All posts by Greg Christo

Benefits of Theatre for Children

Patience and Respect. Standing quietly backstage is not easy.  It requires patience.  But kids eventually learn to respect the performers on stage by not distracting them with their nervous energy.  Adults usually get tired of telling kids to keep quiet, but when they get it, it’s very satisfying.

Facing your fears.  Public speaking is more feared than death by most people.  Theatre gives children an opportunity to face a crowd, speak in front of them, sing a song, and maybe even make them laugh.  A child can forget a line or two and still be supported and loved by their audience.  The reward of applause will whittle away at this fear inspiring confidence, which is the biggest medicine to fear.

Be yourself. In the theatre, everyone is welcome.  Uniqueness is embraced.  Are you loud?  A loner?  Flamboyant?  It seems that kids of all demeanors are accepted as equals.  The freedom to be themselves can take the world off their shoulders and create a zone of comfort that is relieving to those who feel like they don’t fit in.  Also, can you think of another activity where kids are encouraged to be loud and over the top, to speak louder and be “bigger”?  Most of the time, kids are asked to quiet down or be quiet.  While in some instances this is true in theater, for the most part, theatre gives them an outlet to be loud and be heard.

Responsibility.  Ever have the nightmare where you’re an actor, and you forget your lines?  Well, if they don’t want to be embarrassed or slow down rehearsals, kids learn pretty quickly that they need to take responsibility for their part.  A production is a team effort where everyone is counting on each other.  When one part of the team doesn’t function well, it can cause problems. They become part of a team and everyone is counting on one another to be prepared.  This includes backstage crew as well as onstage actors.

No screens allowed!  While there is plenty of technology involved in theatre including tablets and phones, screens are generally not allowed backstage or at rehearsals by the performers or crew who are not using these devices as part of the production.   The kids are experiencing human interaction and improving social skills, which in affect improves their interaction with the audience.  So, regardless of the human interaction aspect, it’s a couple of hours a day of saving some eyesight and posture.

Improves Education. It’s no secret that children who participate in the arts not only do better academically but they also have higher test scores. The arts are a vital part of the developing brain.  Kids will learn the art of language and reading in theatre.  Reading isn’t exactly high on the list of many students anymore considering all that they have at their fingertips, so the art of memorizing lines and reading in theatre can activate that part of their education.

While theatre may seem difficult to fit into a child’s already busy schedule, it’s a valuable option that usually lasts just a few months and can really make a difference.

How to Hang a Backdrop

One of the most asked questions when a customer calls me is “How do you hang the backdrops?”  It’s a simple question.  And like most simple questions, there isn’t always a simple answer.  But in this case, it is rather simple 90% of the time.  However, there are a few different ways to hang our backdrops.  It’s the other 10% that can be complicated.

Across the top of all of our backdrops, there are tie lines for hanging.  The easiest way to hang a backdrop is to simply tie the backdrop on to one of the stage battens.  The center of each backdrop is marked near the tie lines on the back.  My suggestion is to start from the center of the stage and work your way out.  That way, if there is any extra backdrop leftover (ie if the backdrop is wider than the stage), you can fold the ends behind and tie it off in the back keeping the backdrop centered on stage.

About 80% of our backdrops have the tie lines looped through grommets.  So, you can also hook these backdrops onto hardware through the grommets.  Not too many people do this, but it is an option.  The other 20% have cloth ties that are sewn into the top of the backdrop.  These backdrops do not have grommets.  Again, every backdrop has ties, but not every backdrop has the grommets.

About 33% of our backdrops have a sleeve across the top as well.  It is located below the ties (see photo below).  So, you can slide a pipe through the sleeve without having to tie the backdrop.  Usually, this method is used with pipe and drape systems.  The pipe and drape systems are typically used at trade shows or ballroom events and not with traditional theater stage rigging.

Another aspect of hanging a backdrop occurs before you even rent a backdrop.  You really should know what size backdrop would be effective on your stage.  You do not want to get one that is too small or too big, obviously.  But sometimes, you are not going to get the perfect size.  Sometimes when a backdrop is just a little too big, you can fold the extra backdrop under the scene letting it rest on the stage.  For instance, if you have a 15 foot tall stage but really want the 18 foot tall backdrop, you have to look at the picture to see if you can “fold out” the bottom part of the backdrop without losing the effectiveness of the scene.  If the backdrop is simply a blue sky with clouds, folding out any portion of the backdrop is easy, and you will not “lose” any of the scene.  But if you have a city street scene, you might be folding out half of a doorway or half of a window, and that will not look clean.  You can theoretically fold out the top of the backdrop using heavy clamps.  You would tie the backdrop as usual, but instead of folding the backdrop under, you would “lift” the backdrop up and clamp it to the batten.  This is more time consuming, but it has been done.  However, if you do this, it is very important to protect the backdrop from the clamps since the clamps can leave creases in the backdrop.

There are some instances where the stage is bigger than the backdrop and where the battens are dead hung meaning they don’t move.  When this happens you will have to look into adding rope extensions so that the backdrop will hang lower.  So, the size of your stage is part of how you are going to hang a backdrop.

The last part of hanging a backdrop is weighting it down so that the wrinkles are lessened and so that it does not sway in the wind.  Across the bottom of the backdrops is a pipe pocket.  Some of the pipe pockets already have a light chain sewn into the bottom.  But most have the empty pocket.  You can slide in pvc pipe, wood, metal rods, or a chain into the pocket.  If you have to fold out any part of the backdrop, you’ll have to deal with the weight in the pocket.  You do not HAVE to use a weight in the pocket.  But if you do not have to fold out any part of the backdrop, I highly recommend using one to help with the wrinkles and stability.

The Best Performing Arts Colleges

In looking at different sites, the idea here was to get an overall view of what are considered the top Performing Arts colleges in the US.  There is no scientific formula or criteria here.  This is simply more of an observational, snapshot list.   I am not promoting or recommending one school over the other.  This is for informational purposes only.  It comes as no surprise that New York and California, specifically New York City and Los Angeles, are heavily represented.  Here’s what I saw.  I looked at five different Top 5 lists compiled from different websites.  The sites were CollegeRank, CollegeGazette, Niche, CollegeFactual, and PrepScholar.  Other information was taken from the school websites.

 

New York University appeared in 4 of the 5 lists.  Located in New York City, NYU is a private research university. Founded in 1831 by Albert Gallatin as an institution to “admit based upon merit rather than birthright or social class”, NYU’s historical campus is in Greenwich Village.  Tisch School of the Arts was founded on August 17, 1965.  Tisch is a training ground for artists, scholars of the arts, and filmmakers; the school merges the technical training of a professional school with the academic resources of a major research university to immerse students in their intended artistic disciplines. The school is divided into three Institutes: Performing Arts, Emerging Media, and Film & Television.

 

Yale University landed on 3 of the 5 lists.  Located in New Haven CT, Yale is a private Ivy League research university founded in 1701 as the Collegiate School.  It is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine Colonial Colleges chartered before the American Revolution.  The Yale School of Art was founded in 1869 as the first professional fine arts school in the United States, it grants Masters of Fine Arts degrees to students completing a two-year course in graphic design, painting/printmaking, photography, or sculpture.  The Yale School of Music, founded in 1894,  offers three graduate degrees: Master of Music (MM), Master of Musical Arts (MMA), and Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA), as well as a joint Bachelor of Arts—Master of Music program in conjunction with Yale College, a Certificate in Performance, and an Artist Diploma.

 

Northwestern University also hit 3 of the 5 lists.  Located in Evanston IL just outside of Chicago, Northwestern was founded in 1851 by nine men whose goal was to establish a university that would serve the former Northwest Territory.  The Northwestern School of Communication was founded in 1891.  The school offers 6 major degrees, 2 dual degree programs, 5 minor degrees, and 16 module certifications for undergraduates, as well as 10 masters programs, 4 masters/doctorate programs, and 5 doctorate programs for graduates. It consists of five departments: the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Department of Communication Studies, Department of Performance Studies, Department of Radio/Television/Film, and Department of Theatre.  Per the Northwestern website, “Whether your focus is acting, directing, playwriting, production or design, you’ll have ample opportunity to practice your craft. As many as forty productions are staged each year in the multi-stage Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts, with an equal number of student productions across campus.”

 

Juilliard School appeared on 3 of the 5 lists as well landing at # 1 on two of those lists.  Also located in New York City, Juilliard is a private performing arts conservatory. The school trains students in dance, drama, and music.  It is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading performing arts schools, with some of the most prestigious arts programs.  The Institute of Musical Art, Juilliard’s predecessor institution, was founded in 1905 on the premise that the United States did not have a premier music school and too many students were going to Europe to study music.  The dance division was founded in 1951, and the drama division was founded in 1968.

 

USC and UCLA each made it on 2 of the 5 lists.  The University of Southern California is a private research university in Los Angeles, California. Founded in 1880 by Robert M. Widney, it is the oldest private research university in California.  USC began its music program in 1884 and founded its drama department in 1945.  The USC School of Dramatic Arts blends artistic training in a conservatory environment with the full academic experience found only within a major research university.  The University of California Los Angeles is a public research university in Los Angeles, California. UCLA traces its early origins back to 1882 as the southern branch of the California State Normal School (now San Jose State University). It became the Southern Branch of the University of California in 1919, making it the second-oldest (after UC Berkeley) of the 10-campus University of California system.  The UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television (UCLA TFT) began at UCLA as the Theater Arts Department in 1947.  Its creation was groundbreaking in that it was the first time a leading university had combined all three (theater, film and television) of these aspects into a single administration.

 

Honorable Mention:  California Institute for the Arts (or CalArts) in Valencia CA and Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh also made 2 of the 5 lists.

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.