All posts by Greg Christo

Shortest Running Broadway Shows

Heathen!A musical with book by Robert Helpmann and Eaton Magoon Jr and music and lyrics by Eaton Magoon Jr.  The beliefs and needs of two eras in Hawaii — 1819 and 1972 — are compared, with strong similarities emerging.  It ran for 6 Previews and 1 Performance on May 21, 1972 at the Billy Rose Theatre.

 

 

 

 

Cleavage: A musical with book, music, and lyrics by Buddy Sheffield.  It centers around a variety of couples of different ages pursuing love.  It ran for 6 Previews and 1 Performance at the Playhouse Theatre.  It had a successful run in New Orleans, and the day after the lone Broadway performance, it received favorable reviews from the New York Times.

 

 

 

Ring Around the BathtubA play written by Jane Trahey about an Irish American family’s struggles during the Depression era in Chicago.  It ran for 3 Previews and 1 Performance on April 29, 1972 at the Martin Beck Theatre.  The original cast included Elizabeth Ashley and Carole Kane.

 

 

 

 

Rainbow Jones: A musical with book, music, and lyrics by Jill Williams about a lonely young woman creates an imaginary world of animal friends while waiting for the right human male to appear. It also ran for 3 Previews and 1 Performance on February 13, 1974 at the Music Box Theatre.

 

 

 

 

There are a number of shows that played to 7 Previews and 1 Performance.  One of those being I Won’t Dance which was performed at the Helen Hayes Theatre on May 10, 1981This is a play written by Oliver Hailey about a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair who celebrates the recent mysterious murder of his brother and sister-in-law in a diabolic manner.  I point out this play because this is one of three plays written by Oliver Hailey that were cancelled on opening night.

 

 

To put these into context, there have been 36 Broadway shows cancelled after one performance.  I picked the ones above because they had the fewest previews so therefore the fewest performances overall.  A few of the one and done shows were revivals of successful original productions such as Take Me Along and The Ritz.  And just because a show has a short run doesn’t mean they were not successful.  Take the 1986 show Rags.  It ran for 18 Previews and 4 Performances but was nominated for a Tony for Best Musical.  The Lieutenant ran for 7 Previews and 9 Performances in 1975 and was also nominated for a Tony for Best Musical.  And lastly, in 1953, Carnival in Flanders took home the award for Best Actress in a Musical (Dolores Gray) even though it ran for only 6 Performances.  It still remains the shortest lived Tony honored performance ever.

How to Light a Scrim

Creating that bleed-through effect should only seem like magic to the audience.   However, lighting technicians need to wave their magic wands to create this seamless effect.  The best kind of scrim to use for bleed throughs is the Sharkstooth Scrim.  Sharkstooth is a flame retardant 100% cotton close-knit netting fabric. Consider Sharkstooth Scrim the invisibility cloak of the stage.

When Sharkstooth Scrim is lit from the front at an oblique angle and the area behind the scrim is dark, the scrim appears to be opaque. However, when the scene behind the scrim is illuminated it becomes “visible” and if the lights on the front of the scrim are removed, the scrim becomes virtually “invisible.”

Here’s a few tips to properly light a Sharkstooth Scrim.

First, any light behind the scrim will reflect on the scene that the scrim is trying to hide and allows the audience to see it.  For the scrim to be most effective, the area behind it must be completely dark.  Of course, the brighter the lighting on the scrim, the less likely that anyone will see a glimmer or gleam shining from behind the scrim.  Still, every effort should be made to keep the area behind the scrim completely dark until the reveal occurs.

Second, proper angle of the LIGHTING IS CRITICAL.  If the area is as dark as possible, but the scene is still visible through the lit scrim, then consider the angle of the lighting.  Ideally, the lighting on the scrim is at such a steep angle that it cannot possibly illuminate the scene behind it.  Also, when you touch a sharkstooth scrim, one side is fairly smooth and the other has more texture.  This does not affect the use of the scrim, but more texture gives the light extra surface area to touch and is slightly more visible to the audience.

Create an area of space between the scrim and any nearby scenery so that any light that spills through the scrim will not hit anything and won’t show to the audience.  The most common way to achieve this is to have strip lighting directly in front of the scrim’s top.  The majority of the light from the strips washes the front of the scrim and any excess light that shines through into the empty space between the scrim and the scenery is not visible.

Third, while not necessary, having blackout drapes behind the scrim will help hide the scenery behind it.  If you have extra batons and a spare blackout drape, you can ensure that the audience will not see the hidden scenery by hanging the drape about a foot behind the scrim at the upstage edge and flying it out moments before the bleed-through.  You will still need to control the spill upstage or the blackout drop will be visible, most particularly as it flies just before the bleed-through begins.

While having the proper lighting angles is paramount, knowing how NOT to light the scrim is useful too.  Lighting from the front will certainly light the scrim, but it will also light everything behind the scrim as well. This is because the sharkstooth scrim is essentially a series of holes tied together. When lit from the front, the holes will let the lighting continue upstage and illuminate everything behind the scrim. Lighting from a balcony is also not an ideal position, as it may provide the maximum visibility of the scrim and the images behind it, for those who are sitting in the orchestra.

Equally important in making the scrim work is effectively lighting the scene behind the scrim.  If you want the scrim to disappear when the dissolve is complete, the lighting for the scene to be exposed must all come from behind the scrim.  Any lighting in front of the scrim may show the upstage scene, but will also continue to illuminate the scrim and any scenery painted on it.  While this may be the desired effect that you are looking to achieve, for the scrim to disappear, it cannot be lit.  The scene lighting should come upstage of the scrim or from side positions that are upstage from the scrim.

Types of Theatrical Scrims

Sharkstooth Scrim is an open weave net, meaning that there is more open space than actual fabric. Sharkstooth Scrim is primarily used to achieve the “bleed through” effect; magically revealing items upstage of the scrim. When lit properly, Sharkstooth Scrim can appear either opaque or transparent. These effects are then used to perform conceals and reveals. Sharkstooth Scrim can also be used to create the illusion of distance. It is considered the best option as an all purpose scrim.

Bobbinettes have a more open weave than Sharkstooth Scrim. Often used in combination with Sharkstooth scrims in front of rear projection screens to reduce glare and increase contrast. Various weaves give designers a range of light transmission values to create depth and add a soft, hazy look to images.

 

 

Leno or leno-filled scrim can be described as “sharkstooth scrim with the holes filled in.” Leno has a lovely soft, textured surface that reflects light beautifully, thus making it ideal for a cyclorama or a bounce drop. Like the sharkstooth scrim, it has one surface that is more textured and one that is smoother; in general, the textured side should face  the audience to take advantage of the extra surface dimension. Leno-filled scrims are also ideal for projecting abstract shapes and patterns, due to their highly reflective surface. The texture, however, will mitigate high resolutions, and so leno is not the best surface for video projection.

Duvetyne, Commando Cloth, or Velour

Fabrics have come and gone over the years.  But despite the many changes in polyester products, cotton cloth styles have remained fairly consistent. For certain there is one product that seems to have stood the test of time….DUVETYNE.  Of course, some consider Duvetyne to be like the little kid sister to big brother COMMANDO CLOTH!

Commando Cloth and Duvetyne are woven masking fabrics made from 100% cotton. They are comparable fabrics except for a few subtle differences. Both have a brushed matte finish and look very similar from the audience. However, Commando Cloth is a heavier fabric which allows no light to pass through. In contrast, Duvetyne is a bit lighter and will allow pinholes of light to show through if there is a very high concentration of light behind it. Both fabrics are widely used as masking throughout the theater and entertainment industry.

Duvetyne is 8oz per linear yard when weighed.  A standard 100 yard roll will weigh in at about 55 pounds.  What exactly does 8oz feel like?  I would compare an 8oz to a cheap open weave denim jeans–a pair that isn’t of the heaviest or top quality.  Not a real workman’s weight.

Commando Cloth is double the weight – making it twice as durable–coming in at 16oz per linear yard.  A standard 100 yard roll will weigh in at 100 pounds.  The feel of commando cloth is like a super heavy pair of workman’s jeans.  You just have a sense of the durability in the thickness and denseness of the cloth.

Another fabric to keep in mind is VELOUR.  Velour is a knit, napped fabric that’s memorable for its lush feel. Velour gets its signature soft feel from what’s called a pile knit texture, which comes from a weaving process where the loops are cut off at the end.  In the theater industry, velour is beloved for its rich luster, fabric durability and clean appearance. Velour fabric can be made from cotton or synthetic material and has a range of qualities depending on the weight and type chosen.

Velour is not to be confused with velvet. Although similar, velour is a pile knit fabric, whereas velvet is a pile weave fabric (yarns are looped into one direction). The difference? Velvet is a lot softer and more luxurious, but also more delicate and better suited for lighter applications.

Velour is a tried-and-true theater fabric. Known for its light-absorbing qualities, velour is most commonly used as stage curtains.  Velour fabric is super durable and versatile in use. Plus, the crush fabric looks great, making it a smart investment for small to large theaters.  However, it is much heavier than commando and duvetyne.  So, if you are looking for rentals, velour might not be the greatest in terms of manageability due to its physical weight.  You can get lighter “velours”, but they are not true velours in terms of sound absorption and light blocking abilities.  They are more for recreating the look of velour without the functionality of a velour.

So, if you have an upcoming theater production and you’re debating which theater fabrics to use, we recommend velour to any size theater that is looking to purchase for long term use where the curtains will stay hung in place.  We recommend commando or duvetyne for any theater or production looking to rent for their one time production.  These fabrics are simply easier to handle than velour.  No matter what you decide, these are excellent fabrics for theater and entertainment purposes.

Top 10 Broadway Musicals of 2019

Since we’re on the back stretch of the year, let’s take a look at what the top grossing shows on Broadway were in 2019.  The numerical information here is informational only and was shown on BroadwayWorld.com and provided by The Broadway League.

Show                                                                                                                                          Gross

Hamilton:  Showing at Richard Rogers                                                                       $111, 490,804

Lion King:  Showing at Minskoff                                                                                    $78,948,000

Wicked:     Showing at Gershwin                                                                                    $62,490,896

To Kill A Mockingbird:  Showing at the Shubert                                                    $62,100,280

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2:  Showing at the Lyric      $59,852,778

Aladdin:  Showing at New Amsterdam                                                                        $51,730,060

Frozen:  Showing at St James                                                                                          $45,497,898

Dear Evan Hansen:  Showing at the Music Box                                                        $45,281,312

Ain’t Too Proud:  Showing at Imperial                                                                         $38,753,669

Mean Girls:  Showing at August Wilson                                                                       $38,492,610

 

No real surprises here, I guess.  However, highest grossing doesn’t mean the most people saw the show.  When you look at the actual number of seats sold, there is some slight shifting.  Obviously, ticket prices contribute to the figures, but all of these shows performed around the same number of times, which was in the 285-290 range, with the exception of Ain’t Too Proud, which only performed 216 shows.

# Seats Sold

Wicked:                                                                                                                               516,477

Aladdin:                                                                                                                              485,734

Lion King:                                                                                                                           483,021

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2:                                                462,270

Frozen:                                                                                                                                 456,350

To Kill A Mockingbird:                                                                                                   417,959

Phantom of the Opera:  Showing at Majestic                                                        396,857

Hamilton:                                                                                                                               385,751

Mean Girls:                                                                                                                        336,557

King Kong:  Showing at Broadway                                                                             329,206

 

Interesting that  Hamilton was the highest grossing show of the year so far, but they haven’t had the largest audience.  Of course, some of this has to do with the fact that Hamilton has been running since 2015 while Harry Potter debuted in 2019.  On the flip side, Phantom first debuted in 1988 and still put more fannies in the seats than Hamilton.  The classics never get old as evidenced by King Kong having a top 10 attendance figure for the year.  Although the musical debuted in 2018, King Kong has been around since 1933.  Everyone knows the story, and like I said, the classics never get old.

It’s UDMA Trade Show Season

The end of summer not only brings a new school year for dance studios, but it also begins the dance trade show season.  We will be attending UDMA, United Dance Merchants of America, trade show in Edison NJ on the weekend of October 19-20.  UDMA has three other dates as well.  They are in Atlanta this weekend (9/28-29), Pittsburgh 10/5-6 (next weekend), and Chicago 10/12-13.  Here’s a link to their website:  https://www.udma.org/

 

The show features merchants who cover all aspects of the dance industry.  Some of the categories that are present are costume companies, dancewear, shoes, flowers, videographers, photographers, tours, flooring, dance opportunities, trophies, competitions and conventions, recital ticketing, publications, and backdrops too, of course!  Anything you can think of that has to do with the dance industry will be at these shows. Not only are there vendor exhibits but there are also presentations, give aways, and seminars.

 

It really is a great opportunity to check out new technology and new products.  The costume companies typically have live models wearing their latest costume designs so that you can see the new fashions in living, moving color.  We have an actual backdrop in our booth so that customers can see and feel what our product is like.  Each vendor will have real examples of their product so that you will know exactly what you’ll be getting.  There is no doubt that you can improve your business and productions by attending one of these shows.  We hope to see you in New Jersey for sure, but we hope that you can make it to one of the shows.

Using Backdrops

There are many ways to enhance the appearance of a scenic production such as a video shoot, stage play, theater production, or party event. Backdrops help add the ambience for the mood that you are trying to set. Because of their size, they serve the purpose of continuing the theme you are going for without being too over the top where the scenery seems out of place.

Choosing a backdrop rental company that has several different sceneries to choose from can be a difficult task, which is why you should go straight to Backdrops by Charles H Stewart!  Needless to say, one thing that you should ask about the backdrop that you have in mind would be how heavy they are and the material it is made of.  Ideally, the best backdrop should not be too heavy for convenience reasons as you will most likely be hanging and packaging the backdrops yourself.  The best material when choosing a realistic backdrop would be one that is 100% polyester cotton fabric, which is what our DreamWorld Collection is painted on, or ones painted on muslin, which is what our Stewart Collection is painted on.  These are lightweight fabrics that are easy to handle.

One type of event that would welcome a backdrop would be in an environment in which a lot of photography is going to take place in. Dances, charities, or galas are examples of events that a nice formal backdrop would be more than welcomed in pictures. For example, if you are hosting a dance that has a Hawaiian theme, there are several backdrops that you can browse such as tropical or beach scenes that would supplement your Hawaiian environment. We do have many smaller photography size backdrops in our DreamWorld Collection labelled DreamWorld Small.

As mentioned, there are many ways that you can improve or modify an area to fit your event. There are many different backdrop rentals to choose from and a few different sizes that can assure proper placement as well as appropriate background setting. Aside from party events, most backdrops from Charles H Stewart are used by production companies that are setting up a stage performance whether it’s a Broadway Musical or dance recital or play. Because of the flexibility of backdrops, they can be replaced and switched in a matter of minutes.  So using multiple backdrops can make your life a whole lot easier.  Full stage backdrops are obviously larger than photography backdrops since the area needed to cover is larger.  But with the lightweight fabric they are made with, this is not an issue.

Backdrops are easy to use, and they are the easiest way to transform your stage or event into whatever setting necessary to transport your audience to where they need to be.

Eccentric Dance

(Certain portions of the following were taken from an article written in the LA Times by Susan King on 8/3/19)

Think of rubber-legged Ray Bolger in 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” and 1952’s “Where’s Charley?”; long-limbed Charlotte Greenwood, whose trademark high kicks entertained audiences in such musicals as 1940’s “Young People” and 1955’s “Oklahoma!”; and the gravity-defying Nicholas Brothers — Fayard and Harold — whose leaps and astonishing splits were the high points of numerous musicals including 1940’s “Down Argentine Way” and 1941’s “Sun Valley Serenade.”

It was wacky and wild, dazzling to watch, funny and fearless. It wasn’t modern dance, and it certainly wasn’t ballet. The only word for it was “eccentric.”

On 8/5/19 at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences shined a spotlight on eccentric dancing and how the art form has also played an important role in animation.

“What eccentric dance is, by definition, is very broad,” said dance historian Betsy Baytos, the curator and host of the evening, who is also an animator and eccentric dancer and choreographer. “It’s loose-limbed. It’s a pantomimic kind of movement, and it’s usually comic by nature. It’s essentially wrapped around the character.”  Since animated characters can have unique features and movements, choreographers must come up with over exaggerated steps that regular humans don’t make.

“We’re trying to convince you that there’re certain things our characters can do that you find illogical but look completely believable,” says animator Eric Goldberg.  “You have to animate a character with a certain amount of weight and intent and all the things that actually make it completely believable for an audience.”  Think of trying to incorporate the movement of a tail or the long neck of a giraffe.

The famous Nicholas brothers will be featured as well. Tony Nicholas, the son of Fayard, was excited to show Nicholas Brothers home movies that evening because they are “something to behold.” He screened some “exciting new footage we have discovered that no one has ever seen.”

So while Hollywood has honored more traditional styles of dance like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly to the John Travolta disco and Fame and Flashdance to Footloose and High School Musical, it’s nice to see the art of the eccentric dance get it’s due.

The Perfect Setting for Your Show

When it is important to set the stage or the mood, backdrops are the perfect item. From the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans, theater has been a way to express ideas and emotions. Theatrical renditions range from tackling the most controversial issues and historical events to depicting real life drama, fantasy or romance. The creativity involved in these endeavors is unrivaled. Great care is taken to create the most lifelike of scenes or to evoke a particular emotional response. The backdrop and the scenery are the canvas on which the drama occurs. This essential element transports the viewer to another place and time as the events unfold. Backdrop rentals can help to accentuate many functions.

Backdrops come in a variety of forms. This can range from a basic curtain to elaborate theatrical scenery. Backdrop rentals can be used for stage shows, weddings, photo shoots, and other special events. Muslin backdrops come in a variety of colors and shades. These can be hand painted or reversible for a variety of options.

The sky is the limit when it comes to choosing the best backdrop rentals for an occasion. Beautiful scenic backdrops of locations from the US to Europe to Asia to Africa are available. Exotic scenes from the jungle, the pyramids or an enchanted forest can also be had. Backdrops from a Broadway musical or scenes simulating a dance club are also popular. Religious backdrops can enhance the depth of any religious function, lending a more spiritual energy to the occasion. There are also holiday specific backdrops that can make any day special. You can even design your own custom backdrop, but these you would have to purchase.

Backdrop rentals are just a Google search away. Many options are available online with a vast array of choices that will suit any occasion. When confirming the booking, we may require a deposit with payment in full due prior to shipping. It is possible to hold your choice until you make a final decision. Backdrops are the responsibility of the customer from the time that they are rented until they are returned. Care should be taken with backdrop rentals. A clean dry surface is required for handling. Sharp objects can rip or tear the backdrops, resulting in costly repairs, so be careful when opening the box the backdrop arrives in. The backdrop of your dreams can make your special occasional a day to remember.

Answering Basic Questions

  • What suggestions do you have on choosing a backdrop for a dance or for a whole dance recital?

Obviously, the first question to be answered is what is the theme of the dance or show?  Once that is determined, finding an appropriate backdrop is relatively easy.  Our backdrops are broken down into categories and by show.  So if someone is looking for a garden backdrop, they should go to our Garden category.  If someone needs a backdrop for Beauty and the Beast, then they can go to our Beauty and the Beast selections.

  • If a studio owner can only have one backdrop for the entire show, what would you recommend?

If only one backdrop can be used, then the owner really has to decide what the overall theme for their show will be.  We could provide a great backdrop for a small portion of their show, but the backdrop might not fit the rest of the show.  My suggestion is that if there is more tap, jazz, and hip hop, then one of our abstract or novelty backdrops would be an excellent choice.  If the show is more of a ballet, maybe a softer scene like clouds or a sunset for example would be the choice.  Another option would be to use different colored lights on a cyclorama curtain.  A simple lighting change can turn the mood of the stage in an instant.  But again, it really is up to the director.

  • What information and dimensions do studio owners need to know before renting a backdrop?

The first thing they should do is talk to the stage manager where they are performing.  They can tell you what size backdrops the venue can accommodate.  Also, when finding out the dimensions of the stage, make sure that when you get the measurements to ask if that is the wall to wall measurement or the proscenium measurement.  Also, ask if the venue can adjust the proscenium for different size backdrops.  For instance, if the venue states that the backdrops should be 22×50, ask if they can mask down the proscenium for an 18×42 or even a 15×36.  It usually isn’t that difficult to drop a border or pull in the wings unless the battens are dead hung (i.e. they don’t drop to the stage).   Now if it’s a small stage, the larger backdrops might be difficult to use.  Another bit of information that would be helpful is to find out how many battens are at your disposal for hanging backdrops.

  • What is the difference between a hand painted and digitally painted backdrop?  What are the pros/cons of each?

Well, we only deal in hand painted backdrops.  Obviously, the hand painted backdrops are more theatrical since they really are a form of art.  Sometimes the digitally printed backdrops aren’t as clear as you might think.  Some can be a little blurry.  The fabrics used for each are different as well.  The hand painted backdrops are typically painted on muslin or scrims and are easy to fold and store.  The digital backdrops are usually printed on a polyester blend fabric and are meant to be rolled.  However, new technology with softer fabrics is starting to emerge.  The digital backdrops are more expensive to produce and not readily available for rent meaning if you want a digital printed backdrop, it would more than likely have to be a custom made one.

  • What are your tips on hanging backdrops for studio owners that have never done so before?  How does a backdrop get hung and what do studio owners need to know ahead of time?

All of our backdrops have grommets and ties across the top for hanging.  You simply tie the backdrop on to one of the stage battens.  One question to ask the stage manager is if the bars can lower down to the stage.  If they do, hanging a backdrop will take about 5-10 minutes.  If the bars do not lower to the stage, then you will have to go up and down a ladder or cherry picker to hang the backdrop, and it will take about 30 minutes to hang one backdrop.  Side note, if you use a cherry picker, please be careful of the lubricated parts of the machine.  If a backdrop comes in contact with the grease, the backdrop will get stained.  And it’s a nasty stain to try to get out.  When hanging, start from the center and work your way out to the ends.  The center line on the backdrop is marked on the back.  The center of the stage should be marked on the bars.  If you have more backdrop than bar, just fold it back and tie it off behind the rest of the drop.

  • What tips do you have to have backdrops look best without wrinkles?

Wrinkles are tricky.  You cannot iron or steam the backdrop.  That will damage the curtain by activating the paint creating water stains or paint runs.  So, my best advice is to hang the backdrop at the venue as soon as possible.  The first chance you get to hang them up, do it.  Second thing to do is make sure that you weight the bottom of the backdrop.  All of my backdrops have a pipe pocket along the bottom.  Ask the venue if they have weights for this.  The weight simply uses gravity to pull the fabric tight to eliminate the wrinkles.

  • How should backdrops be folded for storage or return shipping?

We store our backdrops wrapped in plastic bags inside of cardboard boxes.  The plastic is an extra layer of protection from moisture and dirt.  So when the backdrops are received, they will arrive as such.  There will also be folding instructions inside the box.  There are different ways to fold a backdrop.  We have our own preference which are included in the instructions we provide.  But, the bottom line is to fold them neatly so that they fit back inside the box for shipping.  We also request that our backdrops be placed back inside of a plastic bag and inside the box just like when they received it.  If anything happens in transit, and the backdrop has not been wrapped in plastic and damage has occurred, the customer will be responsible for the damage.  So, when you receive the backdrop, save the box, the bag, and the instructions and repackage the backdrop the way you received it.  If the bag and/or box gets thrown away or is not fit for shipping, then the customer is responsible to get another box and bag for the return.  And lastly, before you lay the backdrop on the stage for hanging or when you are taking it down to repackage, sweep the stage.  We don’t want the backdrop used as the broom especially when you have any of the white or black curtains.