All posts by sperling

How to Be a Great Prop Master

The “property master”, often dubbed the prop master or mistress, is the person responsible for purchasing, acquiring, manufacturing, properly placing, and/or overseeing any props needed for a theatrical production. Sounds pretty straight-forward, right? Well, being a prop master is one of the most stressful yet rewarding jobs in theater. Prop professionals have a wide variety of skills and often are considered the “MacGyver” of the productions in that they have the ability to make a wide array of props out of seemingly nothing and on a limited budget. So how do these skillful professionals do it? Here are few hints on how to become a pro of the props.

 

  • Become an Expert Shopper – Most prop masters know where to find the best props, be it from a Goodwill store, a warehouse, or a recent purchase. Knowing where to buy the items and at the best price is one sign of being a pro.
  • Get Organized – Most prop masters are also professional organizers who know where to store each prop and how it can be accessed easily the next time it is needed. Create your own system of sorting and storing props, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a true prop master.
  • Know the Production – A great prop master knows the production inside and out, including the cues for each scenery change, and when each prop is needed on stage and from which side it should enter.
  • Be Able to Roll-with-it – An expert prop master has to know, when things get crazy on stage or disasters happen, that they need to roll with the punches and think on the fly to come up with viable solutions. Prop masters know how to do this intuitively and are not thrown off by last minute changes.
  • Be Aware of Safety – In many productions the props are so realistic that they may be dangerous. A good prop master is always aware of the safety measures needed to keep the actors and stage hands safe at all times. In such cases, it’s best practice to train the person(s) who will use the prop during the show.  

 

Prop masters may often go overlooked, but their skill and talent are what make the production go off without a hitch. If you are a prop master and want more information about our Backdrops by Charles Stewart, call (978) 682-5757, or visit our website at  www.charleshstewart.com.

 

Keys to a Successful Show

Whether you are putting on a show under the bright lights of Broadway, at a small community theater, or on the stage of a local high school auditorium, all directors and producers want their show be a success. They plan, think ahead, and schedule for every contingency. So how can you make your show a success? Let’s take a closer look at the keys to a successful show.

 

  • Create a Team – All successful shows have one thing in common – a team mentality. Be sure to lead your actors, prop masters, lighting experts, and all the other people that make the show what it is. Ask for input and listen to what is said. Be respectful of all team members’ talents and skills in their respective areas and realize that one person alone does not put on the show. Hire or appoint people whom you trust to all the important positions that will help make your show a smash hit from stage managers to choreographers, to music directors and so on.
  • Set Expectations – Set high expectations for your entire team about attitude, promptness, and respect for you and others in the show. Too many big egos can hurt even the greatest of plot lines.
  • Plan for Disaster – Success doesn’t mean that a show did not encounter troubles along the way, but rather that the team was able to overcome any issues that came its way, whether it was technical difficulties, sick actors, building issues, or any number of things that can throw a monkey wrench into production on show night. Plan accordingly and have a back up ready for every conceivable problem.
  • Learn – Technical aspects of every show can be confusing so get to know the people who control the technology that runs your show from lights to sound to moving props. Knowing how to use all the professional equipment will help stage managers make adjustments quickly if an emergency arises and will also help to manage crew members more effectively.
  • Don’t Ignore the LIttle Things – The adage that “the devil is in the details” is very true when it comes to show business. Take notes during rehearsals and be sure to incorporate the little details that bring the show together to form a masterpiece.
  • Have Fun – Some of the best shows are the ones where you can tell that the performance is a labor of love for all those involved.

 

Call Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart at (978) 682-5757 or visit our website at  www.charleshstewart.com for more guidance and stage backdrops that will make your show a successful show!

Importance of Theater for Children

Are your children commonly exposed to art-rich experiences? Do you bring your child to live theater, or fear doing so because they may not behave or make it through the entire show? If you have not shared the experiences of local theater with your child or possibly taken them on a special trip to the lights, sounds, and magic of Broadway, then you may want to consider it this new year. There are countless studies and research that has been done to show that theater for children is critical to their academic, social, and emotional development. Here is a quick list of the benefits of exposing your child to theater from a young age.

 

  • Increased academic performance in school. “Study after study has shown that the arts are more than fluff. Longitudinal data of 25,000 students involved in the arts, conducted at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education by Dr. James Catterall, shows that consistent participation greatly improves academic performance and signi cantly bumps up standardized test scores. Students who make time for the arts are also more involved in community service, and less likely to drop out of school. And we’re not just talking about upper middle class kids. These facts remain, regardless of a child’s socioeconomic background.” (Source: Rose Theater Chicago)
  • Children who experience live theater and a wide variety of shows with characters that are different than them are more accepting than their less cultured peers of other people’s ideas, religions, sexual orientations, and cultures.
  • Children who visit live performances have lengthened attention spans.
  • Children who view a variety of theater shows have been shown to have increased empathy and understanding of the plight of others and act on that knowledge.
  • Theater fosters creativity and imagination, and allows children to think beyond the storyline.

 

Follow our blog and Facebook postings about opportunities for children to experience the joy of theater. Call Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart at (978) 682-5757 or visit our website at  www.charleshstewart.com for more guidance and stage backdrops that will make your show a hit!

Theater Etiquette

Are you a Broadway theater newcomer? Well, welcome to “the show” and get ready for some amazing theater! Are you nervous about what the proper behavior and attire is for Broadway theatre? Common questions that Broadway first-timers ask are: What is the appropriate attire for the theater? Are refreshments available at the theater? When do I applaud during the performance? Here are just a few of the tips we have for theater etiquette for your next visit to Broadway.

 

  • Dress for a night out. While there is no dress code for Broadway theater, it is not a gym or bar so, therefore, respect the work of the actors by dressing for the occasion.
  • Turn off your phone. Your ringtone or text message buzzing does not “go” with the music of the show.
  • Be quiet and courteous during the show including no talking, unwrapping cough drops, or singing along, even if you know the words!
  • Respect the space of others around you including staying within the boundaries of your seat and keeping your belongings in your area. Many a show has been uncomfortable for audience members if seat neighbors put their feet up or arms stretched out around their chairs.
  • Do not take photos or video of the show. The show is a professional production and should be treated as such.
  • Standing ovations happen often for exceptionally great shows. Feel free to show your love but don’t overdo it by whooping it up or screaming.
  • Save bathroom trips for intermission as the movement of the audience members can distract the actors.

 

If you want more etiquette ideas call Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart at (978) 682-5757 or visit our website at  www.charleshstewart.com for more guidance and stage backdrops that will make your show a hit!

 

Superstitions of the Theater

Do you consider yourself a superstitious person? Do you worry about events that fall on Friday the 13th, or perhaps black cats or stepping on a crack in fear of breaking your mother’s back? If this describes you, then you may fit in well with theater lovers. Historically, there are a number of superstitions that are commonly believed, or at least discussed, when it comes to theater. In fact, you may follow some of these yourself even if you aren’t headed to the theater. For example, have you ever told someone to “break a leg” when they were headed to a big event? That superstitious saying stemmed from the fear of actors hearing “good luck” before a performance believing that evil theater spirits would do the opposite of the words they heard spoken. Let’s take a look at a few other common superstitions that haunt theaters to this day.

 

  • The Ghost Light – Once the lights come on in a theater everything is illuminated and bright, but prior to that time or after the show is over, theaters can be a dark and scary place. The Ghost Light is known today to help guide the first and last person in and out of the theatre, especially in the dark. The ghost light tradition is to leave a single lit bulb upstage center when the theater is empty. Not only is it meant to ward off mischievous specters, but it also allows the stage managers, crewmembers, and actors to find the light switch when entering a vacant theater so that they don’t break their necks while crossing the totally dark stage.
  • Bad Dress Rehearsal, Good OpeningMany stage actors swear that a bad dress rehearsal portends a great opening night. This superstition’s origins are not clear, but maybe a producer or director trying to boost a cast’s morale, but it’s a comforting concept when the final dress goes horribly wrong.
  • Broken Mirror is Bad Luck – We all know of the superstition that breaking a mirror is seven years bad luck. It is believed that breaking a mirror on stage will cause seven years of misfortune for a theatre.  Reflections from mirrors can also be distracting for lights, actors, and audience members.
  • Blue and Silver – It is bad luck to wear the color blue onstage, unless it was countered with something silver. In the earliest days of theater costuming, it was extremely difficult to make blue dye, and thus expensive to purchase. So blue costumes were countered with silver, thus proof of the success of a theater company.

Signs of a Great Stage Manager

In any performance, from the high school level to under the bright lights of Broadway, the stage manager is the glue that holds the show together. This is the person who always knows what’s going on, where it’s happening, and how things are actually progressing. The personality of a stage manager has to be such that he or she can not only deal with the stress of the performance but also the varying personalities of the actors, director, and stage crew. In general, it helps if this person is level-headed, keeps calm under pressure, and is organized. Here are a few more signs that you have a great stage manager working on your show.

 

  • Organized and Prepared – As mentioned above, organization and preplanning is critical to be an effective and successful stage manager. From the first production meeting ‘till the curtain goes down on the final show, the stage manager must be able to juggle multiple schedules from scene blocking, acquisition of props and backdrops, and of course the general running of the show.
  • Knows the Lingo – Any good stage manager must know the lingo of theaters from the stage terms, blocking notes, and of course the cues for every actor and scene change.
  • Excellent Note Takers and Communicators – The stage manager is responsible for pulling together all the parts of the production.  He or she must be able to listen closely during production meetings, learn what needs to be done, and communicate those plans to lighting techs, stage crew, prop masters, and the sound crew so that everyone is on the same page. Without excellent communication, the entire production could go down as an epic fail.
  • The Magic Touch – Stage managers must try to be all things to so many people during a production. One thing that each stage manager should try to do that not all succeed at is making the work fun.

 

If your stage manager is looking for exceptional backdrops for your show, call Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart at (978) 682-5757 or visit our website at  www.charleshstewart.com.

 

Theater Shows that will put you in the Holiday Mood

The wind has started to shift, the temperatures have begun to drop and the leaves are all but gone from the trees. That can only mean one thing – that the holidays are right around the corner! Are you looking for something to put you in the spirit of the season? Then look no further than the lights and sounds of the theaters in your area. Or, better yet, take a trip to New York City to take in all the holiday festivities while you catch a show. No matter whether you find a theater in your region or can travel this season to see a Broadway show, here are a few fan favorites that will get you in the holiday mood.

 

  • Elf – We all know that the best way to way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear. If you are familiar with the movie Elf you will love the 2010 Broadway adaptation that brings a smile to the audience’s faces and puts everyone in a festive mood!
  • A Christmas Carol – For those of you looking for a more traditional Christmas show, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol may do just the trick to get you in the mood.
  • White Christmas – A little singing and dancing, and the magic of old Hollywood should get your toes tapping and heart melting this holiday season. This show usually makes its tour around the holidays, so watch for your local or regional theaters to start offering tickets soon.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss – Generations of children have grown up on Dr. Seuss and now his musical can delight audiences of all ages with the dastardly Grinch on his mission to ruin Christmas, only to learn that his heart can grow and love.
  • The Nutcracker Suite – Escape for the night to a land of dance and sugarplum fairies as you enjoy the Nutcracker Ballet this holiday season. Even children will love the dancing and the larger-than-life characters and Christmas Tree.

 

If your school, theater, or company is putting in a show this holiday season and you need backdrops, call Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart at (978) 682-5757 or visit our website at  www.charleshstewart.com for more guidance and stage backdrops that will make your show a hit!

Prop Flop

Anyone who has any experience with live theater knows that any number of things can go wrong throughout the course of a performance. Murphy’s Law states that, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” No truer words have been spoken, especially when a performance is live and is happening in front of a packed audience. A multitude of things can go awry, (and often do) from a sick actor, to forgotten lines and, of course, the all too common “prop flop.” Let’s take a closer look at when things go terribly wrong on stage and how your show can prevent such occurrences.

 

  • Mislaid Props – Nothing can cause more anxiety than knowing your cue is coming and you have yet to locate the prop that should be carried on stage. Prop Masters or Mistresses should have an organized system of laying out props backstage in the order of appearance in the show as well as by size and practicality of storage.
  • Prop Malfunctions – As the technology of stage productions increases, the probability of a technical malfunction also increases. For example, as reported by The Guardian Theater Blog, the great glass elevator in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane malfunctioned, leaving Douglas Hodge’s Willy Wonka and the child actor playing Charlie stranded – and the performance halted – while they were rescued. Having a technical crew and troubleshooters examine the equipment of more technical shows prior to the curtain going up for each show can help stage crews from having to improvise and problem-solve mid-show.
  • Mistiming of Props  – One of the more common mistakes is the mistiming of a prop being put on stage or being used. For example, sound effects are particularly prone to mistiming, including telephones ringing long after they have been answered and gunshots heard after the actor has fallen to the ground in apparent agony. In this case practice makes perfect and the show will continue – if not for a few giggles from the audience.
  • Broken Props – Also common are props that have been overused and suddenly are found broken or not useable during a performance. Checking all props regularly to be sure they are in good working condition is one of the main tasks of the stage crew and prop master.

 

Don’t let a prop flop happen in your live performance. Call Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart at (978) 682-5757 or visit our website at  www.charleshstewart.com for more guidance and stage backdrops that will make your show a hit!

 

Why Arts Programs Need to Be Saved

Most of us who keep up with world events know that as the national economy fluctuates so does funding for school arts programs. Music, drama, art, and band classes are reduced, and sometimes eliminated entirely, when the economy takes a turn for the worse. For art supporters and enthusiasts, this is terrible news that has long lasting consequences well after the middle and high school years are over. Here are a few of the reasons why arts programs need to be saved.

 

  • According to several studies there is a relationship between sustained involvement in instrumental music across middle and high school and high level math proficiency in grade 12, particularly for students from low income families.
  • Keyboard and vocal studies contribute to increase math, spatial, and science abilities.
  • Music programs have led to a rise in motivation in students who are looking for a way to socialize in school.
  • Music provides children and young adults a chance to participate in school in a way that is not possible in the classroom or on the sports field.
  • The loss of music programs disproportionately impacts low income families who do not have access to music privately. By eliminating these programs, towns and cities are turning their backs on the most vulnerable among us.
  • Music and arts classes provide a balance for the academic side of learning in schools and give students a chance to pursue their passions.

 

As Americans decide where they allocate funds in their school districts, it is important to recognize the benefit of the arts for students and the consequences that will result if arts education is missing from their lives.

Elements of a Great Set Design

Set design has evolved from the once bare minimum of furniture and simple backdrops, to technological feats of massive proportion. As the technology evolves and advances, there are countless options for stage design, including: contemporary, whimsical, eclectic, and everything in between. Stage design can help propel a production into greatness or it can deter from the mood, theme, or, unfortunately, the overall story line if done incorrectly. What, then, are the key components of a great stage design. Let’s take a closer look:

 

  • Focus – Stage design should first consider what the audience should be focusing their attention on, whether it is a solo singer, an actor, or a large group dance. The stage design should merely be a supporting piece to focus the audience’s attention to where the action, mood, or story is taking place. In fact, most performances have several focal areas that can be easily changed while the audience views one part of the show.
  • Stage Layout – Great stage design takes into account the movement of the production and where the actors need to be. There is nothing worse than having stage pieces blocking entrances and exits. Plan carefully the stage design so that each part of the production flows seamlessly to the next, regardless of the stage pieces needed.
  • Timing – Set design that is done well can create a grand reveal and help with the timing of the show. Consider a solo artist singing a ballad with one spotlight and a stool; this set design creates an intimate setting and the reveal of his/her solo performance.
  • Lighting – Set design relies heavily on the lighting crew to add to the mood, action, and story line with proper lighting. Fantastic lighting can not only support the mood, but also give depth to the stage and help the audience focus on the most important part of the performance.

 

Like all designs, set design can communicate with the audience and tell the story that is trying to be told. If you need help deciding on your set design, call Charles H. Stewart. Phone: (978) 682-5757 – www.charleshstewart.com