Category Archives: Productions

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.

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 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.

 

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.

 

The Power of Student Theater Productions

Were you ever a part of a student production during middle or high school? If you were, just the mention of it probably brings back some fantastic memories of plays and musicals that your school presented. Friendships are formed, lines are memorized, and the group bonds over the excitement and anxiety of opening night!

Musical theater is a powerful art form that can transform the lives of those who take part in it, but its power is often overlooked. Many students who take part are often not aware of its impact until years later. Even students who don’t aspire to perform on Broadway can learn new skills and hone skills they already have. Compassion, problem-solving, and self-confidence are just a few of the powerful characteristics that students can improve upon during their time in theater classes or productions.

Think about the concept of playing a part in a school play. A student must not only learn the role but learn the motivation and inner thinking behind the character. This means that students learn empathy and compassion for the person they are portraying, even if that character is the antagonist.

In addition, students need to work with the entire theater group to “block out” movements on the stage, know when and where props are to be placed, and how actors should move on and off the stage. This all takes cooperation and problem-solving. These two skills will serve students well into their careers and family life later.

Improving self-confidence is another spin-off of working on the stage. Students learn to trust themselves and how to conduct themselves on stage. This definitely spills over into school life and eventually career life.

One area that we have not touched upon, and which is vital to learn, is how to accept criticism or feedback in a positive manner. In today’s social media world where it is far too easy to block people who disagree with you, learning how to take feedback from a producer or director is a critical life lesson.

The power of theater can be felt by students in so many facets of their lives. How has theater improved your life? Did it help you hone a skill or get over a fear? Tell us in the comments below.

 

Theater as a Political Artform

Since the dawn of the earliest Greek performances, the stage has forever been a place where political issues have been examined. Aristophanes was known to be one of the earliest Greek comical satirists, bringing up issues of morality, Athenian politics, social life, and law into his plays. Today, our theaters are a reflection of the myriad of issues in our society such as respecting people of different colors, creeds, and orientations. Let’s take a closer look at theater and how it can, for better or worse, raise red flags about the nature of politics in our lives.

Since our current administration took office, there have been political statements, both outright and subtle, about the legislation that has been embraced regarding immigrants, Muslims, women’s rights, and the list goes on and on. Theatergoers have long since expected and, in some cases, demanded that performances take note and address these issues.

Whether you agree with political happenings or not, theater has always been, and probably always will be, a voice for those who are disenfranchised. Theater performances have a way of holding up a mirror to society and showing the majority the inner thoughts of the minority. Broadway is famous for calling out issues and societies mistakes in play or musical form.

Take, for example, the cast of Hamilton, a wildly popular Broadway musical lauded for telling the Founding Fathers’ story with a deliberately multi-cultural cast and compassion for immigrants, calling out Vice President Mike Pence. The Vice President, who openly opposes LGBTQ+ rights, took his seat at a Hamilton production to a chorus of boos.

According to Vox online, “the booing would’ve been noteworthy on its own — but it was only the beginning. The real coup de grâce came when the Hamilton cast remained onstage well past their curtain call to address Pence directly.”

As Pence was walking out of the theater, Hamilton cast member Brandon Victor Dixon — who’s currently playing Aaron Burr — called out to him, asking him to stay and listen what they had to say. He then pulled out a piece of paper and delivered the following remarks, as the cast linked arms in solidarity behind him:

Vice-president elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us at Hamilton: An American Musical. We really do. We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us. We truly thank you for sharing this show — this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.

The moment was top billing on the news for days to come. Some Americans were shocked at the actions of the actors while others were quick to point out that political satire and accountability have been a hallmark of theater productions since the first plays in the marketplaces in ancient Greece.

While this event took place in 2017, the question has still remained about the role of theater in political expression. What are your thoughts about theater as a place for political art? Leave your comments below and let us know how you feel.

 

Planning for Spring Productions

Though it’s still February and there may even be snow on the ground, spring is soon approaching, and it will sneak up on us before we know it. February is a great time to start considering your productions for the spring, as the choice and selection of the production is a production in itself! You’ll want to give yourself as long as possible during the consideration stage, tossing out ideas among the team, and discussing budget/feasibility. Read through this blog for tips on planning the spring production.

 

First, begin with ordering a few scripts that you’re interested in. Read through the scripts with the group, and see how everyone feels about the leads, supporting roles, duration of the play, and see what the set would take to build. Be sure the script falls within your budget and timeframe.

Then you can start seeing which of your actors would be interested in auditioning for which roles. Hold read-throughs to see who fits most naturally with which character. When you cast your group and establish your crew, you can take the time to think about budgeting, staging, different scenes, choreography, and music. Some of these elements will be worked through with your director, but during the planning stage, be sure you have everything you need before you begin.

 

As you work through each scene with your director, you’ll notice some things that don’t quite work and other things that work quite well. You’ll have to make some changes as you go, but this is all part of the process.

Many theater organizations hire an outside choreographer or someone to come in and help with direction. Depending on the size and funding available of your organization, this might be a good option for you. Drama clubs often rent backdrops, props, curtains, and more from rental companies. Sets can be difficult and timely to build, so when theater organizations don’t have all of the resources needed in-house, they can rent props to make productions look beautiful, detailed, and complete.

 

It may seem overwhelming when you dive into planning a new show for a new season. Though it is a process, don’t be overwhelmed, as there are many resources and planning tips to help you through. Take things slowly, and plan every detail so your cast and crew are ready to deliver an amazing opening night performance.

 

woods scene backdrop

 

Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart has been your leading edge scenic design and backdrop rental company for over 120 years! Come to us with your theatrical needs to enhance your production with well over 1,500 backdrops, drapes, lames and scrims to choose from. We are here to serve all your backdrop and scenic design needs.

Mary Poppins Returns is, Yet Again, Practically Perfect in Every Way!

In 2018, Disney and theater fans across the world were gifted with Mary Poppins Returns. As a sequel to the original movie, an anticipated 54 years later, Mary Poppins is back with her bag of tricks to help the Banks children. The movie is now finally in theaters, so we knew a blog dedicated to the classic and timeless story was beyond necessary.

There are so many elements of this follow-up of the first movie. Director Rob Marshall knew he couldn’t remake such an original and monumental movie, but he knew the team could still incorporate some elements to keep that same authenticity and bring Mary Poppins back to life.

 

We’ll talk about some of the elements of Mary Poppins Returns in this blog, but don’t worry, no spoiler alerts here. This sequel takes place in London starring Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, and even includes appearances from Dick Van Dyke! Dick Van Dyke played Burt, the chimney sweep, in the original Mary Poppins. He even gets on stage for a dance number! This is an unbelievable surprise for Mary Poppins fans as he’s now 93 years old!

 

Fans are saying that Emily Blunt is the perfect Mary Poppins, pictured to the right. It really brings childhood memories to life for many when Emily Blunt appears in the sky and descends from the clouds.

 

With the return of some favorite characters from the original, Mary Poppins lovers will not be disappointed. The writers and directors even included the animations that fans loved oh so much from the original version of the film. Animations include the original penguins dancing and tons of colorful, fun scenes.

 

Mary Poppins Returns Poster

 

You can watch the behind-the-scenes footage of how Mary Poppins Returns was made. It’s beautiful to see cast and crew from the original movie on the set of the sequel, commenting about the same energy and passion on set that was present during the making of the first movie. In the behind-the-scenes footage, we also get to see what went into casting the second film, and how important it was to cast the right actors for such big roles. As the original Mary Poppins was cast as Julie Andrews, Emily Blunt opens up about what it meant to play her version of Mary Poppins. We also get the inside scoop from the children cast as the Banks children, and what it was like working on set. The trailers, behind-the-scenes, and introductions to Mary Poppins Returns builds quite the anticipation. When you finally see the movie, you won’t be dissatisfied. It’s practically perfect in every way!

 

When are you going to see the movie in theaters? Tell us how you liked it after you see it with family, friends, and your biggest Disney fans. Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart has been your leading edge scenic design and backdrop rental company for over 120 years! Come to us with your theatrical needs to enhance your production with well over 1,500 backdrops, drapes, lames and scrims to choose from. We are here to serve all your backdrop and scenic design needs.

Answering Basic Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October Means: All Things Tim Burton

Tim Burton

For the month of October, we thought we’d highlight the most renowned horror directors and producers. Known most commonly for his dark and eccentric fantasy films like Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Sleepy Hollow, Sweeney Todd, and so many more, this writer and animator has dominated the arts with all things spooky.

You guessed it, ladies and gentlemen. We give you, Mr. Tim Burton! Let’s highlight two of his most beloved productions.

Edward Scissorhands
This was one of the spookiest yet most creative and popular works of Tim Burton in 1990. He co-wrote and directed this with Caroline Thompson, as he did with The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride. It was about Edward, half human, half an unfinished product as a creation of an inventor.

Shot in Lakeland, Florida, the film tells much of Burton’s life and childhood in Burbank. Edward Scissorhands aired as a ballet in 2005, and toured the U.S, Canada, Australia, and Europe.

edward scissorhands

The Nightmare Before Christmas
Burton produced this in 1993 for Disney, and was originally meant to be a children’s story. The film was directed by Henry Selick and written by Burton along with Caroline Thompson.

This production was one of the most popular in the box offices with revenues of over $50 million. It was most popular for its animation, and remains recognized for its unique style.

Horror and fantasy shows make for great theatrical productions. Many people love to see the spookiness, especially right on stage. Burton has gone down in horror production history, and we can’t help but think of him during this season.

Have you seen any of these productions as plays? Which one was your favorite? Were you cast or did you watch from the audience? Versions of Tim Burton pieces are often chosen for theatrical productions and musicals. Comment and share, as we want to hear from you!

Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart has been your leading edge scenic design and backdrop rental company for over 120 years! Come to us with your theatrical needs to enhance your production with well over 1,500 backdrops, drapes, lames and scrims to choose from. Call us at (978) 682-5757 today!