Category Archives: On Stage

The Importance of Introducing Children to Live Theater 

Most people who love theater think of it merely as their favorite form of entertainment. I mean, what’s not to love about escaping reality and getting pulled into the lives of the characters on the stage? But did you know that, while you are enjoying the show, you are also learning, connecting, and finding ways to relate to others? Theater, especially live theater geared towards children, can have more of an impact that just a fun afternoon out watching people recite lines, act, and playout characters. Read on to find out why theater is important for our younger learners. 

Immersion of Culture 

Through live theatre, audiences, both young and old, are immersed in stories about characters from every background imaginable. Characters who are a different race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and gender can teach children about what it is like in cultures around the globe, not just the small world where they live in. Imagine the positive impact that can have on a child who now has his/her eyes opened to what it is like to be someone from outside their cultural background. 

Creativity and Imagination 

As part of the audience asked to imagine Jack’s “beanstalk” growing out of the stage floor, or that a Big Bad Wolf can actually talk, takes some stretching of the imagination. This creativity requires that the audience thinks outside the box. This can translate into the nurturing of creativity and imagination that can be a valuable asset later in life. “Theatre is the single most valuable place where kids can explore the endless possibilities of their imaginations and what they can do,” according to Danica Taylor, a writer for the Rep Theater online

School Performance and Community Service 

Research from UCLA’s Graduate School of Education by Dr. James Catterall shows that students who are exposed to the arts are more likely to be involved in community service, and are less likely to drop out of school. Studies by neuroscientists have shown that both the left and right hemispheres of the brain need to be fully stimulated in order for the brain to utilize its true potential. This means that it is just as important to immerse children in creative activities that exercise the right brain, as it is to immerse them in scientific and analytic activities for the left-brain. (Source: Taylor, Rep Theater) 

Communication 

As students become involved in theater, not merely as a passive theater-goer, they learn the skill of communication both verbally and with body language. Imagine how fun it is to learn how to speak clearly so even the person at the back of the theater can understand your message. This skill is needed in almost every career industry imaginable. 

Why does your child learn while he/she is involved in theater? For some, it may be as simple as how to be a good audience member who pays attention and is courteous. Leave us a note on our Facebook page or on our website

Don’t Miss These Late Fall Broadway Shows

Broadway is a beautiful place all year long. But something magical begins to take place during the late fall weeks that peek into the upcoming winter. The New York City streets begin to show signs of the holidays and the hustle and bustle seem more, shall we say, jolly. That’s why it is such a special time of year to head to the Big Apple and take in a show or two. 

There are so many great shows to choose from, and choosing one or more can be difficult. Here are a few that Playbill has noted as up-and-coming shows not to miss. So gather up your fall attire, make reservations at your favorite NYC dining spot, and get ready for a few months of theater. 

The Crucible 

The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, is playing at the Connelly Theatre with the first preview on November 8, 2019, and opening on November 21, 2019. Under the direction of Eric Tucker, The Crucible is a 1953 play by American playwright Arthur Miller. It is the dramatized and partially fictionalized story of the Salem Witch Trials that took place in Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1692–93. Miller wrote the play as an allegory for McCarthyism, when the United States government persecuted people accused of being communists. The cast includes Shirine Babb, Rajesh Bose, Truett Felt, Caroline Grogan, Paul Lazar, Susannah Millonzi, Arash Mokhtar, Ryan Quinn, Randolph Curtis Rand, Zuzanna Szadkowski, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, John Terry, and Eric Tucker. 

Evita 

Evita, by author Tim Rice and music by the acclaimed Andrew Lloyd Webber, begins its first review on November 13, 2019, with opening night on November 14, 2019. The musical examines the rapid and controversial ascent of Eva Perón, the First Lady of Argentina, until her untimely death at age 33. On the one-hundredth anniversary of Eva Perón’s birth, this presentation deepens your understanding of one of Argentina’s most adored and reviled figures. The director is Sammi Cannold and the cast includes Solea Pfeiffer, Maia Reficco, Enrique Acevedo, and Philip Hernandez. 

We Will Rock You

We Will Rock You opens November 14, 2019, at the Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden. The musical tells the tale of a group of Bohemians who struggle to restore the free exchange of thought, fashion, and live music in a distant future where everyone dresses, thinks and acts the same. Musical instruments and composers are forbidden, and rock music is all but unknown. The musical is based upon the songs of British rock band Queen with a book by Ben Elton.

Do you have a show you are dying to see? Comment on our Facebook page or in the comments below. Check out our Backdrops that will help make any show come to life. 

 

Overcoming The Stress of Tech Week 

The phrase “Tech Week” can cause even the most solid thespian to shudder in fear. The long hours, the fear of failure, and the stress can be enough to send you over the edge. What can you do to make this inevitable week less stressful? Read on to hear from others who have been there before and their suggestions to overcome the stress of the dreaded tech week! 

Determine Your Point People

There is nothing worse when things go south on stage during tech week than having too many people add their thoughts and suggestions. Be sure to have one or two people who are level headed, patient, and knowledgeable to handle the hundreds of questions that can come up during the week. Save your sanity and let your actors know who the appropriate person is to handle each type of question. 

TheaterFolk online suggests, for example, who is the most likely person to know where a missing pair of pants might be? Who should be contacted if one of the stage lights burns out? Whom should students check with if they need help reviewing their entrances and exits? (If you answered the costume head, the lighting designer/operator, and the stage manager, then you would be right!) These are your point people and they are worth their weight in gold.

Plan Breaks 

Tech week can be one really long week. It is tempting to try to power through it and get as much done each day as possible but you will see burnout happens. We suggest planned breaks at intervals that are decided upon before you start this crazy week. Encourage your group to get up, stretch, go outside, have a quick bite to eat, and clear their heads. Being inside all week working on lighting, tech, and props can make you feel detached from the rest of the world. Taking even a few minutes of self-care during this busy week can put you in a better place than the one where you are tired, hungry, and losing patience. 

Schedule it Out 

Tech week for professionals means lots of hours doing what you love and getting paid for it. For students, tech week means balancing school work and theater prep. Be sure to schedule out time to get your studying done as well as complete that homework. You may also want to plan your meals and sleep time as well. It may seem ridiculous to plan it out but tech week brings new meaning to marathon lighting sessions and rehearsals. The more you can block out time for other important things in your life, the better. 

Are you crazy during your tech week? How do you handle the stress and balance your life during this time? Give us some suggestions in the comments section and let us know your tips of the trade. 

 

Movies that Began on Broadway 

In this age of Marvel movie crossovers and watching characters from one superhero film show up in another one, we have become accustomed to the idea of crossovers. But did you know that Broadway theater shows have been making the leap from the stage to movies for years before it was “in?” 

As a child growing up in the ‘80s, I had lots of musicals that would come spinning out of my mouth as I played with friends or concentrated on my homework. After seeing Annie on stage, I was a “hard knock kid” for months and months. I knew the lines and characters arguably better than the actual actors. 

Fast forward a few decades and I brought my sons to Annie at the local movie theater. My kids loved it as much as I did but boy was it a culture shock to see how they adapted it to our modern, tech-savvy lives of today. The songs and the premise were the same, but the cultural and social aspects were completely different… not bad, just different. 

Lots of Broadway shows have been adapted for movies in our society today. Two of my favorites are Grease and Mamma Mia! Again, the songs were the same but each was shifted just enough that you could tell that Hollywood had put their stamp on it. 

Depending upon your generation you may remember different Broadway shows before they became screen hits. For example, my mom’s generation remembers West Side Story, My Fair Lady, and Les Misérables before they were adapted. Who knows, younger generations may someday remember Hamilton on stage if it ever gets sent to Hollywood. 

What is your favorite Broadway show that was remade in Hollywood? Tell us in the comments and tell us whether you liked the remake or not. 

 

Theater Traditions 

Baseball players use the same lucky bat, football players don’t change their game day socks, and for years I have not stepped on sidewalk cracks for fear of breaking my mother’s back. Superstitions run deep in some people, but none more than theater people who have a long list of unique theater traditions. 

Theater folk are a fiercely superstitious breed and they follow certain traditions to ward off bad luck and make each production go smoothly. Some traditions are rooted in historic theater lore, while others actually seem to make pretty good sense. Check out some of our favorite theater traditions. 

 

Break A Leg 

One of my favorite theater traditions that has made its way into mainstream American life is the phrase “Break a leg.” This means good luck even though it sounds horrible. In Shakespeare’s time, ‘break’ meant ‘bend’, so to ask someone to ‘Bend the Leg’ meant to take lots of bows at the end of a performance. Then there are the die-hard thespians who believe that there are theater ghosts or fairies who like to cause mischief by or wreak havoc on your production. So saying the opposite is better luck than wishing someone good luck. Go figure! 

 

Flowers Before a Performance

You should never give a reward before the event has occurred, therefore giving flowers before a performance is another no-no in the lore of theater traditions. To give a bouquet of flowers to the actors, director, or producer before the end of the show would, again, tempt the fates. 

 

Terrible Dress Rehearsal Means a Great Performance

For this superstitious belief, I really think it is a way of chasing away the night before performance anxiety and nerves. Many actors really believe that all the things that go wrong (and there are usually a lot of things that go awry) during the last dress rehearsal are a good omen of the opening night. Most likely, this lore came from tired cast members who are nervous about the upcoming show and need that adrenaline boost of the opening night to shoo the worries away! 

 

The Ghost Light 

For decades crew members have been leaving on one light – the ghost light – to ward off bad spirits after each performance. Many believe this superstition came from too many people tripping over props and other items left behind the curtain. Others believe it is the ghost of the first actor, Thespis, who is haunting the stage at night. 

Does your theater group have any unique traditions? Share them with us and let us know where the traditions came from. We love to hear all the great superstitions. 

 

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.”