Why Arts Programs Need to Be Saved

Most of us who keep up with world events know that as the national economy fluctuates so does funding for school arts programs. Music, drama, art, and band classes are reduced, and sometimes eliminated entirely, when the economy takes a turn for the worse. For art supporters and enthusiasts, this is terrible news that has long lasting consequences well after the middle and high school years are over. Here are a few of the reasons why arts programs need to be saved.


  • According to several studies there is a relationship between sustained involvement in instrumental music across middle and high school and high level math proficiency in grade 12, particularly for students from low income families.
  • Keyboard and vocal studies contribute to increase math, spatial, and science abilities.
  • Music programs have led to a rise in motivation in students who are looking for a way to socialize in school.
  • Music provides children and young adults a chance to participate in school in a way that is not possible in the classroom or on the sports field.
  • The loss of music programs disproportionately impacts low income families who do not have access to music privately. By eliminating these programs, towns and cities are turning their backs on the most vulnerable among us.
  • Music and arts classes provide a balance for the academic side of learning in schools and give students a chance to pursue their passions.


As Americans decide where they allocate funds in their school districts, it is important to recognize the benefit of the arts for students and the consequences that will result if arts education is missing from their lives.

Elements of a Great Set Design

Set design has evolved from the once bare minimum of furniture and simple backdrops, to technological feats of massive proportion. As the technology evolves and advances, there are countless options for stage design, including: contemporary, whimsical, eclectic, and everything in between. Stage design can help propel a production into greatness or it can deter from the mood, theme, or, unfortunately, the overall story line if done incorrectly. What, then, are the key components of a great stage design. Let’s take a closer look:


  • Focus – Stage design should first consider what the audience should be focusing their attention on, whether it is a solo singer, an actor, or a large group dance. The stage design should merely be a supporting piece to focus the audience’s attention to where the action, mood, or story is taking place. In fact, most performances have several focal areas that can be easily changed while the audience views one part of the show.
  • Stage Layout – Great stage design takes into account the movement of the production and where the actors need to be. There is nothing worse than having stage pieces blocking entrances and exits. Plan carefully the stage design so that each part of the production flows seamlessly to the next, regardless of the stage pieces needed.
  • Timing – Set design that is done well can create a grand reveal and help with the timing of the show. Consider a solo artist singing a ballad with one spotlight and a stool; this set design creates an intimate setting and the reveal of his/her solo performance.
  • Lighting – Set design relies heavily on the lighting crew to add to the mood, action, and story line with proper lighting. Fantastic lighting can not only support the mood, but also give depth to the stage and help the audience focus on the most important part of the performance.


Like all designs, set design can communicate with the audience and tell the story that is trying to be told. If you need help deciding on your set design, call Charles H. Stewart. Phone: (978) 682-5757 – www.charleshstewart.com

Scenic Design Ideas

Whether you are looking for a simple scenic design, or a complex, changeable stage design, Charles H. Stewart offers a wide variety of backdrops designed to accommodate most high quality productions for theatres, schools, dance recitals, and corporate events. We feature a rapidly growing selection of stage curtains that have been directly inspired not only by Broadway, National Tours, and London’s West End productions, but also by a wide variety of popular, world-class entertainment venues, such as Las Vegas, Branson, world-renowned nightclubs and film/television productions.


While our primary products are large format backdrops, we also offer a growing selection of valances (or borders) and legs. Browse our website to see our new inventory. We are constantly growing our already wide selection of scenic backdrops.


Here are just a few of the ways we can help you with your set design and organize our website for your set design needs:


  • By Show – Visit our website to see how we match certain productions to the backdrops we already have in our inventory. We list a large number of shows and match the backdrops that would be appropriate for that production. The work is done for you and frees your set designer from pouring through hundred of backdrops.


  • By Category – If your theater group is considering a show that we do not have listed on our inventory, you may want to search by category, such as: barns, beaches, zoos, circus, streets, or skylines. If your production is an original or one that you are unsure of what may be needed for the backdrop, talk to our team who can steer you in the right direction.


  • New Backdrops – As productions come out on Broadway and in smaller theaters around the globe, we keep up with the times by adding new backdrops constantly. Check back on our website regularly to see our latest additions.


  • For Sale – Who doesn’t love a good sale? We offer several backdrops that you may want to purchase, which can be used as a permanent backdrop or to grace your stage throughout the year.


Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart can help you start your production on the right foot. Call us or visit our website today! Phone: (978) 682-5757 – www.charleshstewart.com

Stage Lighting Mistakes

Stage lighting involves more than just lighting the stage and actors on it with varying degrees and hues of lights; it is about creating a mood, focusing the attention of the audience, and helping create action in and around a performance. It takes careful planning and understanding of the production and flow of the show to do this successfully. Lighting, and how it is used on the stage, can make or break a production. Therefore, here are three stage lighting mistakes to avoid when planning your next show:


  • Too Many Lighting Cues – Actors and stagehands have many, many cues throughout a performance that tell them where to stand, when to speak, and when to exit the stage. These cues are critical to the setting and storyline. Lighting is just one more area where the people on and off the stage need to be aware of cues and react to them. If there are too many cues to remember, or the lighting changes are too numerous to make a big impact on the mood or direction of the show, it may be time to consider cutting down on the number of lighting cues.


  • Too Many Color Flashes – Lighting and, more specifically, flashes of dramatic color can show a change in the mood or the direction of a show. Unfortunately, the audience may not take kindly to a multitude of these flashes and it may be detrimental to the overall review of the performance. The audience should come away from a show remembering the story and the mood, not the annoying flashes that hurt their eyes.


  • Budget – Preparing and planning the resources for your production is critical. Premium lighting can cost a pretty penny, so plan well in advance and do your research on the types of lighting that you need.


Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart can help you create an amazing stage design with its backdrops and many experienced professionals who can answer common questions and stage performances.

A Little Early History of Stage Design

Today’s scenery and set design in theatrical productions can range from extremely simplistic to deliriously technical. Sometimes it is fun to look back at how far we have come in scenery design and the art of theater that has evolved over the past centuries. Here is just a glimpse into what set and stage design used to be like so long ago:


Did you know that . . .


  • The western tradition of theater began in ancient Greece. Ruins of the earliest theaters – great outdoor amphitheaters – are still standing in places like Greece, Italy and Turkey. Designers of those theaters understood that maximum communication between the stage and audience was essential. The actual set design was minimal and usually relied on costumes, some props, and occasional items that stood on the stage.
  • Prior to the Renaissance, set design consisted merely of drawings or paintings on the back wall of a theater. Some theaters were open air theaters and relied only on the dialogue to give audience members a clue as to the setting.
  • During the Renaissance, mathematicians would help design sets to give the illusion of space, depth and perspective.Tables, moving pieces, and other gadgets helped with sound effects.
  • During the 19th Century, playhouses emerged that were designed specifically for shows that would allow for props, furniture, and design elements to make the performance come alive.
  • During the 20th Century, the first college set design course was offered at Yale University.
  • Today, set design has grown and evolved from these humble beginnings. It now relies heavily on the steadily advancing technology. There is an increasing use of computer-generated imagery, computerized lighting systems, robotics, and other technologies that allow stage walls and floors to move, rise, and drop at the touch of a finger. I wonder what the next few decades will mean for set design?


Elements of Great Stage Design

Designing a set for a theater productions, whether it is large or small in scale, can be overwhelming. Professionals know that there are many parts of the performance that need to fit together like a puzzle in order for it to flow and be performed seamlessly. Whether your stage design is meant to be simplistic or highly technical, there are some common elements that the professionals would recommend that you consider before you finalize your plans:

  1. Focus – Think about what you want the focus to be before you begin designing. What exactly do you want the audience to zero in on? Is it a lone actor projecting a monologue, or is it a full cast performance that requires technical assistance? Once you discover where the focus should be, you can add the design to enhance the acting and score.
  2. Stage Layout – Create a detailed and practiced drawing of the blocking of the show. Nothing can ruin a show like an actor being blocked from making an entrance or stage props being unable to be accessed at the right time.
  3. Lighting – Always consider the lighting when creating your set design. It can bring out the mood and allow for careful movement of backdrops or stage props.
  4. Timing – Be sure to consider the flow of the show. Do the set changes slow down at some points and speed up at others? How will you accommodate the different moving pieces so that it does not become a distraction to the audience?
  5. Mood – What type of mood are you trying to portray in each part of the show? Set design can enhance the mood and, in some cases, set the mood for the actors and audience members.

Talk to the professionals at Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart for your set design questions. Call (978) 682-5757

Finding Scholarships for the Theater-bound Grads

So when you told your parents you were heading to college to study theater and hoped to make it on Broadway or in some other stage production city, did they gasp in horror? Did they ask how you would support yourself or pay off those college loans you were sure to have? Well, I guess it all depends on the type of parents you have. Hopefully they are (or will be) supportive. Unfortunately, support sometimes can only go so far and you may need financial help to make your theater dream come true.

Being a theater major, you are passionate about your craft, so take some time to be passionate about funding your way through school and training. A theater degree can be expensive (heck, headshots can be expensive), and starting jobs right out of school can be low-paying or even non-existent for some. That is where theater scholarships come in handy. You will, however, need professional training to help you reach your goals of being a star, so take a look at some of these ideas to find scholarships to make your dream a reality:

  • Federal Aid – Always check out the federal aid applications to see what you may qualify for depending upon your specific financial situation. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the main application for federal aid programs. The FAFSA determines an individual’s ability to pay for college. According to the Department of Education, tax information from the previous year yields the most accurate assessments. You will need both your 1040 and W-2 to complete the FAFSA. A quick online search will help you with this.
  • Individual College and Universities – Check with the colleges or universities to which you are applying to see if they offer scholarships specific to your major. Many theater schools are aware of the huge burden of paying for college and will offer some amazing scholarships to their own students. Call the financial aid office at the schools to which you are applying to inquire further.
  • Private Scholarships – These types of scholarships take a little digging and hard research on your own. Here is a great resource that may help you get started looking for private scholarships in the theater field. Scholarships.com

When Theater Sets Dazzle the Show

Some theater productions become famous because of the brilliant acting or singing. Other shows become well-known because the dialogue is sublime or the score is exceptional. Still others are distinguished due to the relevancy of the topic or issue that is discussed in the production. And then there are the shows that simply dazzle because the set design leaves the audience amazed and inspired, and, in some cases, wondering, “How did they make that look so real?”

What can a phenomenal set do for a play or musical production? Here are just a few of the ways a set can make a production a “must-see” event.

  • A Window into the World on Stage – Great sets have the ability to take the audience into the world that is being portrayed on the stage. When an audience truly feels as though they are right in the play with the actors, the set design crew has done their job well.


  • Balance out a Weak Performance – A dazzling set can actually disguise weak material and/or acting. When an audience is focused on how a stage is designed or how realistic things appear, they are, many times, willing to forgive weak content or acting.


  • Support for the Main Characters or Message  – A set that changes seamlessly, supports the characters, and gives depth to the theme or meaning of the show can make a production come to life, and, in the end, become wildly successful financially.


So next time you are at a show that you are raving about consider what aspects made you love it so. Was it the acting, the score, the story line or . . . maybe, just maybe, you were drawn into it by the set design?

Common Set Design Mistakes

Every designer, whether it is for home decor, graphic design or set design runs into common problems and overages. There are so many components to bring together in a seamless performance that just about anything that can go wrong, will. Resident Set Designer at Hedgerow Theatre Company, Zoran Kovcic says, “You know what an expert is? It’s someone who’s made more mistakes than you.” There are many common errors when designing and setting up a stage environment. Here are just a few that you may want to avoid if you are directing or producing a performance on stage.

  • Rushing it – Many set designers need to be multitaskers and able to handle multiple performances at varied venues. In these cases, rushing and missing details can be a problem. Even the smallest detail can make or break a show. Take your time and go step-by-step through the script and take copious notes that will help you design a set that matches the action on the stage.
  • Over Designing – Some designers go the other direction and add too many moving parts to the set. This can get a bit overwhelming for the crew if there are too many pieces of furniture or too many prop changes to make.
  • Overspending – The cost of set design can range from working on a small budget to exorbitant amounts. Keep your costs in check by spending “smart.” Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart can help you set the tone and scene without costing you an arm and a leg for furniture or background props.
  • Not Listening to the Actors – Often in stage performance, the actors are the first line when it comes to understanding the blocking and flow of the show. Always talk to the people closest to the show to find out how the design should work for them.

Broadway or Off-Broadway?

Ever wonder what reviewers, critics and promoters mean when you hear the terms “Broadway” and “Off-Broadway” being bandied about in regard to your favorite theatrical productions? Well, Broadway is a main thoroughfare that cuts diagonally from the northwest to southeast of Manhattan island completely messing up the grid pattern of streets on the island, but creating large open spaces for places such as Madison Square, Herald Square, and Times Square. But are all the shows that are considered Broadway on this particular street? Let’s take a closer look.

According to Playbill Online Most “Broadway” theatres are located on side streets near Broadway in midtown Manhattan including West 41st Street through West 52nd Street between Avenue of the Americas and Ninth Avenue. The one exception is the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center, near West 65th Street. The nickname “Broadway” was originally given at the turn of the 20th century when most theaters were located on the actual street called “Broadway.” Today there are only four “Broadway” theatres that are actually on Broadway: the Winter Garden, the Roundabout, the Marquis, and the eponymous Broadway Theatre. The term “Broadway” today also gives a sense that the show and theater are larger and tend to be more well known, or at least, hopefully, more successful.

Off-Broadway indicates that the theater is outside of the main area of Broadway, and instead is usually in areas such as Greenwich Village, the upper West Side, and, to a lesser degree, the East Side. The general term “Off-Broadway” also means that the scale of the production, as well as the size of the theater, tend to be smaller and attract less attention. Although this does not mean the show will be “less” – consider Rent as an example of an Off Broadway show that made it big!  When shows are considered appealing to a larger crowd at some of the smaller Off-Broadway locations, they may switch classifications to be newly considered as “making their Broadway debut.”

So the terminology theater buffs use when talking about Broadway vs Off-Broadway refers to, not only the physical location of, but also the size and appeal of a show. I hope this helps you in your quest to understand all things theater related. Check back next month as we look at more terms and fun shows debuting this fall and winter!