First in Second Hand
Thrift stores benefitting nonprofit organizations aren't unusual, since they can be major sources of revenue. However, getting space, donations and enough help to run such a shop isn't easy. That's why many nonprofits are collaborating--on the organization, the management and the income. It doesn't even have to be a thrift store. For example,
Under One Roof
is a collaborative effort that supports AIDS groups in San Francisco. Selling t-shirts, cards, posters, mugs and other items, it
has sold more than $11 million since it was founded. A Davis, California, thrift shop called
All Things Right and Relevant
(the name refers to the city's often-parodied reputation
for environmental awareness) pools the efforts of several local nonprofit agencies. Items tend to be more pricey, and may either be donated for sale or put on consignment, with the store taking a percentage. Perhaps your
theatre company might consider joining with other local nonprofits in such a venture.
Low-cost Professional Costumes
New York theatregoers are familiar with Theatre Development Fund's TKTS booth in Times Square, offering discounted tickets. What many people don't know is that TDF also maintains an extensive collection of costumes for rental at low cost by all not for profit tax exempt
theatre, opera, and dance companies, as well as universities, colleges, schools, and other groups needing costumes for their productions. The
TDF Costume Collection has an inventory of
80,000 costumes, hats, shoes, and accessories covering many periods and ethnic traditions. Complete shows or
individual pieces can be rented by mail order or in person
at TDF Costume Collection's warehouse. If you are not in the New York area or are unable to visit the Collection, for an additional fee you can use the Pulling
Service:, in which members of the Collection's staff pull and assemble productions using measurements, sketches, research or concepts provided by
your company. For more information, visit the TDF Costume
Collection website at http://www.tdf.org/TDF_ServicePage.aspx?id=83
Selling ads for theatre programs can be difficult when advertisers have so many possible venues to consider. The Des Moines (IA) Playhouse found this to be the
case a few years back--competing for advertising dollars in their area are a large urban newspaper plus
several weekly and monthly newspapers, and more than 30 radio and television stations. In addition, the Playhouse faces competition for advertising dollars from four other performing arts groups in the region. In response, the company
produced a visually eye-catching media kit that included not only advertising rates but audience demographics, photos and reviewer quotes from past seasons. The kit's message
was that "Playhouse patrons are an active, well-educated, high-income group that values high quality at a reasonable price."
Many companies across the country sell ads on an annual basis, from
an eighth page to a full page. Placement on the center spread, back cover, and inside covers carries an additional charge. Repeat advertisers receive a discount, and the
theatre gives out summer production tickets as incentives to those who renew ad contracts early.
More Than Furniture
On the lobby wall of the Performing Arts Guild of South Kitsap, Washington,
was this sign: "Theater is life. Film is art. Television is furniture." This
prompted a fundraising letter to ask, "If you have cable, you are probably paying
$1000 a year or more for furniture. [Many people pay a lot more than
that.] If you take a friend to a couple of movies a month and buy popcorn, you are probably paying around
$500 a year for art [Ditto]. What can we persuade you to pay for life?"
The High School Connection
A growing number of theatre companies provide special theatre
opportunities for high school students.
A group of students from a particular high school first read the script of
a play, then attended the theatre's production with their teacher, after which they took part in a lively talk-back. This is an opportunity to expose
students to something entirely new. It's also a terrific way for the
theatre company to develop an audience for the future. These students will be
your target audience in four or five years.
eBay to the Rescue
Atlanta Coalition of Performing Arts has joined with the eBay Giving Works program, creating an opportunity for eBay sellers to list a portion or all of their auction proceeds in support of ACPA’s programs and services.
The donor's item is highlighted with a special ribbon icon for better
visibility, and also includes donation information "to inspire buyer confidence and trust."
As the group explains, "If 50 percent or more of your auction proceeds will benefit ACPA, we will publicize the listing to the 13,000+ members of the AtlanTIX email group.
A special auction page allows
buyers to view and bid on current listings that benefit
Millions of business cards change hands daily. Make your card into a miniature ad or sales brochure. Use both sides or a fold over card. Include a discount or other special offer.
And make sure you have a scannable QR code on the card
that sends people to your website.
Taking a Bite Out of Scrim Costs
Mosquito netting is a good substitute for scrim, and costs
much less per yard. It does not create a moire pattern when layered and is more transparent as well. It can be ordered
online through military surplus stores and outfitters for
expeditions, among other sources.
Eating Out, Cashing In
South Coast Repertory, in Costa Mesa, California,
offered subscribers a Restaurant Bonus Program. Seven restaurants
participated, giving discounts or a free course when you ordered two or more entrees and showed your SCR ticket for that day's performance. SCR
encouraged its subscribers to attend a different restaurant each time they visited the
the executive director of the Austin [Texas] Circle of Theatres, in its
Curtain Call newsletter: "When directors say they want a building, I always remind them that that means facing unending utility bills and checking the toilet paper,
not just producing plays. Many planners look to the European model where a
theatre group does not run a theatre facility, but a space where the company of actors can train and rehearse. Then, at performance times, a
theatre facility can be shared over the year by a number of groups."
These are some of the 62 words that increase sales, according to Nicholas E. Bade's
Marketing Without Money: discover, easy, refundable, look, hurry, today, confidential, yes, reliable, end, safe, personal, exclusive, learn, tested.
Walk On, Walk Through
The Ferndale [CA] Repertory Theater
found a way to encourage more community involvement. While preparing for a production of
Lettice and Lovage it put out a call for local people to be part of the tour groups who are being guided through an English manor house. "You don't have to learn any lines, but will need to memorize movement," explains the company newsletter, "so a few rehearsals are required. You need only commit to a single weekend of performances. If you've ever yearned to be on stage, but stage fright has kept you from taking part, this is a great opportunity to get the flavor of the stage experience without the pressure of a speaking role."
high school theatre teachers have found the best way to make
their program known is to go through churches, with drama students
volunteering free performances at church social functions.
Teachers discovered that a lot of people stopped going to high school productions once their own kids graduated. By sending kids into the town to perform, those people were brought back because they now had someone to cheer for. Result: Audience numbers
at some schools have doubled.
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
theatre 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
theatre 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
theatre 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 theatre 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
theatre 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
theatre billings and photograph them. For $19.95 theatre 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 theatregoers 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
theatre 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
theatre wants is to alienate people. A good rule is
that before you recommend seating, ask, "Are you familiar with our
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
theatre 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 theatre. 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 theatre
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 theatre"--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
theatre 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