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• Special Section on

Special Effects

TheatreFace.com/join

• Cirque’s Viva Elvis Turns “Jailhouse Rock” Upside Down

• Dealing with the Bullet Barrage of

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J U N E 2 0 1 0

How American Idiot

keeps its punk sound as

it storms Broadway.

Not

Selling

Out


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J U N E 2 0 1 0

Table Of Contents J U N E 2 0 1 0

David Cooper

30

16

Features

12 Suddenly This Summer

Starting a summer theatre program at an

undergrad institution. By Lisa Mulcahy

16 A Designer as Co-Pilot

Christopher Acebo, associate artistic director

at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival,

talks about his design work, and what it’s

like for a designer to be involved in casting.

By Evan Henerson

19 Amplifying American Idiot

Sound Designer Brian Ronan and FOH

Engineer David Dignazio talk about how

they keep Broadway’s newest rock musical

true to its punk rock roots. By Bryan

Reesman

24 Documenting Lighting

Design, Then and Now

Virtuality has led to better paperwork—

and a better chance to study and learn

from the pre-digital. By Justin Lang

28 School Spotlight:

The Theatre School at

DePaul University

A Q&A with the Dean of The Theatre

School at DePaul University, John Culbert.

Special Section:

Special Effects

30 SFX and Violence

Choosing special effects when staging

Bonnie & Clyde, without trying to compete

with the memory of the movie. By Brad

Hathaway

32 Cirque du Soleil’s Viva

Elvis Is in the Building

This jailhouse rocks for a spectacular

effect. By Kevin M. Mitchell

35 Nine Ways to Wow

Your Audience

Extra-special special effects to inspire

creators and leave big impressions on

audiences. By Kevin M. Mitchell

How American Idiot

keeps its punk sound as

it storms Broadway.

Not

Selling

Out

• Special Section on

Special Effects TheatreFace.com/join

• Cirque’s Viva Elvis Turns “Jailhouse Rock” Upsidedown

• Dealing with the Bullet Barrage of

Departments

4 Editor’s Note

Are we telling the stories of theatre-makers

everywhere? By Jacob Coakley

4 Letters to the Editor

Advice and options for color scrollers.

5 In the Greenroom

The nominations have been announced

for all sorts of awards shows; A theatre

for one person in Times Square; Utah

Shakespearean Festival names new A.D.’s.

11 Tools of the Trade

Summer breezes, cool lemonade and

brand new gear.

41 Off the Shelf

Books that get to the heart of what we do.

By Stephen Peithman

44 Answer Box

Drew Cohen, President of Music Theatre

International, on adapting shows for

younger performers. By Jacob Coakley

ON OUR COVER: Tony Vincent as St. Jimmy in the

Broadway production of American Idiot

PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Paul Kolnik


Publisher Terry Lowe

tlowe@stage-directions.com

Editor Jacob Coakley

jcoakley@stage-directions.com

Lighting & Staging Editor Richard Cadena

rcadena@plsn.com

New York Editor Bryan Reesman

bryan@stage-directions.com

Editorial Assistant Victoria Laabs

vl@plsn.com

Contributing Writers Brad Hathaway, Evan Henerson,

Justin Lang, Kevin M. Mitchell,

Lisa Mulcahy, Stephen Peithman,

Bryan Reesman

Consulting Editor Stephen Peithman

ART

Art Director Garret Petrov

ProduCTion

Production Manager Linda Evans

levans@stage-directions.com

WEB

Web Designer Josh Harris

ADVERTISING

Advertising Director Greg Gallardo

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National Sales Manager Michael Devine

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Audio Advertising Manager Jeff Donnenwerth

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Sales Manager Matt Huber

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OPERATioNS

General Manager William Vanyo

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LINDA EVANS

Editor’s Note

From Sea to Shining Sea

Are we telling the stories

of theatre-makers everywhere?

Two things happened this past week. One,

Theatre Bay Area held its annual conference

on Monday, May 10. And Two: I

was accepted to the Seven Devils Playwrights

Conference in Idaho. What do these two things

have to do with each other? Let’s tackle Theatre Bay Area first.

Theatre Bay Area is a non-profit organization that exists to “unite,

strengthen, promote and advance the theatre community” in the

San Francisco Bay Area. They publish a monthly magazine promoting

local theatre and educating local theatre-makers; run a discount ticket

booth; give out grant money for theatres, artists, technicians and productions;

and much, much more.

Part of that “much, much more” is producing an annual conference

where local theatre-makers can get together, talk about the state of

theatre in the Bay Area, create strategies and connections to grow,

and also get connected to the larger world of theatre in America.

One of the panels they had this year was titled “Rethinking New Play

Development,” and one of the speakers on that panel was David

Dower, from Arena Stage in Washington D.C., where he is director

of the Arena Stage/NEA New Play Development Program. David is a

smart and generous guy who is phenomenally dedicated to creating

new theatre—of all sorts. Before he went to Arena Stage he was the

founding artistic director of Z Space in San Francisco, a crucible for

new works.

Although I couldn’t be at the TBA conference, I followed it on

Twitter using the #tba2010 hashtag. And one of the tweets from the

conference quoted David as saying “The Bay Area [is] like Brigadoon.

No one knows you’re here.” This raised my ire, and I fired off a flurry of

tweets, citing facts and statistics about the vital theatre community

in the Bay Area, and how much they had contributed on the national

stage “What,” I finally ended my barrage with, “does the Bay Area have

to do in order to get some theatrical recognition/respect?”

Clearly this was coming from a raw nerve. David, however, kept his

cool, and replied to me a little later. “I think they have to tell their stories!”

he wrote. “But [you’ve got] a great question—and there’s more

names than anyone’s naming at work in the Bay Area.”

Two things about this. One: Institutionally, I’m the editor of a magazine

about theatre. Hopefully I’m doing a good job telling the stories

of theatre artists and productions from everywhere in the country. Let

me know if there’s an area you think I’m neglecting, and please send

me any news of what’s going on where you are.

And Personally: I need to do a better job at letting people know

what projects I’m working on. I’m a writer, and even with my years of

acting, I still shy away from self-promotion. Which brings me to the

Seven Devils Playwrights Conference. My play Authentic was accepted

into their 2010 season, so for two weeks this June (June 7-19) I’ll be in

Idaho, re-writing and rehearsing for their Playwrights Intensive readings.

I’m incredibly honored. I’ll be blogging, tweeting and sharing all

about the Conference when I’m there. You can follow along on Twitter

at www.twitter.com/stagedirections, and at www.theatreface.com/

authentic.

Have a great summer,

and don’t be strangers. Help

me showcase great theatre

wherever it happens.

Jacob Coakley

jcoakley@stage-directions.com

Letters

Advice on Color

Scrollers

Hey, we are getting ready to move back into our

theatre this summer and I have been asked to look into

color scrollers for the onstage lights to amp up the rep

plot’s versatility. The instruments are Source 4 PARs and

ellipsoidals. Can anyone tell me what color scrollers you

have had experience/success with? And also what pitfalls

or common problems scrollers present.

Thanks in advance.

Stefanie Christensen

Charleston Stage Company

I’m chiming in from Connecticut, and I work in a college

theatre that has an inventory of Wybron CXI IT

color scrollers. The almost infinite amount of color (or

432 distinct colors if you need specifics) are an amazing

contribution to almost any production/event. The fans are

definitely not that noticeable and my fixtures are hung at

about 19 feet off the deck in a 50-foot-by-60-foot black

box theatre. The digital controls/settings are mounted

in each scroller so the silly menu associated with power

supplies is a thing of the past. Very easy to use and very

flexible! I’ve been running mine for about a year-and-ahalf

now pretty consistently and the two integrated gel

strings are holding up very well. Makes designing in rep

a cinch! Of course, I will add that if you have the money

a dichroic color system would last much longer—such as

the SeaChanger Color Engine or High End Systems’ Color

Command unit.

Good luck!

Jesse Riley

I have used several name brand scrollers over the years.

For the last 5 years I have been using Apollo Smart Color

scrollers. The first cool thing about them is that they are

adjustable. They are the 7.25” size. I use them on ETC

Source 4 PARs and the standard Source 4 ellipsoidals at

19°–50° degrees. They will probably fit a variety of fixtures.

The great thing about them is that over five years,

I haven’t had a single scroller break. And I’ve never even

lost a scroller—knock on wood. Just plan your cable runs

well. Many systems run best under a certain length of

cable. I do maintenance on them by blowing them out

with air and wiping them down twice a year. They offer

two types of assembled scroll color palettes, Theatre and

Rock ‘n’ Roll, which is what I use. They may make custom

colored scrolls for you.

Tommy Hanlon

www.theatreface.com/join

This conversation happened in TheatreFace.com

—are you a member?

www.theatreface.com/join

4 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com


In the Greenroom

theatre buzz

Awards Season Kicks Off

The Awards season kicked into high gear in May with

the annual crush of awards for Broadway and Off-Broadway

excellence when the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and

Tony Awards all announced their nominations.

The Outer Critics Circle were the first to announce winners,

with musicals La Cage Aux Folles and

Memphis taking home four awards each.

Memphis earned wins for New Broadway

Musical, New Score, Choreographer

(Sergio Trujillo in a tie with Bill T. Jones

and Fela!) and Actress in a Musical

(Montego Glover, in a tie with Catherine

Zeta-Jones in A Little Night Music). While

Folles won for Revival of a Musical

(Broadway or Off-), Director of a Musical

(Terry Johnson), Actor in a Musical (Douglas Hodge), and

Costume Design in a Play or Musical (Matthew Wright).

The Tonys will be held on June 13. The Drama Desk Awards

will be given out on May 23.

Theatre For One Hits

Times Square

In the midst of all the hoopla

surrounding awards season,

acclaimed Broadway set designer

Christine Jones debuted “Theatre

for One,” a four-foot-by-ninefoot

portable theatre with one

performer playing to one audience

member in Times Square.

The uniquely intimate theatrical

experience was available on

a first-come, first-served basis

between May 14–23. The theatre

was fully-operational, with

computer controlled lights and

sound, stage and audience doors

and solid sliding “curtain” in a

proscenium to start and end the

performances.

“We are thrilled to provide

Theatre for One with its

Broadway debut,” said Tim

Tompkins, President of the Times

Square Alliance. “This installation

marks not only the public

and world premiere of Theatre

for One, but also a number of

new commissions for this unique

performance space.”

www.stage-directions.com • June 2010 5


theatre buzz

In Brief

John Guare will serve as judge for the Yale Drama

Series for three years: 2011, 2012 and 2013. The winner

of the Yale Drama Series—given annually to an

emerging playwright—is awarded a prize of $10,000,

publication of the play by the Yale University Press,

and a reading at the Yale Repertory Theatre… The Play

Company—the Off-Broadway theatre company celebrating

its 10th anniversary currently with the U.S. premiere

of Toshiki Okada’s play Enjoy—has announced

that it has been awarded a three-year, $135,000 grant

from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation intended to

help The Play Company maintain artistic initiatives

and significantly develop the company’s working capital

fund… Theatre Development Fund, the not-forprofit

service organization for the performing arts,

has received a $10,000 grant from the CVS Caremark

Charitable Trust, the private foundation created by CVS

Caremark Corporation. The grant will support TDF’s

Access for Young Audiences program, which offers elementary

and secondary school students in the tri-state

area the opportunity to attend accessible Broadway

performances… Center Theatre Group is launching a

new theatre educator professional development program.

Designed by CTG’s Education and Engagement

department, P.L.A.Y., and supported by a grant from

JP Morgan Chase Foundation, the Chase Theatre

Educators Fellowship Program will award five fellowships

to outstanding educators on an annual basis. The

program is intended to help the educators build their

capacity to teach and integrate theatre in their classrooms.

The fellows will receive up to $5000 each, plus a

$100 Chase gift card for post-fellowship class materials.

The five teachers selected for the inaugural year of the

Chase Theatre Educators Fellowship Program are: Brian

Patrick Byrne of Milken Community High School, Los

Angeles; Joanne F. Karr of Walnut High School, Walnut;

Jane McEneaney of Turning Point School, Culver City;

Brandon Rainey of Fernando Pullum Performing Arts

High School and Lou Dantzler Prep Charter Schools,

both in Los Angeles; and Patricia Sciortino, Bridges

Academy, Studio City… The National Endowment for

the Humanities has bestowed a Chairman’s Special

Award of $800,000 to Aquila Theatre Company at

NYU’s Center for Ancient Studies. Artistic Director Peter

Meineck called the award “unprecedented,” since it is

one of the two largest grants every made by the NEH

and the only one for a theatre company. The money

will help Aquila launch its newest program, Ancient

Greeks / Modern Lives, which will bring the classics

to 100 veteran, inner city and rural communities. This

marks the first-ever theatre and community-based

Chairman’s Special Award. No other theatre company

has ever received a grant of this size from the NEH.

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6 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com


Eugene O’Neill Theater Center

Receives 2010 Regional Tony

The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center

will receive the 2010 Regional Theatre

Tony Award, which is presented on

the recommendation of the American

Theatre Critics’ Association. Located

in Waterford, Connecticut, The O’Neill

is home to six distinct programs:

the O’Neill Playwrights Conference,

Music Theater Conference, Puppetry

Conference, National Theater

Institute, Critics Institute and the

Monte Cristo Cottage, O’Neill’s childhood

home located in neighboring

New London. The O’Neill was founded

in 1964 by George C. White and

named in honor of America’s only

Nobel Prize-winning playwright. The

organization previously received a

special Tony award in 1979.

The work of The O’Neill focuses

on the script as it begins its journey

to the stage. The actors work with

minimal props and no sets or costumes,

holding scripts in their hands,

revealing for the first time a new play

or musical, puppetry piece or cabaret

act.

theatre buzz

Playwrights’ Center Revives PlayLabs,

Expands Opps for Students

The Playwrights Center in

Minneapolis, Minn., will reintroduce

their PlayLabs festival this fall. In a

separate move, it will also double

its highly-regarded Core Apprentice

program through a deepened partnership

with the Kennedy Center

American College Theater Festival

(KCACTF), thanks to a grant from

the National Endowment for the

Arts.

PlayLabs, the Playwrights’

Center’s acclaimed festival of new

plays, will return this fall, following

a one-year hiatus. The festival will

run at the Playwrights’ Center in

Minneapolis, October 19-24, 2010.

“Our year-round Lab for new

play development had expanded

to the point where we were developing

over 50 new plays in one

season,” said Playwrights’ Center

Interim Director Craig Harris. “At

the same time, summer festivals

devoted to new play development

were emerging all over the country.

We took a step back to re-evaluate

the place of a new play festival in

the context of our own programming

and what was most effective

for the field.” By taking place in

the fall, PlayLabs will avoid overlapping

with the many theatre festivals

that take place in the summer, making

the festival more accessible to

theatre professionals who need to

travel to view or participate in the

festival.

As in previous festivals, PlayLabs

will feature two readings of each

featured play. This year, however,

playwrights and their collaborators

will be given more time between

readings to make changes, incorporate

feedback, and push the play’s

development further before presenting

it to the second audience.

“This festival design is the direct

result of playwright feedback,”

Harris said. “The two-reading format

is one of the things that distinguishes

PlayLabs from the rest of

our development activities, and we

want playwrights to be able to take

full advantage of it.”

The Playwrights’ Center’s Core

Apprentice program will bring

the nation’s top undergraduate

and graduate student playwrights

to Minneapolis to develop their

work at the Playwrights’ Center.

The grant from the NEA’s Access

to Artistic Excellence program will

support an increase in the number

of playwright apprenticeships

offered annually from five to ten

as well as the creation of a new

apprenticeship track in the field of

dramaturgy for three additional students.

8 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com


industry news

Creative Stage Lighting’s

Entertainment Power

Systems Now UL Listed

Creative Stage Lighting’s Entertainment

Power Systems power distribution units are

now UL listed, meeting the safety requirements

of Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.

Creative Stage Lighting’s EPS racks are fully

modular power distribution systems for

industrial uses and touring entertainment

productions. EPS racks are made for lighting,

sound, and video applications and

are available in standard configurations or

custom built for specific needs.

“We are very proud to offer our EPS

products under UL listing,” said George B.

Studnicky III, president of Creative Stage

Lighting. “Getting EPS UL listed has been

a strategic initiative for some time and

reflects our respect of and concern for

safety.”

I.Weiss Moves Offices

After operating in Long Island City,

N.Y., for the past 28 years I. Weiss will

move operations to Fairview, N.J. in July.

Having “grown up” in New York from a

small curtain company to a nationwide

theatrical drapery and rigging business,

I. Weiss will be able to expand to a modern

30,000-square-foot facility which will

house their sales department, drapery fabrication

and rigging shop along with their

production and project management staff

under one high roof. The combination of a

large reduction in overhead with a much

larger and sophisticated facility will allow

them lay out room, hanging space and the

ability to also expand our custom rigging

line including the Vialift.

“We have been in the planning stages

for almost two years knowing that we had

to improve our ability to maintain our high

standards while cutting the cost of our production,”

said President David Rosenberg.

“From our drapery production manager

bidding farewell to the dreaded freight

elevator and gazing out at the wide open

shop floor, to our steel shop manager

exploring the enlarged column free space,

to our lead draftsperson who is going from

a desk in the corner to a drafting office

where her new exploration of 3D CAD will

find a new home—everyone is realizing

the possibilities and expressing that can’twait-feeling,”

said Tankleff.

www.stage-directions.com • June 2010 9


Utah Shakespearean Festival Announces Artistic Directors

David Ivers and Brian Vaughn,

two long-time Utah Shakespearean

Festival actors and directors, were

named joint artistic directors at the

Tony Award-winning theatre company

on May 5.

Brian Vaughn (left) as Charlie and David Ivers as Jake in

the Utah Shakespearean Festival’s 2005 production of

Stones in His Pockets. Vaughn and Ivers are now co-artistic

directors of the Fest.

“This is literally a dream come true,” said Ivers. “Being an artistic

director, especially at the Festival, seems like a natural progression

in the long history that I have had with the organization. I am

extremely passionate about the Festival and highly motivated.”

Both Ivers and Vaughn have worked at the Utah Shakespearean

Festival as actors and directors for more than 15 years. Ivers

will come to Utah from the Denver Center Theatre Company in

Colorado, where he has spent nine seasons as a resident artist.

Vaughn is coming from the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre where

he has been a member of the resident acting company since 1997.

“I was elated when I received the call from Scott offering me

this position,” said Vaughn. “The call came

on April 23, Shakespeare’s birthday, of all

days, which is especially noteworthy and

beautifully ironic.”

Ivers and Vaughn will take over the artistic

leadership of the organization, which has

been previously managed by two associate

artistic directors, Kathleen F. Conlin, and J.R.

Sullivan, in addition to R. Scott Phillips, who

will continue to serve as executive director.

changing roles

USITT Names David Grindle

New Executive Director

The Board

of Directors of

USITT, the United

States Institute

for Theatre

T e c h n o l o g y ,

Inc. has named

David Grindle

to the newlycreated

position

of Executive

Director. Grindle,

David Grindle, new Executive

Director of USITT

an experienced production and personnel

manager, joined the 50-year-old organization

in May, and will be based out of the

organization’s offices in Syracuse, NY.

USITT President Carl Lefko said “We have

been seeking a candidate to play a vital

role as USITT celebrates and then moves

beyond its first 50 years. David, who knows

our organization well, possesses a wealth of

management skills, and is the perfect fit we

had been seeking.”

Most recently, Grindle was production

manager for the Indiana University

Department of Theatre and Drama in

Bloomington, Indiana, where he created the

Stage Management Program. He has been

a member of USITT for more than a decade,

and has been an integral part of its Stage

Management Mentoring Project. He is also

a member of OPERA America’s Production

and Technical Committee, Stage Managers

Association, and Production Managers

Forum.

10 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com


Tools of the Trade

Cast Software WYSIWYG

R25

Cast Software

has released the

latest update

of their popular

pre-viz software,

WYSIWYG R25.

The new release

includes multiple new features, including:

new CAD Mode features like positioning

tools, text toolbar, cycle selection

and the ability to select fixtures on hang

structures; new Design Mode features,

including pan and tilt locking for the

Focus Designer Tool; new presentation

mode features, including locking objects

in layouts and alignment tools; enhancements

to layouts in presentation mode,

including the ability to zoom layouts

and content windows using the mouse

wheel, copy and paste items within

layouts; and more. WYSIWYG has also

increased the number of fixtures, truss,

gobos and accessories in the library.

Additionally, Cast has made improvements

to the LED engine to ensure that

many LED fixtures such as Element Labs’

Versa Tubes and Tiles will run faster than

ever and look even more realistic.

www.wysiwygsuite.com

d&b audiotechnik’s E6

The d&b audiotechnik

E6 replaces

their E3 model,

fitting between

their E0 and E8

l o u d s p e a k e r s .

Though smaller

and lighting than

the E3, manufacturer

testing has the speaker equaling

or exceeding the E3’s performance. The

E6 is a high performance multipurpose

loudspeaker employing an integrated

6.5”/1” exit coaxial driver design with

neodymium magnet and constant directivity

horn loading. The horn design’s

100° x 55° (h x v) dispersion pattern

can be rotated through 90° providing

a 55° x 100° pattern without the use of

tools. The E6 is a two-way design with a

built-in passive crossover network with a

frequency response extending from 85

Hz to above 18 kHz. The E6 enclosure is

injection molded, which is designed to

provide both excellent mechanical and

acoustical properties and is coated with

an impact resistant black paint finish.

www.dbaudio.com

Martin M1 Lighting

Controller

The Martin

M1 Lighting

Controller is

designed to be

a powerful yet

compact and

affordable full-featured lighting console.

The Martin M1 is equipped with a dualcore

processor to speed operation and

ensure that the user-interface remains

fast and responsive, even if hundreds

of playbacks and effects are activated

simultaneously. The desk utilizes a quick

communication protocol so that all user

actions on the hardware surface can be

immediately translated to the output.

The M1 comes with 46 direct access

surface playbacks and hundreds more

through the touchscreen. The 46 playbacks

on the surface are divided into

three sections—Playback, Submaster

and User keys. The main Playback section

offers 10 x 60mm fader playbacks

equipped with 4 buttons. Each of the

buttons can be assigned to a long list

of functionalities such as Go, Flash+Go,

Pause, Release, etc. www.martin.com

Thern Stage Equipment

Self-Climbing Truss Hoist

Thern Stage

E q u i p m e n t ’ s

CT25 Series

Hoist is

designed to

provide an easy

to install overhead

rigging

solution when

limited space does not allow for traditional

rigging equipment to be used. The

CT25 Series Self-Climbing Truss System

from TSE saves time and space by placing

the hoist inside the truss frame. The result

is a stable, self-contained system that simplifies

installation while minimizing space

requirements. With Self-Climbing Truss

Hoists, setup is designed to be as simple

as installing the hoist points and attaching

wire rope; the truss lifts itself into

position.The CT25 Series Self-climbing

Truss Hoists include a built-in cable management

system which is designed to

secure all power cables, tucking them in

the truss to prevent free hanging cables

and tangling, while the aluminum truss

frame offers a stable and durable location

to attached lighting, scenery and more.

www.thernstage.com


Feature

|

By Lisa Mulcahy

Kara Wilkinson (left) and Megan Barclay,

with Tim Dunn in the background, in the

University of Findlay SummerStock production

of The Importance of Being Earnest.

Suddenly This Summer

Starting a summer theatre program at an undergrad institution.

If you’re an artistic director or instructor looking to

expand your school’s educational scope, a summer

theatre program can be the smartest way to begin.

Need a few great reasons why? First of all, students who

opt for summer study are often the most highly motivated,

so you will likely be teaching young actors eager

to challenge themselves academically and creatively.

Second, a summer program offers the perfect framework

for experimentation—you

can try out new course

ideas and new teaching/

performance/production

techniques within smaller

class sizes, and pick and

choose what works and

what doesn’t much more

easily than you can during

the rigors of the regular school year. Third, if your school

is affiliated with a professional theatre, utilizing the

mentorship of working actors, directors and designers

will be a huge boon to your students’ learning curve.

Here are four specific points to help your program take

shape and advice from established program veterans.

Honing Your Program Mission

Determining your program’s overall focus and its

inner components with a practical view should be your

first planning objective. It’s crucial to assess potential

strengths and weaknesses: What facilities will be available

for you to use? Which faculty members will be

participating? Will sufficient summer training time be

“It’s very important to us to have

professionals—designers, actors—

show our undergrads how they

work.” —Gerard Deall

available from a budget perspective? Being realistic

about any limitations you may face doesn’t mean you

can’t teach the work you want; it simply means adapting

your intentions and working out a balance that will

serve your overall program goal. “One of the things I

think is important is to give your students the basics,

which provides them the insight to see how things go

together,” says Gerard Deall, managing producer of the

University of Findlay, Ohio

theatre arts program, and

artistic director of its wellregarded

SummerStock

offshoot. “That means

programming stagecraft

classes, production organization,

use of equipment,

make-up. Plan coursework

that culminates at the end of class where your students

design or build something tangible, like a piece of set

furniture. Seeing a piece they worked on integrated into

a production can be a very valuable lesson in itself.”

Integrating the talents of your professional company

members can be envisioned in any number of

ways—through teaching, directing, even collaborating

onstage with students. “It’s very important to us to have

professionals—designers, actors—show our undergrads

how they work,” Deall continues. “As faculty, we’ve all

worked at wonderful theatres ourselves, and so one of

the key things we strive for is bringing the best of what

we’ve done to the classroom.”

12 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com


Michael Gotch (left) and Stephen Pelinski in the University of Delaware’s Professional Theatre Training Program production of The Imaginary Invalid

Choosing Your Core Curriculum

Deciding which classes to offer and how they will

translate in terms of teaching method is next on your

to-do list. Consult with administration about important

compulsories such as university course credit specifics,

but also don’t hesitate to get feedback from your faculty—and

students—about what they’d like to cover.

“Collaboration between students and faculty is not

a hierarchal arrangement,” says University of Findlay

instructor Heather Williams. “It’s about giving our students

responsibilities, then using give and take to

produce good work, an opportunity theatre uniquely

lends. It’s important in any program to perpetuate

ensembles—creating a sense of family can result in your

students doing their best work.”

It’s also preferable to make your curriculum as democratic

as possible, so that even students new to drama

studies can participate. “I teach lots of kids who initially

have no theatre background, but who come in

with a great deal of curiosity and enthusiasm,” says Vicki

www.stage-directions.com • June 2010 13


Feature

“It’s about giving our students responsibilities, then using give and

take to produce good work, an opportunity theatre uniquely lends.”

—Heather Williams

Student actors backstage during a rehearsal of Kiss Me Kate at the Summer Repertory Theatre at Santa Rosa Junior College.

McClurkin, University of Findlay adjunct professor of

theatre. “We have a wonderful array of guest artists who

work with students and teach master classes, like Hal

Holbrook, Bryan Bedford and Dixie Carter. Our students

not only work closely with these great artists, they all

get the attention they need in theatre education, tech

design and musical theatre.”

Communicating With Administration

Another essential element of any strong summer program

is keeping your school informed on a consistent

basis. You must be completely open about the work you

do, respect your administrators’ reasonable opinions

and restrictions, and involve your school in necessary

decision-making. Do this, and you will have created a

platform for give-and take, and will have your concerns

and requests taken seriously.

Equally important is to maintain excellent communication

with the administrators/artistic director of

the theatre company your school/program is associated

with. Santa Rosa Junior College, in Santa Rosa,

Calif., operates in tandem with the Santa Rosa Summer

Repertory Theatre to offer an intensive 11-week course,

combining professional training with production and

field study. A close and mutually supportive connection

between college and company plays a huge role

in the company’s success, meshing education with

future career opportunity. “Students at SRT work with

35 professional artists from every aspect of the theatre,”

says SRT Artistic Director James Newman. “By working

with these professionals, students are gaining connections

that will help them

get jobs in the future.

This experience gives

students the tools and

techniques to forge

their own way in the

world of theatre, while

at the same time, learning

specific skills that

further their goals.”

Serving Your Students’

Needs

Your most important

task within any summer

program, or any theatre

program period, is to

help your students achieve personal objectives—especially

important if your students are focused on interpreting

difficult roles, and you also have full company/

faculty members you need to cast. “I think it’s fair to say

that in most programs melding both professional artists

and students, in most instances, one group or the other

is the weak stepsister,” says Sanford Robbins, director

of the professional theatre training program and chairperson

of the department of theatre at the University of

Delaware. “More often than not, students get relegated

to the background, especially in terms of casting. If the

professional company members’ need for large roles

dominates, then training is no longer the priority. It’s

arguable that these students can learn simply from

being around professional actors, but our governing

principal, the rule we are unwilling to violate under any

circumstances, is to provide our students with the most

effective training strategy.” Robbins’ unique solution

has been to cast his Equity actors in leads during the

mainstage season; but in student productions, these

pros play minor roles, giving their young apprentices

the principal parts. “We see such a dramatic impact in

the velocity of our students’ development as a result of

this approach,” Robbins reports.

An especially effective educational tactic can also be

to stage a play that will also be studied for text analysis

and/or scenework. “Members of our professional

company each teach an undergraduate course, which

provides a greater level of quality for the students

they work with,” Robbins adds. “A wonderful bonus to

that is the degree to which our professional company

14 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com


William Browning

members become connected

to their students, and their students

relate so closely to these

artists.”

Ultimately, a good summer

theatre program keeps continually

moving forward. “It’s

important to keep improving

on the way you give students

information—how do

you get them to the next

step?” stresses Deall. “Most

of all, what you really want is

to give students a core set of

working values.”

Mark Corkins and Andrew Goldwasser in As You Like It at the University of Delaware’s Professional Theatre Training Program

www.stage-directions.com • June 2010 15


Feature By Evan Henerson

|

A Designer as

Co-Pilot

David Cooper

Christopher Acebo, associate artistic director at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, talks

Christopher Acebo

about his design work, and what it’s like for a designer to be involved in casting.

The path to a top post at a major regional theatre is

circuitous. Most often, though, directors segue into

the artistic director role, generally after a stint as an

associate artistic director. It isn’t often that a regional center’s

number two guy is trained in designing sets and costumes.

Christopher Acebo, associate artistic director at the Oregon

Shakespeare Festival, knows this. But when Bill Rauch took

the reins at OSF, he encouraged artists to think outside the

“We're trying this experiment and

it seems to be working really well.”

—Christopher Acebo

box in terms of trying new roles—and this would prove especially

true for Acebo, Rauch’s longtime colleague and artistic

collaborator.

“I thought having a designer as the link between the production

and artistic departments would be a great thing for

the organization,” says Rauch. “More than that, I wanted his

great theatre mind and wonderful taste at my side.”

“It’s very cool for me, I have to say,” adds Acebo, who

arrived at OSF in 2008. “There are very few designers in positions

of artistic leadership like this.”

Cohesive, Unsettling, Designs

We caught up with Acebo during a busy time just before

two of his designs— Hamlet, directed by Rauch and Cat on a

Hot Tin Roof directed by Christopher Liam Moore—were set

to open nearly back to back. Later this summer, Acebo will

Acebo’s design for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was meant to be

more of an emotional landscape than architectural.

design sets for Ping Chong’s commissioned adaptation of

Throne of Blood, which travels to Brooklyn Academy of Music

for the 2010 Next Wave Festival following its Ashland run.

In Acebo’s view, Hamlet and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof both deal

with “balancing the membrane of public and private spaces”

which offers the designer a common thematic link.

“In Cat, the whole play takes place in a bedroom, where

very public conversations are taking place in a private space,”

Acebo says. “The characters have lots of secrets and ulterior

motives. It’s interesting to explore that, and I’m trying to do it

without any walls or without any doors for that matter. That

was the jumping off point. I was looking to create something

that felt like more of an emotional landscape than necessarily

an architectural landscape.

“That bleeds through in Hamlet, where it’s kind of like

the audience is spying on the production in some ways,” he

continues. “There’s a lot of spying and eavesdropping in the

play. We’ve created a place of fear and subterfuge. Our set is

a large room that we’re able to bisect with a variety of walls

and doors. So we’re able to create both a big open space and

break the down the set into smaller spaces.”

“In a way, it’s a little unsettling—which is appropriate for

this play,” says Deborah M. Dryden, resident costume designer

at OSF, and former instructor of Acebo from his grad school

days at UC San Diego in the late ‘90s. “This is not your basic

Elsinore castle. Another thing is his very bold color choice

in the stage floor, a very deep azure, it’s like you’re looking

down into this incredibly blue green water pool. It’s just a

paint effect, not a direct literal reference to the water images

in play. Both of those things create bold visual statements

that support the nature of the play, but are very confident,

clean and very clear.”

16 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com


Going Full Circle

The seeds of Acebo’s love of drama

were sewn early when the native of

L.A.’s San Fernando Valley would

accompany his parents to see plays at

the big playhouses like the Ahmanson

Theatre and the Schubert.

“I vividly remember seeing productions

and being more amazed about

the world that was kind of opening up

than anything else,” he says. “I would

go home and doodle. I must have

been 10, and I would copy or create

what I had just seen in little designs

of my own.”

Acebo thought he had stashed all

theatre interests away with the childhood

designs when he enrolled as a

political science major at Cal Poly San

Luis Obispo. Still, he found himself getting

involved with the theatre department.

“They had this great little community theatre-like minor

there. Now it’s a major. In that theatre department, you got to

do a little bit of everything,” says Acebo. “I realized I wanted

to work behind the scenes in the technical and design parts.

So I decided I had to get more training.”

So Acebo went to UC San Diego for his MFA, where Dryden

was an instructor.

Christopher Acebo’s set for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2010 production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

“His clarity of vision was apparent from very early on, as

was his thoughtfulness about text and character,” Dryden

says.

Acebo and Rauch met while Rauch was still the artistic

director at Cornerstone Theatre Company. Playwright and

director Juliette Carillo had worked with Acebo on a production

at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre and recommended him

to Rauch, who was looking for someone to design costumes

David Cooper

www.stage-directions.com • June 2010 17


Feature

“It was one of the most visually exciting costume designs I had ever

seen. From then on, I wanted to work with Acebo as often as I could.”

—Bill Rauch

Acebo’s design for Hamlet imbues the castle with fear and subterfuge—and

enough “edge” that hip-hop players would not be out of place.

for an adaptation of the Wedekind play The Marquis of Keith

that became the Beverly Hills community collaboration,

A.K.A.: A Beverly Hills Musical Morality Tale. At first, Acebo

wasn’t sold.

“I asked them, ‘OK, what’s Cornerstone all about.’ And

they explained it, and my jaw dropped a little,” Acebo recalls.

“Ten kids, 20 adults, five scenes—it was a very overwhelming

proposition. It was the kind of out-of-the-box design that you

could never train for in graduate school.” He took the gig, and

impressed everyone.

“We had such a small budget, but the show was brilliant,”

says Rauch. “Christopher had an idea that every scene should

have a monochromatic color palette. It was one of the most

visually exciting costume designs I had ever seen. From then

on, I wanted to work with

him as often as I could.”

The collaboration continued

via projects at

Cornerstone, the Great

Lakes Theatre Festival and

South Coast Repertory.

During their work together

on Sarah Ruhl’s The

Clean House at Lincoln

Center, Rauch—recently

announced as the new

head of OSF—asked Acebo

to join him in Ashland.

“It was kind of exciting

and somewhat unexpected,”

says Acebo. “I

had come to OSF when I

was an undergraduate in

the early 1990s, and I saw

theatrical productions that

made huge impressions

with me. And not just the

David Cooper

productions: It’s this theatre mecca, this place

in the middle of nowhere where they do astonishing

work. So it kind of felt like I was coming

around full circle.”

In 2011, Acebo will design sets for

Shakespeare’s Loves Labour’s Lost for director

Lisa Peterson on the outdoor Elizabethan stage.

He’ll also do sets for the Julia Cho comedy The

Language Archive in the New Place Theatre

and will tackle the costumes of Molière’s The

Imaginary Invalid on the Bowmer.

“He always surprises me,” says Rauch, “in

terms of the artists he wants to work with,

the plays he’s very passionate about and his

emotional connection to a play. He doesn’t

always want the biggest shows or the most established artists

to collaborate with. He’s much more idiosyncratic and

interesting in projects he’s attracted to.”

But right now Acebo isn’t thinking like a designer, he’s

thinking like an associate artistic director. With Cat and

Hamlet concluding tech, Acebo will be working with Rauch

to select more directors and designers for next year, as well

as casting some 90 actors for 150 roles.

“The job kind of goes in waves depending on what the

season is like,” he says. “This is the first time I’ve taken on

two shows at the top of the season. That will free me up

to go into the casting process. We’re trying this experiment

and it seems to be working really well. Never a dull

moment.”

Elsinore Castle in Acebo’s design for Hamlet,

David Cooper

18 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com


By Bryan Reesman

|

Sound Design

ALL PHOTOGRAPHY BY PAUL KOLNIK

Amplifying

American

Idiot

American Idiot is a punk-rock coming of age story following three

suburban teens and their escape from adolescence.

Green Day’s pop-punk musical American Idiot is taking

Broadway by storm, sonically shaking the rafters with a

pumped-up cast exuding plenty of aural and physical

energy. A rock opera with barely any dialogue, it tells the tale of

three young suburban teens—one who goes into the Army, one

who goes to the big city to pursue dreams of rock stardom (and

discovers drugs) and one who stays at home with his pregnant

girlfriend—and how their journeys separate them, disillusion

them and make them question the choices they think they have

been given in life. It’s a potent 95-minute experience filled with

loud music, colorful characters, a barrage of video images on

dozens of screens all over the stage and characters that traverse

the space through running, dancing, climbing and even flying

during one key sequence.

Sound Designer Brian Ronan and FOH Engineer David

Dignazio faced the tough challenge of working on a show that

required rock bombast without deafening Broadway audiences

unaccustomed to sonic overkill.

Stage Directions: What’s changed sonically for the show, taking

it from Berkeley Rep to Broadway?

Brian Ronan: The infrastructure remained the same. We

kept the same amount of cast members and musicians but

there were changes to how we miked and monitored everybody.

The first

thing was to

www.stage-directions.com/mixingamericanidiot get the whole

ONLINE BONUS

To hear more from Brian and David, including the stillexistent

differences between

rock concerts and Broadway,

head over to

www.stage-directions.

com/mixingamericanidiot

band wearing

the same brand

of in-ear monitors.

I’ve got a

Yamaha PM5D

backstage to

mix the band’s

Aviom monitoring

system

which, in turn,

gives them all

Sound Designer Brian Ronan and

FOH Engineer David Dignazio talk

about how they keep Broadway’s

newest rock musical true to its punk

rock roots.

David Dignazio, FOH Engineer for American Idiot, next to the Yamaha PM1D he uses to mix the show.

personal control of what they hear. A problem can occur when

the band is wearing different brands of in-ears. EQ’ing can differ

dramatically, and it’s hard to get a democratic consensus

on what sounds right. Getting them all on Ultimate Ears was a

big help. Green Day offered, and I happily accepted, to recreate

Billie Joe’s guitar set up for our players. This involved using

their custom cabinets and a proprietary foot switching system

that allows the player to call up presets to give each song its

own sound. The biggest evolution in the system was re-fitting

from a rig for a 500-seat theatre in Berkeley to the 1,700-seat St

James. This required rethinking speaker choices, quantity and

placement—a complete overhaul.

David Dignazio: It definitely changed things coming to New

York to a larger house. I don’t know the exact number, but we

have three times the amount of speakers. We just have so much

more horsepower that we’re working with here. Both myself and

Brian learned a lot at Berkeley, and we learned what we can do

as far as rocking out the show and still keeping it theatrical in a

certain way.

You are using a Yamaha PM1D console for mixing the show.

Why is it so appropriate for the show?

Brian Ronan: I’m very familiar with the 1D, and it was a

logical economic choice. It has a sufficient amount of onboard

CM Photos

www.stage-directions.com • June 2010 19


step

step

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The lyrics tell the story in American Idiot, so FOH Engineer David Dignazio needs to

ensure the vocals sit on top of the mix every night.

dynamic control. Gates, compression, EQ, delay and the

Yamaha allocation of ins/outs all allow me to mix, blend and

distribute the sound the way I wanted to.

David Dignazio: This is the third show that I’ve mixed

using a Yamaha PM1D but the first that I’ve set up and

programmed. I was pretty much self-taught on the console,

but assistant designer, Mike Farfalla, was instrumental in

teaching me about the console and getting me more familiar

with the software and the control surface. The PM1D was

easy to pick up on, and a great console to use for American

Idiot since it’s very user-friendly and gave us the flexibility we

needed to make the show happen. Most of all, the console

sounded great.

Is it a good console for a rock musical?

David Dignazio: I think so. PM1Ds have been used on

rock shows for years. Obviously there have been some

newer consoles that have hit the market, but this thing has

been out there and tested and put through its paces in rock

venues for years, so it totally works for us. Also the number of

DCAs available for us, 12, was the right number, as opposed

to some of the other consoles that have eight. We needed

12.

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How did you find the right balance between offering up

a powerful rock experience and mixing for a Broadway

audience that doesn’t want its eardrums bleeding?

Brian Ronan: I sat in every part of the house throughout

the preview process, and I turned each section up as loud as

I could. Every time the show made by ears pin back I turned

things down till I didn’t get that abrasive reaction. I felt this

was the threshold the show should run at.

David Dignazio: It’s a very fine line, to be honest with

you, but we are unabashed in what the show is. And the

show is a punk rock opera, and punk rock is not going to be

quiet and not going to be gentle. There’s emotional intensity

to it in parts that are quiet and gentle—I think the show

speaks for itself when it gets to those places—and there are

dynamics in the show. “21 Guns” is a number that starts off

very quietly with Tom Kitt’s beautiful string orchestrations

20 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com


that are blended in there, and the number

has an ebb and a flow and a rise and a powerful

moment before it settles again. It gets

big and settles down again. The show isn’t

mixed at one constant volume. I think we’ve

done a really good job of giving them rock

energy and rock volume, but we don’t stay

there for the whole hour and a half. We move,

but when we are at that volume we have to

push the limits to an acceptable volume that

we can stay within that won’t hurt people

and still be true and give that awesome rock

energy and rock feel.

Given all the performers and musicians on

stage, especially with all of the movement

throughout, how much of an issue was

bleed through between mics?

Brian Ronan: Bleed-through is just part

of the game when mixing omnidirectional

mics with an onstage band. It’s something

you have to get over and release the desire for pristine, isolated

sound. Instead of fighting it, I embraced it. As the character

Johnny passes by the active drum kit in a monologue that leads

to the introduction of St. Jimmy, we hear the drums pumped

through his open mic—so be it. Rock ‘n’ roll, baby!

I find the hardest scene to mix is “Extraordinary Girl.” It’s only

two characters, but they are flying around in harnesses, singing

into each other’s mics and delivering

some of those delicious but elusive

Green Day lyrics. Christina Sajous—the

actress playing Extraordinary Girl—has

to sing a wide vocal range, and I’m

amazed that she pulls it off while flying

20 feet off the deck and a rock band raging

on below her.

David Dignazio: There are different

spots that are very challenging to mix

in different ways. The first scene that

comes to mind is “September,” simply

because it is a number that’s is a pivotal

point in the storytelling in the show, and

it’s that classic number that starts off

gently and builds and then comes back

down again. It starts with just Johnny

and the acoustic guitar, and ends up

with the full band behind them playing

out, with all the three actors strumming

acoustic guitars. To keep that balance

through that number and make it powerful,

yet at the same time convey the

emotions of that song, is one of the

most challenging numbers of the show

for me because I believe in the storytelling

that we’re doing there, and I think

that the orchestrations fit that. Mixing

that has to fit and tell the story, the

angst, emotions and the sadness of that

number. At the same time, the number

gets big to have that impact there, so

there are a lot of ebbs and flows in the

Despite being a “punk” show, American Idiot has dynamics. A prime example is the song “21 Guns,” which starts very

quietly, and features “beautiful” string arrangements from Tom Kitt.

number itself. “21 Guns” is very similar. “Holiday” is powerful

simply because it is a spot in the show where there are a lot of

rapid one-liners that the guys are doing. It is hard to say which

is the most challenging. I’ve been blessed with mixing the show

from its inception at Berkeley, so I really know where I want the

show to live under my fingers. Every night I’m still finding new

ways to find new things in the show, and that’s one of the joys

of mixing live .

www.stage-directions.com • June 2010 21


Light on the Subject

|

By Justin Lang

Documenting Lighting Design,

Then and Now

Paperwork is important in almost every aspect of

one’s personal and professional life. Starting from

the beginning—our birth certificate—paperwork

just keeps adding up in our lives. In our professional

lives—specifically in lighting design—paperwork is the

key to one’s success in doing their job quickly and efficiently.

Without a paper trail, we would get lost in the

numbers and information needed to stay organized and

perform our jobs well.

Lighting designers have been using paperwork to

convey how things are laid out, connected and executed

Virtuality has led to better

paperwork—and a better

chance to study and learn

from the pre-digital

era channel hook-ups, cue sheets, shop orders and all

the associated paperwork, were completed by hand.

Need to make multiple copies for hang and focus? Get

that pad of paper back out and make more copies.

Then came photocopiers. Creating a master cue sheet

with channels numbers, the show name, and the designer’s

information allowed for a cleaner and more efficient

design process. As cues came up, rather than breaking

out a blank piece of paper and ruler, a designer could

simply pencil in the channel levels on a reproduced

copy of the typed cue sheet.

Courtesy of the Theatrical Lighting Database

Courtesy of Kevin Adams

Jules Fisher’s light plot for the 1968 Broadway production of Hair

on stage since the first light was focused. In the beginning,

paperwork was simple only because sophisticated

lighting and control systems just didn’t exist. Laying out

a lighting plot consisted of putting a pencil to paper and

drafting simple lighting symbols that referenced where

lights should be hung in the space. Before the modern

Kevin Adams' light plot for the 2008 Broadway revival of Hair. In the 40 years since the original production

the digital revolution changed both the lights and the paperwork around lighting.

And now computers have changed the way we work

and deal with paperwork and communicate our ideas.

No longer do we need to draft a plot, or create a simple

magic sheet or any other piece of paperwork we might

need by hand—that is, unless want to. Keeping track of

fixture counts, channel assignments, hook-ups and all

24 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com


of the other vital information that

is required to operate your lighting

can quickly and easily be tracked,

edited, updated, saved, distributed

and printed out as many times as

we need.

There are a number of applications

that produce, track and

organize information for us in the

lighting industry. Some of them

include: Capture Polar (Windowsand

Mac-based), Cast Software’s

WYSIWYG (Windows-based), LD

Assistant (Windows-based, available

as a stand-alone program or as an

AutoCAD plug-in), Light Converse,

(Windows-based) and the cross-platform

CAD program, Vectorworks.

Each of these programs produces

high quality light plots.

But what about the numbers

we need to track and organize the

overwhelming amounts of information

associated with hook-ups,

patch and so forth? Well, in addition

to CAD capabilities, some lighting

design software programs, including

WYSIWYG, contain lighting paperwork

functions within the program

Eventually, anyone, anywhere in the world, will

be able to search the database and review the

original paperwork of early designers.

itself. For others, like Vectorworks,

you’ll need to purchase additional

software. The latest version of

Lightwright, from John McKernon

and distributed by City Theatrical,

will interface with Vectorworks for

real-time updates back and forth

between each of the programs as

well as handle practically every conceivable

lighting paperwork need.

These are all powerful, professional-grade

programs, and their price

tag reflects this. A less-expensive

option is a free drafting program

called LXFree from Claudie Heintz

Design. LXFree is a Mac-based program

that has the ability to create

light plots and produce all of the

necessary paperwork for a design. It

may not be as feature-packed as the

aforementioned programs, but seeing

as it is a free program, I am not

one to complain.

Archiving the Records

Computers have certainly

advanced the lighting design process,

but they have also revolutionized

the archiving process as well. As

any good designer knows, archiving

paperwork is a must. Who knows if

some day down the line a design

created for a particular show will

come to life once again? Having the

ability to save work, and access the

original paperwork of other designers

saves us the huge headache of

recreating a show from scratch and

helps us develop as designers.

Plus, to fully appreciate where we

are as an industry today, we must

look at history and learn from industry

legends. Thanks to the New York

Public Library for the Performing

Arts, the New York Public Library

Digital Experience Group and the

Lighting Archive, this is easier than

www.stage-directions.com • June 2010 25


Light on the Subject

A Cue Sheet from the 1968 production of Hair

The last page of Fisher’s focus chart for Hair

ever. They created the Theatrical Lighting Database

to digitally archive the original lighting designs of our

industry’s greatest designers.

It used to be that if you wanted to study these designs,

you would have to travel to the lighting archive, which

is currently at the New York Public Library, get permission

to view the original paperwork and then hunt for

it. The goal of the new database is to make the work of

early lighting designers available online for everyone to

study. Eventually anyone, anywhere in the world, will

be able to search the database and review the original

paperwork of early designers without the fear of getting

yelled at by the librarian for touching the documents.

Currently in beta testing, the Theatrical Lighting

Database offers four designs for public study. At the time

of this writing, paperwork from Jules Fisher’s design for

the 1968 production of Hair, Tharon Musser’s 1975

design for A Chorus Line, Richard Nelson’s design for the

1984 production of Sunday in the Park with George and

Thomas Skelton’s design for the 1991 production of Fall

River Legend have been made available on the database.

As time goes on, more and more historical documents

and paperwork from industry legends will be added.

Though it had some glitches at launch, the Theatrical

Lighting Database is fully functional with high resolution

scans of designers’ original paperwork and handdrawn

lighting plots. In addition to the designs and

supplemental paperwork, the database also includes

video and audio interviews (when available) with the

designers themselves.

The Theatrical Lighting Database serves as a way to

protect and preserve part of theatrical lighting history.

It provides young designers with a chance to step into

history and see how industry legends produced such

magical designs with technology that was simple, but

innovative and cutting-edge for the time.

Technology plays a huge part of our lives and makes our

production schedules shorter and more efficient. Today we

think nothing of printing out a couple of plots on “E size”

paper on a plotter, or creating several versions of a design.

What takes a couple of minutes today, would have taken

hours to do at the drafting table some 40 or 50 years ago.

As we move forward with technology and adapt it to

our needs, let’s not forget where we came from and the

innovators that helped to shape our industry into what

it is today. I applaud the New York Public Library and

the Lighting Archive for their dedication and hard work

in bringing the Theatrical Lighting Database online and

their efforts to make such important documents available

to the masses. As lighting designers, we can only grow in

our industry by understanding and learning from our past.

Be sure to visit the Theatrical Lighting Database at

http://lightingdb.nypl.org.

Justin Lang is lead writer and editor of iSquint.net, an

entertainment lighting and technology blog. Lang has

more than over 15 years of experience in the industry

working as a salesman for an international lighting

company,and is also a well-respected freelance designer

and photographer in the Washington, D.C. area.

26 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com


A detail drawing of how Jules Fisher wanted

strobe lights sunk into the deck, from the collection

of his Hair paperwork available at the

Theatrical Lighting Database

Page 2 of Jules Fisher’s board hookup for Hair


School Spotlight

Specializing in the

Big Picture

A Q&A with the Dean of The Theatre

School at DePaul University, John Culbert

John Culbert,

Dean of The Theatre School at DePaul University

Q So tell me one unique thing about DePaul.

A John Culbert: I think that there are some core values of

the school that started in 1925 and are still with us today. And

one of those is the commitment to hands-on training for every

single student in the school. So the opportunity, whatever

one’s discipline is, to actually practice what one is learning for

everybody. For example, every actor in the school is guaranteed

to have roles in our productions. Our playwriting students will

have a production of one of their plays produced before they

leave the school. All the designers will design fully-mounted,

fully-produced productions in our theatres before they leave.

So in every discipline the students practice what they’re doing

in addition to studying it. Another core aspect of our school is

the specialized programs that we have. We have 12 different

undergraduate degrees in different disciplines. So for example,

one doesn’t major in design, one majors in either lighting design,

scenic design, sound design, or costume design. And when one

comes in, there is a separate and distinct curriculum for each of

those. You apply to and are admitted to that specific discipline.

It’s very specialized even at the undergraduate level.

Q You talk about different models of study, on the one

hand, you’ve got liberal arts—

A We peg the meter in the other direction.

Q Why was that choice made to go in that direction?

A We think that what happens is that through the specialized

study one gains a broader sense of the art—one uses a specialized

study to dive into something, and on that journey gains a

broader perspective. As opposed to the reverse, which would be

to gain the broad perspective then learn a little bit about a specialty.

So from the beginning the philosophy has been to be as

specific as possible with those specialties and provide the curriculum

that supports that,

and then work very hard

to find the students for

whom it’s a good choice.

And obviously it’s not

for every student who is

going to be successful in

theatre. Not everybody

knows at that point in

their trajectory that it would make sense for them to be that

specialized. So we work hard to find the students for whom this

is a good choice to do this kind of specialization.

Q What does being in Chicago give you?

A I would say that Chicago is another leg of the stool that

enables us to be who we are at The Theatre School at DePaul

University. Chicago of course has an amazing theatre community

in it, and I’d say that provides a wonderful opportunity for

the school that we then work very hard to take full advantage

of. One aspect of that is of course our students can experience a

whole wide range of theatre. The opportunity to see theatre at

every level, from a very small storefront theatre—probably done

by a student who graduated last year—to the larger theatre

stuff, the range of opportunity for a student to experience live

theatre is actually amazing. They aren’t doing this in a vacuum.

Of course, another key component of having this community

here is that we can engage a lot of theatre community to come

to the school and work with our students. That happens in a

couple ways. Our full-time faculty, which we have 28, while they

are teaching, they can also play roles in the community. So the

faculty design, direct, write—all the things that all the disciplines

do—they're out there doing that in Chicago. And another is that

we have about 65 adjunct faculty that are part of the school.

28 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com


The Theatre School

at DePaul University

Stats and Facts of The Theatre

School at DePaul University

Mission Statement

The Theatre School at DePaul University educates,

trains, and inspires students of theatre in a conservatory

setting that is rigorous, disciplined, culturally diverse

and that strives for the highest level of professional skill

and artistry. A commitment to diversity and equality in

education is central to our mission. As an integral part

of the training, The Theatre School produces public

programming and performances of a wide repertoire of

plays—classic, contemporary and original—that challenge,

entertain and stimulate the imagination. We seek

to enhance the intellectual and cultural life of our university

community, our city and our profession.

About the School

• Founded as the Goodman School of Drama in 1925

Students perfect their technique in the makeup lab at The Theatre School at DePaul University

• 85-year tradition and reputation as a professional theatre

conservatory

• 12 Undergraduate Majors: BFA in Acting, Costume

Design, Costume Technology, Lighting Design, Scenic

Design, Sound Design, Stage Management, Theatre

Technology, Dramaturgy/Criticism, Playwriting, Theatre

Arts and Theatre Management

Three Graduate Majors: MFA in Acting, Directing and

Arts Leadership

A moment from the 2008 production of Kosi Dasa at DePaul’s historic Merle Reskin Theatre.

"I would say that Chicago is another

leg of the stool that enables us

to be who we are at The Theatre

School at DePaul University."

—John Culbert

They are people whose primary role is in the theatre profession,

and secondarily they’re teaching for us. So they can come

in and teach their specialty for us, and then go back to their

profession. And as far as students—for example, in the lighting

design program, the students here won’t just meet and get to

know and have connections to the one faculty member who's

the head of the program, but through their journey here and

the various courses they take, they will meet three of four other

lighting designers in Chicago and know them and work with

them. That means that it diversifies the point of view they get

and the approach they get. And it also means that when they

graduate they have more connections out in the profession. So

I think we work hard to make sure we’re taking advantage of

this amazing opportunity that we have to be in a place with a

theatre community like Chicago offers.

• 340 students

• Complete offering of all professional theatre disciplines

• Over $2,000,000 in scholarships awarded annually

• 28 full-time faculty

• 60 part-time faculty

• 35+ productions annually, attended by more than

35,000 people each year

• In the last academic year 47 students participated in

professional internships at 32 different professional theatres

or production companies.

• Guaranteed production experience

• Notable alumni in the entertainment industry include:

Tarell Alvin McCraney, John C. Reilly, Joe Mantegna, Judy

Greer, Gillian Anderson, Scott Ellis, Geraldine Page, and

Theoni V. Aldredge – among many others.

For more information, visit

http://theatreschool.depaul.edu

Advertorial


Special Section

Special Effects

By Brad Hathaway

What do you do when your show is based on a

source best remembered for its special effects?

That’s the challenge Jeff Calhoun presented

to his design team as he directed the world premiere of

Bonnie & Clyde, a musical based on the story of Bonnie

Parker and Clyde Barrow, the gun-wielding bank-robbing

pair immortalized by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty

in the 1967 movie remembered for its slow-motion fusillade

of gunfire. “Given the iconic nature of the movie, we

couldn’t possibly compete with the memory of its blood

and gore,” he says.

At the very beginning of work on the Frank Wildhorn,

Don Black and Ivan Menchell musical at the La Jolla

Playhouse last summer Calhoun told his design team he

SFX

and

Violence

Staging Bonnie & Clyde without trying to

compete with the memory of the movie

Melissa van der Schyff as Blanche cradles the blood-soaked Claybourne Elder as Buck while Stark Sands as Clyde and Laura Osnes as Bonnie look

on in the La Jolla Playhouse production of Bonnie & Clyde.

singing entirely and relied completely on American Sign

Language for the big moment of “Waitin’ for the Light to

Shine.”

At La Jolla he told his design team he needed to get

the production on its feet to find out if the three episodes

“would be shocking enough” and if “it would it keep the

audience from getting used to it before the show is over.”

The sound of gunfire, and not just the use of blood and

smoke, had to be shocking. Sound designer Brian Ronan

says that Calhoun “told us to bring everything to it—to

be ready to handle it if and when it turned out not to

work the way he hoped it would. Well, it did work, so we

didn’t have to change the concept at all ... just refine it

and polish it.”

“The props department did a lot

of tests to make sure not only

that the effects worked, but that

they were repeatable eight times

a week.” —Chris Borreson

wanted to use only three episodes of gun violence, but

that each would be an escalation of what came before.

“With this limited use of violence, blood and special

effects are going to be our friend in avoiding competing

with the audience’s memory of the movie.”

Believing that “No way were we going to win that

battle with realism” he wanted to delay any gunfire until

late in the first act and then make it somewhat stylized

rather than hyper-realistic. “I’m not really good at

special effects,” he says, pointing out that “The biggest

‘effect’ people remember me for was the lowest tech of

all—simple silence.” He’s referring to the moment in his

production of Big River at California’s Deaf West Theatre,

which transferred to Broadway in 2003, when the mixed

cast of hearing and hearing impaired performers stopped

First Draw

Calhoun envisioned the first gun episode as a single

shot exchange between Clyde and a deputy. “They share

shots and we wanted the shot to sit in suspended time

with the echo of the sound. The audience doesn’t know

who got hit until a blood spot appears on the deputy’s

shirt and then spreads until his entire shirt is drenched in

red and he falls to the floor.”

The second was to be the opposite of the first effect.

“The first was kind of poetic while the second was more

horrific” Calhoun says, pointing out that squibs (packets

of blood that “explode” when triggered) were used so

that “blood spurted from the victim’s neck as if his carotid

artery had been pierced.”

Only on the third event was it an all-stops-out fusillade,

during which, for the first time, they used Browning automatic

rifles. Calhoun describes the effect saying “what

we see is the cast frozen in a tableau and the pattern of

bullet holes explode on the set where Chris Borreson (La

Jolla Playhouse technical director) had drilled holes, then

filled them with sawdust that was blown out by compressed

air. This was followed by a blackout of three to

five seconds. When the lights came back up the carnage

was there for all to see.”

Borreson estimates that there were between 25 and

35 holes that had to be re-filled with sawdust for each

30 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com


The final effect of Bonnie & Clyde with Stark Sands as Clyde and Laura Osnes as Bonnie embracing stage right while the cast is arrayed before Aaron Rhyne’s projections of reallife

photos of the life and death of the couple.

performance. He also handled the squibs for blood, some

of which also used CO 2 cartridges that fired air charges,

causing underarm bladders to either ooze or gush blood.

“The squibs were triggered by our automation computer,

a PC running the Stagehand FX Box of Creative Conners,

Inc. We spent a lot of our time in tech just getting the

timing down.” He adds “The props department did a lot

of tests to make sure not only that the effects worked, but

that they were repeatable eight times a week.”

Ronan thinks the most difficult synchronization challenge

wasn’t in gun violence, but in a comparatively

non-violent sequence when outlaw Clyde Barrow is taking

target practice, standing on stage shooting at targets supposedly

off in the wings. Ronan explains that “there was no

mechanical linkage” between the on-stage gunfire and the

sound of the tin can targets bouncing after being hit by

the bullets, “just the board operator’s sense of timing. We

built in a slight delay so the sound of the gun would clear

before the sound of the tin can ... probably not true to the

physics of the thing, but we wanted the audience to hear

both.” It fell to board operator Mike Farfalla to develop the

timing for the effect.

Ronan says that the other significant sound effect of

the show Calhoun called “low tech” was “a series of ‘radio

moments,’ especially one moment when Bonnie sings along

with a song on a car’s radio—we recorded the orchestra for

that segment and mixed it to sound flatter than live.” Other

than that, the show called for typical SFX including phone

rings and traffic sounds—“especially a car pulling away with

the sound of tires on dusty gravel” he says.

Grunge Up the Hi-Tech

None of this, however, directly competed with the

memory of the final ambush from the movie. Knowing

they couldn’t compete with the memory of such an iconic

image, the creative team instead staged the final ambush

so that the couple’s final duet segued directly to the medias

mania over the bullet-riddled car and bodies.

Projection designer Aaron Rhyne, whom Calhoun

brought in on the project after a satisfying collaboration

on Wildhorn’s earlier musical The Civil War at Ford’s

Theatre in Washington D.C., filled the back wall of the

set with the front pages of newspapers of the day with

their banner headlines “Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker Slain:

Posse Kills Famed Gunman and Girl” and their grisly photos.

After a few moments for the impact to set in, Rhyne

explained, “the stills came to life using video including a

clip from a film made by one of the policemen showing the

bullet riddled car. Eventually, we had five moving videos in

the collage along with 15 stills.”

Calhoun also relied on Rhyne’s projections throughout

the show to establish time and place. “The musical is written

very cinematically, with lots of locations and action—

some of it taking place nearly simultaneously on stage

with a scene happening on one side of the stage switching

to something on the others side. The design was based on

the history of the time with lots of photos, headlines, etc.”

Calhoun particularly liked the use of a billboard saying

“Out of towners keep walking — we haven’t got enough

jobs for our own people” to quickly establish a depressionera

feel. Rhyne cited the use of an actual photo of Clyde

Barrow for the scene of his arrest when he’s fingerprinted.

“When the flash of the mug shot camera went off we

flashed the actual mug shot of Clyde.”

While Rhyne’s projections weren’t a factor in either of

the first two instances of gun violence, “We all got involved

in the big third effect. I shot some explosions which we ran

as projections while actual pops in the stage, lights flashing

and blood effects all combined in the stage fog that

seemed like smoke,” he says.

Commenting on the full project, Rhyne says “The tricky

part for me was to find a way to evoke the time—the

‘30s—through visuals, when video and projection is a very

contemporary phenomenon, being computer driven and

all. I had to grunge it up to make it feel like the period.”

The musical heads next to Florida’s Asolo Repertory

Theatre, in what is being billed as a “pre-Broadway” production.

And, as might be expected from the show, they’re

upping their fire power for the next engagement. At the La

Jolla Playhouse, the projector was a Christie M Series rated

at 12,000 lumens—Rhyne will be adding a second projector

in Florida.

www.stage-directions.com • June 2010 31


Special Section Special Effects

Cirque du Soleil’s

Viva Elvis Is in

the Building

This jailhouse rocks for a

spectacular effect.

By Kevin M. Mitchell

Sometimes size does matter. Especially when an audacious

organization like Cirque du Soleil takes on a larger than life

American icon like Elvis Presley in Viva Elvis, playing at the new

Aria theatre in Las Vegas for now and for what is likely going to be

a very long time.

“The show needed to fit Elvis’ persona, but also the enormous

stage,” Armand Thomas, Cirque du Soleil’s director of creation says.

“We couldn’t afford to put little sets on the stage, because it would

underplay Elvis’ importance.”

So sure, there’s a big blue suede shoe—but the acrobatic and

scenic special effect that has people talking is the “Jailhouse Rock”

number. The jailhouse is immense: it measures four stories (39 feet)

tall, 66 feet wide and 45 feet deep and weighs 80,000 pounds. Oh,

and the dancers can dance right side up or upside down. In a stunning

bit of choreography partway through the song everything

The “Jailhouse Rock” number in Viva Elvis turns the prison upside down.

Julie Aucoin

“In Viva Elvis, the line between

the scenery elements and the

acrobatic equipment is sometimes

blurred.” —Mark Fisher

becomes inverted, with cops and robbers running and dancing,

back and forth, upside down and right side up. Dancers in harnesses

make it all happen with ease and to great effect, but they couldn’t

do it without being anchored to one rocking jailhouse.

“In Viva Elvis, the line between the scenery elements and the

acrobatic equipment is sometimes blurred,” explains Mark Fisher,

set designer for the show. “And that was a deliberate choice. Elvis

has transcended reality and become a mythic figure, so his reappearance

in Las Vegas must be done with a scale and opulence that

reflects his status.”

The jailhouse rolls in on six drive wheels operated by a remote

computerized system. “This structure had to move on the stage at

two feet per second on 462 wheels in silence,” says Guy St-Amour,

acrobatic equipment and rigging designer for Cirque. “The moving

of that structure was made possible by Stage Technologies with six

drive motors that can move 15,000 pounds each.”

To build the set itself, the Cirque creative team looked to wellrespected

French Canadian company, Stageline Mobile Stage,

Inc. “We decided to work with Stageline because of the capacity

of the company to build such an unconventional structure,” says

St-Amour. “Stageline has the skills to build a mobile stage that had

to function a bit like a transformer.”

Stageline’s president Yvan Miron has worked with St-Amour on

various projects that go all way back to 1987. “It was going to be

a huge set, yet it needed to be extremely light,” Miron says. “Also,

the time frame was an issue, especially as Cirque is well-known

for always perfecting their shows, and that means there would be

changes up to the last minute!” he laughs. “Everything with them is

a work in progress until the very end.”

The Big Show

The goal of the show was a harmonious fusion of dance, acrobatics

and live music. Thirty of Elvis’ songs are used in the production,

and they were reorchestrated and remixed to accentuate

and boost the original performances. The show is prop, scene and

costume heavy: The cast has 385 looks in the show, using 4,000

pieces in 93 minutes.

But it all began with that blank sheet.

Thomas says conversations began with a combination of what

was on the shelf, what have the individual creatives always wanted

to do, and what was “hot” at the moment. “It’s a lot of tossing out

ideas—roller skates? Tramps? Russian bars? And what does any of

that have to do with Elvis?”

Fisher was in on the ground floor, having first worked with

32 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com


Subject

Special Section Subje

Header

Julie Aucoin

SubHead

The 4-story “Jailhouse Rock” structure under construction

at the Stageline Mobile Stage facility.

Performers in rehearsal for the “Jailhouse Rock” number had to gradually build up a tolerance to staying inverted for long periods of time.

Cirque for KÀ, designing both its permanent theatre and its technically

complex sets. This was a plus, since a further variable for Viva

Elvis was the new theatre that was being built—as the hotel that

would eventually house the theatre was also being built around

it. The theatre was designed under the direction of Gilles St.

Croix, Cirque’s vice president of creation/new project development.

Luckily, “It was always his ambition to create an opera style show

with large set pieces, and the backstage and below-stage storage

areas were planned with that in mind,” Fisher says. “The set pieces

that I designed were all made to fit the building, and everything

worked quite smoothly.”

“The creation of a show with so many large scene changes may

have been a departure for Cirque, but the actual design of the

scenery was quite straightforward,” Fisher continues. “Compared

to KÀ, it didn’t present many technical challenges.” Fisher “merely”

designed the scenery to fit the building. “But it was not designed

to leave much empty space. The technical crews have to work very

hard, but the show ran quite smoothly from the start.”

Jail Bust

“We came up with the idea for a kind of mirror effect with

people on the top and below a floor doing the same movement

at the same time,” St-Amour says of the “Jailhouse Rock” number.

Turns out it wasn’t the first time he tried something like this: He says

that 12 years ago he worked on a similar special effect. “But it was

on a smaller scale—two artists performing and dancing on a floor

that was upside down.”

The rigging uses tracks and special harnesses. “It looks natural

because of the precision of the harnesses. They are each made

especially for the artist,” says St-Amour, and they are fitted exactly

to the performer’s body. Todd Rentchler of Climbing Sutra was

brought in to improve upon the original harness designs.

Gravity-defying training took two months. Those this side of

Batman know that when one is upside down, blood flows to the

head, so they started with the performers being hung upside down

at times of just one minute, slowly working up so they could stand

it for as long as five minutes. But it wasn’t just for some schoolyard

dare—these performers had to dance, run, jump and perform

like that. “We had to train the artists to learn to work against gravity

and this is not easy,” St-Amour says. Daniel Cola, the acrobatic

performance designer, was invaluable in helping St-Amour train

the artists to deal with the inversion and improve their movement.

Miron stresses that St-Amour is “extremely knowledgeable,”

not only with rigging and acrobatics, but in understanding design

issues from a manufacturing and structuring standpoint. The jail set

ended up being comprised of 15,000 pieces, and each one needed

to be thought through. “One challenge was the guard rails—should

they be aluminum or steel? Round or square? Those issues have an

impact on a design like that.”

Another challenge was that it needed to be perfectly level from

one end to the other. “If any part was at a slightly differently level, it

would stop the performer.” Also, the underside of the walkways had

to contain not only one, but two and three criss-crossing tracks to

accommodate different performers and their choreography.

Luckily, Stageline had built a second facility in 2008 that gave

them the space to install the set piece and let the performers to

practice on it. (Miron is understandably proud of the LEED-certified

facility, which he says ranks second in energy efficiency in Canada.)

“They didn’t want to have to troubleshoot the set in Las Vegas, so a

condition of the project was that we needed to have the space to

install it completely.”

All added up, it took two different shifts working 5,500 hours

to build the jail. After it was finished and approved it took another

three weeks just to disassemble it properly and load all those pieces

onto six trailers.

“I am very happy with that structure,” St-Amour says. “It was

a conceptual design from a great set designer Mark Fisher. And

everyone made sure it rocked.”

33 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com

www.stage-directions.com • June 2010 33


Special Section: Special Effects

Blue Suede, Red Fire

One of Viva Elvis’ dazzling moments involves a

waterfall/pyro effect at the very top of the show that

frames a big photo of the King on a video wall. Pyro

appears also at the end of the big “Blue Suede Shoes”

number, is used for a campfire effect and then again

for a big finale among other stellar moments. And it

was Advanced Entertainment Services (AES) that was

called on once again to add pyrotechnic touches to

this latest Cirque du Soleil show.

AES’s Matt Dillingham worked closely with the

Cirque creative team lead by Martin Gauthier, Michel

Tremblay and Karl Seymour to develop the pyrotechnic

and gas flame effects. “We essentially worked with

Cirque from the concepts way back in the beginning

to the development and execution of the pyro/gas

flame and ground fire effects and supplied all the

equipment and materials design services associated

with those,” Dillingham says.

And here were some challenges this time around.

“They needed wireless control for the pyro and gas

system, so we had to customize a control system to

accommodate that. But working with such a great

crew and a nice working environment made that go

smoothly.”

Customized modifications were required to control

systems, including the statues of Elvis, which pivot

and move. “It was necessary to develop a custom

wireless control system for the flame effects in the

statues which would not only accommodate the

movement during the performance, but also provide

multiple redundant control features required

to operate the system safely,” he explains. “The collaboration

between AES, Sigma Services and Doug

Fleenor Design was essential in accomplishing that

challenge.”

Dillingham says Cirque's 2005 show KÀ was the

first to use significant amounts of pyro, and they’ve

continued that trend through to Elvis. “What pyro

there is in this show is very tastefully done—it all has

a purpose. Some shows throw it in for the sake of

having it, but there’s always a good reason for it to be

in a Cirque show.”

He’s pleased with the end results. “The bonus of

working on this project was once again having the

synergy of the crews from AES and Cirque,” Dillingham

added. “We all worked hard towards a common goal,

and had a lot of fun along the way!”

AES supplied Ultratec ground fog machines and

MGD smoke and haze machines for Viva Elvis. RES

Specialty Pyrotechnics also contributed some effects.

SubHead

Julie Aucoin

Advanced Entertainment Services supplied the pyro to accompany the “Blue Suede Shoes” number that begins Viva Elvis.

Julie Aucoin

Stageline Mobile Stage built the big blue suede shoe that doubles as a slide and jungle gym for performers.

34 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com

www.stage-directions.com • June 2010 34


Special Effects

Special Section

ZFX Flying Effects bring a

“film-like” attitude towards

their flying choreography,

like this Matrix-influenced

fight, to add a little edgier

“wow” to your show.

Nine Ways to

Wow

Your Audience

Extra-special special effects to inspire

creators and leave big impressions

on the audiences

When mounting a production, there are a thousand considerations.

But ultimately, there’s only one question:

How can this one be memorable long after closing

night? A talented cast, a hard working crew and the director and

producer’s sheer power to harness the power of the imagination

are critical elements. The latter includes considering special

effects, which even in small doses that are friendly both to a small

theatre and a modest budget, stack the odds in their favor that

their show will pack a “wow” factor that will resonate with every

audience.

Here are nine ideas that will go a long way in adding pizzazz to

your play or musical.

1 - Haze the drama.

On his way to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to see a play,

Nathan Khan bet his wife that they would see haze used in the

production. She pointed out that it was a straight drama. “Sure

enough, there was haze used,” he says. “The set was black and

white and very stark, but this hint of haze was in the air.”

Kahn, of Look Solutions, says that some don’t realize the stunning

three-dimensional aspect a little haze can provide a production.

“It gives a larger-then-life feeling to everything.” For years,

haze has been used in rock ‘n’ roll shows mostly to show off the

lights. In theatre it’s often used for a spooky effect. “But what I’m

talking about is using it in a way that should not even be overly

apparent to the audience,” he says. “When used in a light fashion,

it’s not even a ‘special’ effect, but something that gives the set a

different feel.”

Look Solutions’ Unique 2.1 is a water-based hazer that produces

no residue and can be operated simply by turning on the

switch or from a DMX console. Haze can be distributed in incremental

amounts, from 1 to 100 percent. For what Kahn is talking

about, it’s as simple as a stage manager turning it on a low number

and simply letting it run during the performance.

2 - Think big, even in small spaces.

Joe McGeough of Flying by Foy advises that if you think there’s

no way you can have flying in your theatre space, think again.

By Kevin M. Mitchell

“We’re always pushing the envelop in new technology, and

always developing something new,” he says. “And we’ve done

productions all over the place, even junior high schools.”

And barns.

Recently they were called in for a production of Peter Pan in

the Booth Playhouse in Maine, famous to locals because it’s where

George Reeves, the original Superman, first started acting. Despite

that flying lineage, it seemed impossible to pull off—though not

for Flying by Foy.

“It was a community theatre, with all-volunteer people running

it,” he tells. “The facility was 60 years old and hadn’t changed since

it was first built. There was no fly space, and even birds’ nests in

the rafters. From the floor it was 28 feet to the peaked roof. And it

wasn’t that large of a space, either—the proscenium was only 14

feet high.” But they assessed the situation, and responded with

ground-mounted system that had some of the actors controlling

their own flying. “So don’t think flying is not possible in your

theatre.”

3 - Fly big.

At D2 Flying Effects, Delbert Hall wants you to know that there

is no such thing as “one size fits all.” “There are systems that work

best in theatres with lots of height and systems designed to work

in theatres without. We have pendulum systems, tracked systems

and spinning systems—and systems that allow for a combination

of these types of movement.”

He adds that most performer flying systems use mechanical

advantage to make it easier for the operator to lift the performer.

“When the performer is heavy, it is easy to just increase

the mechanical advantage. However, if too much mechanical

advantage is used, the speed at which you can lift the performer

is reduced, making the flight slow and decreasing that ‘wow’ factor.

Our systems allow us to add ‘inline counterweight’ that helps

reduce the load that the operator must lift, without reducing

the speed of the lift. This makes flights zippy and magical.” For

example, the Old Hag/Enchantress at the beginning of Beauty and

the Beast can get high above the stage in a fraction of a second to

make her transformation magical.

www.stage-directions.com • June 2010 35


Special Section: Special Effects

A Special School for SFX

Look at it as the old “give a person

a fish/teach a person to fish” scenario—only

for special effects. Orlando

Special Effects offers fireworks, fog,

cryogenics, confetti and streamers

and more, sure; but now they

are offering tools for theatre people

to mix with their imagination for a

lifetime of great productions. Andy

Nicholls, Orlando’s CEO, has launched

a school that is “trying to create something

that if I had taken 20 years ago, it

would have saved me a lot of time and

trouble!” He adds: “It’s about learning

and being innovative.”

In this school, stagehands will learn

the nuts and bolts of special effects.

This includes hands-on experience

with what compressed air can do,

basic pyro skills, how to use fog effectively

and even how to get work. The

school will emphasize that there is a

lot more to special effects than just

pyro and fire—skillful and imaginative

use of compressed air can create

a simple air cannon that can shoot a

bowling ball across the stage.

“We’ll also be teaching about electrical

and plumbing components, and

understanding application of basic

hardware material, so in their future

productions they’ll be inspired to

make their shows a huge success.”

There are other perks too: the attendees

will come away with the necessary

skills to create a most awesome

haunted house.

Courtesy of Ben Nye Makeup

4 - Think film.

“In a typical production, there’s not

much going on in the upper part of

the stage,” says ZFX Flying Effects

President Terri Kirsch. “We like to get

Ben Nye’s Old Age Kits are helpful for letting younger actors look age appropriate for their roles.

somebody in the air.”

For Kirsch, all is fair in love and war,

especially when it comes to applying flying

possibilities to enhance a production.

“We’re doing a lot of fight scenes typical

to what you might see in a Matrix

or Batman movie,” she says.

“By applying flying techniques

with the right kind of lighting,

it creates a film-like effect that

is stunning and exciting.” That

stage punch takes on a whole

new meaning when the person

getting punched flies across the

room, or when two lovers are literally

torn apart from each other

and are flown to different parts

of the stage. “These aerial dance

numbers add another dimension

to the production—and people

go nuts over them!”

She says that these applications—and

things like dream sequences—are becoming

a trend, one that ZFX is anxious to see

continue to grow. “We have staff choreographers,

and we pride ourselves not

just on flying people, but teaching them

how to wear the harness, where to place

their legs and how to move their bodies.”

When done right, “audience members forget

about the wires and get wrapped up in

the moment.”

5 - Age your actors, and then make them

bleed.

Ben Nye’s Patricia Saito-Lewe says

they field questions from high school

theatres a lot when a 16- to 18-year-old

actor is playing a Mom or Dad and wants

to look the part. “We have an old age

kit, which works well for theatres large

and small.”

But perhaps more important is the

hair, where just a touch of gray can

add believability to and actor playing a

40-something character. “Last year we

developed Ivory, a new color designed

to work on darker hair,” she says. “When

you put a Snow White-type color on

dark hair it would have a tendency to

36 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com


look blue. So we came up with

this, which looks like a natural

white.”

And just when you thought

there was nothing new in dying

on stage, there is a new blood

color. “It’s called Dark Blood, and

is ‘aged and oxidized,’” Saito-

Lewe explains. This is an option to

“fresh blood,” and perfect when

a character has been wounded

for a while. Also they have two

other blood products that look

good but don’t drip: Thick Blood

and Fresh Stab. “These are for

when you want to show blood

but don’t want it dripping all over

the stage.”

She adds that all are not only

the consistency and look of real

blood, but also that “zesty mint

flavor,” which everyone other

than vampires no doubt appreciate.

6 - Atmosphere on the down-low.

Jauchem & Meeh’s designer Jeremy Chernick knows all too

well the power of atmosphere created through fog machines—

the company was just involved with Broadway’s The Addams

Jesús Quintero in Inanna and the Huluppu Tree, with flying effects provided by D2 Flying Effects

Family. Using Ultratec LSG low smoke generators, which create

fog that stays hovered around the actors’ ankles, they created

exactly what the producers were looking for in the show. “With a

regular fog machine, the fog will float up,” he explains. “But if it’s

chilled with CO 2 , it stays low to the ground.”

Making the choice of what kind of fog to get depends greatly

on what the director’s vision is, but this special effect does

Pavel Antonov, 2009

www.stage-directions.com • June 2010 37


Special Section: Special Effects

make audience sit up and take notice.

“Depending on how it’s lit, it’s a pretty

effective way to create a mood.” And it’s

flexible: “It looks good whether it’s for a

grave yard or used in a Christmas show

where it can appear like fluffy snow covering

the ground.”

The latest advancements in low-lying

fog have made it more popular, partially

because the technology has made it easier

and the price of using it has come down.

With this unit in particular, he says the

perishable costs are low. “It does make

a bit of noise, so we tend to place the

machine further away from the stage, and

use ducting to get it to where we want it

to go onstage.”

7 - Let it snow, even in small doses.

“Too often the first thing that gets cut

CONTACT INFO

Advanced

Entertainment Services

4325 W. Reno Ave.

Las Vegas, NV 89118

P: 702-364-1847

W: www.aespyro.com

Ben Nye

3655 Lenawee Ave.

Los Angeles, CA 90016

P: 310-839-1984

W: ww.bennyemakeup.com

D2 Flying Effects

P.O. Box 143

Hanover, MD 21076

P: 877-750-1001

W: www.d2flying.com

Flying by Foy

3275 E. Patrick Ln.

Las Vegas, NV 89120

P: 702-454-3500

W: www.flybyfoy.com

Jauchem & Meeh

524 Sackett St.

Brooklyn, NY 11217

P: 718-875-0140

W: www.jmfx.net

Look Solutions USA, Ltd.

118 Walnut St. Unit #111

Waynesboro, PA 17268

P: 800-426-4189

W: www.looksolutionsusa.com

Rosco

52 Harbor View,

Stamford, CT 06902

P: 800-767-2669

W: www.rosco.com

SnowMasters

P.O. Box 250

Lexington, AL 35648

P: 256-229-5551

W: www.snowmasters.com

Special FX101

14222 Lake Mary Jane Road

Orlando, FL 32832

P: 407-648-1867

W: www.specialfx101.com

ZFX Flying Effects

611 Industry Road

Louisville, KY 40208

P: 502-637-2500

W: www.zfxflying.com

38 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com


from a production’s budget is special effects, but there’s so many different

way you can add an additional ‘wow’ factor by using it,” says

Roy Batson of Snowmasters. He goes on to say that while it’s tempting

to cut snow in a play or musical, it’s important to remember that

the special effect is exactly the kind of thing that will make audience

members talk to others about the production and the theatre that

put it on.

He’s sympathetic to the decision-making process of what theatres

go through: Will the cost be worth it? Batson contends that

those who choose to add snow to their

productions will learn that it’s one of

the things that make a good show

great and more memorable.

“We’ve expanded and are doing a

lot of West Coast productions, which

is fun because there’s kids in the audience

who have never seen snow. It’s

not a normal thing!”

But he emphasizes that a little bit

goes a long way. “The biggest mistake

that can be made is using too much

of it. But a couple of minutes here

and there make the point, and that’s

why we make equipment that can

make it snow for 30 seconds every five

minutes. The snow effect is one of the

greatest special effects because everybody loves it.”

8 - Special lighting touches.

When the lighting designer opens up the tool kit, there tends

to be a grab for the biggest and the brightest. But Joshua Alemany

of Rosco Laboratories wants theatres to think about the magic of

things small.

“The Rosco LitePad is an affordable, versatile, eco-friendly new

tool,” Alemany explains. “At the most basic level, Rosco LitePad is a

www.stage-directions.com • June 2010 39


Special Section: Special Effects

Joan Marcus

it can be used virtually anywhere. It can be placed in

floors, table tops, doorways or ceilings; hidden in furniture

and faux appliances like TV sets; cut into books

and other props to create special effects or give an

added glow of light; or even placed in costumes.

“As it runs on a simple 12v DC power, the LitePad

can be powered almost anywhere using basic transformers

or battery packs,” he says. A boon to any

theatre: he says it’s almost indestructible and can be

customized into almost any size or shape.

The Addams Family on Broadway used Ultratec LSG low smoke generators to create cool fog that stayed low to the ground.

LED light source but the magic is in its configuration and its accessories.”

The light is mounted into a 1/4 thick layer of clear acrylic,

and white LEDs are focused into the edge of the LitePad. “The

light spreads out through the entire sheet of acrylic creating a

bright, even illumination source with none of the harsh pin points

of light or hots spots so typical of LED light fixtures.”

The magic comes in that since the LitePad is only ¼-inch thick

9 - “Fire” without the smoke.

“We ran into a unique situation for a production

a couple of years ago.” says Matt Dillingham of

Advanced Entertainment Services. “A performer was

used to using a substantial amount of pyrotechnic

effects during his show. Unfortunately, the venue

prohibited the production of any kind of smoke during

the event, including haze. We installed dozens of CO2

jets, and high volume air cannons in various locations

on and around the stage.” All of the equipment was individually

wired, and loaded with customized confetti and streamer material.

By using a computerized control system, they were able

to create elaborate discharge sequences, simulating multiple

“pyrotechnic-type” effects without producing any smoke.

“It was an innovative use of existing technology, and quite

impressive to watch” says Dillingham.

40 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com


By Stephen Peithman Off the Shelf

|

Back to Basics

Books that get to the heart of what we do

Whether you’re new to a particular aspect of theatre,

or simply want a good, solid reference to consult

when needed, you’ll find some valuable resources

in this month’s round-up of recently published books.

A good example is the updated edition of John Holloway’s

Illustrated Theatre Production Guide, which provides a

step-by-step approach to basic practices in technical theatre,

including equipment, tools and materials, scenery construction,

rigging, principles of electricity and implementation

of a lighting design. Holloway adds more detail on stage

management to this edition, as well as completely revamped

chapters on metal frame construction, entertainment lighting

(including DMX signals, dimmer mechanics, power distribution

and digital lighting) and eco-friendly tips on reusing

and recycling props and set material. A companion website

includes how-to videos on such tasks as tying knots, building

a chandelier and constructing an outdoor stage. This continues

to be an impressively comprehensive guide. [$44.95,

Focal Press]

Many costume designers find it difficult to create drawings

that do justice to both the costumes and the characters

who wear them. In Character Costume Figure Drawing, Tan

Huaixiang explains, step by step, how to render costumed

figures so that designs are presented at their best, in a way

that directors and actors can relate to. The author begins

with basic body proportion, bone structure, facial expressions,

hands and feet, then moves on to fabrics, hats and

props. Most impressive, however, are Huaixiang’s three-step

drawing guides, which show how to convert a sketch from a

stick figure to a fully developed character. She also provides

detailed examples of drawing faces, hands and feet, and

depicting fabrics in different colors and textures, aided by

a generous helping of drawings, many in full color. In this

second edition of her book are ideas from productions the

author has worked on in past five years, new costume design

examples and tips on how to draw children and music/dance

characters, as well as characters based on the time period

in which they live. Beautifully conceived and organized, this

would be an outstanding addition to the costume library.

[$44.95, Focal Press]

Wig Making and Styling: A Complete Guide for Theatre

& Film, by Martha Ruskai and Allison Lowery, is the first book

we’ve found that covers altering of existing wigs as well as

creating wigs from scratch. You’ll find tips on styling tools,

hair types, wig making and measuring, coloring, cutting and

even creating beards and toupees. Care and maintenance

of wigs is explained in particular detail, as is preparing for

opening night of a production—and beyond. Nicely done,

with an abundance of full-color photographs that do a good

job of illustrating the various techniques and finished results.

[$49.95, Focal Press]

What is unique and essential about theatre? That’s the

question that lies at the heart of Paul Woodruff’s The Necessity

of Theater: The Art of Watching and Being Watched. The

answer to that question lies in the book’s subtitle. Performers

practice the art of being watched—making their actions worth

watching and paying attention to action, choice, plot, character

and what Woodruff calls the “sacredness” of performance

space. Audiences, on the other hand, practice the art of paying

close attention—and a good audience, Woodruff points out, is

emotionally engaged, with an empathy that can lead to a special

kind of human wisdom. It’s a philosopher’s approach from

an author who is, in fact, a professor of philosophy, providing a

thoughtful and provocative slant on a process that many of us

take for granted. [$17.95, Oxford Univ. Press]

Theatre Craft: A Director’s Practical Companion from A

to Z is designed as an all-encompassing guide, with alphabetically

arranged advice, from acting, adaptation and accent to

sound effects, superstition, trap doors and wardrobe. Author

John Caird draws on his years of experience in directing and

adapting plays, operas and musicals for London’s National

Theatre, in the West End, on Broadway and for the Royal

Shakespeare Company. While the book cannot cover the

various subjects in great detail, it does provide a good starting

point—and often much more. [$20.00, Faber and Faber]

The Handbook of Nonprofit Governance, by BoardSource,

covers basics such as building a board, succession planning,

drafting and maintaining policies, financial oversight, fundraising,

strategic planning, risk management and evaluation

of the board, CEO and organization. There also are chapters

on media relations, communications and outreach, as well as

the maintaining and archiving of records. Nicely done, the

handbook includes a good selection of sample policies and a

helpful glossary of terms and concepts. [$90, Jossey-Bass]

www.stage-directions.com • June 2010 41


For more information about the companies advertising in Stage Directions®

and serving the theatre profession, go to the links listed below.

Advertiser Page Website

Advanced Entertainment Services - AES 40 http://info.hotims.com/29721-293

Angstrom Lighting 43 http://info.hotims.com/29721-176

Arena Drapery Rental 43 http://info.hotims.com/29721-248

Atlanta Rigging 5 http://info.hotims.com/29721-177

Bartlett Microphones 21 http://info.hotims.com/29721-391

Ben Nye 39 http://info.hotims.com/29721-106

Bulbtronics 6 http://info.hotims.com/29721-110

Charles H. Stewart & Co. 43, C3 http://info.hotims.com/29721-113

Chauvet Lighting 3 http://info.hotims.com/29721-155

Checkers Industrial Products 10 http://info.hotims.com/29721-269

CM Rigging 17 http://info.hotims.com/29721-116

D2 Flying Effects 39 http://info.hotims.com/29721-409

Eartec 15 http://info.hotims.com/29721-276

ETC 7 http://info.hotims.com/29721-122

Flying by Foy 38 http://info.hotims.com/29721-244

GoBo Man 42 http://info.hotims.com/29721-408

Graftobian 42 http://info.hotims.com/29721-208

Graham Swift & Co/ Theatre Guys 42 http://info.hotims.com/29721-168

In An Hour Books C2 http://info.hotims.com/29721-403

Jauchem & Meeh 36 http://info.hotims.com/29721-126

Light Source, The 1 http://info.hotims.com/29721-160

Long Reach Long Riders 13 http://info.hotims.com/29721-345

Look Solutions 9 http://info.hotims.com/29721-312

Los Angeles City College 13 http://info.hotims.com/29721-410

Orlando Special Effects 40 http://info.hotims.com/29721-411

Production Advantage 8 http://info.hotims.com/29721-139

Production Intercom 22-23 http://info.hotims.com/29721-161

Rosco 27 http://info.hotims.com/29721-143

Sculptural Arts Coating 9 http://info.hotims.com/29721-141

SeaChanger 11 http://info.hotims.com/29721-404

Selecon Performance Lighting 25 http://info.hotims.com/29721-283

Snowmasters 38 http://info.hotims.com/29721-412

Soundcraft C4 http://info.hotims.com/29721-398

Stagelights.com 43 http://info.hotims.com/29721-167

Stagestep 10 http://info.hotims.com/29721-368

Theatre Wireless/ RC4 Wireless Dimming 43 http://info.hotims.com/29721-166

ZFX Flying Effects 37 http://info.hotims.com/29721-154

Jobs for the Entertainment

Production Technologists,

Practitioners & Educators

Le Rêve - Rigger

Wynn Las Vegas is seeking a Rigger for its

major production show “Le Rêve” located in

Las Vegas, NV.

Assistant Project Manager

Theatrical Lighting

Entry-Level, Assistant Project Manager to work

within the construction community.

Director of Lighting for

the New World Symphony

For more information on these and other open positions , go to:


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www.stage-directions.com • June 2010 43


Answer Box By Jacob Coakley

|

Composers and Curriculum

www.theatreface.com/drewcohen

Drew Cohen, President of Music Theatre

International, on adapting shows for

younger performers

A moment from the 2005 Seaside Music Theatre

production of MTI-licensed Beauty and the Beast.

Music Theatre International is one of the world’s

leading dramatic licensing agencies, with more

than 300 classic and contemporary show titles from

Broadway, Off-Broadway and London’s West End, including

such hits as Godspell, Annie and even Disney’s High School

Musical. They’re also dedicated to the idea of theatre in

education, and have created special collections for younger

audiences including 60-minute and 30-minute adaptations

of major musicals designed for middle school and elementary

school students, and “School Editions” of popular musicals

adapted and annotated for high school audiences (like RENT:

School Edition). The more I learned about Music Theatre

International’s dedication to helping out educators stage

their plays the more I wanted to learn about why they did it.

Drew Cohen, president of MTI, joined me in the TheatreFace.

com chat room and talked about that and the process of

adapting the originals for younger performers.

Jacob Coakley: MTI has several versions of

some of its shows—How do you work with

the writers and composers to make those

cuts and arrangements? How involved are

the artists in this process?

Drew Cohen: The authors are very involved...

Creating shows for the Broadway Junior (60

min.) or Kids (30 min.) collections is not as

easy as one might think. It starts with the

script, which we invite the authors (or their

estate) to abridge. Usually, we will provide

guidelines as to what works well with young

performers and what doesn’t. Once we have the shortened

draft we make changes to the score as well, in order to match

the new script.

Drew Cohen: At that point, we identify suitable

groups that we will use to pilot test

the material. The material inevitably

goes through more rounds of changes,

while we create the additional materials

for the show (such as Director's Guide,

Study Guide, etc.). Once the version is

“locked” we create Broadway quality reference recordings

with children singing the songs so the kids have

something to emulate (rather than trying to emulate

Broadway performers and their vocal range). It generally

takes 12-18 months to prepare the Showkit, from start

to finish.

Jacob Coakley: The Director’s Guide, the

Study Guide—there’s a lot more material

available for people now than when I was a

kid penciling in stage directions in my copy

of Godspell. Why is that?

Drew Cohen: With ever-growing budget

cuts, we heard from teachers that their

administrators needed more of a reason to

set aside money for the show. So we looked

at the shows and saw there is more than

might first meet the eye... Annie is about the

Great Depression, FDR, the New Deal, etc.

Fiddler on the Roof is about a culture’s traditions, struggles,

persecution, etc. With our help, teachers are finding ways to tie

their shows into their curriculum, so it isn’t just about putting

on a show, it is a teaching tool.

Tim McDonald. With

our Disney collection,

we have used

outside writers to

create the scripts

that often are more

than abridgements,

they are more

adapta-

extensive

tions.

MTI has also adapted Beauty and the Beast into a child-performer-friendly “Jr.” edition.

Kristi R-C AKA MissWisc: Does MTI hire people

to help write/arrange the Jr. and Kids

versions of the shows—or do you only use

the original author/composer? (I appreciate

the fact they are arranged for kids’ vocal

abilities!)

Drew Cohen: Initially, we had a team inhouse

that created the materials. As the

projects grew in number, so did the demand

for our experts, and they spun-off as a separate

entity which is called iTheatrics, led by

ONLINE BONUS

To read the entire interview

with Drew Cohen,

including his relationship to

the KGB, head over to

www.theatreface.com/

drewcohen

44 June 2010 • www.stage-directions.com

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