Category Archives: Theatre

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

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. 

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.

 

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.

Winter Backdrops for Events and Productions

Winter-Trees-Legs-Backdrop

 

During the winter months, there’s a lot going on. We have holidays, the kids are off from school on breaks and vacations, and family is around to visit. There are tons of special events, gatherings, productions, parties, and plays from November through February. These colder months bring holiday cheer, sweet treats, and lots of hot cocoa.

No matter what you’re planning, or what events or productions are during this time of year, you can design an amazing setup with a beautiful winter background to set the scene. Take advantage of the time of year to curate a beautiful setting. Renting a backdrop can be easy for your production or event, and makes the scene or the room look whole and complete.

Winter-Forest-Tab-Backdrop

 

If you are putting on a holiday production at a school or for a drama club, look into our Dickens Street Backdrops. These beautiful backdrops depict Tudor-style buildings with snowy roofs. These backdrops are a classic choice and work perfectly for all kinds of holiday or winter shows.

Our Snowy Landscape Backdrops are great for creating the winter mood. If you’re holding a holiday event, and want a seasonal backdrop to set the mood, look into these snowy landscape backdrops. We have tons of different styles of trees, some with hills and mountains, and different types of snowfall on trees. Look into a snow-covered hillside, or fir trees covered with heavy snow to set the mood for your winter event.

Dickens-Street-Cut-Backdrop

 

If you’re having a holiday party, you can rent a winter backdrop for whatever age your party or celebration is catered to. Our Snowflake Backdrop is perfect for a children’s party during the winter. Our Snow Forest Backdrop is a classic and would be perfect at any holiday party or celebration.

Planning events or productions requires many steps in the process. When you’re ready to think about setup, design, and curation, look to our backdrops to really set the mood for whatever you’re planning this winter season. Add a finishing touch to your production, event, or party with a beautiful winter backdrop from Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart.  

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!