Category Archives: Theater

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.

 

Looking Toward the Tony Awards

Every year, the American Theatre Wing and the Broadway League host the Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre. You may know the awards by its more common name, The Tony Awards. We know the awards aren’t until June 9th, but we just heard about the three amazing theater veterans who will be honored that night with Lifetime Achievement Awards.

These are non-competitive honorary awards that recognize an individual for the body of his or her work. This year, the three Lifetime Achievement Awards will be going to musician Harold Wheeler, actress Rosemary Harris, and playwright Terrence McNally. Nominees for the competitive awards were announced at the beginning of May but, in this blog, let’s focus on these three and their remarkable lifetime commitment to theater.

Heather Hitchens, President of the American Theatre Wing, and Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League, stated that these Lifetime Achievement recipients, “are pioneers in each of their crafts and their contributions to American Theatre and culture has been immeasurable.”

Actress Rosemary Harris was a past Tony Award winner with 26 Broadway credits including Tony-nominated performances in The Royal Family (2009), Waiting in the Wings (1999), Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance (1996), Hay Fever (1985), Pack of Lies (1984), Heartbreak House (1983) and Old Times (1972). She won the Tony for Best Actress for The Lion in Winter (1965) and is currently starring as Mrs. Higgins in Lincoln Center Theater’s revival of My Fair Lady. At 91, Ms. Harris is still doing what she loves. She is beloved by all who get the opportunity to witness her on stage.

 

Playwright is a four-time Tony winner, for the plays Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class, and for the books of the musicals “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Ragtime.” It’s hard to believe that at the ripe age of 80, McNally’s writing has been the basis of 24 Broadway productions! In honoring McNally, the Tony committee noted that the playwright has had at least one new work on Broadway in each of the last six decades. A revival of his Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune begins its Broadway run on May 4.

 

 

Composer Harold Wheelers career as an orchestrator, composer, conductor, record producer, and arranger spans more than five decades, from being the youngest conductor on Broadway with Burt Bacharach’s Promises, Promises, to 17 seasons as musical director for the ABC’s Dancing with the Starsˆ. His Broadway credits include Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death, A Chorus Line, The Wiz, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, and Dreamgirls, with six Tony Award nominations for The Life, Little Me, Swing, The Full Monty, Hairspray, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Are you looking forward to Tony Award night on June 9th on CBS? We can’t wait to see our favorite thespians all dolled up and ready to celebrate.

Creative Expression Through Theater

No matter what role you play in the theater, you have some opportunity for creative expression. Whether you’re a theatergoer, a member of the crew, or an actor as part of the cast, every person contributing to the production and viewing the production is important to the theater community for many reasons. When people come together by creatively expressing themselves and enjoying themselves, the support rings true throughout the entire auditorium.

The Cast 

entire cast on stage

Each member of the cast is given a role that’s perfectly fit for them. When an actor proves themselves fit to play a character, they make that character their own. They have the full creative direction to take on the role in their own way. This is what makes each actor’s version of a character so interesting. Actors improve by challenging themselves to play different types of characters, learn new skills, new character traits, gestures, body language, and master different personalities.

The Chorus/Supporting Roles

Even minor roles and supporting characters have the ability to contribute their creativity. When a chorus maps out their music, they have many decisions as to how to present their music.

The chorus decides how to best position themselves on stage, how to deliver, enunciate, and articulate their lines. The role of the chorus supports the main roles by singing and speaking. Choral pieces act as interludes to new scenes, and bridge subsequent elements of the show together to highlight the importance for the audience. The way they present themselves and interject songs with scenes greatly contributes to the production.

The Crew

The crew of a production has the ability to express themselves through the set design. Building a set takes time, planning, and proper materials. The crew expresses themselves with visuals, building and curating a set that matches the theme of the production. As the show runs through, the crew makes everything possible from moving props and changing scenes. The positioning of every element of the set on stage is crucial to the production’s success and believability.

Each member of the production works together as a team. Throughout this process, creative expression is at an all-time high. Everyone makes decisions and devotes time to something greater than themselves individually. When things come together and everyone works together, the feelings of gratitude and joy after a successful opening night are truly unmatched.

When you’re looking to rent a backdrop, or purchase or customize your own, Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart has thousands of backdrops in inventory for you to choose from. Reach out to Charles H. Stewart at (978) 682-5757. Your perfect backdrop is awaiting you, ready for delivery.

Theater in the Lives of Young Adults

There is no question that the arts are a huge building block for learning at early ages for students and young adults. Throughout the holidays and celebrations every year, theatrical productions have been the best way thus far for schools to incorporate information and fun lessons into something interactive. Beyond educationally, being a part of a theater community teaches kids to branch out, make one-of-a-kind connections, and be themselves in a world of individuality. 

When a student is in theater in elementary school, middle school, and high school, they have a choice when it comes to college. Do you pursue a career in your passion: music, and theater? Or do you choose something different due to former opinions of ‘practicality’?

college students working together around computer

Boston University student, Chris Kuiken, explains this in a Boston Globe Theater article written by Kaya Williams. He says, “I was at sort of a crossroads, where I was like: What do I want to do with my life?” he says. “I was going back and forth every day between these two worlds, and trying to figure it out.”

Kuiken graduated from BU in 2017 with experience in theater, both starring in plays and admin work. The article explains, “He chose the “practical” major partly for, well, its practicality and a minor in arts administration.”

“I was at sort of a crossroads, where I was like: What do I want to do with my life?”

Why do you think it’s common for theater to be perceived as an impractical profession? In reality, theater can be more rewarding than most jobs. Creative expression is healthy, and it’s important for everyone to have an outlet. When you love what you do, and you know it’s your passion, sometimes the best thing for us is to follow that. When your outlet can become your profession, we think that’s the ultimate success.

high school theater auditorium seats

The article continues to explain that, “Despite the lucrative jobs that could come with careers in S.T.E.M. fields and business, some students — like Kuiken — are shifting their gaze from Wall Street to Broadway, from laboratory fluorescents to footlights.”

What do you think about this? Do you support the shift of young adults from big business jobs to the arts? How common are theater majors in your school or university? Let us know. 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 in our inventory. 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.

Holiday Productions to See This Season

Grinch Production

When Christmas time comes around, there are tons of Christmas festivities in which to participate. Musical theater is a great way to celebrate the holiday. Catch a show with some friends, or enjoy a night with family and go to dinner and a show. When you haven’t seen family or friends in so long, there’s no better way to catch up and spend time together than to go see a musical or a Christmas play. Our busy schedules make it hard to see the family year-round, especially if you live far from your loved ones. When you finally do get to see the ones you love, make these moments even more special with an inspiring and family-oriented musical.

We have listed some of the most popular shows during the holiday season. These favorite holiday shows will have everyone excited to spend a night out together. Which show will you and your family attend?

 

  • The Shubert Theater in Boston is Putting on A Charlie Brown Christmas from November 29 until Dec 2, 2018. If you have younger ones in the family, the kids will definitely enjoy this show.

 

  • See A Christmas Carol at The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, MA. Presented by The Berkshire Theatre Group, this show will be running from December 8 through December 22, 2018. This is definitely a show the whole family will love. It’s also running at the North Shore Music Theatre from December 7 to December 23, 2018.

 

charlie brown xmas

  • If you’re looking to travel to NY for the holidays, you’ll love this one. The Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes runs from November 9, 2018, through January 1, 2019.

 

  • The Boston Ballet is presenting The Nutcracker at the Boston Opera House from November 29 to December 30, 2018. The Nutcracker is a classic and an all-time favorite of many.

 

  • The Wang Theatre is presenting How the Grinch Stole Christmas from November 28 to December 9, 2018. See one of the most renowned holiday stories presented live at the Wang Theatre.

 

  • See Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at Capitol Center for the Arts on December 4, 2018.

rudolph production

These shows are great options for celebrating the holiday cheer. We hope this list helps you decide on a show to see this season. If you don’t find much that appeals to you on this list, stay up to date with our social media this month. This may inspire you in other directions, as we’ll be posting about all things holiday theater for the month of December! If you have questions about putting on your own holiday production this season, we can help. Contact Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart at (978) 682-5757.

 

November Calls For Thanksgiving Productions & Parades

 

Thanksgiving: The holiday comes around every November, bringing together communities, families, and friends. When the season comes, we decorate: floats and stages light up with colors and designs, and streets are lined with smiling faces.

For young children and kids, Thanksgiving can be one of the most exciting, expressive and theatrical parts of the year. Parades allow for communities to come together, as people love giving thanks and showing appreciation when the season takes off.

September is the start of the school year, and students are happy to be getting into the groove of things with a new teacher and new classmates. Thanksgiving brings about themes of unity, kindness, and connecting with your roots. Students take the stage, and teachers and directors teach incorporate history lessons through productions. This educational opportunity is also an opportunity for children to be creative and express themselves.

The first Thanksgiving is always one of the most loved productions performed among children ages k-5. This play surrounds the first English settlers coming to the ‘new land’ of America. Themes of this play teach children about following their dreams, aspirations, persevering, and meeting goals.

Thanksgiving School Play

Plymouth Rock is said to be the first piece of land in which the English settlers touched down. This is always a favorite element of Thanksgiving productions in schools. This is often taught by highlighting the interactions between the English and the Native people of this land. This aims to teach people about working together, acceptance, and coexisting. Many Thanksgiving productions also include elements of the Mayflower, the ship in which the English settlers traveled.

When it comes to Thanksgiving parades, there is so much decorating to do on your float! Look to backdrops, interesting props and a cool set design for your float to really capture the essence of the holiday, and still represent your organization. When your family and friends line the street in excitement, you’ll want to showcase your group, club, or your communities hard work in the best way possible. If you’re looking for ideas/inspiration for this year’s float, check out our catalog.

The props, set designs, and costumes for Thanksgiving productions and parades can be extensive and colorful. Children and community members love getting involved, and learning something along the way. No matter what you’re looking for, let Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart inspire your Thanksgiving festivities this year.

A Performing Arts Center to Be Built at Fenway Park

 

FSG (Fenway Sports Group) has announced plans to build a theater and performing arts center at Fenway Park. We all know Fenway to be home of the Boston Red Sox, and Fenway Park itself is the true representation of the American pastime.

To think of a performing arts center going into Fenway is an unreal thought for theatergoers and fun-lovers. The center will be located on the triangular area behind the right-field bleachers. The theater is expected to hold 5,000 people!

Chairman of FSG Tom Werner explained the purpose and possibility of the venue. “The success of Fenway Park as a year-round venue has paved the way for this project, which will ensure the Lansdowne Street area remains a true entertainment district in Boston. To have an intimate, indoor performing arts space for smaller-scale events will allow for a wider array of uses throughout the year.” The performing arts center will work with schools and other local organizations to share this space and hold events.

As noted in the press release, “The Fenway Theater will be owned by FSG and operated by a newly formed joint venture, Fenway Music Company, a partnership between Fenway Sports Management (FSM) and Crossroads Presents, a concert promotion and venue management company…”

What does this mean for Boston? Thinking of the excited, welcoming, and supportive crowds in which the red sox games attract only excites us, even MORE, to think of the energy that will surround these performances and productions.

We can see the visitors and residents of Boston and surrounding areas absolutely loving this venue. Let us know what you think by connecting through social media. Comment and even share this blog for those who haven’t heard the news! We can’t wait to see what’s next for Fenway Park, and this awesome space to be.

London’s 8th Annual Horror Theatre Festival

spooky scene

For the 8th year, London’s Horror Festival has finally been announced. Hosted at the Red Lion Theatre with over 30 productions, this Halloween season will have theatergoers and horror lovers chilling with fright, and extremely impressed.

London’s Horror Film will be offering dramas, comedies, musicals, and spoken word about all things spooky starting October 7th. Each year there is a theme for their annual playwright competition, and this year they are honoring Mary Shelley for the competition of “Women in Horror.” Her most renowned creation, Frankenstein, has its 200th year anniversary in 2018.

Catch tons of theater productions that truly push the limits of live production and performance. You are bound to find something you love, and something to make you really think when you attend a festival like this.

Scary ghost scene

Theater festivals are an awesome time for people to come together and bond over a common interest. When it’s a special reason for celebration, like a themed or holiday theater festival like this one, it can be even more interesting. Though this festival is in London, we can tune in and see what this annual horror fest will bring theater-goers and thespians.

If you’re REALLY into festivals, even horror fests, this might be something you want to follow on social media, inquire about, and maybe even travel to see.

Jackolanterns

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!

Hot Summer Broadway Musicals

The dog days of summer are over.  But it is still summer.  Some like it hot.  Some don’t.  Here’s a list of a few shows that deal with the heat of summer.

110 in the Shade

110 in the Shade is a musical with a book by N. Richard Nash, lyrics by Tom Jones, and music by Harvey Schmidt.  Tony Award nominations went to Schmidt and Jones as Best Composer and Lyricist.  It also had nominations for best actress, actor and director.  An original cast recording was released by RCA Victor.

Based on Nash’s 1954 play The Rainmaker, it focuses on Lizzie Curry, a spinster living on a ranch in the American southwest, and her relationships with local sheriff File, a cautious divorcé who fears being hurt again, and charismatic con man Bill Starbuck, posing as a rainmaker who promises the locals he can bring relief to the drought-stricken area. Nash’s book is faithful to his original play, although all the interior scenes were moved outdoors to allow for the addition of townspeople for ensemble numbers and dances. Many of Jones’ lyrics come directly from Nash’s play.

The musical opens with “Another Hot Day,” setting the scene for the scorching summer weather that is at the center of the show’s plot.

Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here is a musical with a book by Arthur Kober and Joshua Logan and music and lyrics by Harold Rome. The musical was adapted from Kober’s 1937 play, Having Wonderful Time and revolves around a summer camp for adults.  For many years, this 1952 musical was best-known as the “swimming pool musical” because the production featured an actual swimming pool on stage.  The characters could take dip when they weren’t singing the wonderful Rome score.  The story centers around the guests looking for fun in the sun at Camp Karefree in the Catskills as they enjoy a respite from the everyday life.  The show opened at the Imperial Theater and ran for 598 performances and was a lighthearted escape into the world of summer vacations.

Carousel

Carousel is a musical by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics) that was adapted from Ferenc Molnár’s 1909 play Liliom, transplanting the Budapest setting of Molnár’s play to a New England fishing village. The show includes the hit musical numbers “If I Loved You”, “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over”, and “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Carousel was innovative for its time, being one of the first musicals to contain a tragic plot with themes of suicide and domestic violence.

The original production opened on Broadway on April 19, 1945, and ran for 890 performances. The musical has enjoyed award-winning revivals (particularly the 1994 revival at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre) and has been adapted as a Cinemascope 55 film in 1956 and as a made-for-television special on videotape in 1967. It is particularly well-regarded among musicals by the theatre community, and Richard Rodgers, in his autobiography Musical Stages, said it was his favorite musical. Time magazine named it the best musical of the 20th century.

After a mill girl, Julie Jordan, marries a handsome, but uncivilized carousel barker, Billy Bigelow, things turn sour for the couple. Billy cannot find a job and he and Julie are forced to live with their cousin, Nettie. Further, Billy has taken to using violence against her. Nevertheless, Julie continues to love her husband. In the end, after Billy discovers that Julie is pregnant, disaster strikes. In a desperate ploy for money, Billy’s friend, Jigger Craigin, convinces Billy to help him assault and rob David Bascombe, the mill owner. After this plan fails, Billy kills himself instead of spending the rest of his life in prison. Nevertheless, fifteen years later, Billy is allowed one more visit to Earth. He attempts to show his love for his daughter, Louise, and Julie – but he is unable. Even still, Julie can sense his love and Billy witnesses Louise graduating from high school.

Greenwillow

This is a musical readers may not be familiar with.  Greenwillow is a musical based on a novel by B.J. Chute with a book by Lesser Samuels and Frank Loesser and music and lyrics by Loesser. The musical is set in the magical town of Greenwillow.  In Greenwillow, the eldest in each generation of Briggs men must obey the “call to wander” while the women they leave behind care for the home and rear their children in the hope that someday their husbands will return.  Gideon Briggs loves his girlfriend, Dorrie, and would like nothing better than to settle down with her, but he spends his days trying to fight his need to travel, instead focusing his energies on his girlfriend.   He finds in the town’s newest inhabitant, the Reverend Birdsong, an ally who will try to help him make his dream come true.  Greenwillow didn’t last for very long (97 performances at the Alvin Theater), but one song did enjoy popularity: “Summertime Love,” a tribute to the excitement and passion of a summer romance.

BONUS

Summer:  The Donna Summer Musical

You read that right.  Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is a musical with book by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary, and Des McAnuff and music and lyrics Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte, Paul Jabara, and others, based on the life of Donna Summer.  The musical made its premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse from November 7, 2017 through December 24, 2017 and opened on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre to previews on March 28, 2018 before opening on April 23, 2018.