All posts by sperling

Can Theater Effect Change? 

Every revolutionary idea began somewhere. A small flicker, a spark really, that can set the world ablaze. Musicals and theater productions can be that spark, that initial light that can start a revolution. That revolution can change the world. 

Theater has been motivated by the change that writers and directors need and want to see in the world: whether it is racial inequality, poverty, diversity, homelessness, marriage equality, women’s rights, human rights, or a whole host of other social issues. Part of telling a story on the stage is entertaining the audience, another part is enlightening the audience or teaching the audience about what is happening around them. Whether they choose to see it or not is their choice. But for some, the story starts a change in them that sparks action. 

Theater can change the world one performance at a time. For as long as theater has existed, since the time of the Greeks and Romans, the stage has been used to express opinions and gather public opinion. Theatergoers can gain empathy for the characters that are on stage and understand how “the other half” lives. For example, The Diary of Anne Frank and The Sound of Music probably gave the audience a point of view that they had never considered before, that of a family being hunted by the Nazis or wooed by the Nazis to join the Third Reich military machine. 

Theater productions can pose questions about the role of our government such as in Hamilton. Racial divides, immigration, and the underbelly of politics are just a couple of the topics that can open the eyes of theatergoers. Add in the music, fully developed characters, and a script that can touch the soul, and a theater production can most certainly spark a revolution in mind and spirit in the people who attend and later talk about the production. 

What products have you seen that have touched you or changed your thought process? I can remember seeing Annie as a young child and realizing that not all children have an easy life and that there will always be people richer than me and poorer than me. Tell us about your experience in theater and how it changed you. 

 

Benefits of Being in a School Play 

Being part of a performance in high school can be amazing and provide memories for a lifetime. It can also build on a skill set that will be needed later in life. Being in the theater industry here at Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart, we may be completely biased, but here are some pretty compelling benefits of being involved in theater during your formative years. 

As a theater kid myself, I know the biggest takeaway from my years acting and, later, directing high school plays and musicals is the lifelong friendships that I made. There is nothing like the long, sometimes stressful hours blocking out a scene and reworking the lighting a million times to bond a group together. Some of my closest friendships have come from my days creating costumes at all hours of the night or painting sets days before the opening show. 

Aside from the friendships, I can tell you that I also learned (and then honed) skills that I used in college, finding a job, and now in my career. Here are just a few of them. 

 

Public Speaking

As a young child, I never wanted to speak in front of a group. I especially had trouble conveying my opinion in class in front of peers. After years in theater and practicing endless hours of productions, monologues, and lines galore, I learned the art of speaking in public. I learned how to deliver a line and use body language to emphasize my point. In short, I mastered the art of selling myself and whatever idea lay before me. 

 

Organization and Time Management

Growing up I was not exactly self-aware or cognizant of the passage of time. That meant that school projects, homework, and assignments were often late or never passed in. After becoming involved in theater, I suddenly was able to practice charting out a schedule such as a rehearsal schedule. The entire production crew was painfully aware of how many days and practices until the big opening night. We learned to do homework before practice and plan for long-term assignments. 

 

Increased Self-Esteem and Confidence

Not many middle school and high school students can claim that they are confident and have high self-esteem. After years in the theater, I was definitely more confident in who I was as a person and I had a really good grip on what my strengths and weaknesses were. I also had acquired the ability to advocate for myself and speak up when needed. 

As you can see, being part of a theater group may have ended when I graduated high school but it certainly left me with some amazing skills and even more amazing memories. 

Are you Planning Your HS Fall Production?

The school year may be over and the classrooms all empty, but your mind is reeling about a potential fall production at your school. You sing show tunes in the shower and choreography is never far from your mind. You show all the signs of being a drama coach or theater teacher!

Now that the stage lights are off and the props have been cleared, drama teachers are already in full swing even though most of us are spending our days at the beach. A die-hard drama fan will be plotting and planning what might work for a fall production at your school. Here are some of the questions they will be sorting through.

What Show?

The biggest question on the minds of theater teachers is what production can we do? Choosing a script is not an easy thing to do. One needs to take into account how many students there will be in the program, especially now that the seniors have flown the coop. It is also a time to evaluate what skills and talents the potential future cast may have.

Picking a musical that’s right for your program can depend on many factors, including the size of your cast, the interest of your students and, of course, availability of performance rights. In addition, you will want to consider what the school’s current budget is and the size of the venue for the production you are considering. Also, keep in mind your access to sets, props, and costumes. Weighing each of these things can help you in determining which show will be the right fit this fall.

What is Your Population of Actors?

As we mentioned previously, how many actors are in your program can help determine whether you can have a performance with a large cast, medium-sized cast, or small cast. You should also consider who are your actors not just how many. Do you have more girls than boys? Do you have a handful of serious talent or just one or two brilliant actors in your group? If you are considering a musical, what is the range of voices that you will be dealing with?

 

What is Your Budget?

Before you choose your play, consider your budget. A straight play vs. a musical is more budget friendly. Consider what costumes, scenery, and backdrops you will need. Do you need to buy the royalties to the play or will you choose one in the public domain?

 

What About the Space?

What does your theater look like? Can you handle a larger production or will you need to relocate to a community theater? Will you have access to practice times or will that impact your budget as well?

These are all great questions to consider as you dream of your next production. If you are searching for inspiration, check out Theater World’s list of High School Musicals. When it comes time to consider backdrops, check out our wide assortment of options here at Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart.

 

Summer Planning for your Theater Loving Family

Does your family love the theater? Is Playbill one of your favorite bookmarked pages? Is your name constantly in the daily raffle for front row seats for Broadway musicals? Well, summer is here and that means time to catch all the shows you can!

Massachusetts is the birthplace of summer stock theater and there is no shortage of great playhouses all over New England. That’s why it comes as no surprise that if you want a summer filled with musicals and thespians, our region is the place to be!

If you are looking for musicals or performances that are kid friendly or will entertain, there is a long list of Boston Theaters that will deliver! For example, Boston theaters are currently performing Pete the Cat, The Lion King, Cirque Du Soleil, and the ever-popular Blue Man Group. If you are looking for showtimes or tickets, then check out this site to start your summer planning. Think of the fun you could have in Boston for the weekends.

If you are looking to get out of the greater Boston area, there are tons of summer stock theaters from Maine to Vermont and Connecticut to Cape Cod. In a recent blog, we examined all the summer theaters that you could make a road trip out of this summer. Check out the options for your family and make it a summer you won’t soon forget.

For more serious theater lovers or children who have a flair for the arts, some of these shows may be of interest this summer. Check out Dear Evan Hansen, Hello Dolly, Cats, the 20th Anniversary of Rent, Mean Girls, Miss Saigon, or Fiddler on the Roof. Depending upon the style of musical you like, you could catch a few shows before the end of the summer.

Looking for a list of theaters that can help you plan your summer vacation? Check out MassHome for theaters with family-friendly productions, musicals, community theaters, and even campus theaters.

Social Issues and Broadway

Since the dawn of theatrical performances in ancient Greece, social issues have been a major theme. Theater lovers would be quick to note that musicals have never been removed from the world in which it exists. Why would we expect it to be in a time when social issues such as racism, human rights, and homophobia are still being debated. Let’s take a quick look at how Broadway has used the stage as a mirror to reflect the changing times and the issues that need attention in our society.

Hamilton: An American Musical

Since its first performance in February 2015, Hamilton: An American Musical has been inspiring conversations about the broad range of people who get to call this American founding narrative our own. This political musical attempts to reframe the way we envision partisan politics in America. In a time when American citizens are being put in travel bans and equal rights are being stripped away – sometimes slowly other times in large open ways – Hamilton is part of the dialogue of what it means to be American.

 

Rent

Rent opened in 1996 and, while it was never as popular as Hamilton, it still tackled issues such as the HIV/AIDS crisis in the U.S. Rent was the hottest, most groundbreaking musical in town in the 1990s. With a slew of Tony Awards and the elusive Pulitzer Prize, it was a cultural phenomenon of its time. Not only were we singing the songs but also discussing love, loss, and equality. Rent took the audience along for a ride through the struggles of those living under the threat of impending death and shows that love, respect, and friendship are the only things that matter.

In an article published by the Huffington Post, author Katherine Brooks points out that there are so many musicals that broach social issues in a way that gets theatergoers thinking and talking. She states that, “There are countless other, even more obviously politically charged plays and musicals worth discussing: “Assassins” (the hedonism of political culture in America), “An Enemy of the People” (whistleblowers), “The Crucible” (witch hunts), and, more recently, “Eclipsed” (civil war in Liberia) and “Allegiance” (Japanese prison camps). And those are just some of my favorites, cherry-picked from a long, long, long list of historically relevant titles.”

 

Maintaining an Organized Prop Space

In our last blog, we discussed creating a safe rehearsal space for all members of your theater group. This week we are discussing something related – organizing and maintaining your prop area. Not only can a well-ordered prop space add to safety, but it can keep your production on track.

Prop Masters or Mistresses have a hugely important job. Think about all of the props, both large and small that need to be used throughout the production. These items need to appear on stage seamlessly in between acts while actors scurry around to either change costumes or switch stage entrances. Here are some ideas on how to maintain an organized prop space for your spring or summer play.

Create a Master Prop List

One of the best ways for keeping track of what is needed (and when) is to create a prop list. Draft a list that names each item and for which act or scene it is needed on stage. This will not only give you a good sense of how long the item should be out on the stage but from what side (stage right or left) it will need to enter or exit.

 

Arrange the Props

This is, by far, the most challenging part of maintaining the items that are needed on stage, especially given that there is little light backstage to guide the crew. Whether you use a locker system, a prop table, or another method, arrange the props in a way that makes sense and still allows for movement to and from the stage. Take into account the size of each item, where they will be entering, and how long they will be out on the stage.

Small Props

Small props such as rings, coins, or anything smaller than a hand should be kept separate from the other props. These items are notoriously known for going missing right before they are needed on stage. Don’t be caught scurrying around searching for the items at the last second. Instead, keep them in a resealable, zipper bag pinned up right near the stage entrance.

Do you have any tricks that you use to keep your props organized? We’d love to hear from prop masters and mistresses. Tell us in the comments below what you do to keep things organized.

 

The Magic of Sound Effects on Stage

Sound and sound effects are an integral part of any storytelling art including television, movies and any live stage performance. We probably can all hear the sound of a shark approaching if we saw the movie Jaws. For viewers who like thrillers, the shower scene in Psycho is probably a soundtrack that you will never forget. And for our Star Wars lovers, the sound of a lightsaber is the hallmark of sound effects for that entire series.

The magic of sound effects carries over into live theater as well. Prop masters and sound effect gurus spend hundreds of hours trying to get just the right sound for wind, thunder, rain, footsteps, and monsters. The list could go on and on, as the number of sound effects is so varied and wide.

There are three main purposes of sound effects that we should examine in order to understand the meaning behind the magic. Here are the top three motivations for using sound effects in live theater.

Creating a Mood

Audiences are counting on a production to take them to other places such as colonial times in Hamilton, a beachside home in Mama Mia, or the streets of France in Les Miserables. First and foremost, sound effects are meant to create a mood that can take the audience to another place – metaphysically speaking. Sound effects can create fear, anticipation, joy, laughter, or even overwhelming sadness. The mood that sounds can help create is quite amazing.

 

Simulating Reality

What would a sword fight be on stage without the sound effects and musical accompaniment? Or think about a scene where an actor is required to smash a dish, slam a door, or shoot a gun. Imagine how disconnected things would seem if the dish made no noise, the door was silent, or the gun went off without a shocking blast? Those sound effects can make or break a production especially in how they can simulate what is happening on stage and make it come alive.

Creating an Illusion

One area that sound effects become magical is how offstage sounds or soundtracks can create the illusion of something happening. For instance, in the musical The Lion King, the sounds of the jungle or other lions roaring can create the illusion that the theater is actually in a far away jungle. Or perhaps the play is trying to show a couple in an outdoor cafe. The sound effects could include a car horn, clinking dishes and glasses, or even the wind through the trees. All of this is done so the audience can buy into the illusion of the performance.

What are your favorite sound effects? We’d love to hear from you. Tell us in the comments below.

The Importance of Community Theater

As Americans, we love to be entertained. We visit sporting events, the movies, and concerts seemingly endlessly. Many Americans are hooked on theater, especially the bright lights and awe of Broadway theaters in New York City. We are here to tell you that, you don’t need to travel that far to find amazing theater productions. You can find them right in your own neighborhood, at a community theater. Community theaters are strong and vibrant!

There are so many reasons why community theater is important to our society both for the local economy and businesses as well as a place to nurture new talent. Here are just a few of the ways that community theater remains an important part of American culture.

Nurturing New Artists

Broadway stars had to start somewhere first! Just like with any job, most actors need to work their way up to the larger productions in major cities. Many successful actors, directors, writers, and choreographers have launched their careers in humble, small-town playhouses. Some have started in summer theaters or local acting workshops. By sponsoring shows and attending performances locally, you are not only supporting an important arts outlet but also providing encouragement to the cast and crew.

 

Provide a Creative Outlet

Young children have many strings pulling them in different directions. Some of those strings are unhealthy while others, like community theater, are a healthy way to act out! Community theatre provides a safe place for even the shyest or quirkiest of students. Everyone can find a place in a show whether you know how to act or build a set.

 

Business Advertising

Most community theaters have small budgets and require the help of communities, in particular, the businesses in those communities. For sponsors, community theater is a win-win situation. Not only can a business help an arts program but it can also get their name out there in the form of programs and other marketing materials to hundreds of people who visit the theater.

 

Lifelong Friendships

Not every actor who takes part in a production hopes to make it to Broadway. Many just enjoy the exhilaration of putting on a show or the lifelong friendships that are made due to long, hard hours working on something they are passionate about. You really can’t put a price on the importance of friendships in community theater.

Our backdrops have graced the stages on Broadway and the local church down the street. We understand the importance of community theater. Consider becoming a sponsor this summer or, at the very least, check out a show in your area to support the arts.

 

Recap of the 2019 Tony Awards

Did you watch the Tony’s Sunday night? What a magical and fun night! If you missed any of the action or fell asleep too early, here is a quick recap so you will know all the highlights.

The Tony’s are one of my favorite awards shows to watch not just because of the grandeur or amazing fashion statements, but also the direct and sometimes blistering acceptance speeches given by the actors, directors, and producers. Some call for greater racial and gender equality. Others point out injustices in our government and leadership. And still, others remind us what our hearts and minds should focus on in our country.

Some firsts for the Tony’s included: Ali Stroker, who won the award for best featured actress in a musical for her performance in Oklahoma!, became the first wheelchair user to receive a Tony. This year also saw the show Hadestown win the Tony for the best musical beating out film adaptations, a musical comedy, and a jukebox show. The adaptation on an ancient Greek myth touches on climate change, labor strife and, indirectly, immigration.

The full list of winners is below.
Best Musical: “Hadestown”
Best Play: “The Ferryman”
Best Revival of a Musical: “Oklahoma!”
Best Revival of a Play: “The Boys in the Band”
Best Book of a Musical: “Tootsie,” Robert Horn
Best Original Score: “Hadestown,” music and lyrics: Anaïs Mitchell
Best Direction of a Play: Sam Mendes, “The Ferryman”
Best Direction of a Musical: Rachel Chavkin, “Hadestown”
Best Leading Actor in a Play: Bryan Cranston, “Network”
Best Leading Actress in a Play: Elaine May, “The Waverly Gallery”
Best Leading Actor in a Musical: Santino Fontana, “Tootsie”
Best Leading Actress in a Musical: Stephanie J. Block, “The Cher Show”
Best Featured Actor in a Play: Bertie Carvel, “Ink”
Best Featured Actress in a Play: Celia Keenan-Bolger, “To Kill a Mockingbird”
Best Featured Actor in a Musical: André De Shields, “Hadestown”
Best Featured Actress in a Musical: Ali Stroker, “Oklahoma!”
Best Scenic Design of a Play: Rob Howell, “The Ferryman”
Best Scenic Design of a Musical: Rachel Hauck, “Hadestown”
Best Costume Design of a Play: Rob Howell, “The Ferryman”
Best Costume Design of a Musical: Bob Mackie, “The Cher Show”
Best Lighting Design of a Play: Neil Austin, “Ink”
Best Lighting Design of a Musical: Bradley King, “Hadestown”
Best Sound Design of a Play: Fitz Patton, “Choir Boy”
Best Sound Design of a Musical: Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz, “Hadestown”
Best Choreography: Sergio Trujillo, “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations”
Best Orchestrations: Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose, “Hadestown”
Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater: Rosemary Harris, Terrence McNally, Harold Wheeler
Isabelle Stevenson Award: Judith Light
Regional Theater Tony Award: TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Special Tony Award: Marin Mazzie, Jason Michael Webb, Sonny Tilders and Creature Technology Company
Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theater: Broadway Inspirational Voices — Michael McElroy, Founder, Peter Entin, FDNY Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9, Joseph Blakely Forbes

Creating a Safe Rehearsal Space

Being a part of a theater production can be exciting and somewhat demanding. As a backdrop company, we at Charles H. Stewart understand how easy it is to get caught up in the excitement of a new production. One thing we also understand is that a safe rehearsal space is paramount to any production.

Let’s take a look at both the physical space and emotional space that can provide safety and comfort for actors no matter if it is at a community theater or under the bright lights of a Broadway production.

 

Physical Safety

First and foremost, the physical safety of a rehearsal space should be considered to keep all actors, directors, producers, and crew out of harm’s way during a production. One of the biggest threats to injury is keeping walkways and stage entrance/exit areas clean of debris. This means that props that could be bumped into or tripped over should be kept in specially marked areas. Keeping the floor clean, even down to small things like an errant nail on the floor is important since most actors must find their way in the dark when a production is underway.

Along with having props put in safe places, it is important to communicate with each team member about potential issues with staging, curtains, backgrounds and other large items that could fall or hurt an actor if things do not go as planned. Always have a first aid kit well-stocked backstage and an emergency exit to ensure that, if something does go wrong, it can be dealt with appropriately.

 

Emotional Safety

Acting means taking risks with your emotions and your level of confidence. That is why we are including emotional safety as a category for this particular blog. Have the members of your theater group come up with a code of conduct that can rule what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Many plays and musicals have physical encounters that could make for uneasy moments. Talk through these scenes prior to blocking them out so that everyone knows what to expect. Encourage a positive environment where every voice is heard and people feel comfortable enough to do so.

At Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart we know the importance of safety of all who are taking part in a production. Talk to our specialists about how our backdrops can be used safely in your production.