Category Archives: Theater

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. 

 

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.

 

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.