Category Archives: Theater

smiling dad and daughter

Does Theater Make Us Better People? 

In a May 2021 Op-Ed article in the Los Angeles Times, authors Steve Rathje, Leor Hackel, and Jamile Zaki made the case that experiencing the magic of theater makes us collectively better people. We love this concept and wanted to explore this a bit further now that the theater industry is coming back after 18 months of being shut down due to the coronavirus. 

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Why Theater Makes Us Better? 

According to Rathje, Hackel, and Zaki, theater makes us better people because, “it is a vital way to build psychological skills — especially empathy, or our ability to share, understand and care about others’ emotions.”

At the heart of their article they pose the question, “Can watching theater actually build people’s capacity to care?” There’s actually some scientific research that has been done that supports this idea. 

In a nutshell, over 1,600 surveys were given to theatergoers before and after performances in two major cities; New York City and Portland, Oregon. 

The viewers watched either “Skeleton Crew,” written by Dominique Morisseau or “Wolf Play” by Hansol Jung. The former being about auto workers in Detroit at the start of the financial crisis and the latter revolving around the struggles of a a lesbian couple trying to adopt a child. 

In both cases the surveys were meant to determine if empathy for the auto workers or lesbian couple increased due to experiencing the show based on those stories. 

The findings were exactly what the authors believed, theater can make us better, more empathetic, caring people. “After seeing the plays, we found that audience members expressed more empathy for the groups depicted onstage and changed their attitudes about a wide range of political issues.”

The study even showed a change in behavior for the theatergoers who increased their donations to a charity. The way this part of the experiment works went as follows: 

  • Audience members were given the option to donate some of their payment money to a charity. 
  • The more they gave to a charity the less they would receive in the form of a gift card. 
  • After seeing the plays, audience members donated more to charity regardless of whether the charity was related to the plays.

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Psychologists Weigh In 

Historically, psychologists have believed that theater has the power to teach about current topics, help viewers change their attitudes, build psychological skills, and reduce prejudice. 

Psychological skills such as empathy, compassion, and sharing can be built just by merely experiencing a show. The authors of the LA Op-Ed explained theater as a sort of “empathy-gym” where the brain is taught to strengthen the skills of empathy and compassion towards others by experiencing what they feel through a show or musical. 

Additionally, theater can help change our attitudes and reduce prejudices just by “walking in someone else’s shoes” during a performance. The experience allows people to understand someone else’s circumstances and experience life from someone else’s perspective. 

What do you think? Can theater help us become better, more empathetic people? Drop us a line below and let us know your thoughts. 

 

Most Popular High School Musicals & Plays – Part 2

Last week we explored the most popular high school musicals including: The Addams Family, Mama Mia, and Beauty and the Beast. Now we shift our sights toward plays that have ranked in the top 10 according to an NPR Education Performance poll

One of these delightful shows may make it on your short list for this year’s performances. Enjoy our resources and remember that our backdrops coordinate with major shows to make your scenery come to life. 

Sherlock Holmes

Top Ranking Plays 

There are so many great plays out there that deciding on one for your group of teens can be a long and difficult process. Here are three of the top ranking plays that your group may fall in love with including: Clue, Almost, Maine, and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream.  We have included general information on the number of cast members and ensemble requirements for your planning purposes. 

Clue 

Based upon the Hasbro board game and the 1985 Paramount movie of the same name, Clue is a beloved murder mystery story with a comedic twist. According to Broadway Licensing, Clue tells the story of a dinner party gone wrong when the host turns up dead.

The main characters, Wadsworth, the butler, Miss Scarlett, Professor Plum, Mrs. White, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock and Colonel Mustard race to find the killer as the body count stacks up.

Almost, Maine 

Set in a remote and mythical town, Amost, Maine is a series of nine short plays that examines the themes of love and loss. The main characters, residents of Almost, Maine, find themselves falling in and out of love in various and sometimes hilarious manners. 

Almost, Maine set box office records and has been adapted into a book of the same name. Your students are sure to love this quirky and thoughtful play. 

Casting for this play is flexible and can range from four main actors taking on several parts or 19 actors taking individual roles. 

A Midsummer’s Night Dream 

In this Shakespeare play, the theme of love resurfaces again and again. Set in Athens, Greece, the plot of this complex play revolves around the planning of the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta

Subplots, (and there are many,) follow two Athenian lovers and a group of amateur actors rehearsing for the wedding day, who find themselves in a forest inhabited by fairies. 

Like every great Shakepearian play, there is conflict, love, and eventual resolution, sometimes with hilarious outcomes. Your students will love the challenge this complex layered play will provide. 

Even with the pause from last year during the pandemic, high school musicals and plays are as popular as ever. Check out the lists from Playbill that rank the top musicals and plays. You are sure to find one that fits the skills, size, and depth of the acting provided in your school. 

 

high school musical

Most Popular High School Musicals & Plays – Part 1

Oh, how we have missed traditional high school musicals and play performances coming out of the nation’s secondary schools this past year. This type of performance is often a young person’s first outlet or foray into expressing themselves or their art. In fact, many young people get the theater “bug” during their high school years and go on to act for years to come. 

According to a study released by NPR Education Publishing, there are ten top shows that rank as the best musicals and plays for high school level performances. This takes into account the size of the cast, skill set needed, and popularity of the storyline. Theater groups, directors, and producers may want to utilize some of these findings as they begin their search for the perfect show this fall or winter. 

Let’s take a look back at some of the most popular high school plays and musicals to give you inspiration to plan your next performance. 

Top Ranking Musicals 

In the category of highest ranking musicals, the top three include: The Addams Family, Mama Mia, and Beauty and the Beast. Just hearing those names has my toes tapping and some catchy lyrics spinning around in my head. 

The Addams Family 

A comedic marvel, the Addams Family celebrates the quirky differences that every family experiences. The story unfolds as daughter, Wednesday, brings home a “normal” boy who must impress her parents as he begins to date their special daughter. The Addams family requires 10 major roles with a flexible ensemble. The licensing belongs to Theatrical Rights Worldwide

Mama Mia 

Set on a beautiful Greek island, Mama Mia tells the story of a young bride-to-be trying to determine who her real father is. The bride discovers that three men are possible matches to be her true father. The story is told using the hit songs by 1970’s singing group ABBA. 

The cast includes 13 main parts with singing roles and a large ensemble that will need dancing and choreography skills. If this musical sounds like it is one your students would love, the licensing belongs to Music Theater International

Beauty and the Beast 

This favorite musical explores the true meaning of loving someone for what is inside rather than just their appearance. Beauty and the Beast follows the unlikely love story of a village girl who was determined to save the life of her father from the grotesque Beast. She then finds out that everyone has a story and that the Beast is no beast after all. 

The cast includes 12 major roles and a very large ensemble with dancing and choreography skills. If your theater group is interested in this show it is licensed by Music Theater International

Want the complete list of rankings for high school musicals? Check out these resources that can help you determine your shows this year. Don’t forget to check out our scenery and backdrop options that correspond to each show. 

 

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.

walkway backdrop

Backdrops for Your Business 

When people hear about our nationally known backdrops, they often immediately envision a theater, stage, or a Broadway show. While this is an accurate vision, we also want our readers to know that we can also provide backdrops for businesses that could take your presentations up a notch. 

trees and tall bushes garden backdropHow Businesses Can Use Backdrops 

Backdrops can create a setting for many different types of businesses. Dance studios, corporate functions, weddings, photo studios, photo booths, storefront product scenes, virtual job fairs, and the list goes on and on. Any one of these scenarios can look more professional, polished, and engaging with a Backdrop from Charles Stewart. 

For example, many dance studios have moved their performances outdoors to accommodate as many audience members as is safe, due to social distancing during this outbreak of the coronavirus. Another example would be seasonal backdrops such as some of our holiday backdrops for photo shoots or photo booths during wedding receptions or for families during this season of holiday picture taking. 

Yet another example of how businesses are thinking outside the box and using backdrops is in the digital world. Many businesses have needed to shift gears toward virtual events such as job fairs, presentations, and performances. These events can be made to look so much better with a setting … thus a backdrop. Not all businesses have access to a green screen studio, so a professionally designed backdrop can create the scene you are hoping to portray. Each backdrop can be delivered directly to the client and set up is easy with our easy to use grommets and tie lines spaced approximately 12-14 inches apart.

Benefits of Backdrops 

Theaters have known for years that the setting of a show can be created wonderfully with a series of backdrops, props, lighting, and amazing costumes. The same can go for your presentation, mini-show, wedding ceremony, photoshoot, or other event that your business may need to pull off during these challenging times. Create the scene you are hoping for with one of our backdrops. 

Backdrops can also create a professional look to any business or performance. If your company is trying to impress clients, this could very well be the way to do so. 

Backdrops, while always associated with Broadway and Off Broadway performances, are also used in so many business settings. Consider our wide selection of backdrops for all of your business needs. 

Broadway sign

What Hamilton Has Taught Us

Most people who experience a live theater production leave with a sense that they learned something, either about themselves or possibly the world around them. The characters, music, and dialog can add up to a moment of epiphany or understanding that few of life’s events can equal. 

One such production that has taken the United States by storm and is rich in life lessons, is the unlikely story of an American hero, politician, and statesman, Alexander Hamilton. In August of 2015, the hit show Hamilton premiered on Broadway. It has experienced an amazing run with productions in New York, Chicago, and London, with a traveling company that toured the U.S. 

Not only is the show wildly popular, but it is nearing the top 10 of highest grossing musicals of all time, and investors have seen returns of over 600%. These are not numbers that would be lost on our financially savvy Alexander Hamilton. 

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Learn From the Past 

The story of Alexander Hamilton is filled with life lessons even though it is set in the late 1700s and early 1800s. One of the biggest lessons of the production is that we can still learn from what happened long ago. Our young country is still grappling with many of the same issues today. 

Take for example, the many instances in the production that makes references to the inequalities among immigrants, women, and people of color. The same theme of disenfranchisement and inequities can be seen in our nation today, as we struggle with how this pandemic is impacting people of color at a higher rate and how our nation has become divided in the protesting of brutality against men and women of color. 

theaterCombine the Old With the New 

Less than a decade ago, if someone had said they were going to write a musical meant for Broadway that would be set during the American Revolutionary War era, but set to contemporary rap and hip-hop-style music, they would have been laughed at. Lin-Manuel Miranda actually was laughed at as he described the production that was yet to be released. 

Yet, just five years after this production hit the stage, no one can imagine that this show would be anything other than spectacular! In fact, adults and children alike are singing the songs of Hamilton word-for-word. 

The lesson here is that by combining the old (historic lessons of the revolution) with the new (musical styles) one can learn deeply about an age that set the tone for our country. Forbes Magazine online stated that, “In Hamilton, a familiar story and an old theatrical genre gets a new perspective with a multi-cultural cast and contemporary music performed at a rapid-fire pace (if Hamilton was sung at the pace of a typical musical, the show would be almost six hours long). On stage, the cast is dressed in period costumes from the neck down, but their hair, their attitudes, and their vocal tone, are very much now.”

No matter what lesson you walked away from Hamilton with, you can probably bet that each theatergoer learned a little about how they feel about our country’s history, immigration, race relations, and the role that women play in all of this. Let us know what you took away from Hamilton in the comments or on our social media page.  

 

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.

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Can You Get a Broadway Fix From Home? 

With the coronavirus keeping us all away from large gatherings like the movies, malls, and theaters, it may feel like a dismal time for thespians and musical fans. 

We’ll let you in on a little secret. You can get your Broadway fix from home! 

The theater arts world has been hit hard by the current world health crisis. In March of this year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, along with governors across the country took precautions to stop the spread of the virus by closing large gatherings like the ones we are accustomed to seeing along the famed “Great White Way”, and at movie theaters from coast-to-coast. 

broadway show

Gatherings of more than a few people have been banned and theaters have taken it a hit financially, not to mention the mental toll on theater lovers who find joy in this form of entertainment. 

Thankfully, the wonder of modern technology and the innovation of talented singers and actors has enabled many of us to enjoy the musicals and shows right from the safety of our own homes. 

The Power of Technology 

Using videoconferencing, many of our Broadway stars are entertaining patrons directly through the technologies we’ve all come to love including Zoom, Google Meet, and Skype.  For instance, on a recent John Krasinski show entitled “Some Good News,” the former “Office” actor set up a Zoom chat with a young fan named Aubrey for the show. Part way through the show he surprised her when Lin-Manuel Miranda, star of the famed Broadway show Hamilton, “crashed” the call along with a cast of characters to sing their smash hit, “Alexander Hamilton.” 

Instances of these live video chats are popping up all over the internet and surprising viewers with new and acoustic renditions of our favorite Broadway songs from musicals across all genres. 

For more viewing options through the Actors Fund on YouTube or their website

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Theater at Home 

If finding a Zoom conference with your favorite Broadway actors isn’t your thing, you may want to try Broadway Theater in your home. Recorded performances can be found online at BroadwayHD (a Netflix form of Broadway), Metropolitan Opera Live Streams, and some amazing one-on-one video chatting opportunities are available at Broadway Plus. Most of these options are free or at least offering free trials for those interested. 

Don’t let this brief intermission (of sorts) keep you from enjoying your favorite theater experiences. Check back with us for more updates on theater openings and opportunities. 

 

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Remembering Our Favorite Musical Shows 

As we discussed in our last blog, going to the theater or local playhouse is not going to be a reality anytime in the near future. Industry insiders don’t anticipate being able to open theaters for many weeks, if not months. Our world has changed, and losing our entertainment outlet is just a small fraction of the way that life has quickly shifted. 

In an effort to keep the lights on Broadway shining, at least in our hearts and minds, we thought this would be a good time to review a few of our favorite musicals and what we loved about them. 

lion drawing The Lion King 

Ranking as one of the highest grossing musicals of all time, The Lion King is a favorite of all ages. The adaptation of the Disney classic is known for its score, fantastic acting, and above all, the stunning costumes that appeal to audiences all over the country. 

Wicked

One of only a few Broadway shows to earn more than $1 billion, Wicked remains the second most successful production of all time. Based loosely on the Wizard of Oz, Wicked is a spectacular show that captures the imagination of every audience that has the privilege of seeing this masterpiece. 

Mama Mia 

One of our personal favorites is the smash Broadway hit Mama Mia. Based on the hit songs from musical group ABBA, Mama Mia ran for 14 years which ranks it as the ninth longest running performance and fourth highest earner.

revolutionary war imageHamilton

Who hasn’t heard of this musical? Hamilton has taken the country by storm and the lyrics of the songs are known by children and adults alike. According to ShowBiz online, “This unique story of our Founding Fathers is an unlikely hit for Broadway as it includes a combination of rap, R&B, hip hop, soul, and show tunes along with non-white actors portraying the main characters. Tickets are sold out for eternity, proving that a little ingenuity was just what Broadway needed.”

Broadway has brought so many of us joy, laughter, and an emotional connection to others, that it would be hard to choose just one show that was everything to everyone. We would love to hear what your favorite Broadway show or musical is and why. Drop us a line in the comments or visit our Facebook page and tell us your thoughts. 

 

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The Impact of the Coronavirus on the Theater and Entertainment Industry 

On March 21, 2020, Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered New York City’s theaters to indefinitely shutter due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the weeks that followed, the 41 Broadway theaters that housed shows such as Hamilton, Lion King, Mama Mia, and The Book of Mormon, have been completely in the dark. 

Recent reports in the New York Times expressed hope that the curtains may be able to rise soon. Initially, theater leaders thought it may be possible to consider reopening mid April. Obviously that optimistic date has since come and gone with the pandemic numbers not showing much improvement in the Big Apple or across the nation. 

sorry we are closed signAt an early April news conference, the Broadway League, a trade association representing producers and theater owners, said the 41 Broadway houses would remain shuttered at least through June 7, 2020. Insiders say that even this date is being too optimistic. They are mentally hoping for a potential July 4th opening to kick off the summer. In reality, the course the virus takes will be the determining factor that will signal the approval for reopening the theaters in NYC and across our nation. 

The shuttering of Broadway will be felt both economically and emotionally for weeks, if not months. The loss of performances and jobs has been and will continue to be devastating for the entire theater industry including: actors, performers, costume makers, choreographers, sound & light technicians, and the thousands of vendors that make Broadway thrive. 

empty bus stop The economic impact promises not only to cause hardship for the people within the theater industry but all will have a ripple effect to other areas. Those employed in the industry may have trouble paying rent, keeping up with bills, or providing for their family. These ripples of economic pain could go on and on. 

Emotionally, it’s crippling to see one of America’s institutions go dark. It is an all-to-painful reminder that our world has changed so incredibly much in the blink of an eye. The loss of jobs, while staggering, is nothing compared to the loss of entertainment that can soothe the soul, make us smile, and let us show our emotions freely. 

Until the time that we can go enmasse to theaters, it is our country’s duty to support this integral part of the fabric of our nation. For a limited time you will be able to find Broadway shows online in full video. Follow the link to get your favorite show right in the safety of your living room. Enjoy, and remember to do your part to flatten the curve and slow the spread of this pandemic.