Tips of the Month

Great Ideas
Building audiences, fund-raising, costumes, sets & more

August 2017

Folded business cardsIt's in the Cards
Millions of business cards change hands daily. Make your company card into a miniature ad or sales brochure. Use both sides or a fold‑over card. Include a discount or other special offer.  You'll find these at reasonable prices from many online sources, including ones with a matte aqueous coating. This coating provides a dull non-reflective finish that's resistant to smudges and fingerprints. An aqueous coating also improves the durability of your card as it goes through the mail or is inserted into pockets.

Scrim Substitute
Mosquito netting is a good substitute for scrim, at a fraction of the cost.  It does not create a moire pattern when layered and is more transparent as well. It can be ordered through military surplus stores and outfitters for expeditions.

Food for Thought
A Southern California theatre company 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 ticket for that day's performance. The company encouraged its subscribers to attend a different restaurant each time they visited the theater.

Be Careful What You Wish For
When Ann Ciccolella was executive director of the Austin [Texas] Circle of Theatres, she made this perceptive comment: "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 theater group does not run a theater facility, but a space where the company of actors can train and rehearse. Then, at performance times, a theater facility can be shared over the year by a number of groups."

Be-leafable TreesWhen trying to create the illusion of trees full of leaves, try using the roll screening that's sold for repairing window or door screens. It comes in various widths and lengths at hardware and building supply stores.  Cut to hang down, with the bottom edges trimmed to resemble leaf edges. Be sure to cut a few holes in it as well where you can "see through" the leaves.  Arrange several sheets front to back to give the illusion of thick foliage. Be sure to cut holes in the material where a person would "see through" the leaves; this provides added depth. A light spray of several shades of green coompletes the illusion.

Old Wine in New Bottles
When one community theater group did Fiddler On the Roof a few years back, it had the problem of four klutzes attempting the Bottle Dance during the wedding scene. It was clear they couldn't dance with glass bottles on their heads. The director ended up using the large green plastic bottles meant for various flavored mineral waters, and created new labels on his computer and printer. They were passable wine bottles from the third row back.


June-July 2017

Talking the Talk
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.

Free Expertise
Approach a local advertising agency to design a season ticket brochure for nothing. 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.

Make an Offer
The best way to get a good response from an ad is to announce a free offer in your headline. This 'shouts' to readers that they can get something without charge. What you offer doesn't have to be expensive. For example, you might offer a pen with your theater logo on it, a calendar, or some other inexpensive item. Or offer a free ticket for every three purchased for a weeknight performance.

Best Foot Forward
When 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.

Room to Grow
Scouting for theater space in a storefront, warehouse, or other nontraditional space? Assess your space needs by listing the types of plays you plan to present. Determine what size audience you want to reach, and allow for reasonable expansion in the future. Define cast and crew requirements for backstage space and storage. Be honest as you undergo this assessment. Once you're in a space, it may be difficult to change if you find it isn't adequate for your needs.


April-May 2017

Avery Dennison Swiftach FastenerSwiftach fasteners are used by retailers for tagging garments. 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 gun and fasteners are manufactured by Avery Dennison, and are available online from several sources, including Amazon. See Avery Dennison's website for complete product information.

Anti-Gravity Device
When 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.

When 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.  However, you can only do so much.  Corsets, 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." 

Acting the Part
"The experienced actor thinks simply but deeply, and tends to follow a few hunches," writes Hugh Morrison in his book, <Acting Skills> (Black/Theatre Arts). "A dramatic character will not stand up to psychoanalysis; what's needed is a deep human understanding, and the profoundest common sense."

Lights Up
For 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 described how the stage lights had been dim for a very long time, "and then 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."     To achieve a bleak, oppressive look for a production, Berry bought yard lights and used them for footlights, then hung bare bulbs from the ceiling. Lighting the show cost under $50.

Audience Focus
Many theatres 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); LGBTQ Night ; and a Half‑Century Singles Night (for patrons who remember discos, perhaps).  Similarly, some offer 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.    

Auld Lang Syne
Consider using your company newsletter and/or website to run a series called "Company Scrapbook."  Each is a look at the productions and events that made your company what it is today.   For example, you could feature photos of a production 10 years ago, 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 company's history.


March 2017

For Old Time's Sake?
Photo of vintage costumeShould 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. 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."

Season's Greetings
When announcing your next season, consider displaying photos of the previous season.  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.

Early Birds
Some theatre companies have established  a preview call-list. People sign up, and get to see shows free in preview--and the casts get to play before audiences prior to opening.

More for Less
A few years back, a theatre in Sacramento, CA, sent out a fundraising letter that had response boxes for contributions of $500, $100, $50, $25 and "Other."  At the suggestion of an anonymous-but-poor theater lover, the next year's letter asked only for a $10 donation.  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.

Sing Out!
If you have performers whose vocal talents aren't being fully utilized, consider forming a vocal group as an adjunct of your theater, and use them to raise money for your company. Performers volunteer their time, energy and talent to create the group, tailoring their performances for the client and event, whether it's a reunion, gala party or reception.  The full group need not always perform together--a performance might involve just 3-4 people, if that's appropriate for the venue.


February 2017

Up in Lights
Oklahoma's Gaslight Theatre developed an unusual fund raising idea a few years back. Using its marquee, the company offered to create personalized messages or fake theater billings and photograph them.  For $19.95 theater patrons saw their name up in lights as the star of a play or musical of their dreams. Patrons were encouraged to be creative in their messages.

What the People Want
Each year a theatre in Washington asks donors, subscribers and randomly selected single ticket buyers to help the company "formulate our future seasons and give us a report card on how we're doing," according to the company's newsletter. "We received nearly 1100 responses."  That is an impressive result.  While that survey showed that most theatergoers were happy with the mix of offerings, a similar survey by a theatre company in Kentucky indicated that its audiences wanted more musicals and comedies.  Based on survey results, the company removed its December family show from its season package, offering it instead as a bonus production with more matinees and earlier evening performances.

Lighting Selfies
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.

What's That You Say?
When a caller asked about ticket availability, the answer was, "I can give you four nice seats in the orchestra section."  There was a pause.  "Well," the caller said, hesitating, "we'd really rather sit with the audience."  This true story (reported in the Reader's Digest) illustrates that not everyone understands theater jargon. And even if the ticket person explained the term "orchestra," the caller very likely felt a little foolish when it was all done.  And the last thing any theater wants is to alienate people.  A good rule is that before you recommend seating, ask, "Are you familiar with our theater?" If the caller says yes, you can probably recommend "orchestra" seats.  If the caller says no, switch something more generic, such as "downstairs center, about six rows back."

Sounds Good
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.

A Certain Ring To It
When rehearsing farce or other high-energy play, some directors have a small handbell on hand.  When energy drops below what is appropriate or needed, they ring the bell to signal the actors to pick things up.  This is certainly better than yelling,
and is processed faster than words.

A Nice Touch
In its newsletter to patrons and members, the Mendocino [CA] Theatre Company included a page called "Applause To...."  A nice, bulleted listing of thanks to individuals and organizations who have donated time, money or services isn't unusual. But this one includes complete paragraphs about the donations, with a nice informal style that humanizes those often faceless folk who are thanked in more routine ways.


January 2017

Taking It Off
Skin reactions to makeup 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, or better yet, actors should bring a clean face towel with them each time they will be using makeup.

Help is On Hand
The Topeka Civic Theatre formed a Volunteer Committee that meets monthly to help facilitate the daily operation of the theater. The three main purposes of the committee are to give volunteers a greater sense of ownership, to serve as a liaison between the volunteer community at large and the TCT staff, and to create social opportunities for volunteers at TCT. "It is the desire of TCT 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," explained the company newsletter. "In addition, there are many ideas that would improve the life of the volunteer at the Topeka Civic Theatre, and this committee would serve to brainstorm those ideas and then direct their implementation."  Sounds like a good idea for many theater companies who wish to do a better job of managing volunteers (and who doesn't?).

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 a Minnesota company's newsletter. Among the items being sought wew black coveralls, treats for rehearsals, batteries, postage stamps, cleaning supplies for set strike, tissues for makeup tables, sailor hats, truck rental, or funding for the set strike party, newspaper display ads, or dry cleaning for costumes.

Starting Up
Here's an intriguing way to start up a new theater company. A newly organized Oklahoma group organized a community-wide amateur night, with 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 its first stage production.

Keeping Track
Fire or police departments in many communities loan out engraving tools as a public service. Check with your fire 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.

Getting the Word Out
When  production of a little-known play did not draw huge numbers of people, company members and regular patrons  received an email saying, "Come see the show and have a great time. Bring a couple or two with you, as well--perhaps friends who haven't been to the theatre yet. This show would be a great introduction to what live theater is really about. And consider haviing dinner out before you come to the show. Supporting our local businesses is good for the entire community."

Celebrate Your Best
Consider creating your own "Walk of Fame" on the sidewalk outside your building, like Carpenter Square Theatre in Oklahoma City did. It can be an annual fund raiser.


November-December 2016

Motivation graphicThe Human Element
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.

The Inside Story
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--and so can a website--helping to interest potential playgoers who might not otherwise come--or help them explain the play to friends.  For example, the Omaha Community Playhouse spotlighted a dramatization of Willa Cather's O Pioneers! (set in nearby Nebraska) with two articles on the novel and a third on how it was adapted for the Playhouse stage.

Picture Perfect
We recently came across a color publicity photograph that at first glance appeared to have been taken in a wax museum.  The reason was partly too-heavy makeup, and the result was somewhat repellent, particularly with a young man who seemed to have all the animation of a department store mannequin. To avoid the problem, instruct your actors to use makeup sparingly for publicity shots.  Remember that a camera is like an audience member sitting three or four feet away. And instead of having actors hold a pose, take a series of shots while they are reacting to each other's character.

Public vs. Private
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.

Dollars and Sense
A number of theaters offer "pay what you can" performances on Thursdays "allowing financially pressed people to attend at whatever price fits their budget."  And helping to fill the theatre on a Thursday.

Acting with Purpose
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.

Looking Good
When embarking on a corporate fundraising campaign, consider that executives tend to judge the quality of an organization by its letterhead and other printed materials. A 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 better.

Sounds Perfect
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.

Button Up
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.

Lighting Diversity
When lighting an actor with naturally darker skin tones, avoid green or blue-greens, and stress warm tones.  Blue toning can be injected through heavy back lighting and careful side lighting, while lighting on faces can emphasize neutral tones selected from pale warm tints.  To make this lighting work with mixed casting, actors with lighter skin-tones will need their makeup warmed up a bit.


September-October 2016

Thou Shall Not Knot
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 theatre groups combining efforts to put on The Little Shop of Horrors.

You're Getting Warmer
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" light at level one to white light at full can be surprising.

Plan Ahead
If you plan to give a company holiday party this year, 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.)

Hammering Home a Point
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.

Delivering an Audience
One Washington group 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, royalty houses may consider it a "free performance" and charge royalties accordingly.

Tools of the Trade
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.

Opening Gambit
The building committee of a West Coast theater 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 here is clear: When looking for new support, don't alienate or abandon your current base.



August 2016

All in the Family
Greeter at auditionsEncourage company members to attend auditions, whether they intend to try out or not.  Members can greet newcomers, help them fill out audition sheets, and introduce them to others.  They can cheer on those who audition.  Their very presence boosts morale and projects an image of a company that really cares about its people.  Announce in your company newsletter and/or online that non-auditioning members are invited, with no pressure on anyone to try out.  Then call a few people to act as official hosts.

Reaching Out
If you sell season tickets, consider offering subscribers a discount on additional single tickets purchased for friends (based on availability). This is an excellent way to broaden your audience, since newcomers are more likely to attend a production when accompanied by someone who knows and likes what you're doing.  When notifying patrons of this service, you may need to include a statement such as "Because of assigned seating, it may not be possible to seat guests next to their friends."

Padding the Part
If you want padding under a costume to look natural, it must have direct contact with the body and be held in that position to conform with the actor's movement.  In other words, if the actor's upper torso turns, his "paunch" should too.  Costume experts mount padding on a foundation garment which has been fitted to the actor.  The unit must be durable but light enough to be worn comfortably and worked in easily.  It must also be cleanable.  Since the actor must have time to work with and become accustomed to the padding, try to complete the unit early on in rehearsals.  This will help the costumer as well, since the padding must appear to be part of the body and the costume must be made to fit that body.

The Eyes Have It
Make up the left eye first and then the right eye (unless you are left-handed, in which case make up the right eye first).  Why? If you make up the right eye first, your hand blocks your view when you try to make up the left one, and this makes it difficult to create a matching effect.

Getting the Word(s) Out
About two-thirds of the way through the rehearsal schedule, a director may want to call a "word rehearsal."  The cast sits comfortably and speaks the dialogue quietly.There should be no attempt to project.  The object is to think about the play as a whole and to think about it in detail.  Not having to project or move around, the actors listen more carefully to the play and to each other.  Some actors close their eyes to concentrate even more on the language.  Often, directors find this type of rehearsal brings new insights and subtleties to a performance.

Hands-Down Strategy
When an actor gestures too much, try this. Tell the actor to put his hands in his pockets and stand with a book on his head.  You'll find that all the energy that was going into movement now goes into line delivery.  Now have him repeat the exercise, allowing just three gestures.  Many actors will immediately feel the benefit of this exercise.  However, they will soon revert to old habits if you don't watch them. Technique isn't acquired easily.
Good Neighbor Policy
If your theater borders on a residential area, include a notice in your program that calls this to your patrons' attention.  Ask that audience members help respect neighbors' privacy and desire for peace and quiet when they arrive at or leave the theater or parking areas. If patrons are not to park in certain spots--such as an adjacent church or restaurant parking lot--let them know.

Take a Break
Find the pauses in a drama.  People don't talk constantly in real life. Listen how conversation is littered with pauses, broken sentences, moments for reflection or for performing a task; moments of embarrassment or boredom.  Use these for more realistic portrayals.  And remember that a change of thought requires a chance of voice, inflection, tone, pitch, rhythm and/or tempo.

Getting a Round to It
In blocking a play on a proscenium-arch stage it sometimes may help to block as though the production were staged in the round.  This can add a three-dimensional depth to the grouping.  At a later stage you can clean up the grouping so that actors don't block one another from the audience.

Waist Land
When attaching a waistband to a costume, observe the grain of the waistband fabric.  If the grain is not aligned, or if the two sides of the waistband are not aligned with each other, the fabric can twist or draw into creases at the seam.

Food for Thought
Ask nearby restaurants to offer discounts on dinners to your audiences. Patrons can show their theater tickets to confirm eligibility.  In return, mention the restaurants in your program.  Take this cooperative effort one step further: If you offer special group rates (for example to groups of 15 or more) make the offer more attractive by offering to help plan an entire evening including arrangements for cocktails, hors d'oeuvres or dinner at one of these restaurants.


July 2016

Garbage In, Garbage Out
Trash canWhen using familiar household items for backstage use, be careful to make their new use obvious.  Recalls Mike Bromberg of the Sudbury [NH] Savoyards, one of the company's lighting crew had used a large plastic garbage can to carry cables to the auditorium where a company dinner was to be held. "Several cables and two-fers were still in the bin when someone commandeered it (without looking inside) as a trash can for dinner garbage," Bromberg says. "We found the cables at the bottom of much gummy foodstuff, and we had to wash the cables and hang them up to dry."

Details, Details
A publicity photograph in a local newspaper showed the cast of Arsenic and Old Lace.  While some care had been exercised in getting the leads into appropriate costume, the bad-fitting wig for one of the Brewster sisters gave a slipshod look to the photo.  Think about it: How would you judge the quality of the show when a photo shows a half-inch gap between a wig and the actor's head?  Audiences make quick judgments based on whatever evidence is before them.  You don't have much time to make an impression.  Even the smallest details can win- -or lose--an potential audience member.

Stringing Along
To make a batch of "spaghetti" last for 10 performances of The Odd Couple, one enterprising prop person used a large quantity of rubber bands--long ones, we presume--sprayed white and heaped in a bowl. (By the way, no one was required to eat the spaghetti.)

Making Light of the Situation
Be careful about colors in a brochure.  We recently saw an expensive brochure with six large photographs printed in dark green with text overprinted in dark purple.  The result was unreadable. In some cases the text could have been reversed out--that is printed as white letters on the dark background.  But some of the photographs had light areas on which the reversed-out text would have been invisible. When faced with such a problem, decide which is more important--the photograph or the text.  If it's the text, then have the printer screen the photographs to 30-40% of their original darkness.  They will still be visible, but won't compete with the text.  If the photograph is more important, then don't run text over it.  Use text beside or below, or in a box inset into the photo.

Marketing & More
Great ideas from the Oklahoma Community Theatre Association [OCTA] newsletter: Offer a specified "rebate" on season ticket prices for the first 25 or 50 subscribers who renew; invite your corporate underwriters or major donors backstage for a special after-show introduction to cast and crew; split the proceeds of one performance a year with a local charity.  Another idea: Tell local businesses or corporations that you would like to receive older equipment as it's being replaced. "Everything from copy machines to heating and air conditioning systems are given to theaters every year as businesses update systems," notes the article.


June 2016

Audition & Educational Resource
An excellent source of monologues is Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology.  This book of poems, first published in 1915, is "set" in a cemetery.  After an introductory poem, the rest are supposedly "epitaphs," but, in fact, relate the story of each dead person's life and most often how they came to die.  Some are dramatic, some comic, some matter-of-fact.  They can be used individually, or with the introduction, as a group.  One person can do several to show his or her dramatic range, or they can be done separately if short pieces are needed, as in a class.  Since the poems are in free verse, they are easy to speak.  And because they cover the full range of human emotion, you can pick out those which best suit a particular person or performance need.  They make good audition pieces as well.

Tit for Tat
Consider this mutually beneficial trade-off we found in the publication Communication Briefing: Offer to include your printing company's name on your high-profile printed pieces (mailers, brochures, programs) in exchange for a reduced price.  You save on your most impressive pieces and the printer gets a free testimonial advertisement.

In the Loop
The director of high school theater should keep coaches and activity advisors informed of those students cast in a production or working backstage, along with a rehearsal and performance schedule.  You'll find this kind of thoughtfulness is appreciated, and allows others to plan around your rehearsals.

Projecting Success
The simplest and most accurate way to transfer a drawing to a larger surface is to project the drawing with an overhead projector.  And since these are being replaced by computer video, you may well find one cheap online or in local stores. To use an overhead projector, make copy the design onto an 8 1/2 x 11-inch transparency (available at office supply stores).  If the drawing is larger than a regular sheet of paper, find a copier that can reduce.  Then simply project the design onto the upright surface using an ordinary slide projector. Be sure the projector is level so that there is no distortion of the projected image.

In the Cards
Here's an idea that works for one publicity person.  She looks for offbeat postcards that fit area media personalities and sends the pre-stamped card whenever she travels for personal or business reasons.  "The response has been amazing and built stronger relationships, respect and interaction," says Donna West of Yakima, Washington.  "If the med1a hasn't received a card in a while, I'm asked why! They look forward to the cards!"

Keep the Line Moving
At the box office window, don't ask "Where would you like to sit?" If you do, a long discussion is apt to ensue, holding up others in line.  If you say instead, "I can give you two excellent seats in the tenth row, center."  That way the transaction will proceed more quickly.

Got Your Back?
You can improve the appearance of muslin-covered flats by back-painting.  This opaques the muslin and stops light from bleeding from behind.  Since the back-paint is normally a dark color, it stops "bounce light" from backstage.  Use a medium-to-dark gray paint; the best source is to mix all the leftover paint from each production and save it.  If necessary, this can be tinted to produce a dark gray.

Being Heard
When hanging or focusing lights, it's often difficult to make yourself heard to either the supervisor below or the technician above.  This is especially true if there are others in the theater who are also talking, hammering, or whatever.  Keep directions simple.  Even an inexperienced electrician can focus if he is given clear, intelligent instructions like "up," "down," "left," "right", "bigger" or "smaller."  Plus, the person giving the orders reduces the likelihood of developing laryngitis from shouting complex instructions.

Getting in Character
Nazimova, the Russian-American actress (d. 1945) said of preparing for a role, "Once you know what she is, what she does becomes easy to interpret."  Sir Laurence Olivier agreed: "To create a character, I first visualize a painting [the visual and physical characteristics] of the person; the manner, movement, gestures, walk, all follow."


May 2016

Going Wireless
Round caningMany costume books (especially older ones) recommend wire for giving shape to corsets or crinolines.  While heavyweight piano wire can be used, a cheaper, easier-to-find (and more workable) replacement is the round cane sold for caning chairs. The one-quarter-inch variety is ideal for many costume purposes (and can be found on eBay and many craft sites).  Wet it until it can be bent without breaking, then use it in those situations that call for wire.

Pause for Reflection
Consider installing in some backstage area a mirror and two gelled spotlights to approximate the general lighting for the play.  That way actors can check their makeup before going onstage.  To reduce heat and save energy, put the instruments on a switch.

Special Handling
Because if its smooth, hard surface, Masonite is sometimes used for set construction or as a floor covering for performances.  However, this composition sheet material is also un-flexible and brittle.  If you plan to nail Masonite to anything, first drill small holes through which the nails can be driven.  Don't use Masonite for curved surfaces; it may crack when bent.  Use doorskin instead.

Face the Music
In a musical, the stage manager calls lighting cues timed to specific measures in the score.  The best approach is to keep a copy of the score handy and make cue markings in it.  However, if you can't read music, you may be able to get around the problem by using a stopwatch.  Rather than listening for a specific note, you time how far into the music the cue occurs and then take the cue from the stopwatch.  This will work if the music is a recording, or if the conductor follows the same tempos each performance.  Another way is to make a recording of the music in which the cue falls.  Play is over and over, listening carefully.  Soon you begin to recognize the component parts of the music, and .you may find it easier to locate the point where the cue occurs--perhaps after a certain repetition of notes from a trumpet, or a drum roll.  Always consider asking the musical director for help.  He or she knows the music well and can call your attention to something that may act as the signal you need.

Go Exotic
When shopping for costume fabrics, try to find the most interesting and unusual ones you can.  Any costume is more attractive (and realistic) if the audience can't immediately recognize the material used.

Stamp of Approval
When sending out personalized letters--for publicity, fundraising or any otherpurpose--always use stamps, even if you have a postal meter or can use someone else's.  Postal meters are efficient, but stamps suggest individual labor andattention. Studies indicate that people open stamped letters first, and that the message inside may be viewed more favorably.

Rag Rolling
Stippling (applying paint by pushing the ends of the paintbrush bristles against the painting surface) is a common technique for texturing setsurfaces.  However, it is slow when dealing with very large areas.  You can get the same effect with less work by using an 18-inch square of material. Wearing rubber gloves, dip the cloth into the paint, squeeze out and then roll it over the painting surface using the palms of your hands.  Change direction occasionally.  Experiment with different textures of material--burlap, canvas,muslin.  Rag rolling may need a fine spattering of paint afterward to tone down the effect.

Do It Again
When blocking movement in a musical, don't forget to allow for repetition. Spectators carry images of movement in their minds which are reinforced if the movements are repeated.  Just as the musical itself has recurring tunes in overture, performance and reprise, choreography benefits from occasionally repeating a movement sequence.  Audiences actually find it pleasurable if not overdone.  To get the most benefit from this, have dancers perform two or more of the same movements, one after the other, and then move on to something else. Some choreographers slow a movement down to ensure that it is noticed, but repeating it can be a far more effective device.

The Eyes Have It
Flat front lighting flattens an actor's features, and is thus usually avoided. However, it can be useful when an unavoidably high key light has made an actor's eyes disappear into shadows cast by the upper part of the eyesocket.  Front lighting at a flat angle takes care of this problem.  Be careful not to set the intensity level too high or ugly shadows will be cast on the upstage part of the set.

A Director's Touch
Sometimes actors have a clear idea of what is needed in a particular scene, but are technically or emotionally blocked from doing it.  A director can help by taking time out to try different ways of telling the story, perhaps through gesture or movement alone.  Remember that all acting is storytelling, and actors are frustrated when unable to tell the story they know.  Finding physical ways to get the message across helps them as they work with the playwright's words.

Recitals Rock
Music recitals are commonplace.  But what not acting recitals?  A group ofactors could easily put together a performance of favorite writing, prose,poetry and scenes.  Choose material because you like it and think the audience might, too.  Such recitals give performers a chance to spread their wings and try things they might not otherwise.  In a company with many performers but a short season, a recital provides additional performance opportunities and a wayt o show off the versatility of your members.  Live music of some sort would make an effective bridge between the various elements.  And you don't have to call it a recital, if you don't want to.


April 2016

Backup Plan
It's a good idea to store copies of computer backup files in a building other than with your computer.  That way you'll be sure your records--particularly your mailing list and financial records--are safe in the event of a file or other disaster.  One company we know went through a fire.  All paper records in their metal filing cabinets were scorched and smoke-filled, but otherwise readable.  All computer files on a backup hard drive were lost when the unit melted.  Suggestions:  Use a portable hard drive to back up daily and take it home, or use one of the many options for cloud backup, in which files are uploaded to a server via the Internet.

If you find your set design is too symmetrical--a problem that plagues less experienced designers--here's a trick that may help in an emergency.  Take the ground plan and turn it slightly so that the center line of the design crosses the center line of the stage at an angle.  By doing so you increase visual tension, often with an improvement of dramatic quality. It's worth a try.

The Other Side
Use the back of mailings to your advantage.  A recent survey by a direct marketing firm discloses that three-quarters of people turn their envelopes over to open them, giving you another chance to grab the reader's attention and to tout the offerings inside.

Sounds Familiar
If you are in charge or marketing or publicizing your shows be sure to read the plays in question and talk about them with the directors.  Surprisingly, many people in these positions never do this--even though it's difficult to sell something to someone else when you don't really know the product.  Knowing the play and the director's concept can suggest story ideas for local media.  It will also prepare you to answer questions from the media.

Prompt Response
Prompters at rehearsals should try to look at the actors as often as possible while following the text with the fingers.  If you read along without glancing up your tendency will be to prompt every time there is a pause. Some actors may ask for a prompt.  Others will not want to break out of character and may just look up in your direction.  Every time there is a silence, look up at the actors to see whether they are acting or have really dried up.  Mark all acting pauses in the script to remind yourself not to prompt at these moments.

Heated Rhetoric
Create a "fire code" word or phrase.  That way if there is a fire you can signal others without alarming the audience.  If the stage crew can handle the situation, there may be no need to concern your patrons.  If the fire does require evacuating the theater, you will gain a few precious minutes to organize your staff to handle the situation and avoid panic.
Start with a Bang
For an offstage gunshot, a starting pistol and blanks should be used.  It's a good idea to have a spare pistol available and loaded in case of failure.  Always keep fire arms and blanks locked safely away.  Don't allow cast or crew to play with them.  Fired at close range, a blank can still injure someone's hearing; ear plugs may be necessary for the person who fires the pistol night after night.  In some communities, some pistols (even when using blanks) may need a license--consult your local police if in doubt.

Color It Right
When working with lighting gels (color filters), remember that certain colors cancel each other out and some complement others--especially darker colors.  Remember that most colors are not pure.  For example, purple has blue and red elements, and green may contain a lot of blue.  These elements will affect how the color looks when projected on people, costumes and sets.

Sounds Good
With recorded sound effects, remember that the human brain is good at distinguishing the direction a sound comes from if it is a high frequency, but not if it is a low one.  When setting up speakers, listen to a variety of effects before deciding on final placement. If the speakers are built in, you may need to adjust frequency levels for different sounds when you create the final tracks.

When planning a mailer, it's a good idea to make paper dummies on the specified paper weights you plan to use.  Many people overlook the weight of the piece and how much the postage will end up costing until it's too late.  If you are planning a mailing, take the time to go to the post office with a paper dummy of the job and have them weigh it on their scales.  This way you'll know ahead of time if your piece is overweight, and you can make some changes. 


March 2016

Lighting the Way
Many theaters have hallways that lead from the dressing rooms or green room to the stage.  During performance, the hall lights are turned off, often making the journey a hazardous one for actors in a hurry between costume changes.  A simple way to light the path is the use of photoelectric night lights.  These plug into any wall outlet and turn on automatically when the other lights are turned off.  These lights also are useful in other places where ambient lighting is likely to dim during performance.  

Up Against a Brick Wall
When painting a set to represent a brick wall, make sure that some bricks are shown more clearly than others.  To illustrate every brick equally makes for an overly busy or distracting wall unit.  An overall impression is all that is really necessary.

Know the Ropes
If your theater uses rope for rigging, inspect it over its complete length on a regular basis.  This is best done by unrigging it and inspecting, by hand or eye, its entire length.  Replacing rope is expensive, but replacing a life is impossible.

The Color of Money
Check with your quick print shop to see if they offer special prices for certain colors on certain days.  (This is not the case with color copies, however.) It's easier for a printer to run several jobs once a color is set up (presses have to be washed down when a color is changed).  If your print shop doesn't offer discounts on particular days, ask if you can get a price break by scheduling your job with a similar one to avoid the extra cost of press set-up.  While you're at it, ask your printers for swatch books of their house stocks.  These are papers of equivalent quality to brand name papers, but far less expensive.  You'll save ordering time as well.

Building Designs
Morris Mechanic Theater (1967)If you plan to design a new theater, know that laws restrict your ability to borrow ideas from another theater or building. Architectural designs embodied in buildings quality for protection under U.S. copyright law, explicitly adding architectural works to the type of works protected by the Copyright Act. The law explicitly entitles the owner of a copyright in original building plans--usually the architect or firm that designed the plans--to enjoin and recover damages from anyone who designs a building that is identical or substantially similar to a copyrighted design. The law applies to any work created on or after December 1, 1990--and any work that of that date was unconstructed and was embodied in unpublished plans or drawings, provided that the building was constructed by December 31, 2002.

Put a Lid On It
To pour paint with less mess, clean a lid from a used-up gallon paint can.  Punch out a 1" x 2" hole about one inch from the edge of the lid, using a metal chisel.  Use this lid on the can you're pouring from.  When you're done, replace the original lid and clean the punched lid for the next time.

Hanging Around
If you need something on which to hang lengths of cable, hose or rope, try an old car rim wheel mounted on a wall.  (Be sure to clean it well first!)

Proof Positive
When a proof of a brochure or flyer must be circulated to and approved by several people, don't circulate the same copy to each person in turn.  This may result in people trying to "outdo" each other by finding "mistakes" and making suggestions.  Instead, give each person their own copy and tell them you will coordinate their comments.  You'll get fewer unnecessary changes. It's faster, too.


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