Tips of the Month
Return on Investment
Some theater companies find that, instead of throwing away set decorations or furniture made for stage use, a well-publicized sale of such items once a year can be a money-maker.
There's Always a Next Time
Suggest that your production people start a "next time" file. Put all materials and information about a specific task in a separate folder, then put a piece of bright colored paper at the front of the folder on which you jot notes about what could be done better next time you have the same
responsibility. Alternatively, scan as much as you can, saving the documents in PDF format, and storing a copy locally and also on another server. Material that can't be scanned can be put into folders and stored separately.
- Often you'll find a scrap strip of quarter-inch plywood that is eight feet long and only a few inches wide. Don't throw it away. Instead, use it as a straightedge for drawing lines on other sheets.
- If you are using cardboard to cover the front of a curved set piece, use a spray bottle to spray water on the convex (outer) side of the curve. This allows you to bend it without buckling or cracking; fasten while still damp.
- If you save platforms and stair units, store them with any padding or canvas covering intact--when you use them again, this ready-to use covering could come in handy.
- If you have to make pencil marks on finished scenery (to show where hinges or other items are to be installed), press a piece of masking tape into place at the spot where the mark is to be made. Then pencil directly onto the tape. When you're done, the tape can be removed without damaging the paint.
When taking publicity photos of a production, try to limit the number of people in a shot to four or less (duos are always good). The simpler the photograph the more likely it is to be noticed.
All In a Day's Work
A volunteer, like any other worker, needs a job description. Without a job description, volunteers can easily get in over their heads, or may end up doing too little to satisfy your needs. The description should include the qualities you are looking for as well as the responsibilities of the position--this helps the volunteer, as well as the person who supervises their work. [AACT members can access more helpful information in articles on volunteer management in our Resource Library]
For quick paint touch-ups, use cotton makeup rounds. These round cotton pads, about the size of a silver dollar, won’t shed. Use them to apply dabs of paint, oil or paint. You can find them at drugstores and discount stores, as well as online. The ones shown at right are the most basic (and thinnest), and will do for most jobs (click image for larger view). Thicker pads are also available, although more expensive.
The Power of We
Whether you’re a director, board president, or chief administrative officer of your theatre company, take a tip from the Harvard Business Review, and motivate your team with “we,” not “I.” Using first-person plurals and second-person pronouns such as we, us, and you—rather than the first-person singular pronouns I, me and my—show that you are focused on what you and your team can achieve together, rather than on what you need from them. It also helps shift your perspective and makes you more aware of what others need.
Getting the Word Out
If you can put together dramatic or musical snippets, or even a mini-version of a recent show, many civic, school and church groups may be willing to pay a nominal fee to have you demonstrate your capabilities. More important, use the opportunity to publicize your group and upcoming production and get names for your mailing list.
Cardboard often warps or buckles when painted. To avoid this, paint the first side and while it is still wet, paint the second side. If one side won't be seen from the audience, you can use leftover paint on it.
The Secret's in the Braid
Ever wonder how professional dancers breeze through the most complicated routines, without giving hats a second thought, while your performers can barely keep a flower in their hair during action scenes or dance numbers? The secret is "horsehair braid," a type of braided nylon available at online millinery supply houses or large bridal shops. Purchase 1/2: or 5/8" braid in all the basic hair colors. Sew a piece matching each dancer's hair color along the entire bottom edge of crows, tiaras and caps; for flowers, wrap pale green braid in two or three places along the stems. Make a curl in the performer's hair at each point of attachment (the sides and center, for a larger headpiece) and criss-cross with two flat bobby pins. Finally, use as many thin v-shaped hairpins as necessary to secure the headpiece in place.
No More Split Ends
Because they are repeatedly tied and untied, the ends of lash lines often become frayed. If you use cotton lines, dip the ends into white glue and press them firmly into a compact shape. If you use nylon or polyester rope, seal the ends by melting them slightly in the flame of a pocket lighter. Allow the rope to cool before using.
Strong and Thump-less
To make a strong walking stick, use a hardwood banister rod (used to construct stairway rails). A rubber tip attached to the end will keep it from thumping on the stage floor.
Bustle in a Hustle
If you're doing a Victorian play and need bustles, consider using ski or bicycle packs for the purpose. Sometimes called “fanny packs,” these consist of a nylon sack or bag attached to a belt of the same material that straps around the waist. Designed to carry small items, for costume purposes, you fill the bags with crumpled newspaper. The actress then buckles the lightweight unit on, with the filled sack at the back. The costume is slipped on over the unit and the result is a convincing bustle effect.
One way to recruit new audiences is to schedule special low-priced performances—like 99-cent previews or "pay-what-you-can" matinees. Some theatres offer these specials in return for the patron’s email address, while others hand out a special “Welcome to Our Theatre” brochure , with information on the current or upcoming season, contact numbers, etc.
Tying One On
Monofilament fishing line is transparent, strong and relatively inexpensive, and is ideal for suspending lightweight scenic elements in front of light backdrops, or for securing items that might shift during scene changes. It comes in several different thicknesses, each clearly marked as to how much weight it can withstand—typically ranging from 8 to 60 pounds. When hanging from above, you also can add another piece stretching from from the bottom of the item back to the wall, to keep the item from swinging. This can be helpful for lobby displays, as well.
On the Way Up
If your theatre company is working its way up from the bottom, capitalize on the underdog principle when fundraising. Studies suggest that people tend to support the underdog. Just make clear that your organization is strong, with a clear plan for the future—donors like to know their gifts will be used wisely.
If carpeting or carpet padding on stairs or platforms doesn't look right for the period or place, try using sheets of heavy corrugated cardboard stapled in place. The cardboard can be painted or covered with canvas and then painted.
When creating a brochure or web page, avoid using many small photographs, which designers say detract from rather than enhance visual communication. Ideally, use one strong photograph, but if you have two or more photographs, make sure that one of them is dominant. Note that square photographs lack visual interest; use other rectangular shapes with a mixture of horizontal and vertical orientation.
Share and Share Alike
Consider the possibility of shared rehearsal space with another theater or theaters in your area. Ideally you need at least two rooms to avoid conflicts for space, but the cost of rental for a two-room space is typically far less than for two separate spaces, when the expense is shared between companies.
There’s a Catch
If you use magnetic catches for onstage doors or cupboards, you can reduce the amount of "stick" the actor needs to overcome by taping over part of the metal plate to which the magnet sticks.
Short and Sweet
When preparing a direct mail or fundraising letter, keep the first sentence short. This signals that the letter will be easy to read. Also limit paragraphs to no more than three or four sentences. Longer paragraphs turn off readers.
Room with a View
To suggest glass in a window, stretch rolled window screening over the back of the opening. It suggests the glint of glass without the weight, glare, or danger of breaking.
In the Know
Consider making available a glossary of your company's particular jargon and slang for volunteers and new members. This helps them more quickly understand memos, discussions and special projects. The extends to abbreviations for local businesses, government offices, or organizations.
No More Peek-a-Boo
When repainting a set, if old paint bleeds through the new, allow the paint to dry. Then cover the area with a coat of white glue, thinned with a little water. After the glue dries, try painting again. This usually works, although occasionally two coats of glue may be necessary.
The Public Eye
If you want to gain positive recognition for your company, create a service award to be given annually to the resident who makes the most contributions to your community, or to the arts in your community. By being associated with this award, your organization gains publicity and prestige.
4 Questions for Fundraisers
1) If you had only one donor and he or she gave you $50,000 every year, how would you write to that person? 2) How much would you want that donor to feel fully part of what you're doing? 3) Why not treat every donor as if he or she were a $50,000 donor? 4) How can you go wrong with this approach?
The Print Calendar
Plan to have materials printed at times when printers are less busy. For example, avoid school openings, the beginning of a new year and major holidays? Reason: you can expect to receive lower bids when printers aren't busy.
It Doesn't Hurt to Ask
For its production of Rumors, set in an upscale New York home, one community theatre managed to get a donation of an entire coordinated set of furniture. 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.
Capture the Moment
If you're a director, instead of writing down your notes to cast and crew during a rehearsal, try using a hand-held digital recorder. Reason: You can talk faster than you (or an assistant, if you have one) can write. Also, handwritten notes are often dashed off quickly and in poor lighting, so aren't always readable. If you prefer to give notes immediately after rehearsal, attach a headphone to the recorder and listen to the playback, using the pause buttons to advance to each taped note in sequence. If you want to post written notes on a bulletin board, there's more work, since you'll need to transcribe them. The good news: You will have had a bit of time to reflect on the rehearsal itself, so some of the notes may be eliminated, while others can be rephrased to make them more useful to the actors or technical staff.
If you need people to sew costumes but can't find anyone, ask a local fabric store to enclose a flyer (which you provide) in each customer's bag. The flyer should be short and to the point, telling of your need, with a phone
number and contact person clearly stated. Similar specialty stores might do the same for flyers listing other personnel needs. (Be sure to give the store a mention in your printed program or in the lobby).
Eyes and Ears
Do you have someone in your company who wants to work hard but has no specific theatrical talents? Consider making them a production ombudsman. So often during rehearsals or performances, there is confusion or unhappiness
about any number of things. And, as it so often happens, the director or stage manager doesn't hear about it until someone--or something--explodes. Call your volunteer "assistant to the director" or "production coordinator" or
whatever you will, but their basic purpose is to be the director's eyes and ears backstage, and to make sure things flow smoothly. You can also make this person the directorial "gofer," put them in charge of the backstage coffee pot,
and hand them any number of other small chores. Warning: Pick your person carefully. The job is not that of tattletale. This is a sensitive position for a dedicated, caring person.
Green Room 'Emergency' Kit
An "Emergency" Kit is a great thing to have backstage at all performances. The kit might include an ironing board and iron, safety pins, needles and a wide variety of thread, glue, shoe polish and brushes, fabric bonding tape, and
other items. Explain to the cast what it's for and impress on them to return everything to the kit after they've used it. Better yet, appoint someone to dispense materials from the kit as needed. That way they can re-stock the supplies as they run out.
"A play is action," writes David Ball in his book, Backwards and Forwards. Why do you think actors are called actors?" From Ball's perspective, reading and understanding a script involves looking for those moments "when something happens that makes or permits something else to happen. 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 two. The play's journey is contained within its actions, and getting there is half the fun."
It's in the Bag
Consider using see-through plastic trash bags to cover equipment. With the help of scissors and tape you can easily make custom dust covers for anything from computer keyboards and monitors to printers to props to sound equipment. For a bit less money, you can purchase regular black plastic bags, but you'll have to guess what's underneath--or put labels on them.
Here's a surefire morale booster: put a suggestion/comment box backstage, and answer the suggestions publicly on a nearby bulletin board. This way you provide rapid feedback and show people that management listens and responds. The answer board could become one of the most popular spots in the building.
It Adds Up
Use an electronic postage or food scale to count large numbers of identical booklets or brochures. Stack them on the scale until you reach one pound; then count the number. The simple math involved in weighing a few brochures and then
multiplying can save lots of time over counting individual pieces by hand.
Put a Cork In It
Some theatres cover one wall backstage or in the green room with cork. This permits any part of the wall to be used as a bulletin board and helps prevent the scarring of plasterboard or paneled walls. It also cuts down on backstage
If you plan to buy several computers for your company, offer members a chance to purchase one for home use at your company's cost. Reason: The company receives a larger discount because more computers are purchased, and members
become a resource of people knowledgeable about operating the same computers.
- Establish a "People" file for all of the people you deal with on a regular basis. In each person's folder (actual paper folder or in a computer file) place pertinent papers that reflect the working relationship you have with that person. Also include information on management styles, likes and dislikes, and other facts that will help you or others deal better with that person. This can be especially useful when asking for donations or other favors.
- Develop a delegation book or computer file. Whenever you delegate something to someone, make a note This way you can periodically follow up on those things you've delegated and make sure all is going well.
A Note of Appreciation
Have some sort of company "pat-on-the-back" memo pads printed up, on which producers, directors or designers can easily and quickly write a line or two of appreciation when a staff person or volunteer has done an outstanding job.
Saving on Paper
If possible, use the same paper stock for more than one professionally printed publication or flyer. The printer may give you a quantity discount.
It's the Little Things
When writing a fundraising appeal letter, experts recommend that you don't hyphenate a word that might break at the end of a line. Hyphenations slow the reader down. Besides, people just don't hyphenate when writing personal letters--and your appeal should be seen as a personal one.
Costume Treasure Trove
In operation for more than 40 years, New York City's Theatre Development Fund (TDF) Costume Collection has over 80,000 theatrical costumes available for rental to community and regional theatres, civic and religious groups, as well as schools, colleges and universities nationwide. Created in 1968 to help strengthen Broadway and Off Broadway, in particular serious dramatic plays, TDF has subsidized more than 1,000 plays and musicals, including 34 productions that later became Pulitzer Prize winners, and has developed a wide-ranging variety of programs to serve audiences and theatres. Located within New York’s historic Kaufman Astoria Studios, the TDF Costume Collection sprawls over 16,000 square feet on the seven-building campus where numerous films and television shows are produced. You can view selected items from the TDF Costume Collection online on Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, and Pinterest. But to really understand the incredible breadth of what we have available, TDF recommends that you make plans to visit the collection in person. Click here for hours and address.
If you need an umbrella to look as though it just came out of the rain, spatter it with a thin solution of white glue. Lights shining on the dried glue will reflect as though off wet spots. Caution: don't spatter borrowed umbrellas, since the glue is permanent.
The Eyes Have It
When making up eyes, use eyeliner to paint a small black dot at the corner of the eye nearest the nose. The result gives more impact to the eye makeup without being noticeable in itself.
In an audition, says Michael Shurtleff, don't stop if you're doing badly. Instead, get angry at your reading partner, or kiss your partner and offer words of endearment. "Either action, however unsuited to the script you may think it is, will connect you with your partner, will create relationship, will renew what you're fighting for, and will interest the auditors in you. There's nothing to be gained by stopping and everything to be gained if you take a big blame-or-love risk to rescue yourself."
There's an Idea
A makeup idea file can be a real timesaver when you get into production of a show. A typical file would include good, crisp photographs of people, young and old, of different races, from different cultures and eras. Magazines are a good source, as are art reproductions for historical characters. (Check out second hand bookstores.) You can break up the collection into such categories as "Old Age--Male," "Old Age--Female," "Bald Heads," "Hair," "Historical," "Scars," "Noses," "Mouths and Chins." A three-ring binder with 8 1/2" x 11" transparent acetate pages works best to hold your idea file--the pictures slip in easily and the acetate protects them from dust and makeup stains.
During the run of a show have the actors store their hats on a head block when they are not being worn. The exception is rigid hats, such as toppers and derbies, which should be placed in hat boxes. Taking such care will lengthen the life of hats considerably.
In fundraising, remember that people give to people, not organizations, a direct mail piece or even to a building. They give to other individuals--a friend who has asked for help, a business contact, a person who inspires their confidence. Always try to make appeals as personal as possible.
The Numbers Game
Along with your rehearsal schedule include a wallet-sized piece of paper with important phone numbers that can be clipped for the cast member's wallet or purse. List a number where cast members can call to leave messages, the contact numbers of the director and stage manager, the theater (backstage) and box office. Don't post these online unless you have a password-protected site.
Keeping It Dry
Double-check your backstage area to make sure you have a fire extinguisher that is safe for electrical fires. One theater company found that their extinguisher was water-based only after a cable shorted out. Luckily the fire was put out before someone used the extinguisher; it was only when the fire department investigated that the lack of a dry extinguisher was noted and one was installed.
One of our members recently attended a performance in which one of the actors soon became a distracting, irksome presence. The actor in question never missed a cue, was always on mark, and was vocally and physically in character. So what was the problem? The reason was not obvious at first, but gradually the realization set in: the actor's eyes wandered constantly from actor to actor, from left to right, from audience back to the stage. Never once did they ever seem to come to light on anything for more than a few seconds. Despite the fact that everything else was in control, this one thing- -the inability to focus attention--destroyed totally any illusion that the actor was a part of the dramatic action.
Dress shields sewn into the armholes of all clothes makes for a longer life for your costumes. They can be bought in all sizes and are available for men as well; however, if you can't find the men's shields, use the largest size in women's. Perspiration not only stains costumes, it can rot fabric.
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 tables with sign-up sheets placed strategically about the area, so that departing audience members can leave their names and addresses (including email) for future mailings.
The best way to get over stage fright is to focus one's attention on one's acting partner, playing the scene totally to and with them. When the focus is off the audience and on the other actor, stage fright usually goes away and one's performance is enhanced considerably.
As the Day Goes On
To suggest a transition from late afternoon to evening lighting, double-hang instruments with the two basic color schemes. Blend for late afternoon,then use a long, slow fade to the evening colors.
Avoid running a continuous sound effect for more than a few minutes at full volume. For example, a 20-minute scene during a thunderstorm may become tedious if sound effects are overused. In real life one is not aware of the constant sound of rain, but rather of the changes in the sound of the drops or wind velocity, or occasional thunderclaps. Good sound effects heighten the effect you want in the scene, not overwhelm it.
When negotiating for a theater space, make a note of all repairs and improvements that will be necessary to convert the space into a theater. Get estimates of the cost involved. That way you'll have an easier time negotiating for repairs and improvements with the landlord.
Paint--Wet & Dry
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 problems, 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. Be sure to mix more than enough paint, since it is almost impossible to match the color if you run short.
When reading for a part for which you cannot find proper motivation, consider using the desire to change your partner. The change desired must be concrete in your mind--for example, "I love you, but if you'd only..." There are any number of ways an actor can "point up" a particular word or phrase in a speech: through a rise or fall in pitch; a rise in volume, or a fall in volume followed by an increased intensity; slowing down; a movement or gesture just before the word or phrase; or even by elongating vowel sounds ("Oh, on the caaaaahntrary").
- Limit the number of fill-in-the-blank questions, and replace with those that can be answered by circling yes or no, or a series of numbers indicating a range of opinion. You'll increase your response. One survey company doubled the response to 30 questions by reducing fill-in-the-blank responses from 15 to only two.
- When surveying about your season or services, ask respondents what they liked most about these. It not only helps you continue to emphasize things that people like, but it may provide you with testimonials you can use in brochures or other marketing pieces.
- Ask those who disagree to paraphrase one another's comments. This may help them learn if they really understand one another.
- Work out a compromise. Agree on the underlying source of conflict, then engage in give-and-take, and finally agree on a solution.
- Ask each person to list what the other side should do. Exchange lists, select a compromise all are willing to accept, and test the compromise to see if it meshes with the goals of the group as a whole.
- Have the sides each write 10 questions for their opponents. This will allow them to signal their major concerns about the other side's position. And the answers may lead to a compromise.
- Help people understand they sometimes have to admit they're wrong. Help them save face by convincing them that changing a position may well show strength.
- Respect the experts in the group. Give their opinions more weight when the conflict involves their expertise, but don't rule out conflicting opinions.
You can darken tan leather belts and shoes by wiping them with a cloth dipped in ammonia. Apply the ammonia as evenly as possible to avoid leaving streaks on the weather. (Do this outside or in a well-ventilated area, since ammonia fumes are irritating to eyes and nose.)
Families That Play Together
Bringing families to the theater is the idea behind a number of well-received programs around the country. Two decades ago, "Family Week at the Theatre" (now called Stages Festival) became the first statewide celebration of theater for New Jersey's young people and their families. During the first week of March, which is also Arts In Education Month, New Jersey's professional theater community has offered free and discounted performances, workshops, play readings and behind-the-scenes events for all ages. Many theaters host backstage tours, workshops, open rehearsals, and other free events designed for multi-generational participation, including free performances. In Louisville, Kentucky, Stage One offers a four-person Family Pass for $125 ("Flexible tickets - a $350 value") and a two-person pass for $65 (a $175 value). Pass holders may reserve the respective amount of tickets for any of StageOne’s four Mainstage Productions, Exclusive Member Movies Series, or StoryTeller Events. They also receive exclusive discounts & pre-sale offers to other family friendly performances held at The Kentucky Center. [More...]
Take It Off
Forget scraping and soaking when price tags, stickers, and decals won't come off equipment or other recently purchased items. Instead, tackle the problem with solvents designed for the job, such as Goof Off or Goo Gone. They not only lift off stickers (and the gummy residue they leave behind), but also remove crayon scribbles, dried glue, chewing gum, tape, and tar from most objects. (They also remove paint, so don't use on walls.) Both products are sold in hardware and paint stores, and online.
If you're planning to hold a special event somewhere outside your theater, you know that most hotels and country clubs charge a lot, and often require that you use their equally expensive in-house catering services. Instead, consider renting space for your reception in a public or historic building, a local park, a botanical garden, a museum, or a university. The fee for use of such spaces is often minimal, and you can order food and decorations from your own sources. While it's true that some of these facilities have special requirements (a historical building, for example, may not allow you to attach decorations to the wall), they're often more understanding of the fundraising needs of other nonprofit organizations.