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                        Theatre--Improving Communities One Theatre at a
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theatre tips of the month

 
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Ideas, suggestions, and how-to information on all aspects of theatre, updated monthly

 

 

September 2014

 

That's Oil, Folks!
The product's "real" uses (at least as advertised) are to stop squeaks, protect metal from rust, and free sticky mechanisms. But in the new (and immensely entertaining) WD-40 Book, authors Tim Nyberg and Ken Massey discuss a host of other uses of this familiar backstage fixture. Some examples: removing glue from fingers; removing lipstick stains; unsticking a computer keyboard and mouse; removing rings from fingers; keeping wasps from building a nest under eaves; and removing gummed labels and duct tape residue from most surfaces. ("WD," explain the authors, stands for "water displacer" and its formula perfected on the 40th try.)

 

In the Public Eye
Looking for a way to increase audiences at your productions? Consider giving free performances of one act plays or a musical revue in city parks or at local shopping centers. While your audience is gathered, have company members pass among them with information about your company. Even better, have clearly marked tables with sign up sheets placed strategically about the area, and ask departing audience members to leave their names and addresses (snail & email) for future mailings.

 

Sweet Surprise
"Finger Jell-O" makes a good (and easily made) substitute for prop candy, says theatre consultant Charlotte French. French learned this when she had to come up with a plate of exotic candy for a production of Kismet. "You can cut it to any size, and it's not messy," she explains. "It's easy to eat, not filling, and doesn't stick in the throat like some real candy. The sugar-free kind doesn't leave a sticky residue, either."

 

Dry Mix
When using dry paints for sets, remember that water added to the pigment makes the color much darker than it will be after it dries. To avoid this problem, you can mix the colors while still dry, noting the proportions used, then add water. Paint a test piece of wood or canvas and blow dry. If the result is good, go ahead and mix the entire batch. Otherwise, continue the experiment. It's always a good idea to mix more than enough paint--it's almost impossible to match the color if you run short later.

 

Letter-Perfect
When sending out a fundraising letter consider these eight tips from marketing experts. First, put yourself in your prospect's shoes. Ask yourself whether your words appeal to your prospects' interests or needs. Write from their point of view. Second, write the way you talk. Maintain an easy-to-understand, simple, friend-to-friend style. Third, develop a powerful, interest-holding first paragraph. Give the reader a reason to read on. Fourth, specifics are more meaningful than generalities. If there is a problem, explain it in straightforward terms, and be as focused on your proposed solution. Fifth, people give to people, not organizations. Put your needs in the context of their effect on your own community. Explain how the money raised will make a difference in someone's life. Sixth, build conviction. Use testimonials, facts and reasonable expectations, rather than extremes. "Without this new theater, the arts in Uniontown are doomed" is not likely to scare anyone into donating, and may turn off many prospective donors. Seventh, ask the reader to do something. Mail, call, visit, ask further questions, whatever--always invite a response. And make it easy for them with a response card, a street address, phone, or email address. (Be sure to note the hours your theater office is open.)

 

Sound Advice
According to sound experts, it's best to run a continuous sound effect no longer than a few minutes at full volume. A 20-minute scene during a thunderstorm, for example, could become tedious if the sound effect continues full blast throughout. In real life we aren't aware of the constant sound of rain, the experts point out, but rather of the changes in the sound of the raindrops or the wind velocity, or of occasional thunderclaps. Their advice: bring the sound down after a few minutes, then find places to raise the volume briefly.

 

97-06

 


August 2014

 


To Dye For
Recently SD costume consultant Charlotte French purchased a large quantity of buttons, cheap. Trouble was, they were not the right color for her immediate needs. Then an idea struck, and presto! Some navy blue Rit dye transformed a group of these buttons from brownish gray to bluish gray. "You often find cards of buttons on sale," she says, "and usually you have to go with the color you get. Of course, dye isn't going to change a bright red button to navy blue, but if the button is light colored--and most of them are--you should be able to tint it enough to work with a particular costume."
 

Off to the Right Start
When sending out press releases or media alerts, first determine the recipients' reason to read your piece before writing anything. Then write a subject line that persuades your target to read your message. Remember your recipients are busy media professionals. There are two primary considerations on their minds: readership interest and editorial interest. Your title can make a difference between being read, and possibly acted upon or being tossed without being read.  Note: This may mean customizing each announcement you send.
 

Keep an Eye On It
If you own your own theater, consider installing a one-way viewing hole in the doors between the auditorium and the lobby corridors. This will allow house staff to keep an eye on the progress of the show without having to open the doors constantly.

 

Wigged Out
After washing synthetic wigs in detergent, oil soap or in a synthetic wig wash, rinse them in a solution of water and fabric softener to help combat static electricity. To dry, place the wig in a net bag and run it through the dryer on the air fluff (no heat) cycle. Important: These instructions apply only to synthetic, not natural hair, wigs.

 

Light On the Subject
When lighting with the same color from both sides, use a slightly different shade on each side to add interest.

 

 

97-05


 

June/July 2014

 

 

Fangs a Lot
      Hosting a blood drive during a run of Dracula is both good publicity and an excellent community relations gesture. That's what the Little Theatre of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, did, in cooperation with the local Red Cross. Donors were taken by appointment or as walk-ins, and were rewarded with a complimentary ticket to the play.

 

No Male Magnolias
      As we have reported before, it's often illegal to change the gender of characters in plays protected by copyright. A famous example was a production of Steel Magnolias, in which the role of beauty-shop owner Truvy was to be played by a male--who just happened to be a professional hairdresser. Three weeks before opening night, Dramatists Play Service ordered the show's producer to recast the role with a woman or lose the rights to stage the play. Like many other playwrights (including Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams), Robert Harling would not permit the substitution on the grounds that it violated the artistic integrity of his play. "I have never checked with a publishing house on who I cast before," the producer told the New York Times. "We do a lot of nontraditional casting here and we don't ask, for instance, if we can cast a black actor in a role traditionally played by a white person. So what is the difference here? Is one type of discrimination OK, and another not?" Dramatists Play Service, like any royalty house, was simply carrying out the wishes of the author, as it is required to do. It's a good idea, therefore, to read the specifics of any royalty contract, many of which have specific bans on gender changes.

 

Getting Acquainted
      Often a call for auditions fails to pull in enough people because many would-be actors are unfamiliar with the play in question. The Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, came up with a solution that was both fun and effective. All those interested in auditioning for the upcoming play were invited to a play reading. Descriptions of characters were provided, as well as the rehearsal schedule. "Remember, this is not an audition, nor will the director be present for the reading," read the company's announcement, making a very good selling point. "It is simply an opportunity to become familiar with the script." The reading was also open to those interested in working backstage or in other areas.

 

Lobby Tips
      If you sell refreshments or other items in the lobby during intermission, make sure that signs advertising these items are posted high enough to be seen. Do not tape signs to hang down from a table or counter--as soon as several people stand in front, the sign cannot be seen. To serve people faster (and sell more), make sure that patrons form one line that moves down the refreshment table, picking up food and drink, and paying at the end. This avoids a crush of customers jockeying for position at the front of the table.

 

Measure for Measure
      When measuring for costumes, make sure the actor is wearing only underwear, and use a measuring tape that has not been stretched. Have actors stand up straight with their weight evenly distributed; posture and balance should feel natural and comfortable. Make sure they do not hold their breath during measurements. Measure each arm and each leg separately, since they may differ in length. When taking vertical and horizontal measurements, keep the tape taut. When taking circumference measurements, keep the tape snug, but not tight, and keep the tape measure level and parallel to the floor. Keep your fingers on top of the tape, never between the tape and the body.

 

Just the FAQs
      If you find yourself responding to the same questions about your company, year after year, consider collecting these and publishing them as a lobby handout or an article in your newsletter or season mailer. Topics could include company history, previous productions, your nonprofit status, where your sets and actors come from, and policies on ticket returns and refunds. (Make sure all these are on your website, as well.)

 

Two Can Play
      What do you do when your show is so popular that you have to turn people away? Gloat? When a Virginia-based company found itself in this position, the director wondered if he might collaborate with another local theater company to bring his sold-out revue to a larger audience. He found a company willing to help, and the show played two additional performances, with the two groups splitting the profits and making many theatergoers very happy.

 

Speaking Up
      Drama techniques are an effective method for promoting facility in English as a second language among young children, according to Enhancing the Practice of Drama in Education Through Research. The drama group of students showed significantly greater improvement than the control group in terms of total verbal output.

 

 

97-03


May 2014

 

Trippingly On the Tongue

     One of the things Royal Shakespeare Company director Adrian Noble has devoted much attention to at the company is teaching his actors the special talent of speaking Shakespeare's verse properly. It's an art, he agrees, that some people believe impossible for an American actor to muster.

      It shouldn't be," he told Blake Green of the San Francisco Chronicle. "The kind of whole, wonderful energies inside the American accent and dialects should be good for Shakespeare. But you need to harness the rhythmical energy of Shakespeare to that accent, and for some reason that's difficult--maybe because American actors try to play naturalistic, the whole modern Stanislavsky tradition, and Shakespeare was writing for a very different kind of actor. He wouldn't have understood 'characterization,' having provided the information and the psychology of the character within the dialogue."

 

Protect Your Eyes
      Mascara, eyeliner and eye shadow usually pose no danger, but some people do get eye infections from makeup. The UC Berkeley Wellness Letter advises these precautions:

  1. Buy mascara in small amounts. If it or any eye product is more than a few months old, throw it out. Because actors tend to keep mascara around for months or years, it's the most commonly contaminated eye makeup (preservatives become less effective after a few months). Bacteria in mascara can enter the eye.
  2. Don't use saliva to wet eye makeup. Mouth bacteria can be carried to the eye.
  3. Don't use eye makeup if you have an eye infection, such as conjunctivitis, and throw away all products you were using when you first discovered the infection.
  4. Don't share eye makeup. Another person's bacteria may be harmless to them but not for you.

Getting to Know Them
      Theater companies often wonder where new audiences will come from. Five local arts groups in the Port Angeles, Washington, area staffed a booth at the local Home Show under a banner "Local Artists for Local Art."

    According to the Olympic Theatre Arts newsletter, the groups put a packet of information together to give to passersby, telling them something about each of the organizations. There were drawings for prizes ("The Home Show wouldn't be nearly as much fun without them"), and an opportunity for people to sign up for any of the organization mailing lists.
    Groups were busy all day telling people about their organizations and encouraging them to get involved, the newsletter said. "Many people were interested in theater and music--some we recognized, and some were new to us. We talked to folks of all ages, and many of the children wanted to know when the next show was, and how they could audition. Frankly, I was amazed by the amount of interest among the young people who wandered by."
      The booth was a simple and effective way to contact potential audience members, and "equally important, it was an opportunity to talk to each other and share ideas and news," the article adds. "After all, whatever we call ourselves, we are all tilling a common soil--the love for theater and the burning desire to share that love with our community."

 

Shakespeare Reclothed
        "I always like to do Shakespeare in modernish dress because I want to put people into clothes rather than costumes," says director-actor Ian McKellen. "It's a shorthand storytelling device. You can tell by what somebody is wearing how much money they've got, whether they've not no taste, whether they are in the military or a civil servant or an aristocrat. If you put everybody in pageant costume and floppy hats and tights and hands on hip, you don't know who the hell anybody is."

 

Dealing with Difficult Types
    When dealing with difficult people, realize that different types need different handling. Some examples.

   The aggressor, who is intimidating, hostile and loves to threaten. Listen to everything the person has to say. Avoid arguments and be formal, calling the person by name. Be concise and clear with your reactions. A good phrase is "I can understand how you might feel that way," followed by your proposed solution to the problem.

    The underminer, who takes pride in criticism and may be sarcastic or devious. Focus on the issues and don't acknowledge sarcasm. Don't react to the manner of the message, but the message itself.
      The unresponsive person, who is difficult to talk to and never reveals his or her ideas. Ask open-ended questions and learn to be silent--wait for the person to say something. Be patient and friendly.
      The egotist, who knows it all and feels and acts superior. Make sure you know the facts in the matter. Agree when possible and ask questions and listen. Disagree when you know you're right, backing up your response with the facts. ("I can understand how you might feel that way" is a good phrase here as well.)

 

A Different Slant
Director Dianna Shuster, of San Jose's American Musical Theatre, believes that Sondheim wrote A Little Night Music in three-quarter time "not to prove he could do it--the conventional wisdom," but "because the show is basically about a menage a trois," according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. She used that idea in the staged overture, with groups of three actors waltzing together.

 

97-01

 


April 2014

 

 

Acting Insights

      From theater professor and director Kent Brown.

  •  "Why do you see actors in the green room getting a cup of coffee who are more animated than they are on the stage? Because they have separated acting from real life, and real life is what the dramatist is trying to recreate on the stage."

  • "When making choices about playing a moment, don't go to your first choice. The first choice is almost always the easy way out."

  • "If you're doing a funny play you may think you have to do funny things. Wrong. You don't have to do funny things. As soon as you try to be funny you lose the audience. You do situations. That's where the humor springs from."

  • "Even if you have only have five lines in one scene, there's always a kernel there. Something has happened before, something is going to happen, and something we are saying and doing now is essential in the process."

 

Celebrating New PlaysAACT NewPlayFest

AACT NewPlayFest is a national new play festival that takes place over a two-year period. But unlike AACTFest, productions donít have to travel. Selected theatres produce the winning scripts in their local communities and AACT spreads the buzz with nation-wide promotion. Plus the winning plays will be published in an anthology by Dramatic Publishing Company.  Click here to read how it works.

 

Is Anyone There?

      Before buying a computer or software--or anything electronic--call the maker's toll-free help numbers. If you can't get through, or must hold for a long time, you may want to go with a different product.

 

Investing In Others

      To encourage young people in theater, some companies have established a yearly scholarship program for high school and/or college students.  These need not be major financial awards.  For example, a scholarship might allow someone  to attend a theatre workshop at a local university or college. Scholarships like these serve many purposes. Not only do they provide monetary support, but serve to build good volunteer and community relations.

 

Selling Tickets With Style

      During its 35th season celebration a few years back,  the Utah Shakespearean Festival launched a series of clever promotional programs for ticket sales.

  • Henry Night. If your name is Henry, Henrietta, or Hank, you got half off a ticket to Henry IV, Part I. A picture ID was required to get the special price.

  • Twin Day. If you're a twin, your ticket for the matinee of The Comedy of Errors was half price. To purchase the ticket, you had to present a photo of you and your twin, or bring your twin with you.

  • Kids Day.  Any child (up to 12 years old) purchasing a ticket for The Three Musketeers received a free ticket for an accompanying adult. Another Kids Day gave the same bonus for an accompanying grandparent.

  • Celebrating Your 35th. Anyone celebrating a 35th birthday or wedding anniversary any time during the season could purchase a half-price ticket to The Winter's Tale. To purchase the ticket, you had to bring a picture ID or a wedding certificate.

  • Mac Day.  If your last name contains "Mac" (for instance, MacDonald or McMillan) or your first name is Mac, you got a half-off ticket to Macbeth. Again, a picture ID was required.

What's That You Say?

      Think twice about director's notes in a printed program, advises one theater professor and play adjudicator. "Notes about the origin of the play, the playwright, or the historical or social milieu can be helpful," he says, "but when a director feels he must explain his concept or what he thinks the play is about, it means he doesn't trust the audience--which is insulting--or he doesn't trust his directing ability--which is unsettling . The work should stand on its own."

 

Giddyup, Old Paint

      Advice from the National Paint and Coatings Association:

  • Buy only what you need and use it up

  • Recycle the empty can (check with local ordinances to see how this is done in your community)

  • Store leftover paint properly for touch-ups or future projects. With a tight lid and stored upside down (so air can't infiltrate), paint can last for years.

  • Donate unwanted paint to neighbors, churches, schools and other organizations

  • If you must throw it away, first allow latex or water-based paint to dry, then dispose of it in the trash, or according to disposal regulations in your community. Save leftover liquid solvent-based paint for special collection. Do not pour any paint down the drain.

Directors' Notes

      Thoughts--this time on directing--from theater professor and director Kent Brown:

  • "If an actor is having problems with a scene, give him a prop or have him suggest a prop and have him use these during rehearsal. This will divert him from self consciousness and help him focus."

  • "A line-perfect actor may not be a good actor. He may be reliable, but he also may be hiding behind the shield of the text."

  • "Take a look at where your characters are off-balance. Audiences don't pay money to watch balance and harmony in any play. They don't pay money to watch people do things easily."

  •  "Look at the entrances and exits in your play. Plays are about leaving. Plays are about coming and arriving, about reconvening the human community."

Class Distinctions

      "Be careful when costuming working class people and servants in period plays, warns  Stephen Rausch of Schenz Theatrical Supply. "Most books of historical fashion show haute couture of the day, not what the poorer classes wore. Servants often wore hand-me-downs form their employers, for example. Clothes were recycled, with fabric used again and again because it was expensive. To get a better picture of what kind of clothing people wore, you need to investigate the cultural life of an era--art, music, architecture, literature, furniture, social behavior, class distinctions, social conventions, even the use of color. For example, in the 1860s they liked bright colors and combinations we'd think are terrible. The more you know about a period the better your costume designs will be."

 

96-05

 


March 2014

 

Can It
Don't pour leftover paint down the drain. It will ruin your plumbing and cause problems for the sewage treatment plant. Instead, save all sawdust from shop projects. Use it to stir into old, leftover paint until you have a thick paste. Allow to dry and toss the cans.  Be sure to check local ordinances about disposal of paint, however.  Some localities require special handling of containers with paint still in them (dry or not).

Damage Control
For actors, the most common injuries are the lower extremities (38 percent), lower back (15 percent) and vocal cords (17 percent). This according to a survey taken by Actors' Equity and reported in the American Journal of Public Health. Not surprisingly, the majority of injuries were sprains or strains. Much of this can be prevented with good training and reminders from directors and choreographers.

Truckin' Pool
From time to time, theatre companies have to transport larger items such as furniture or building materials to and from the theater. To meet this need, some organization have established a "Truckin' Pool" of volunteers who have either a pickup truck or larger-size van or station wagon, and are willing to answer an occasional call for help.

Keep Them In the Dark?
About a week before opening, "when tech rehearsals really start to get to you," director Ron Cameron puts his actors in a totally darkened room and runs lines. The result, he says, is that "they hear a play they really haven't heard in weeks." The exercise returns focus to the lines themselves, and the result, he believes, is a sharper performance.

Free Costumes
For a source of free or inexpensive costumes,  ask local drycleaners for unclaimed clothing. If your company has nonprofit status, the donor can deduct the value for income tax purposes. If you're not a registered nonprofit group, you still may be able to get the clothing at pennies on the dollar.

Back Up!
We can't repeat it too often: Make sure you have backups of all computer files relating to your organization. A case in point is a computer crash at a major state theatre organization. Among other things lost were the names of those who had checked books out of the resource library. A backup on disc or portable hard drive would have solved the problem. For computer files of greatest importance--membership lists, season ticket subscribers, prop lists, contracts and major documents, etc.--make sure you have a backup stored off site as well.  In case of fire, flood or other disaster, you have a better chance of saving vital data if there is a copy located somewhere else. (Cloud storage--backing up files to a secure online site--is usually the most convenient.) 

 

96-03


February 2014

 

So There, Joan Crawford!

Ordinary coat-hanger wire can be used effectively in many ways. Since it holds its shape when bent, it can be used to simulate vines or metal grillwork, with rope or other materials tied or glued to it for greater visibility. David Welker, author of Theatrical Set Design used it to make chandeliers for a production of Sheridan's The Critic. The wire was shaped, then painted gold and hung with crystals.

Dracula
                                    "Give Blood" PosterNot Too Early for October Planning
Several companies who offer Dracula, The Passion of Dracula, or other vampire-themed productions in October, have held a blood drive on Halloween night. Actually, the event can be much more than a blood drive. The Halloween experience could include raffles, prizes, candy, and pumpkin-decorating for the whole family. Youngsters can be encouraged to dress up in their trick-or-treat costumes and come for the fun. Adults can be encouraged to come and give "the gift of life" by donating their blood to help save the lives of others. Announcements about the Halloween event would be accompanied by information on the Dracula production, resulting in a good tie-in that benefits both the theater company and the community.

Go for the Long Term

When costuming a show, experts say, it's often better to rent specialty items that you'll never use again (such as kilts or can-can dresses), and spend time only on those costumes you'll use again and again. Build them with extra attention to durability; they'll not only last longer, but take less of your time for repairs.

The Gift that Keeps Giving

An inexpensive money-maker is a gift certificate to your theatre They cost little to produce and can be purchased easily at the box office. In most cases, gift certificates have no expiration date and can be purchased in any dollar amount. If the recipient does not use the entire amount at once, the company notes the balance on the back of the certificate. The holder can then continue to present it at the box office until the balance is used up. If a purchase exceeds the total amount (or remaining balance) of the certificate, the difference can be paid in cash, check or credit card.  Some box office management system software allows for this to be done automatically, as people call or go online to order tickets.

Sounding Off

Many stage people believe that sound-absorbing tiles will prevent sound from being passed from one area of a room to another. The tiles will certainly help to reduce reverberation in one area, and thus limit the amount of sound likely to pass into the other area, but only proper insulation in walls and doors will be really effective. Thus, acoustical tile in an offstage hallway will help, but insulating the wall (and door) separating the hall from the stage will also be necessary if you want to cut noise to a minimum. Getting the cooperation of backstage hands and performers helps, too.

Safety First

Does your theatre have a clearly defined emergency plan for accidents and medical emergencies? It's a wise idea to write one and post it where it can be seen backstage. You should have a clear system of handling emergencies worked out among stage management personnel as well. The system should designate who keeps the show running, who calls for an ambulance, and who helps the person with whatever first aid is required. Make sure that you have a backstage first aid kit, that it is easily accessible, and that you check frequently to keep it stocked. A good basic supply includes bandages for minor cuts, ammonia inhalant (smelling salts), hydrogen peroxide (wound wash, antibacterial), ice packs, and a small oxygen tank and mask. Such supplies may also be used for accidents or injuries involving patrons; large theaters may want to duplicate the kit for use by the house management staff.

Don't Leave Them in the Dark

Here's an intriguing observation by Nan Withers-Wilson in her book, Vocal Direction for the Theatre (Drama Book Publishers): We all make use of lip reading and body language to help decipher speech content.  Therefore, she points out, "Given today's visually oriented society, it is usually the case in the theater that the dimmer the lighting the more the audience will have to concentrate in order to hear the actors--and the more actively the actors will have to articulate in order to be clearly understood by the audience."

 

96-02

 


January 2014

 

Beat the Rush

Audience members often dread the intermission rush to the refreshment stand, the long line, and the precious few moments in which to drink or eat. One company devised an elegantly simple solution that helped boost sales. Inserted inside each program is a "Convenient Concessions Pre-Order Form" listing food and drink available for sale and an order blank. Patrons are asked to present the form and payment in the lobby before the show. Orders are waiting for them at the beginning of intermission on a table located at the opposite end of the lobby. (For plays with two intermissions, patrons indicate on the form at which interval they wish refreshments.) 


Just Rewards

Having problems getting audiences to a lesser-known production or a play festival? Make admission free or at a discount for those attending one of your regular season or better-known shows. One theatre granted free admission to its Young Playwright's Festival for those purchasing a ticket to the main stage production of Death of a Salesman.  Since the festival allows student writers the opportunity to see their work as full-scale productions, the free tickets to theatre patrons helped ensure an audience for these new plays. Patrons also felt rewarded for their attendance at the main stage production.

 

Make It Easy to Read 

If you want your printed messages to come through loud and clear, avoid design techniques that hide the message. Among the worst offenders are these hard-to-read blunders: red type on a pink background; type superimposed on colorful artistic backgrounds; italic type used extensively on a gray background; long text blocks set in reverse type (white on black); and almost anything printed on dark-colored or aggressively fluorescent paper. The latter may work well for posters, that have few words set in large-point type, but cause headaches for readers when used for brochures or flyers. 

 

Teacher Alert

Several theatres offer high school students and their teachers special admission to musicals based on famous plays.  For example, "West Side Story" could be billed as "the perfect companion piece to Romeo and Juliet to area students at a 50 percent discount for a Thursday evening performance. Area teachers who accompany their students are admitted free. This works as an excellent audience development tool, getting young people into the theater, and provides teachers with good discussion material. 


Get the Message?

When your production closes and no one is staffing the box office, does your voice mail or answering machine go unanswered for days at a time? Avoid losing important messages by having your box office staff place a new message before closing the final night of performance. Briefly explain that your production has closed and give the dates for the next one. Close with a message that gives your company's business number, or that of a company representative, in case the caller must contact your staff. (We speak from experience: More than once we have had trouble contacting theater companies because the box office number is the only one we have.) 


96-01

 


December 2013

 

About 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.

 

Working Together

      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.

 

Double-Duty Message

      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.

 

Be Honest

      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 that."

 

Fascinating Research

      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."

 

Foresight 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.

 

Funny Things

      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 try.

 

From 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 stitching.

 

Strictly Business

      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.

 

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November 2013

 

Video Blog Promotes Company

Utah's 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."

 

Speaking of....
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

Glow tape
                                    examplesYou 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 several hours.

Specialized Donations

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.

Don't Change

"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.



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October 2013

 

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."

Quick Fix

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. Whatever works....

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, she said. 

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.



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September 2013

 

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."

Photo-Ready

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."

 

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