Broadway Turned Hollywood

The focus of this post will be Hollywood stars who got their start on Broadway.  The list is surprisingly long even though most actors will tell you that doing both film and stage will make you a more well rounded performer.  Here are a few you may recognize.

Jason Alexander
Jason Alexander is probably best known as George Costanza, one of television’s most neurotic characters, but he was already a Broadway star when he landed his iconic role on Seinfeld, which ran from 1989-1998.  He made his Broadway debut starring as Joe in the Stephen Sondheim play Merrily We Roll Along in 1981.  In 1989, he won a Tony for the Jerome Robbins-directed review Broadway.  Even after his success on the small screen, Alexander never forgot his musical theater roots.  He returned  to the stage in 2003. Alexander was cast in a successful run, opposite Martin Short, in the Los Angeles production of Mel Brooks’ The Producers.   Alexander also appeared with Kelsey Grammer in the 2004 musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, playing Jacob Marley to Grammer’s Ebenezer Scrooge.

Meryl Streep
Before her breakout film roles in The Deer Hunter and Manhattan, one of Meryl Streep’s first professional jobs in 1975 was at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference during which she acted in five plays over six weeks.  Streep moved to New York City in 1975, and was cast by Joseph Papp in a production of Trelawny of the Wells at the Public Theater, opposite Mandy Patinkin and John Lithgow.  She went on to appear in five more roles in her first year in New York, including in Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival productions of Henry VThe Taming of the Shrew with Raúl Juliá, and Measure for Measure opposite Sam Waterston and John Cazale.  She starred in the musical Happy End on Broadway, and won an Obie for her performance in the off-Broadway play Alice at the Palace.   Unfortunately, she hasn’t been seen on the Great White Way since 1977, but made a memorable turn as the title character in the 2006 revival of Mother Courage and Her Children at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park.  Not that she’s been twiddling her thumbs. She has picked up a whopping 20 Oscar nominations and three awards since.

Taye Diggs
In 1996, Taye Diggs played the (slightly) villainous landlord Benjamin Coffin III in the  debut of Rent.  From there, he has gone from film to theater and back ever since, starting with a role on the soap opera The Guiding Light 1997, starring with Angela Bassett in How Stella Got Her Groove Back in 1998, playing the Bandleader in Rob Marshall’s 2002 movie adaptation of Chicago followed by a stint as Billy Flynn on Broadway later that year.  He played nice guy heartthrob Dr. Sam Bennett on Private Practice alongside fellow Broadway star Audra McDonald from 2007-2013, starred as Harper Stewart in the Best Man movie franchise, and was a lead in the cast of the tv series Murder in the First from 2014-2016.

Sarah Jessica Parker
Before making Manolo Blahnik a household name, the Sex and the City star had a long list of credits that stretch back to her teen years.  Parker and four siblings appeared in a production of The Sound of Music at the outdoor Municipal Theatre (Muny) in St. Louis, Missouri.   She was selected for a role in the new 1977–81 Broadway musical Annie: first in the small role of “July” and then succeeding Andrea McArdle and Shelley Bruce in the lead role of the Depression-era orphan, beginning March 1979.  Parker held the role for a year.  In 1982, Parker was cast as the co-lead of the CBS sitcom Square Pegs. The show lasted just one season.  In the three years that followed, she was cast in four films: the most significant being Footloose in 1984 and 1985’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, co-starring Helen Hunt.  While she hasn’t graced the Great White Way in some time, she starred opposite Blythe Danner in the premiere staging of Amanda Peet’s The Commons of Pensacola Off-Broadway in the fall of 2013 until February 2014.

Jerry Orbach
It would probably surprise millions of Law & Order fans that Orbach, who played curmudgeonly detective Lennie Briscoe for 13 years, was a song and dance man.  Orbach’s professional career began on the New York stage, both on and off-Broadway, where he created roles such as El Gallo in the original off-Broadway run of The Fantasticks (1960) and became the first performer to sing that show’s standard “Try To Remember”;  Billy Flynn in the original Chicago (1975–1977), and Julian Marsh in the original 42nd Street (1980–1985), which I saw as a kid!   Nominated for multiple Tony Awards, Orbach won for his performance as Chuck Baxter in Promises, Promises (1968–1972).  Later in his career, Orbach played supporting roles in films such as Prince of the City (1981), Dirty Dancing (1987), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) as the voice Lumiere.  He also made frequent guest appearances on television; including a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote (1985–1991) as private detective Harry McGraw.

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!

 

The Difference Between Scrims, Cycloramas, and Backdrops

What exactly is the difference between a backdrop, scrim, and cyclorama?  These terms are used at times as if they are interchangeable.  That would be incorrect….and confusing to those who do understand the difference.

Scrim: A scrim will look like a solid curtain until you bring up the lighting behind it.  At that point, you will be able to see through it.  Scrims can also change appearance with different lighting techniques.  You can use it for front lighting and projections as well.  Scrims are typically made from what is called a sharkstooth weave, which is considered very durable for a scrim.  (We only carry sharkstooth scrims in black or white for rent).  Some of the other types of scrim are made from gauze and linen, which are much more delicate, but can be used in the same manner.  Scrims can also have painted scenes on them.  For example, a scrim with a forest painted on it can make it appear as people running through the woods.  It’s a simple, dramatic effect.

Cyclorama: A cyclorama–or “cyc” (pronounced “sike”)–is a plain curtain usually used to give the appearance of a “sky”.   Standard cycloramas are light blue in color although they are also made with white or natural muslin.  They are typically front lit with colored lighting to change the appearance of the stage. There’s no real difference between the functionality of the blue or white cyclorama other than the blue will mute colored lighting a little.  Seamless cycloramas are somewhat difficult to find as rentals and expensive to purchase.  A seamless cyclorama is useful for doing shadow effects with back lighting.  The seams will show when back lit, which is why seamless cycloramas are preferred.  Even with front lighting, a seamless cyclorama gives a more uniform appearance.  However, cycloramas with seams are just as effective.

Backdrops: A backdrop is actually a generic term used to refer to several different types of stage curtains including scrims and cycloramas. Most frequently, backdrops are used at the back of the stage or scene.  For our purposes, a backdrop is a hand painted, scenery of various themes.  In essence, we use the term “backdrop” to solely describe our painted scenes.

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

Scenic Design Ideas

Whether you are looking for a simple scenic design, or a complex, changeable stage design, Charles H. Stewart offers a wide variety of backdrops designed to accommodate most high quality productions for theatres, schools, dance recitals, and corporate events. We feature a rapidly growing selection of stage curtains that have been directly inspired not only by Broadway, National Tours, and London’s West End productions, but also by a wide variety of popular, world-class entertainment venues, such as Las Vegas, Branson, world-renowned nightclubs and film/television productions.

 

While our primary products are large format backdrops, we also offer a growing selection of valances (or borders) and legs. Browse our website to see our new inventory. We are constantly growing our already wide selection of scenic backdrops.

 

Here are just a few of the ways we can help you with your set design and organize our website for your set design needs:

 

  • By Show – Visit our website to see how we match certain productions to the backdrops we already have in our inventory. We list a large number of shows and match the backdrops that would be appropriate for that production. The work is done for you and frees your set designer from pouring through hundred of backdrops.

 

  • By Category – If your theater group is considering a show that we do not have listed on our inventory, you may want to search by category, such as: barns, beaches, zoos, circus, streets, or skylines. If your production is an original or one that you are unsure of what may be needed for the backdrop, talk to our team who can steer you in the right direction.

 

  • New Backdrops – As productions come out on Broadway and in smaller theaters around the globe, we keep up with the times by adding new backdrops constantly. Check back on our website regularly to see our latest additions.

 

  • For Sale – Who doesn’t love a good sale? We offer several backdrops that you may want to purchase, which can be used as a permanent backdrop or to grace your stage throughout the year.

 

Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart can help you start your production on the right foot. Call us or visit our website today! Phone: (978) 682-5757 – www.charleshstewart.com

Stage Lighting Mistakes

Stage lighting involves more than just lighting the stage and actors on it with varying degrees and hues of lights; it is about creating a mood, focusing the attention of the audience, and helping create action in and around a performance. It takes careful planning and understanding of the production and flow of the show to do this successfully. Lighting, and how it is used on the stage, can make or break a production. Therefore, here are three stage lighting mistakes to avoid when planning your next show:

 

  • Too Many Lighting Cues – Actors and stagehands have many, many cues throughout a performance that tell them where to stand, when to speak, and when to exit the stage. These cues are critical to the setting and storyline. Lighting is just one more area where the people on and off the stage need to be aware of cues and react to them. If there are too many cues to remember, or the lighting changes are too numerous to make a big impact on the mood or direction of the show, it may be time to consider cutting down on the number of lighting cues.

 

  • Too Many Color Flashes – Lighting and, more specifically, flashes of dramatic color can show a change in the mood or the direction of a show. Unfortunately, the audience may not take kindly to a multitude of these flashes and it may be detrimental to the overall review of the performance. The audience should come away from a show remembering the story and the mood, not the annoying flashes that hurt their eyes.

 

  • Budget – Preparing and planning the resources for your production is critical. Premium lighting can cost a pretty penny, so plan well in advance and do your research on the types of lighting that you need.

 

Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart can help you create an amazing stage design with its backdrops and many experienced professionals who can answer common questions and stage performances.

A Little Early History of Stage Design

Today’s scenery and set design in theatrical productions can range from extremely simplistic to deliriously technical. Sometimes it is fun to look back at how far we have come in scenery design and the art of theater that has evolved over the past centuries. Here is just a glimpse into what set and stage design used to be like so long ago:

 

Did you know that . . .

 

  • The western tradition of theater began in ancient Greece. Ruins of the earliest theaters – great outdoor amphitheaters – are still standing in places like Greece, Italy and Turkey. Designers of those theaters understood that maximum communication between the stage and audience was essential. The actual set design was minimal and usually relied on costumes, some props, and occasional items that stood on the stage.
  • Prior to the Renaissance, set design consisted merely of drawings or paintings on the back wall of a theater. Some theaters were open air theaters and relied only on the dialogue to give audience members a clue as to the setting.
  • During the Renaissance, mathematicians would help design sets to give the illusion of space, depth and perspective.Tables, moving pieces, and other gadgets helped with sound effects.
  • During the 19th Century, playhouses emerged that were designed specifically for shows that would allow for props, furniture, and design elements to make the performance come alive.
  • During the 20th Century, the first college set design course was offered at Yale University.
  • Today, set design has grown and evolved from these humble beginnings. It now relies heavily on the steadily advancing technology. There is an increasing use of computer-generated imagery, computerized lighting systems, robotics, and other technologies that allow stage walls and floors to move, rise, and drop at the touch of a finger. I wonder what the next few decades will mean for set design?

 

Elements of Great Stage Design

Designing a set for a theater productions, whether it is large or small in scale, can be overwhelming. Professionals know that there are many parts of the performance that need to fit together like a puzzle in order for it to flow and be performed seamlessly. Whether your stage design is meant to be simplistic or highly technical, there are some common elements that the professionals would recommend that you consider before you finalize your plans:

  1. Focus – Think about what you want the focus to be before you begin designing. What exactly do you want the audience to zero in on? Is it a lone actor projecting a monologue, or is it a full cast performance that requires technical assistance? Once you discover where the focus should be, you can add the design to enhance the acting and score.
  2. Stage Layout – Create a detailed and practiced drawing of the blocking of the show. Nothing can ruin a show like an actor being blocked from making an entrance or stage props being unable to be accessed at the right time.
  3. Lighting – Always consider the lighting when creating your set design. It can bring out the mood and allow for careful movement of backdrops or stage props.
  4. Timing – Be sure to consider the flow of the show. Do the set changes slow down at some points and speed up at others? How will you accommodate the different moving pieces so that it does not become a distraction to the audience?
  5. Mood – What type of mood are you trying to portray in each part of the show? Set design can enhance the mood and, in some cases, set the mood for the actors and audience members.

Talk to the professionals at Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart for your set design questions. Call (978) 682-5757

Finding Scholarships for the Theater-bound Grads

So when you told your parents you were heading to college to study theater and hoped to make it on Broadway or in some other stage production city, did they gasp in horror? Did they ask how you would support yourself or pay off those college loans you were sure to have? Well, I guess it all depends on the type of parents you have. Hopefully they are (or will be) supportive. Unfortunately, support sometimes can only go so far and you may need financial help to make your theater dream come true.

Being a theater major, you are passionate about your craft, so take some time to be passionate about funding your way through school and training. A theater degree can be expensive (heck, headshots can be expensive), and starting jobs right out of school can be low-paying or even non-existent for some. That is where theater scholarships come in handy. You will, however, need professional training to help you reach your goals of being a star, so take a look at some of these ideas to find scholarships to make your dream a reality:

  • Federal Aid – Always check out the federal aid applications to see what you may qualify for depending upon your specific financial situation. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the main application for federal aid programs. The FAFSA determines an individual’s ability to pay for college. According to the Department of Education, tax information from the previous year yields the most accurate assessments. You will need both your 1040 and W-2 to complete the FAFSA. A quick online search will help you with this.
  • Individual College and Universities – Check with the colleges or universities to which you are applying to see if they offer scholarships specific to your major. Many theater schools are aware of the huge burden of paying for college and will offer some amazing scholarships to their own students. Call the financial aid office at the schools to which you are applying to inquire further.
  • Private Scholarships – These types of scholarships take a little digging and hard research on your own. Here is a great resource that may help you get started looking for private scholarships in the theater field. Scholarships.com