• Special Section on Costumes and Masks!
• How to Care for Your Exotic
(and Not So Exotic) Costumes
• Bringing the Acting Out from Behind the Mask
Lighting on a Dime
The Balboa Theatre
for the New Year
Mermaids and Musicals
Table Of Contents
12 Tools of the Trade
Tools visits Orlando to give you the freshest picks from LDI.
20 The Sopranos of Theatre
We travel to SUNY Purchase, where they expect you to act
like a professional, even as they prep you for the family
business. By Amy Slingerland
22 Bridging the Gap
Our Theatre Spotlight returns with a look at Teatro Vista, a
company founded on the idea of bridging the gap between
cultures. By John Bliss
24 Exploring New Territory
The Balboa Theatre in San Diego has waited years for a
renovation like this. By Evan Henerson
Costumes & Masks
26 Getting Behind Masks
They may be inflexible, but masks can bring a greater
range to your own acting. Here’s some tips to open up
your physical side. By Ellen Seiden
30 Quick Change, Long-Lasting
Costume designs only go so far — How do they keep a
French peasant’s tattered rags going strong show after
show? By Katja Andreiev
34 Get Your Head Straight
Want to make your own mask? Here’s a step-by-step guide
for one, with materials and techniques that will take you as
far as your vision. By Tan Huaixiang
Hanging a star curtain, plus HSM credits.
10 In the Greenroom
IATSE and the League reach agreement, American
Girl actors vote for Equity, the Old Globe changes its
artistic leadership and more. By Jacob Coakley
14 Light on the Subject
Sure, not everyone can afford moving lights, but what
if you’re having a hard time affording, well, lights?
By M.C. Friedrich
16 Sound Design
Alan Menken blasted to fame with The Little Mermaid.
In this interview he talks about why this fish should be
perfectly at home on Broadway. By Bryan Reesman
44 Answer Box
The designer wanted a gold-plated Spitfire air battle —
Here’s how a production team got it done.
By Thomas H. Freeman
7 Ed Note
Costumes as inspiration and teacher.
By Jacob Coakley
38 Show Biz
Show Biz returns with a brand new writer. This month:
How to tap the power of Internet ticketing.
By Tim Cusack
39 TD Talk
You may think you’re in charge, but it’s not magical
elves who get the work done. By Dave McGinnis
40 Off the Shelf
Everybody’s got something to learn. Here’s some
books that will teach you. By Stephen Peithman
41 The Play’s the Thing
Dark tales for the dark winter months.
By Stephen Peithman
Courtesy of suny purchase
ON OUR COVER: Sierra Boggs as Ariel and the cast in The Little Mermaid.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Joan Marcus
The most involved costume I ever
wore was as a noble in the court
of Louis XIV. My work-study job
through the department of theatre and
dance was to help a professor with her
research of courtly dance in the Baroque
period. Practically, this meant dancing.
After about six months of learning and
rehearsing the steps, practicing how to
hold my body and arch my arm perfectly,
and drilling the rise, pause, step and fall of the forms, I was told
that we would be dancing for a conference of scholars on the
Baroque period, and that meant a costume.
Now, I had started in theatre as an actor, and was convinced
that was what I would spend my life doing, so I’d
been in costume shops before, and had fittings, and this
time was no different. What was different, though, was
what happened when the costume was finished. The costume
illuminated the dance to me in a way that months of
rehearsal hadn’t. The fit of the jacket helped my posture
and bearing, while the different cut on the armholes of the
sleeves made it clear exactly how my arms had to be held
to retain perfect form. The open front of the jacket and the
way it fell on me pulled my center through the forms in a
way that a T-shirt during rehearsal just had no way to compete
with. I won’t say the costume made me a great dancer
(there’s not enough costumes in the world for that), but it
made me a much better one, and helped this style of dance
come to life.
It also changed how I felt about my own acting. Rather
than working from a very inside-out type of acting — what
is this character feeling right now — I started to use costumes
to let me get a completely different view of my character
and the audience’s experience of it. How would other
people see this character? How is this character presented
to the audience, and how does the costume inflect how this
character moves or holds himself? I started paying much
more attention to costume designers’ sketches, even after
I stopped acting. When I was working on Web sites for theatres,
I always tried to include costumers’ design sketches.
I’m currently working on a new script that is heavily
influenced by Steampunk, primarily because of the insanely
detailed and layered costumes that I have found on the
Web. Each piece is such a unique blend of styles and design
elements that the characters they create beg to be written
about and explored. I have collected pics of some incredible
design work, and they are printed out and tacked to my
idea board, goading me forward, letting me imagine all the
Publisher Terry Lowe
Editor Jacob Coakley
Editorial Director Bill Evans
Audio Editor Jason Pritchard
Lighting & Staging Editor Richard Cadena
New York Editor Bryan Reesman
Managing Editor Geri Jeter
Associate Editor Breanne George
Contributing Writers Katja Andreiev, John Bliss,
Tim Cusack, MC Friedrich,
Evan Henerson, Tan Huaixiang,
Dave McGinnis, Ellen Seiden,
Consulting Editor Stephen Peithman
Art Director Garret Petrov
Graphic Designers Crystal Franklin, David Alan
Production Manager Linda Evans
Web Designer Josh Harris
Advertising Director Greg Gallardo
National Sales Manager James Leasing
Audio Advertising Manager Dan Hernandez
General Manager William Vanyo
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Chicago Spotlight Inc.
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In addition to the ability to post comments on any story
we post online at www.stage-directions.com, the SD forums
(www.stage-directions.com/forum) are a good place to start
a conversation with other theatre folk about gear, directing or
any production problem. This past month saw the following
Hi, I need a way to hide a star cloth on the rig, drop one
side so it is visible and then drop the whole thing to the floor
after. I know this is normally done by boxes and a controller,
but I am on a very tight budget and wondered what ways
you have done in the past or seen done, etc.
We sent this post along to Brent Stainer, who, after his fire
safety article a few months back, is writing an article about how
to create a star cloth of your very own, which you’ll see in an
upcoming issue. Here’s what Brent thought might work.
It’s a little difficult without knowing more details. How
wide is the star cloth? How heavy is it? Is there a ground row
it can drop behind? Is a fly system available? Or a fixed grid?
Without knowing many of these details, I can still suggest
an idea: Attach the top of the star drop to a box truss. Hang
the box truss from the ends by rated block and tackle so the
pick lines are behind legs. Your drop can trip into the scene
as needed; then, the box truss can be lowered via the block
and tackle down to the floor.
This would be a fairly difficult fly — make sure your actors
and crew have good discipline to stay safe.
Hope this helps.
Got a better idea? Or questions of your own? To follow
this conversation, or start your own, head on over to
In the photo spread of High School Musical productions
in the December 2007 issue, the above picture was
incorrectly captioned. This version of the song “Bop to the
Top” is from the Phoenix Production version, presented
in June 2007 at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank,
N.J. The costumes were originally designed by Phoenix’s
Linda Erickson, sets by Bill Motyka, lighting by Zephan
Ellenbogen, directed by Tom Frascatore, and produced by
John Onorato. SD regrets the error.
In the Greenroom
IATSE, Producers, Come to Broadway Agreement
Late Wednesday, Nov. 28, IATSE Local One, which represents
Broadway stagehands, and the League of American
Theaters, whose members own the majority of Broadway
theatres, came to an agreement for a new contract governing
stagehand labor on Broadway. Both sides declared
the contract a success, with important gains for both the
stagehands and producers. All shows were up and running
for curtain on the evening of Thursday, Nov. 29, and the
union ratified the contract on Dec. 9.
Coming in to negotiations, the producers were seeking
to make massive changes to the contract terms that
govern how many stagehands need to be hired during
the load-in process, which the producers have repeatedly
termed “lengthy,” and govern work rules during the
run of the show, in which the producers have accused
the union of “featherbedding.” By some estimates, the
producers were looking for a 38% cut in jobs and wages.
Furthermore, although the producers seemed shocked
that the Union would strike, they had been quietly building
up a $20 million defense fund by directing to the fund
a few cents from each ticket sold.
So, on Nov. 10, 2007, for the first time in its 121-year history,
Local One went on strike. The union struck after months
of working with no contract (the former contract expired on
July 31) — when it was clear that the League was not willing
to negotiate a new contract in good faith. On Sunday, Nov. 18,
after a weekend of failed talks, the League cancelled shows
through the Thanksgiving weekend — one of the most lucrative
periods of the year for Broadway.
Talks between the Union and the League resumed on Nov.
25, and after several days of marathon sessions, an agreement
was reached late on Wednesday, Nov. 28.
American Girls Place Actors Vote to Unionize with Equity
On Saturday, Dec. 1, actors and assistant
stage managers at American Girls Place
theatre in New York voted 9–6 to unionize,
a second attempt to have the Actor’s Equity
Association negotiate their contracts.
The first attempt was held in November
2006 after a tumultuous summer where
14 of the toy store’s 18 actors went on a
two-day strike. Although the actors voted
7–5 for Equity representation, American
Girls Place officials disputed the deal,
believing voters had been persuaded to
become members prior to the election.
“After 18 months of campaigning, two
petitions (one verified by an independent
arbitrator), one Unfair Labor Practice
strike, one letter from the Actors signed
by name, and two elections, the Actors
and Assistant Stage Managers have chosen
Equity again,” said Flora Stamatiades,
national director of Equity’s Organizing &
Special Projects. “We are looking forward
to sitting down at the bargaining table
and swiftly completing our negotiations.”
The Old Globe Reorgs Artistic Leadership
Old Globe CEO/Executive Producer Louis Spisto (center), with
Co-Artistic Directors Darko Tresnjak (left) and Jerry Patch
Jack O’Brien, artistic director of the
Old Globe Theatre in San Diego for
the past 26 years, has resigned from
that position, effective Jan. 1, 2008. For
the past several years, the demands of
O’Brien’s schedule have made it difficult
for a full-time presence at the
Globe, and it was his decision to step
down. O’Brien began his association
with the Globe in the late ‘60s.
The Board and Executive Director
Lou Spisto, with O’Brien, agreed
that the Globe would be best served
by slightly reorganizing the team
already in place. Spisto will continue
as CEO/Executive Producer. Jerry
Patch, a nationally respected dramaturge,
who was brought to the
Globe in 2005 to oversee day-today
artistic operations and increase
the theatre’s new play development,
will become co-artistic director with
Darko Tresnjak, who will expand
his role from the oversight of the
“I consider myself truly blessed to
have been able to enjoy such a full and
varied career at the Globe,” O’Brien
commented. “These last few years, the
Globe has been generous about allowing
me to work nationally, and even
internationally, but after 25 amazing
years, it’s now both time and appropriate
for me to step back from my duties
as full-time artistic director and encourage
the new generation of creators
waiting to have their chance.”
10 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
Les Miz B r i n g s R e v o l u t i o n t o S w i s s
at Lake Thun
Les Misérables on the
stage — actually built
on Lake Thun near
Les Miz on Lake Thun in Switzerland
the town of the same
name — with a DiGiCo D1 console making its debut on FOH
and monitors. Since every production is outdoors, they require
sound reinforcement. Basel-based contractor Audiopool was
chosen to supply the sound infrastructure to the production.
FOH engineers on the production were brothers Markus and
Peter Luginbuehl, who had a P.A. comprising L-C-R clusters of
d&b cabinets, with d&b subs on the left/right clusters, Kling &
Freitag subs on the center cluster and a pair of K&F delays.
“Technically, Les Misérables is very complicated,” says
Audiopool’s Thomas Strebel. “We needed a console with the
ability to handle a range of different functions, and we found
that with the D1. Because of the number of actor and orchestra
microphones, we were using every possible input — 56 from the
stage rack, plus eight from the local rack — and every output.”
As well as handling FOH duties, the D1 provided six-way
monitor mixes for the entire orchestra via a network of onstage
Kling & Freitag loudspeakers. No outboard processing was
used, just the D1’s internal compressors and reverbs.
“The outstanding sonic performance of the DiGiCo D1 really
helped to produce the desired result — clear, controlled audio
which sounded extremely natural,” says Thomas. “That’s what
we counted on, and we are very pleased with it.”
Young Vic Takes New ETC Eos Console
Two U.K. theatres are set to take
delivery of ETC’s Eos lighting control
systems: the refurbished Young Vic
in central London and the brandnew
Rose Theatre in Kingston,
The Young Vic closed for a refurbishment
in 2004 and reopened in
October 2006 after installing over 120
ETC Source Four fixtures, including
the latest 70º and 90º field angles, as
well as Source Four Revolution moving
lights and ETC Sensor+ dimming. At
the time, however, Head of Lighting
Graham Parker could not find a new
control system that suited them, so
they continued using their old desk.
Graham says: “We tried
out an Eos for two weeks
and found that it offered a
good user interface, with
the touchscreens and faders
well laid out. It also provides
excellent moving-light control
Meanwhile, the Rose Theatre,
Kingston, will use an Eos and
ETC Net3Radio Focus Remote,
as well as 11 36-way Sensor+ dimming
racks and over 100 Source
Four fixtures. The theatre will also
employ an ETC Unison architectural
system for control of house
The Rose Theatre in Kingston under construction
Lighting consultant John Tapster,
who worked with Lighting Designer
Peter Mumford, says, “Jonathan Porter
Goff at Stage Electrics brought us an
Eos to try out, and we were impressed
with how well it worked for us.”
Karen Wood Named Laguna
Playhouse Managing Director
The Laguna Playhouse has named
Karen Wood managing director. Wood,
who previously was managing director
of the San Diego Repertory Theatre for
seven years, will assume her duties at The
Laguna Playhouse on Feb. 4, 2008. She
succeeds Richard Stein, who resigned as
executive director in June 2007. Andrew
Donchak, president of The Laguna Playhouse board of directors,
made the announcement.
“I am delighted to be joining in the leadership of The Laguna
Playhouse,” said Wood. “Andy Barnicle’s depth of experience
and strong creative spirit, coupled with the board of directors’
scope of knowledge and passion for The Playhouse, are inspiring.
In this new collaboration, it will be my heartfelt desire and
joy to help build on the heritage of this cultural treasure. “
ACT Gets New Managing Director
A Contemporary Theatre (ACT) in Seattle has appointed
Kevin M. Hughes as its new managing director. Hughes,
who has led his own public affairs firm since 1998, has
represented businesses, government jurisdictions, grassroots
efforts and nonprofit organizations, including many
cultural organizations, for 22 years. Hughes began his
new position Dec. 1, 2007.
“I couldn’t ask for a better partner,” said ACT Artistic
Director Kurt Beattie. “Kevin understands the challenges of
today’s arts organization; that, combined with his passion
for the art form and for ACT, will strengthen our ability to
generate revenue that supports the mission of this theatre.”
“I am thrilled to be returning to the theatre and, specifically,
to ACT,” said Hughes. “Kurt Beattie is an extraordinary
artist, the staff is equally talented and ACT’s multifaceted
building is one of the best arts facilities in our region.”
www.stage-directions.com • January 2008 11
Tools of the Trade
By Jacob Coakley
LDI took place Nov. 16–18. Here’s some of the hot new products
that companies showed off this year.
A l t m a n L i g h t i n g
showed off its LEDs with
the SpectraCyc — a bar
of RGBA LEDs designed
for cyc wash duties. These
are available in 1-, 3- and
6-foot lengths, and they
all offer point source LEDs,
but reflect that light off a
The Altman SpectraCyc, the 1-foot model
surface. By the time it hits
your cyc, it’s already mixed, and you don’t get as much
“dotting” of the colors. Another cool thing is Altman’s line
of Smart Theatricals for its Smart Track lighting system. It
allows you to hang the company’s smaller theatre lights
(3.5Q Ellipsoidal series, Fresnels or the Star Par) off of what
is essentially track lighting strips that also pass DMX. This is
really great for pocket-sized theatre spaces or multipurpose
rooms. The company doesn’t advertise its Smart Theatricals,
but Altman is happy to talk to you about this.
Apollo (www.internetapollo.com) debuted some new
gel products: The MXR is a
two-string gel color mixer
with a color selection and
frame sequence designed
to maximize useful colors.
The company’s Gel Miser is
designed to filter infrared
energy off of gel to extend
the life of color filters. Apollo
had two lights hung from
the truss in its booth, one
with the Gel Miser, one without,
so visitors could watch
The Apollo MXR two-string gel mixer
the burn out in the unprotected gel.
c h a u v e t l i g h t i n g . c o m )
showed off a bunch of new
products, including new
additions to its Colorado
line: the Colorado Batten
80i, the Colorado 6 (which
more than doubles the
output of the Colorado 3),
the Colorado Panel wedge
wash light and the Q-Wash
LED 36 (which has the output
of a Colorado 1 in a
yoke configuration). Those
in the market for something
even more powerful
The Chauvet MiN Spot
will appreciate the release
of the Legend Wash. Chauvet’s booth was decorated with
panels of its new MiN Spot, an LED-fitted spot yoke, which
features one 14-watt RGB LED and nine gobos.
The City Theatrical Show DMX system
C i t y T h e a t r i c a l ( w w w . c i t y t h e a t r i c a l . c o m )
gave a new twist to wireless DMX with its new
Show DMX system. It’s a frequency-hopping,
spread-spectrum DMX transmitter, receiver and
dimmer system with selectable power and frequency
— so you can choose which channels you
want to transmit on, helping eliminate wireless
congestion. Moreover, the wireless DMX is sent
redundantly, and a full packet is sent over one frequency,
so there’s no break in the packets when
the frequency hops to another one. Each packet
is verified at the receiver and output at the same
refresh rate as the original console output.
The ETC SmartfaderML
ETC (www.etcconnect.com) gave tours on its
two new consoles. The first is the high-powered
Ion, designed to control conventionals, moving
lights, multimedia and LEDs. The second is the
SmartfaderML, designed for conventionals and moving
lights, but also meant to work as a primer on
programming moving lights, thanks to a series of
feedback tools that guide the programmer through
the web of settings that can be changed on highertech
Visitors to the Harlequin booth (www.harlequinfloors.com)
walked on the company’s
new Liberty Clip
Sprung Panel floor, a
installed sprung floor
system that doesn’t
need to be secured
to the sub floor with
nails, screws or damaging
fixtures. The trick is
The Harlequin Liberty Clip Sprung Panel floor
Harlequin’s new patent-pending clip system to hold the
panels together so they don’t pull apart.
12 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
The Leviton 8700 Series
Leviton (www.leviton.com) also had some new boards:
the 8700 series, comprised of three boards: the GS, GX and GL
models. The GL has 24 submasters, while the GS and GX can
have up to 48 submasters, and the GX provides an integrated
touch screen. Each model can handle up to 20,000 cues and
has the ability to have nine parts in a cue, supporting jumps,
loops, follows and other parameters.
The Lex-Loc in its open and closed positions
Lex Products (www.lexproducts.com) was getting some
good buzz thanks to its new Lex-Loc device. It’s a cage clamp
for a NEMA-style plug. Instead of using screws to keep the
wires in place, spring-pressure cam levers make the terminations,
and the housing of the plug screws on to add more
pressure to keep the cams closed and locked down. Lex was
running a challenge to see how quickly participants could
wire up a working plug at a desk in the booth — the winning
time was 8.5 seconds, by Marcus D’Amelio, the technical
director of Central Florida Community College in Ocala, Fla.
The experts reinforced the buzz on the show floor when the
Lex-Loc won the award for ESTA Product of the Year in the
Rose Brand (www.rosebrand.com) won the award for
Best Product Presentation
at LDI this year, thanks in
part to the company’s starshaped
fixtures showing off
Rose Brand’s new fabrics.
Domino is a 100% polyester
flame retardant fabric with
black or white warp embellished
with metallic face
threads railroaded on the
surface. Knitted and slinky,
Rose Brand’s new Domino fabric
it gives the illusion of depth and texture. With a soft hand,
this fabric is reversible. Spider Stretch is a flame retardant
Nylon/Spandex blend, which makes it a true fabric, unlike
many textured scenic materials. Spider Stretch is woven in
a pattern that appears random, making it ideal for lighting
and shadow effects. Also, because of the random pattern and
texture, seams are not noticeable when serged.
www.stage-directions.com • January 2008 13
Light on the Subject
By M.C. Friedrich
Create a Light Plot
on a Dime
“No lights” doesn’t mean
no lighting. . .
When beginning a lighting design, there can
be any number of reasons the designer is
working “on a dime.” This month and next, I’ll
list some of the most common issues I have faced and
their resolutions — and how these were accomplished
on painfully limited budgets. The solutions assume
that renting or borrowing what is needed is out of the
budget/question, and that high-tech miracles won’t
Challenge #1: Not enough lighting instruments or,
worse, no lighting instruments
If you do have some instrumentation, you could
try to work with what you have and just go with
general lighting areas. It’s not very interesting, but
it is illumination. The more dramatic solution is to
give up on washes and have carefully placed specials
(Figure 1). For this to be effective, you will, of course,
have to work closely with your director’s blocking and
rely heavily on the actors’ abilities to find their light
(think spike tape). If possible, you may choose to do
some refocus of lower boom-mounted instruments at
No lighting instruments? Run to the nearest hardware
store and buy PARs: lamp, reflector and lens all
in one neat, inexpensive package. The necessary sockets
will be right beside them on the shelf and require
minimal wiring to attach connectors. With just sockets
and PARs, I’ve made booms that looked, and worked,
like stadium lights. I’ve also worked with clip-on work
lights from the hardware store for very short throws. If
you do go this route, be sure to hide them on the set.
Challenge #2: Dimmer shortage or no dimmers
If you’re short some dimmers, it is possible to
slightly overload the dimmers you have with instruments
that do not need to run at full intensity. Make
sure your math is good, or you’ll be tripping breakers.
Divide the dimmer wattage by the instrument wattage
to get the maximum percentage at which you
can set the dimmer. For example, if you load a 2.4 K
dimmer with three instruments lamped to 1,000 watts
each, then 80% is the maximum level for that dimmer
(2,400/3,000 = .80).
If full intensity is required, repatching is still an
option, even in these days of dimmer-per-circuit. For
the youngsters out there, I’m not talking about softpatching
a dimmer into a channel. In the old days,
when theatres had far more circuits than dimmers,
patch panels and hard-patching circuits into dimmers
were part of the setup, allowing the patch operator to
unpatch (unplug) one circuit from a dimmer and patch
14 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
With just sockets
and PARs, I’ve made
booms that looked,
and worked, like
another circuit into the same place.
To do this with dimmer-per-circuit systems,
you will be plugging and unplugging
instruments into shared circuits.
The most efficient way is with carefully
labeled cable runs to a moderately convenient
location (away from the audience)
for repatching into the circuit to
be shared with the various instruments
to be patched into it.
No dimmers? There are still some
options. If your lighting needs are modest,
any competent electrician can configure
household rheostats into makeshift
dimmers (Figure 2). Just watch
your load. This also becomes your
control console. Another no-dimmer
option is to adapt your instrumentation
and have the appearance of intensity
control with varied wattage lamps on
one look. Key light would be higher
wattage; fill would be lower. There’s
little flexibility, but there will be some
hint of definition on the stage.
For a lack of dimmers, there are gel
solutions. Brown color filters will give a
higher-wattage instrument the appearance
of being dimmed down, amber
shift included. Gel colors identified as
gray will make a higher-wattage instrument
appear to be lower wattage.
Last, but not least, just don’t dim.
During a dimmer crisis in a production
of Cabaret, we had to save the dimmers
for critical instruments. Others
were just on non-dims or plugged
directly into the wall outlets. For one
effect, in which the lighted Cabaret
sign bulbs burned out a few at a time,
the little 7.5-watt bulbs were grouped
into four circuits that plugged into the
wall. Within scene changes, they were
unplugged one at a time to give a
gradual worn-down, seedy look to the
sign (Figure 3).
Next month, we’ll take a look at
what to do if you don’t have enough
power, or even no console.
www.stage-directions.com • January 2008 15
By Bryan Reesman
The Art ofJuggling
One of his first hits is hitting
Broadway, but the work is
never over for Alan Menken.
All photography by Joan Marcus
Fans of musical
know the name
Alan Menken. The eight-time
Oscar-winning composer and songwriter
penned the off-Broadway rendition of Little Shop Of Horrors
with the late lyricist Howard Ashman before the duo revitalized
Disney’s fortunes by bringing pop and musical theatre sensibilities
to the animated films The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast
and Aladdin. Like The Lion King, Beast became a hit in its Broadway
incarnation and then started playing in theatres across the globe,
while Mermaid arrives on the Great White Way this month.
Menken remains quite active, juggling multiple projects.
Aside from Mermaid’s Broadway bow, which features 10 new
songs, the semi-animated film Enchanted, in which a cartoon
princess escapes to the real world of New York and is followed
by her suitor and an evil queen, recently opened in movie
theatres nationwide. Additionally, the composer is working
on Sister Act and Leap of Faith, both adaptations of Whoopi
Goldberg and Steve Martin movies, respectively, which he
hopes will be on Broadway by spring 2009. All these productions,
with the exception of Mermaid’s original movie songs,
feature lyrics by Glenn Slater.
The ever-energetic Menken spoke to Stage Directions about
his long career, balancing multiple projects and the art of
writing musicals. In Manhattan, a week after his interview,
the weary composer performed while sick with a cold for a
press preview of new Mermaid songs. At the preview, he introduced
the show’s lead, the unknown-but-soon-to-be-a-star
Sierra Boggess. Soldiering on during his performance, Menken
proved that he is a die-hard trooper.
Stage Directions: You brought pop and musical theatre sensibilities
into Disney animated films. How does that serve
you now, bringing this whole process back full circle with
The Little Mermaid on Broadway?
Alan Menken: I think the pop sensibility has always been an
essential color to what I do, and I think it’s one of the reasons I’ve
been able to have the musical theatre career and the film career
that I’ve had. I’m able to blend a pretty good understanding of
musical theatre with working in diverse musical styles and giving
it a pop veneer where appropriate. On Little Mermaid, Howard
Ashman and I never achieved the single, the liftable song. We
really weren’t quite “pop enough” as far as the pop charts, but
Sierra Boggess as Ariel in
The Little Mermaid.
we brought a musical
theatre sensibility to the
animated picture in a way that
the whole industry responded to,
and I think that’s why we swept the awards for
score and song. I think, especially in Hollywood, they respond
to material that’s written specifically for a story in a film and
not written with the secondary purpose of having a single. It
was only with Beauty and the Beast that we gave ourselves the
assignment of writing a song that could function within the
picture and also exist as a single, and that, of course, became
part of the tradition.
How did that sensibility play into working on Enchanted?
When I write these songs, I don’t think about pop charts
— especially now. The pop charts are in a different place than
they were even eight or 10 years ago. In the case of Enchanted,
I created a score that evolves from the world of Snow White to
contemporary New York and everything in between.
Enchanted seems to have a very self-reflexive sense of
humor. Do you think that the film speaks to where the
musical is in terms of mainstream consciousness?
I think, in general, musicals must have a self-awareness of
what they are in our culture and how they are perceived; however,
there are always exceptions to that rule. There’s always
that musical that will carry its heart on its sleeve, and there are
musical projects that are completely about an inside sensibility
and a wink. Enchanted really exists in both worlds. It has a lot of
winks, but it does wear its heart on its sleeve.
Obviously, musicals now have amplified sound and stereo
mixes. How does all this technology that’s seeping
into Broadway productions affect and influence your job
as a composer?
It doesn’t affect me in the room as I’m writing, but sometimes
I’ll get into the theatre and think, “What was I thinking? I was really
thinking a record sensibility on this song, and what is coming
from the pit is sounding too legit. What do we do about that?”
Sometimes you have to address balancing a traditional orchestra
against a more sophisticated, contemporary pop sound. If
you create something that has too much pop veneer to it in the
theatre, you’re going to distance an audience from responding
in a very live sense. You want them to have a sense that there is
16 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
a pit, that there is an orchestra, that they’re in live theatre. At the
same time, because we write with a more pop sensibility, with
amplification and hearing vocals sung in a certain way — we
don’t have an Ethel Merman any more, someone who can simply
belt to the back of the house without amplification. We have a
lot of really wonderful performers now who sing in a much more
contemporary way, so you’ve got to figure out how you hide
those mics and balance that sound. The soundman has obviously
evolved to one of the prime design positions, along with
the set designer, costume designer and lighting designer.
How much are you involved with the
sound designer on a show like Little
Mermaid or Sister Act?
I’m very involved — sometimes directly,
and sometimes through my music supervisor.
In my experience, the poor sound
designer often is the last one given the time
to really do his or her work in the theatre.
The sound and lighting designers seems to
be the ones who are always fighting to have
time to hone what they’re doing. You’re
already well into previews, if not even past
your opening, and the sound designer is still
needing to do the work — all the honing of
riding the vocals and riding the orchestra
and placing the speakers.
Sherie Rene Scott as Ursula
What work did you do with the sound
designer on Little Mermaid?
I have to say that the sound designer,
John Shivers, was really successful on Little
Mermaid. It’s just been the normal process
of hearing more of this vocal, the orchestra’s
a little bit down here…. You’re still going
to balance the needs of the dramaturgical
against the musical. The musical might want
to hear big sweeps of an orchestra, and
the sound is overwhelming you. Then the
director and the book writer will say they
really need to hear the words. That sounds
very basic, but that often becomes a very
common debate. How far forward do you
need the vocals to be without diminishing
the power of the orchestra? Some of that
has to be dealt with through panning —
placing the orchestra in speakers where
you don’t have the vocals so they’re distinguished
from each other. That’s not my area
of expertise. I’m the one who will go back
and whine at the sound designer, or praise
the sound designer, and they will have to
figure out how to proceed.
My sound designer on Sister Act and
Leap of Faith is Carl Casella, whom I’ve
known forever. I knew him back when
he was an engineer. He’s worked on live
shows, and he helped me put together
my screening room. He’s a pal and has
become a top sound designer.
www.stage-directions.com • January 2008 17
Prince Eric (Sean Palmer) and Ariel (Sierra Boggess) afloat in Disney’s The Little Mermaid
How are Sister Act and Leap of Faith progressing?
They’re progressing very well. Sister Act opened in Pasadena
and in Atlanta, and we received very good reviews. We learned
a lot from audiences and the reviews and from our own reactions.
After Atlanta, we went back to the drawing board and
have been rebalancing the story; it’s involved rewriting or
replacing nine songs. There are a lot of changes on a score
that I absolutely love; however, sometimes you have to go in
and get rid of things that you love and put in new things that,
hopefully, you will love as much. And even if you don’t love
it as much, in some cases, if it dramaturgically takes the story
where it needs to go, it’s worth the trade-off.
Is it painful to go through that process?
It’s painful. It gets a little easier as you get older and more
experienced in musical theatre. Sometimes, you yourself end
up being the impetus for that change over other people’s objections.
Sometimes, people have fallen in love with your songs,
but you need to throw some out. It’s depressing to think that,
despite how great it was before, most people won’t even register
that much of a difference. Your job is to just deliver the message
in a way that can be digested. I face that a lot, where people
would see the show with a great number, then come back and
see the show without it and not even notice it was gone.
How is Leap of Faith doing?
Leap of Faith is in very solid shape. We’re writing one more
new song at this point. It’s been hard over the summer to do
work on either Sister Act or Leap of Faith while working on Little
Mermaid and completing work on Enchanted, including the
artwork for the soundtrack of the album. We’ll do a workshop in
the spring, where Director Taylor Hackford will really get to put
the show on its feet and see it in a rehearsal space. Then we’re
going do an out-of-town preview a little over a year from now.
We’re seeing a lot of adaptations coming to Broadway;
shows derived from film, television and books. There seem
to be less original works being done for Broadway.
Now I’m going to quibble with your question. You are wrong!
I defy you to tell me names of original musicals that have been
on Broadway. Broadway is a highly adaptation-oriented medium.
The exceptions tend to come under the category of revues.
A Chorus Line is really kind of a revue. It’s either an adaptation or
songs based on some sort of a concept, and there are very few
exceptions to that.
Wicked was inspired by the Wizard of Oz. Avenue Q was
inspired by Sesame Street….
Wicked was based on a book by Gregory Maguire. His book
was original. But it’s very hard to write an original musical.
Why do you think that is?
In a musical, it really needs to be about the songs and about
the music. It really helps when an audience comes in with
some solid ground under them in order to take the leap into
allowing the songs to transport them, and it’s more particular
to theatre than film. Look at something like Falsettos. Is that
an adaptation? It’s really autobiographical on the part of composer/playwright
Bill Finn. It’s about his life.
Broadway tends to be confined to very specific source material,
and it also allows the writer to make a stylistic choice that’s
very broad and have the audience not question that. In other
words, for an audience to be in on what you’re doing — in on
the conceit — it’s very important that the central spine of that
concept is very clear, either in an adaptation or something that
can be expressed beforehand, so you know what you’re in for. I
don’t mean to be dogmatic about it, but bitter experience has
shown me that this is generally the rule. So what’s happening
now is not unusual. What is unusual is just the amount of activity
on Broadway. It’s enormous — the number of people who are
working on theatrical adaptations.
Given all your years of experience as a composer and
songwriter, what advice would you give to young, up-andcoming
composers trying to make it on Broadway?
On a basic level, I say that if you want to pursue it, and it is
something you want to do every day of your life, then do it.
This has to be something you want to do because it’s a passion.
If it’s based on “I’ve got to achieve this result,” you’re likely to
be frustrated and not be able to really sustain your drive for
an entire career. It’s really about doing it for the love of it, and
then if the money comes, the money comes.
When writers are actually looking at projects, my advice is to
get out of your own way. Don’t think that your imprint is what
this is about. What it’s about is you as a composer finding a stylistic
voice for the score and then allowing that to come through,
through your expertise as a composer and your ability to capture
the essence of that style. But it’s not about having a theme
sitting in a trunk for 20 years, then using that song for the score.
You’ve got to serve the piece and serve the characters.
We all struggle with staying in touch with our inner compass
and being open to someone telling us that we’re completely
wrong about something. The essence of that is when
you’re out of town with a musical, and everyone is screaming
at you, “Change this! Fix this! Look at this!” It’s always that balance
of listening to your inner voice and being open to other
voices. It can be very difficult.
Bryan Reesman is the New York editor of Stage Directions.
Ursula (Sherie Rene Scott) puts the hard sell on Ariel (Sierra Boggess) with the help of
Jetsam (Derrick Baskin) and Flotsam (Tyler Maynard).
18 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
By Amy Slingerland
The Sopranos of Theatre
SUNY Purchase Prepares Students for a Lifetime of Collaboration.
Set on 500 acres of former farmland 35 minutes north
of New York City, SUNY Purchase was founded in 1967
by Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller to bring together
conservatory arts training and liberal arts studies on one
campus. Purchase College is home to four arts academies: the
Conservatory of Music, Conservatory of Dance, Conservatory
of Theatre Arts and Film, and the School of Art and Design.
The Conservatory of Theatre Arts and Film offers programs in
acting, film, dramatic writing and design/technology. Within
design/technology are concentrations in scenic, costume
and lighting design, costume technology, stage management
and technical direction.
What sets Purchase apart from other theatre and arts
schools is its faculty of award-winning working professionals
until 11:00 p.m. Students are treated like professionals from
“Which, when you’re 18 years old, for some people can be
really daunting,” says Mike Zaleski, a 2006 stage management
graduate. “But if you want to step out into the world and
start working immediately on an Off-Broadway, Broadway
or professional event level, that’s what the program trains
In addition to submitting the usual high school transcripts
and SAT scores, prospective design/technology students
must undergo an interview and portfolio review. David
Bassuk, a 1981 Purchase graduate and current professor of
All photography Courtesy of SUNY Purchase
The Purchase production of Light Up the Sky by Moss Hart
Sean Kane and Jennifer Rathbone
“We try to expose students to every situation they would get into via
regional theatre or commercial theatre.” — David Grill
and its selectivity and intensive professional training combined
with affordability. Associate Professor of Film and Interim Dean
of the Conservatory of Theatre Arts and Film Gregory Taylor
says, “We offer similar training and quality to Juilliard, but we’re
a state school. Our mission has always been to provide a highquality,
top-notch conservatory education and professional
training in these fields to the public — something that is usually
only available at elite private institutions.” The tuition may
not be elite, but competition for acceptance is.
The arts programs at Purchase are highly selective, rigorous
and demanding. For instance, the program has a total
enrollment of around 70 students. From as many as 1,400
applicants, only approximately 35 are accepted each year,
and that number dwindles as students decide to leave or are
not invited back for the following year. In addition to at least
90 program credits, a student must also complete 30 liberal
arts credits in order to graduate. A typical day starts with
classes at 8:30 a.m., and rehearsals or performances can last
theatre arts, says he looks for acting students who “can
talk intelligently about their choices and the scripts they’re
presenting, can talk about the theatre, what they’ve seen
and what they like; they’ve got some degree of a developed
aesthetic, an interest in the best that culture has to
offer.” For design students, David Grill, an Emmy Awardwinner,
and co-chair of the design/technology program,
emphasizes verbal skills and visual skills. “They have to
come in with some knowledge of composition, whether
it’s learned or subconscious.” says Grill. “I look at someone
who has some experience, and who has a drive and a
desire and an energy about themselves.”
When Zaleski discussed colleges with the sound and lighting
designers he knew, they mentioned Purchase as the first
place to look. Zaleski says, “I went down there, and I remember
basically deciding on the spot that it was the perfect
place because it was so close to the city, the facilities were
amazing, and everyone whom I met was great.”
20 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
“I went down there, and I remember basically deciding on the spot that
it was the perfect place, because it was so close to the city, the facilities
were amazing, and everyone whom I met was great.” — Mike Zaleski
The Work’s the Thing
In addition to classwork, students can work on Purchase
Repertory Theatre productions in the Performing Arts
Center, which are acted, designed, stage managed and
technical directed by students,
“Freshmen act as general crew members, and they
go through a rotation,” explains Grill. “They spend
half a semester in the lighting shop, half in the carpentry
shop, half in paint and half in costumes. As
they advance into the sophomore year, they generally
become crew heads. In your junior year, you become
the assistant-level person, and senior year is basically
the design position.”
Although this hierarchy is followed, everyone shares
the grunt work of load-ins, load-outs, hanging and focusing
lights, and the like.
“Folks like Jason Lyons, Brian and me continually come
back and circulate through the college to keep the education
at its high level, as well as to afford the people who
are in school the opportunity to solicit comments from
that level of professional, plus potential internships and
jobs after they get out of college,” Grill says. Students
learn practical, situational knowledge from current working
professionals — not just from textbook examples.
“Narda Alcorn, my stage management teacher, was on The
Lion King and A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway, Zaleski recalls.
“So she was telling us stories from the night before that were
immediately relevant to what we were discussing in class.”
Working’s the Thing
If a school can be judged by its graduates, the Purchase
results speak for themselves: Over 85% of design/technology
David Grill, cochair of the design/technology program,
is an Emmy Award-winning LD. Marjan Neshat John Yuille and Ariel Kubbie work on a set model.
The Performing Arts Center comprises four theatres, providing
students with state-of-the-art “laboratories” in which
to experiment and perfect their crafts.
“We try to expose students to every situation they
would get into via regional theatre or commercial theatre,”
Grill says. The 500-seat black-box Repertory Theatre
provides great flexibility in configuration with portable
platform units, movable catwalks and a hydraulic lift. The
600-seat Recital Hall, engineered for chamber music and
dance, has a sprung floor, rear-screen projection bay, portable
acoustic orchestra shell and a downstage hydraulic
lift. The PepsiCo Theatre, designed by Ming Cho Lee, holds
over 700 and has a rear-screen projection bay, hanamichi
platforms along the sides and two downstage hydraulic
lifts. The three-tiered Concert Hall, which has a capacity of
over 1,300, has two downstage hydraulic lifts and a portable
acoustic orchestra shell.
Also invaluable is the professional experience brought to
the classroom by award-winning graduates of Purchase who
now teach there, including Brian MacDevitt, 2007 Tony Award
winner for lighting The Coast of Utopia (with Kenneth Posner,
another Purchase alum), and Grill himself, a 1986 alumnus.
grads are working in their field, many are members of the
major theatrical unions, and alumni include Tony, Emmy,
Obie and Drama Desk award winners. Acting graduates
include Stanley Tucci, Edie Falco and Parker Posey.
Although the standards are extremely high and the
programs can be grueling, “It was a wonderful school
for me, and it really was a perfect fit,” Zaleski says.
“What was great was the faculty and the one-on-one
learning experience, plus a group of alumni who keep
At the time of this interview, Zaleski was stage managing
the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation gala. “I
showed up at this gig, and the lighting designer graduated
from Purchase, this other stage manager is from
Purchase. Almost every gig I do, there’s somebody
Grill agrees. “The best student is the student who feels
at home. If you can identify those people and get those
people in so that in their four years of college they form
a bond, you’re going to see those people until the day
you die. I still work with people I graduated with. It’s the
Sopranos of theatre.”
www.stage-directions.com • January 2008 21
By John Bliss
Teatro VistaCelebrating Latino Culture
For more than 15 years, Teatro Vista: Theatre With a View
(www.teatrovista.org) has shared the work of Latino writers
and performers with Chicago audiences of all backgrounds.
The theatre seeks to bridge the gap between cultures,
focusing not on our differences, but on our similarities.
Name: Edward Torres
Role: Artistic director and cofounder
Other company members: Cofounder Henry Godinez;
Associate Artistic Director Sandra Delgado; Resident Director
Mission: “To develop the voice of the Latino writer in the
U.S.; to bring our point of view to other cultures; to provide
opportunities to artists of color.”
Recent productions: A Park in Our House by Nilo Cruz;
Massacre (Sing to Your Children) by José Rivera; Another Part
of the House by Migdalia Cruz.
Latin culture is: “World culture. It’s African, European and
indigenous cultures. It’s not just one thing.”
The biggest misconception about Latino theatre: “It’s not
always magic realism!”
I knew that Teatro Vista was
a success… “when other companies
started doing plays by
writers we had introduced.”
The benefit of success:
“Writers are coming to us with
their work. And established
writers like Octavio Solis and
Migdalia Cruz are coming to
Chicago to work with us.”
The drawback of success:
“Our ensemble members have
started leaving Chicago to
work in L.A. and New York.”
The most important thing is…
“Don’t give up.”
The writer I’m excited about:
“Quiara Alegría Hudes. We
did a production of her play,
Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue with
Rivendell Theatre Ensemble at
Teatro Vista coproduced A Park in Our House
with Victory Gardens.
Steppenwolf. She recently wrote the book for the musical In
Courtesy of Victory Gardens
We started the company in… “Gustavo Mellado’s kitchen.
We would all get together and make dinner. Then we’d
read a play. To this day, whenever we do anything, we always
If you want to start a theatre company… “Be honest with
the people you’re working with. Let them know what’s going
on. Even when it isn’t pretty.”
Career low point: “Working as an intern at the ‘actors of
color’ auditions at the League of Chicago Theaters — back
when we had separate auditions!”
Courtesy of Victory Gardens
High school students appear onstage with professional actors when Teatro Vista partners with
Little Village Lawndale High School and Little Village Development Corp. each year. This year’s
show is La Posada Magica.
Courtesy of Teatro Vista
Courtesy of Teatro Vista
From A Park in Our House
22 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
Another moment from La Posada Magica
By Evan Henerson
San Diego’s Balboa Theatre
is ready to shine once again
after its renovation.
When it shut its doors in the mid-1980s, the Balboa
Theatre in the heart of downtown San Diego
had enjoyed a career as a cinema and vaudeville
house, playing everything from Spanish language films to
Escaping several brushes with the wrecking ball, the
Balboa — designated as both a local and national historical
landmark — saw the Westfield Horton Plaza mall develop
around it. The stately Spanish Revival-styled Balboa sat
waiting for the funds and the vision to bring it back to life.
“It’s a wonderful building,” says Bob Mather, associate
principal project director at Westlake Reed Leskosky, the
architectural firm charged with the Balboa’s restoration.
“We’ve talked to people who have been in there and
remember their first kiss, and people who had families
The stage of the Balboa theatre during construction
Take Your Time
Spanning more than four years from design to its upcoming
late January 2008 reopening, the three-phase renovation and
restoration effort covered the entire building: retrofitting, mural
restoration and the sprucing up of both stage and auditorium
lighting systems. The project’s nearly $27 million price tag is
funded entirely by the San Diego Redevelopment Agency.
The stage is flanked by two large working waterfalls, rehabilitated
and usable — although most likely for precurtain spectacle
rather than during any performance. The New York-based
firm EverGreene Painting Studios reestablished the Balboa’s
original lobby and auditorium color scheme. Decorative plaster
and the refurbishment of second floor murals — dulled and
yellowed from years of nicotine — should have people talking
“Now they have the ability to do almost anything the depth of
the stage allows.” — Darrell Ziegler
involved in the construction. Of everyone I’ve ever talked
to, no one has ever said, ‘Just tear that thing down.’ ”
Now, after the theatre has sat dormant for more than
two decades, it’s curtain up on a multiple use venue that
will house theatre, lectures, dance, live music, comedy and
the occasional convention.
“One of the goals was to make the facility flexible to
accommodate as much as possible,” says Don Telford,
president and COO of San Diego Theatres, which will program
and run the Balboa and its downtown neighbor, the
San Diego Civic Theatre.
“That was a lot of the cost of the project,” he continues.
“There’s a significant amount of infrastructure for rigging,
lighting and sound. It’s a well-equipped venue, and part of
the goal is to make it as affordable and accessible to local
nonprofits as possible. The less they have to go out and
rent, the better.”
“It’s one of those magical old-time movie house feels,”
said Telford. “Very grand, very ornate, incredibly colorful.
Within the auditorium, there are 22 different colors. It’s one
of those places where, as we’ve toured people through the
building and walked them into the house, the immediate
reaction is just ’Wow!’ ”
Project workers have installed an ETC Ion console at
the rear of the orchestra, with a wireless remote focus
controlling stage lighting dimmers. Some 244 2.4 kW
stage lighting dimmers, five 6.0 kW dimmers and 24
2.4 kW house lighting dimmers are now available for use
with an Ethernet-based control system that provides
DMX data distribution from the lighting control console
to the dimmer racks and control tapes and nodes
located at the stage lighting positions.
“Originally, there was no front of house lighting, no
lighting on the balcony rail,“ says Darrell Ziegler, project
24 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
A view of the Balboa house. The photo was taken during the construction period, and the acoustic
drapery shown is being hung to stretch before being stored.
A shot onstage of the Balboa, showing the orchestra shell walls
architect of Westlake Reed Leskosky and the designer
of the Balboa’s lighting system. “Now they have the
ability to do almost anything the depth of the stage
They also have the height, thanks to J.R. Clancy’s
new rigging systems, installed by L.A. ProPoint.
Onstage, there’s a new J.R. Clancy manual counterweight
system with 33 new battens, not including the
house curtain and fire curtain.
Structuring the Sound
Sound-wise, the theatre already had good “bones”
for classical music, according to David Conant, principal
acoustician for McKay Conant Hoover. Even
considering this was a vaudeville house built in 1924,
“there was very little we needed to change to make it
sound really good,” Conant says.
Given that, with a pit that can hold up to 27 musicians,
variable acoustics can and will come into play.
To help with that, the Balboa now features highly
absorbent sound banners that lower from slots in the
ceiling and arch along the sidewalls, installed by L.A.
ProPoint. The company used eight of J.R. Clancy’s
Variable Acoustic banner curtain systems, including
motors and banner drums weighing in at over 1,000
pounds, which were installed via a small attic space.
These are controlled with a custom push-button control
system. An orchestra shell consisting of two rows of
overhead ceiling panels and eight 14-foot rolling towers
will be used for symphonic performances.
“If you put a pretty good-sized orchestra into a
fully enclosed shell, the overall loudness of the sound
can often bother the musicians,” says Conant. “But
that loudness won’t happen in this room, particularly
because of the sound defusing towers.” Conant adds
that the addition of a portable acoustical eyebrow
hanging over the orchestra pit has been recommended
for the future.
EAW fill speakers mounted at the ceilings cover
the balcony, while Meyer speakers at the front of the
stage apron cover the orchestra. Given the space and
budget limitations, the Balboa’s sound system needs
to be unobtrusive, as well as powerful enough to do
“We chose this series of loudspeakers due, in part,
to the fact that they sound wonderful, have been
known for their clarity and because we can tight pack
these devices,” says Randal Willis, supervisory consultant
and manager of media systems.
The house console, a Yamaha PM5D mixer with 48
channels, can be removed to accommodate a touring
sound console or for additional lighting capacity.
According to Willis, the sidewalls were equipped to
accommodate surround sound should theatre operators
decide to go that route in the years to come.
Take to the Ground
Situated along bustling 4th Street in downtown San
Diego, the Balboa didn’t offer up much space for the
storage of heating, cooling and electrical equipment.
“There was very little staging area where the contractor
could store equipment,” says Ziegler. “The
theatre was previously ventilated, not air conditioned.
We needed space for the equipment and duct work to
cool the auditorium.”
The project team was fortunate. Instead of using
overhead circular air ducts that pipe heating from
above, the Balboa was designed to have air come out
of holes in the floor below the seats in the orchestra
level. When upgrading the facility to include air conditioning,
this method of air circulation provided an
atmosphere that was both quieter and energy efficient,
according to Conant.
“That’s the way they used to do it,” says Conant. “In
conventional designs these days, they do it in reverse
direction which is more problematic acoustically.”
This ingenuity reflects the whole of the Balboa
project, where the legacy of the theatre’s past is celebrated,
restored and upgraded to a new space that
dynamically serves the San Diego community.
www.stage-directions.com • January 2008 25
Special Section: Costumes & Masks
They may hide the face, but
masks can reveal a lot about
By Ellen Seiden
designed masks for
Masks can enhance productions by bringing a
physicality to performances that helps lead to
heightened drama, humor and audience
camaraderie. But in replacing the human face, masked
actors need specific training to give genuine and heartfelt
performances. Los Angeles mask designer and physical
theatre expert Alyssa Ravenwood creates expressive masks
and individualized workshops for theatre companies and
schools. In her classes, performers learn to enact characters
with movements and emotions that embody their masks.
“My focus,” Ravenwood says, “is teaching actors practical
techniques in order to give the best performance possible.”
Ravenwood studied the art of mask, clown, mime, melodrama,
performance creation and commedia dell’arte (bawdy
Italian street theatre featuring mostly masked stock characters,
familiar plots and improvisation; highly popular with 16th- and
17th-century audiences) at the Dell’Arte School of Physical
Theatre in Blue Lake, Calif., among other intensive workshops.
Crafting centuries of theatrical and artistic tradition into her
masks, as an actor and director, Ravenwood also developed
effective methods to enliven the characters behind them.
“People think that a mask is a way to hide,” says
Ravenwood. “But I think masks are a way to reveal those
parts of yourself that are hidden by your everyday face.”
In my conversation with her, she gave me some pointers
for actors and directors on mastering your mask, as
well as some mask performance exercises and tips for
overcoming some technical difficulties with them. We
only have room here to talk about her pointers for actors,
but her other tips and exercises can be found online at
1) Know Your Mask
As an exercise, Ravenwood directs her students to get
a partner and wear each other’s masks. “Go through every
angle the mask makes,” directs Ravenwood. “Match the
body to the character and to the emotions of the mask.
It’s best to see your mask worn by a fellow actor and watch
them tilt it and perform in it.”
Darleen Totten, theatre arts teacher and troupe director
at Alice High School in Alice, Texas, runs a mask-centered
drama program, using mask projects tied to performances
as icebreakers at the start of each year, and has had success
with this exercise.
“It’s a lot of hard work for the kids to get used to the
masks,” she says, “To enunciate properly behind them, to
speak louder, to tell the story with the body without facial
expressions so the audience gets it.” Theatrical masks that
show different emotions tilted at angles provide “a whole
new tool for nonverbal communication with added body
motion. It frees kids up. The masks transform who they are.”
2) One Thing At a Time
“Understand the technique that one thing happens at a
time, and that you must share this with an audience,” says
Ravenwood. “There’s action and reaction to everything.”
She notes that the expression on a mask cannot be read if
the mask is moving, so every important moment of discovery,
reaction, emotional change and decision-making must
be marked with stillness so that the audience can read it
and follow the emotions of the story. The expression of loss,
for example, should show on the body, with the mask held
still, facing forward to the audience.
Christopher Pryor, who performed masked as Leander
in Molière’s Scapin at the Radiant Theatre in Portland, Ore.,
uses the stillness to build rapport with the audience.
“I personally enjoy the connection a masked actor has
with the audience,” Pryor says. “There is no fourth wall
when a mask is involved. An actor in a mask can face the
audience and deliver lines directly to them. This creates
a wonderful air of mischief and camaraderie between the
actors and the audience.”
26 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
Left to right: Elizabeth Dowd as Ariel and Alisa Sickora as Rabble in the Bloomsburg Theatre
Ensemble’s production of The Tempest
Two different moods
can be evoked from
one mask, as evidenced
in these pictures of the
mask for the dell’arte
Left to Right: Megan Marut, Michael
Nazar and Melanie Coakley wear masks
in BTE’s production of Shakespeare’s
3) Be Genuine in Your Emotion
According to Ravenwood, when
playing a heightened style, you must
use your method acting techniques
more, not less.
“Everything is life and death to these
characters,” says Ravenwood. “You have
to really mean it. If you fake it, it shows.
You must feel the emotion, raw and
exposed. It’s a mistake to play masks
loud, exaggerated or insincere.”
Gerard Stropnicky is the ensemble
director at the The Bloomsburg Theatre
Ensemble in Bloomsburg, Penn. BTE
hosts an annual Noh (Japanese masks)
training project, and he has run into
this particular problem.
“Using masks is a very powerful spice
to add to the recipe,” Stropnicky says.
“If you use it where it isn’t needed or
wanted, it can overwhelm. When used
properly, it can do great stuff.” He likes
the physicality that masks demand of a
performance and the alternate ways of
acting that are required. “Masks add a
layer of subtlety because they force it.”
4) Use Your Chest Voice
Ravenwood recommends using your
chest voice instead of your head voice.
If you’re not sure what that means, try
to hum and feel the vibrations in your
chest, not in your cheeks and forehead.
You should try and base your voice
there. This avoids echoing in a 1/2 mask,
and muffling in a 3/4 mask that hooks
onto the upper lip. You will need to
enunciate and speak louder.
But you’re not divorcing yourself
entirely from your face — you should
use your mouth and chin as part of the
character when wearing a 1/2 mask (as
in commedia style masks). The lower lip
and teeth become part of the expression
you create in a 3/4 mask. Luckily,
you don’t generally talk in a full mask.
“Mask work is demanding technically,
as the actor’s voice must not get
lost in the mask,” says Myra Donnelley,
an L.A.-based program coordinator for
the Mentor Artists Playwrights Project,
which independently produced the
show Dangerous Stages in Portland,
Ore., using masks. “A different set of
facial expressions (or contortions really)
and physical body gestures are required
to animate the emotions.”
To help emphasize those facial
contortions, spend some time in front
of a mirror practicing large expressions
— huge Os, frowns, exaggerated
grins — and combine those
with posture and texture to convey
emotional states. Use black eyeliner
to emphasize your eyes behind the
mask, and match your lipstick to the
color of the upper-lip in a 3/4 mask.
Ravenwood also directs her students
to keep their shoulders away from
their ears, tuck in their chin and to not
extend their neck. And before you go
overboard with the physical contortions,
she warns, “You need to be in
character for a time, so be comfortable
in the body you create.”
5) Never “Show the Elastic”
You’ve worked hard to create a character
for the audience — don’t break
it! Turning full profile or back to the
28 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
A moment from Scapin, produced
by the Radiant Theatre Company in
The actors at a Commedia boot camp workshop at
Oakridge School, Oakridge, Texas.
audience will allow them to see the
elastic and break the illusion; turning
more than one quarter away, the mask
disappears entirely. Actors should stand
angled toward each other, rather than
in full profile, so that it appears they
are looking at each other, but the audience
can still see the front of the mask.
And, of course, avoid touching your
mask with your hands during the performance,
since it emphasizes the difference
between flesh and mask, also
breaking the illusion.
According to all mask enthusiasts
interviewed, the benefits of having performed
in mask are body awareness and
body freedom. Training in effectively
communicating emotion and action
with the body gives actors another
tool to use besides the voice and face.
Getting behind masks becomes an
added dimension in visual awe for your
More tips and exercises from Alyssa
Ravenwood can be found online at:
Alyssa Ravenwood’s Web site:
An online community of mask makers
and enthusiasts can be found at:
Dell’Arte School in Blue Lake, Calif.:
The Clown Conservatory in San Francisco:
www.stage-directions.com • January 2008 29
Special Section: Costumes & Masks
Designing outlandish costumes is one
thing — keeping them show-worthy
day after day is quite another.
By Katja Andreiev
A moment from Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity
Today, the variety of theatre experiences offers any
number of intriguing mysteries, and chances are, the
creators of each little mystery do so with the hopes
of eliciting that coveted response: How did they do that?
Costume mysteries, on the whole, tend to be subtle, raising
questions like: “What happens if a costume that appears
to be a single seamless piece of shiny rubber gets ripped?”
or “How do those costumes that look like filthy rags get
cleaned and worn night after night without falling to
pieces?” However, that subtlety is part of the point. When
it comes to costumes, the mystery lies in the details, and
the details are what wardrobe technicians, craftspeople and
designers attend to with care and artistry. That way the mystery
never distracts from the presentation of the costumes
themselves or, indeed, the performance as a whole.
Where the Rubber Meets. . .
Just as technology progresses in other aspects of theatre,
new developments in fabric and fiber technology have
predicated new techniques in costumes. Some of that very
technology is showcased in Zumanity, the adult-themed
Cirque du Soleil show playing at the New York New York
Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
“It’s sort of like patching a bike tire. There’s a special
glue, like rubber cement,” explains Jack Ricks about the
repair of a costume — specifically, one of several latex suits,
some of them airbrushed with body parts for a trompe
l’oiel effect. Ricks, a 15-year veteran of the alternative circus
powerhouse, is the head of wardrobe for Zumanity, currently
in its fifth year and billed as “the sensual side of Cirque
du Soleil.” Zumanity’s costume designer, Thierry Mugler, a
high fashion innovator of the ‘80s and ‘90s, has created a
look inspired by haute couture and fetish wear, as well as his
own unique take on iconic Las Vegas showgirls. Ricks, along
with 20 wardrobe professionals, and a smaller wig and hair
team under Roger Stricker, are wardens of 350 garments
and over 100 theatrical hair pieces — an exotic milieu of
tissue-foiled leather, feathers, spandex, Lycra, power mesh
and, yes, latex.
In the cleaning and repairs integral to the 10-show-aweek
schedule, Ricks and his crew have had to get creative.
Part of the initial challenge was getting guaranties — finding
a dry cleaner to commit to a three-day turn around for
leather was a particular challenge. The crew members use
their own delicate cycle industrial washing machines for
a few of the other pieces, but the majority of laundry for
Zumanity is done daily, by hand. Even the jewelry, designed
for Mugler by Robert Sorrell, is hand-washed with distilled
water and steam to prevent rhinestone discoloration from
perfume, lotion and makeup.
“It’s sort of like patching a bike tire.”
— Jack Ricks
As for wear and tear, the Zumanity wardrobe crew studied
fetish-wear to learn to prep and repair the various synthetic
materials. The latex bodysuit interiors are powdered
to prep them before each performance, and there is an
elaborate patching process should they tear.
Ultimately, although the costumes enhance the Zumanity
experience, Ricks says, “The only way the show looks beautiful
is through the efforts of the entire team.” There is a sense
that the entire team puts in so much effort that the result
Two Classes, Two Costumes
David Zinn, costume designer for the new Broadwaybound
musical A Tale of Two Cities, which just closed at the
Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Fla., is also inspired
by avant-garde fashion; it was Belgian deconstructionist
couture that informed his design for the distressed clothes
of the French Revolutionary peasants. Given the pacing and
scope of a musical, and to distinguish the impoverished
30 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
Courtesy of Thierry Mugler
French citizenry from the
gentry on the necessary
scale, the craftspeople at
the Asolo shop brought
a sense of asymmetry,
messiness and disrepair
to their construction
and distressing of the
garments. They went
for a look Zinn jokingly
describes as “deconstructed
Commes des Garçons bought at the 18th-century
Thierry Mugler’s sketch for the character of Antonio
Salvation Army.” Costume pieces were built inside out,
with seams and stitching or even the wrong side of the
fabric exposed, and patterns and stripes were deliberately
Antonio preens in his sexy duds.
mismatched, setting costumes apart on a structural level.
That way, even if later dye and painting were to fade, there
would be an intrinsic visual cue conveying class in the social
structure of the play world. Zinn lists Vivian Westwood, Jimi
www.stage-directions.com • January 2008 31
Special Section: Costumes & Masks
Courtesy of David Zinn
Hendrix and the New Romantic fashion of the early 1980s
as influences, but states that his goal is for the costumes to
help humanize the characters and “feature the starving face
of the actor.”
When it comes to Broadway, where shows often have
open-ended runs, costume professionals anticipate the
extra stress of a long performance schedule. Costume
houses construct all pieces, distressed and otherwise,
to be as durable as possible. Certain pieces that have
deceptively delicate silk or sheer exteriors may be completely
backed, or flat-lined, with a sturdy muslin or
synthetic. Other fabrics, linen in particular, are favored
for distressed pieces because they tend to wrinkle very
easily, making the garment look like it has been worn
for some time even when it is freshly built or laundered.
In this way, there is less need for an artificial “breaking
down” of the fabric to convey a distressed look. By painting,
dyeing and heat-setting multiple colors and textures
into fabric in particular, artisans can convey a sense of
extreme age or filth without adding a single hole or
David Zinn’s costume sketch of Madame Defarge
shredding a seam. In general, though the distress process
creates the appearance of age, dirt, stains and even
seemingly natural tears and holes, the techniques are
available to do so without compromising durability.
32 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
Distressed pieces generally
look “better,” that is, worse,
when left to wrinkle.
The realized costume for Madame Defarge (Natalie Toro), with appropriate distressing
Minimize the Holes
Despite the finest construction, there is an enormous
amount of stress on costumes in long-running shows,
and the wardrobe crew is responsible for upkeep and
replacement. Holly Nissen, a wardrobe
union member working as a
full-time swing on a Broadway show
explains that, sometimes, when standard
costumes wear out and need to
be replaced, the old, worn-looking
costume can be cycled into the distressed
sections of the show.
The wardrobe crew is also essential
in alerting the costume designer
and costume shops as to which
pieces are wearing out too quickly.
Nissen recalls a principal woman’s
flowered dress originally made of
embroidered silk that could not
stand up to the stress of a musical
number, warranting too much
time on repairs. At the advice of the
wardrobe crew, later versions of the
dress were made in cotton that was
custom printed with the exact same
pattern as the original embroidery,
saving time in repairs and money in
replacement costume costs.
In fact, when it comes to saving
time, wardrobe crews catch a break
when it comes to distressed costumes,
because like some of the synthetic
pieces in Zumanity, distressed
pieces require less traditional maintenance,
such as ironing and needle
and thread mending. Distressed
pieces generally look “better,” that is, worse, when left
to wrinkle. Some are even deliberately twisted tightly
after washing and tied into a knot to create a primitivepleat
or crinkle effect. As to just how much repair sewing
a distressed garment warrants, as Nissen puts it, “It’s
when the holes start to run into each other.”
Whether it means making sure filthy-looking rags
stay clean, keeping the French peasantry looking like
rock stars or putting the polish on the “human zoo,”
the people responsible for designing, building and caring
for costumes continually expand their repertoire
of skills to create and maintain garments for today’s
panoply of performance experiences. In doing so, they
maintain the subtle mystery that keeps the audience
questioning, but not too much.
Katja Andreiev designs costumes and works for the Theatre
Development Fund in New York City.
www.stage-directions.com • January 2008 33
Special Section: Costumes & Masks
One designer walks you through how to
make a mask with unconventional materials.
Photos and text by Tan Huaixiang
Alien mask design
discuss several mask-making methods and materials in
my book Costume Craftwork on a Budget – Clothing, 3-D
Makeup, Wigs, Millinery & Accessories, including masks
made of Latex, Varaform, Wonderflex, buckram, papiermâché
and fabrics and using positive and negative molds.
The advantage of creating a mask over a wearer’s life-casting
mold is that it will better fit the wearer’s face. Of course, this
involves more steps and requires more time to complete;
plus, using an existing face mold to make a mask also can
result in a good general fit for most wearers.
In this article, I will share my experiments on building
masks over a Styrofoam head with Fosshape and foam. A
Styrofoam head, used to support or display wigs or hats,
can be used as a mold or foundation for making a full or
half mask. It has the basic human face structure, it is cheap,
every costume shop has one, and unlike plaster face molds,
you can place pins in it. You can build up desired features
with oil-based clay over a Styrofoam head and then make
a mask with papier-mâché, buckram or fabric. Because the
Styrofoam head is not accurate to the proportion of a human
face, you may have to make little adjustments in order to get
a better fit over a wearer’s face.
Let’s start right in with an alien mask.
What You’ll Need
• Styrofoam head
• Foam backer rod
• Foam Armacell
• Straight pins
• Steamer or steamer iron
• Spray paints
• Acrylic paints
• Brushes and markers
• Fabric-Tac glue
• Needle and thread
• Two empty clear water bottles
(a) Backer Rod; (b) Armaflex; (c) Fosshape
Backer Rod is a foam material that provides support for
building sealants and comes in ½-inch, 5 /8-inch or ¾-inch
Armaflex is pipe insulation used to retard heat gain and
control condensation drip from chilled water and refrigeration
Fosshape is a unique nonwoven, soft, pliable, heatactivated
fabric. It can be formed and shaped into fantastic
permanent objects when exposed to steam heat or
dry heat. It can be worked with a steam iron or costume
steamer, with or without molds. The level of stiffness is
achieved by adjusting heat, time and pressure. Fosshape
is a replacement for buckram. It is lightweight, resilient,
water-resistant, has superior strength and flexibility, and
is easily painted and decorated with a variety of artisan
coatings and paints. Fosshape comes in 300-lightweight
and 600-heavyweight and can be sewn by hand or
machine or cut with knife or scissors. It bonds to itself
and can be glued or stapled together or to other materials
such as paper, foam or fabrics to produce headpieces,
masks, props, etc.
• Cut a piece of Fosshape material large enough for
the mask. Temporarily pin the Fosshape over the Styrofoam
head, mark the eye, nose and mouth positions and cut out.
(Figure 1) Precutting the opening of the eyes and mouth
will aid in fitting the Fosshape over the deep indentation
areas of the mold/Styrofoam.
34 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
Figure 1 — (a) Locate eye and mouth positions; (b) Cut out eye and
Figure 2 — (a) Cut Fosshape from the bottom of the chin to nose;
(b) Overlap the cut edges to fit over the mold.
• Pin the Fosshape back to the
head form. Start from the center of
the face out; make a cut (clip) from
the bottom of the chin to the bottom
of the nose and overlap the cut
edges to reduce unnecessary fullness
and create a curved shape for the
chin. (Figure 2)
www.stage-directions.com • January 2008 35
Special Section: Costumes & Masks
Figure 3 — (a) Pin the Fosshape in place; (b) Steam the Fosshape until it
becomes a hard shell.
• Make sure the material
is anchored to any indentation
areas such as the eye sockets,
nostrils and mouth. Manipulate
the Fosshape material around
the Styrofoam mold and place as
many straight pins as needed until
all the wrinkles disappear around
the mask area. (Pins are necessary
for holding the Fosshape in places
and keeping the Fosshape close
to the mold because Fosshape
can shrink during the steaming
process.) I pin the Fosshape piece below the chin of the Styrofoam head to increase the
size of the mask for a better fit (in general, the Styrofoam head face is smaller than an
adult’s face). (Figure 3a)
• Steam the Fosshape
with a steamer, start from the
top down or the center out.
Fosshape is heat-activated
fabric; it will form and shape
to the mold underneath it and
become shell-like. (Figure 3b)
• Outline the mask. The
demo here is a full alien
mask; however, I outlined
the shape of two more halfmasks
on the Fosshape as
samples to show that a mask
Figure 4 — (a) Outline samples of half masks (# 1 and # 2) and full mask (# 3)
created over a Styrofoam head can be a full or half mask. (Figure 4)
• Follow the outline and cut out the mask.
This is going to be the base of the alien mask.
• Spray the Fosshape mask black with shoe
spray or craft spray. (Figure 5a)
• With scissors, cut the opening portion of
two empty water bottles to create the alien’s
eyes (about two inches from the bottle opening).
Shape the bottom of each eye to fit over the eye
socket areas on the mask base. (Figure 6)
• Use permanent colored markers to draw
some blood vessels on the inside of the bottle.
Then paint a layer of opaque white on top of the
drawing lines for the white of the eyes. Attach
the eyes to the mask base by hand-sewing
stitches. (Figure 5b)
• Cut Armaflex/foam roll to a nose shape
with scissors; three foam nose sections are used
for this mask. Each nose section is glued on top of
the other and staggered to create the alien nose.
• Cut a few pieces (in different ring thicknesses)
of the Armaflex/foam roll. These rings will
be put over a piece of foam rod to create alien
antennas. (Figure 7)
• Attach the antennas to the mask base at the
center top by hand-sewing stitches. (Figure 8a)
• Glue a strip of foam along the edge of the
base to frame the mask. Taper the two ends of
the foam strip with scissors to get a smooth look
at the joint. Overlap the ends at the root of the
antennas. (Figures 8b and 8c)
Figure 5 — (a) Fosshape mask base is sprayed in black; (b) Eyes are
sewn on by hand.
Figure 6 — (a) Two eyes are cut from empty drinking bottles, and
one of the eyes has blood vessels drawn on it; (b) Both eyes are
painted with liquid acrylic paint.
36 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
Figure 7: (a) and (b) Foam pieces cut to create
the alien look.
• Cut a few pieces of foam backer
rods to the necessary length to
create eyebrows and antennas to
achieve an “alien look.” Foam is my
favorite material for creating craftwork;
it is lightweight, has body
volume and is relatively durable.
• Attach all the foam pieces
to the mask base at desired locations
with clear fabric tac glue.
A few straight pins may be used
for stabilizing the foam before it
• Highlight the mask with paint
Figure 8: (a) Antennas are sewn on by hand, and the mouth is glued to the base; (b) Shows a piece of
foam strip glued along the edge of the mask and shows the tapered ends of the foam strip; (c) Two
tapered ends of the foam strip overlapped and glued together; eyebrows are glued in place.
You can go to www.stage-directions.com/alienmask for
another mask how-to, where I walk you through the making
of a mask based on the Star Trek “Borg” and used for
the Technical Wizard character in the modern version of
Alice Experiments in Wonderland — a cooperative university
production project (University of Central Florida, Bradley
University and University of Waterloo). In conclusion, always
remember that you can make anything happen — unless
you stop imagining.
Tan Huaixiang is associate professor of costume design/
makeup at the University of Central Florida.
Figure 9 — Views of the completed alien mask.
www.stage-directions.com • January 2008 37
By Tim Cusack
Butts in (Virtual) Seats
Hi, my name is Tim, and I’m a theatre geek. Wow, it feels
so exhilarating to state that in the very first sentence
of my very first column for Stage Directions! In this
column I will be focusing on the challenges facing fledgling
theatre producers and hope to be able to uncover helpful
tips, pass on best practices from established professionals
and share some of my own experiences in the trenches of
New York’s independent downtown theatre scene.
As co-artistic director of Theatre Askew, I’ve had my share of
whacky conundrums to solve, like what do you do when one of
your actors disappears on what you suspect is a cocaine bender
during the two days before the final dress rehearsal of your inaugural
production, which will be attended by a journalist who will
be writing the first magazine profile ever of your company.
This month, though, we’re talking about something far
more glamorous than illicit drugs: online ticketing services.
To get the scoop on what’s hot for hooking up your potential
audience with your theatrical product, I turned to my good friend
and colleague John Issendorf. (Full disclosure: John is the managing
director of Askew, but in his day job, he’s a senior account
executive for Theater Mania’s online ticketing service, Ovation
Tix.) I asked John what he would identify as the major trends in
ticketing over the past five years, and what the future holds for
this aspect of the business. Not surprisingly, theatrical ticket sales
on the Internet have exploded since the turn of the millennium.
Data from The League of American Theatres and Producers offers
support for this. According to its 2007 report on audience demographics,
online ticket sales for Broadway shows have increased
nearly four-fold since 1999, making this, for the second year in a
row, the preferred method for purchasing tickets.
But behind this megatrend lies another factor. Since 9/11,
there has been reluctance on the part of audiences to purchase
tickets in advance. Data from The League shows that
more than a quarter of tickets sold for Broadway shows were
purchased on the day of the performance. I’ve found this to
be equally true at the other end of the economic theatrical
spectrum: The majority of tickets to an Askew show are sold
the day of the performance. “Theatres need to become more
flexible and recognize that our sales are now being driven by
an Internet culture that’s all about impulse buying,” John says.
An online ticketing presence can help meet these changing
needs. Two other major players in the online market are
SmartTix and TicketWeb, which is affiliated with Ticketmaster.
For the small producer, Ovation and SmartTix are, in my opinion,
the better choices, and both offer similar features. Both services
are free to set up, and both provide you with an account
rep who will help you customize your ticketing interface. They
make their money by charging a fee for every ticket sold.
At SmartTix, it’s $1.50 minimum to a $5.00 maximum, based
on the cost of the ticket. Ovation’s fee structure is similar. Both
services allow you to choose how much of that cost you want to
pass on to the customer. Both offer you the option to go into the
system and change how many comp tickets you are holding on
the day of the performance. Ovation’s Premium service gives the
option of either providing a seating chart, so patrons can choose
their own seats, or letting the system automatically decide, shifting
seating as necessary to accommodate audience needs.
Both services generate reports that “slice and dice” patron
information in a variety of ways. You get detailed lists of audience
names, addresses and e-mails, which prove invaluable
come fundraising time and allow you to build your audience
for future productions. They also provide phone operators
who will take ticket orders for patrons who don’t have computers
or don’t want to give out credit card information online.
One feature of Ovation that we at Askew have found particularly
valuable is the option it gives patrons to make a donation
along with their ticket purchase. Through this service, we not
only gain a little extra money, but also essential data about
which specific projects are motivating patron support.
You may consider setting up a PayPal account as an easy,
cheap option for selling tickets, but if you are committed to
growing your theatre as an institution, I wouldn’t recommend
this. The customer (and potential donor!) experience begins at
the point of purchase. You want an online ticketing service that
helps you create the impression of institutional seriousness.
Tim Cusack is the co-artistic director of Theatre Askew in New York
City and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
38 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
By Dave McGinnis
Without hands to do the work, all the brains in the world accomplish nothing.
Every day in tech world subjects a TD to the requests,
demands and implications of everyone from the lone
spectator who thinks the air conditioning is set too cold
to the donor who swears up and down that they should have a
special seat set aside for them whether they show up or not.
The adage holds true — $*@&+ rolls downhill. Our gear
breaks down when it’s most necessary, and every structural
issue, from leaks to fires, creeps into our house at the most
inopportune moments. So why do we do it? Why don’t we
take the easy way out and — I don’t know — take on new
careers as forest rangers in the Rockies? I don’t know about
you, but in those moments when the aspirin runs out and the
director asks for a new 18-foot-high weight-bearing platform
with two days to go, I find my sanity in my crew.
Yes, you heard correctly. Those very folk whom I constantly
find myself badgering to “get it done yesterday” and
to “remember that nothing gets done on break” keep me
sane when all else crumbles. No, it’s not always peace and
harmony and, yes, my vocal chords do still receive their occasional
workout, but I take great pride in my service to them.
When the chips are down, their hands are doing the work,
and they’re the ones keeping the saw blades turning.
This month, I would like to give credit where credit is due.
For the show that we just closed, I had crew in house on
weekends, weekdays and weeknights. Whether I came in or
not, the work kept getting done. And guess what. It didn’t
happen all because of me, and it didn’t happen at the hands
of gnomes who crawled out in the night to magically get sets
built and lighting set. It happened because my crew put in
the hours and effort.
I have to admit that I appreciated it when my colleagues
and superiors took the time to let me know how great a job
they thought I did. It always feels great to receive that validation,
but I also take the time to remind them that I did very
little — we did everything.
Every month — if you’re the diehard Stage Directions
reader you should be — you hear me ranting about my rabid
belief in my crew and the work they do with their own hands.
Hopefully for you, you’ve seen the reasons in action in your
own house. If, however, you don’t work in tech, and you’re
flipping back here more out of curiosity than necessity, then
let me share with you where the statement, “I won’t ask my
crew to do that!” comes from.
For this last show, the build itself took very little time. I
actually overestimated my man-hours — always a nice surprise
— but a new design element got introduced a third of
the way into rehearsals that involved tea staining hundreds,
maybe thousands, of sheets of paper with which to paper the
walls. This process takes a lot of time, especially considering
that my shop already has limited space and virtually none for
this kind of work.
One of my crew — Cassie — took it upon herself to get
this done. I never asked her, and she never asked me. She
just did it. Many nights I left to the sounds of Cassie in the
back dipping typed-out sheets of white paper into a sink full
of the stoutest tea she could muster. Every night ended with
the same conversation, too.
“You sure you don’t need a hand?”
“No, I got it. Don’t worry. I’ll get the lights on my way out.”
After every version of this conversation, I would make my
way to the parking lot with the knowledge that everything
would be all right. I could have been worried that she might
forget to lock the door. I could have panicked and thought
that she might not stain enough. I could have done a lot of
things, but I didn’t need to. Every day I came back, and every
day, those stacks were right where they needed to be.
And she never asked, and I never said.
That’s why I don’t ask my crew to do what I myself would
not — because they’re willing. It may sound backward, but
my crew goes to the mat for me every time that I ask. I have
the hardest working crew on earth.
But that’s the beauty of it — we all do, and they deserve to
have somebody speaking on their behalf.
Dave McGinnis is an assistant professor of theatre at St. Leo
University. Let him know who you want to thank at dmcginnis@
www.stage-directions.com • January 2008 39
Off the Shelf
By Stephen Peithman
How to turn a design into a drawing, ask for money, play games — and more.
Successful theatre depends on acting, directing, designing
and financial skills. This month’s books include recently
published how-to books that cover a wide range of theatrical
A theatrical designer’s ideas cannot stay locked in his or her
head. At some point, it becomes necessary to communicate
your visual idea effectively to others — and the best way to do
that is almost always in a drawing. In Drawing & Rendering for
Theatre: A Practical Course for Scenic, Costume, and Lighting
Designers, Clare P. Rowe begins with the fundamentals of drawing,
moves on to the various types of media and finishes with
specific exercises in each section. Her approach is unusual in that
she covers all areas of theatrical design, which serves to underscore
how interrelated these areas really are (and how designers
often end up working in more than one). Rowe explains: how to
draw in one-, two-, and three-point perspective; the uses (and
abuses) of color; drawing with media or digitally; and how to use
these drawings to clarify and communicate your design. This
handsome, full-color book includes student drawings that the
author analyzes and critiques, plus renderings by professional
theatrical designers. The result could serve as a textbook for
design students or as self-help for working scenic, lighting and
costume designers who want to improve their rendering skills.
[ISBN 978-0-240-80554-2, $49.95, Focal Press]
It’s enticing to think that theatrical-quality costumes, wigs
and makeup can be made out of cheap materials, but the results
are often less than terrific. However, author Tan Huaixiang
makes a strong case for success in her new book, Costume
Craftwork on a Budget: Clothing, 3-D Makeup, Wigs, Millinery
& Accessories. With creativity and a solid understanding of
available materials, she explains, a costume designer can create
results that are practical, good-looking and durable. Writing
in an easy-to-follow style — and illustrating each step with
drawings and color photographs — the author shows how
she has created three-dimensional makeup (including fangs)
for Dracula, made a nose for Cyrano de Bergerac, built rubber
masks for Once on This Island, designed the “Chrysler Building”
headdress for Lend Me a Tenor, used household items to create
war helmets and armor for Pippin, and many more intriguing
examples. We liked it so much that we invited her to walk our
readers through a process of creating a mask, which you can
read in this issue on page 34. The rest of her book is filled with
similar clarity and guidance. [ISBN 978-0-240-80853-6, $39.95,
Most theatre companies need funding to enhance and
expand their offerings. So, what are the secrets of prying open
the pocketbooks of prospective donors? According to Barry J.
McLeish’s Yours, Mine & Ours: Creating a Compelling Donor
Experience, the secret is not having to pry anything open
at all. It’s all about creating an environment in which donors
want to give. McLeish explores donor expectations and goes
beyond conventional concepts of branding and marketing. In
today’s world, he emphasizes, fundraising success means being
focused more on the donor’s concerns and needs than on your
own. The effort must switch from “here’s what we need,” to
“here’s what you need, and here’s how you’ll get it by giving
to us.” That is a fundamental shift for most nonprofits, entailing
a great deal of thought and planning — a game plan — that
McLeish outlines carefully and concisely in this helpful how-to
book. [ISBN 978-0-470-12640-0, $39.95, Jossey-Bass]
And speaking of game plans, actors and acting teachers
should find two new books of particular interest. Drama Games
& Improvs: Games for the classroom and beyond, by Justine
Jones and Mary Ann Kelley, is a semester-long curriculum guide
for teaching basic dramatic skills using improv games that can
be adapted to any age group. [ISBN 978-1-56608-147-4, $22.95,
Acting Games for Individual Performers, by Gavin Levy,
is targeted at college students, community theatre or professional
performers who prefer to work on their own. Levy offers
110 “self-discovery” acting exercises on such topics as imagination,
observation, concentration, nonverbal communication,
voice, body awareness, acting and reacting, understanding
your objective, characterization, improvisation, props, retention
and understanding, research, auditions and casting, and
performance. [ISBN 978-1-56608-146-7, $17.95, Meriwether
While there are many books on how to become an actor,
there are few that provide guidance for those who want to
work behind the scenes. Mike Lawler’s Careers in Technical
Theater helps fill that need. The book looks at theatre in
the broadest sense — Broadway and regional theatre, ballet
companies and vacation/resort productions onboard
ship or in Las Vegas. Lawler provides specifics for careers
as stage manager, lighting designer, electrician, stagehand,
projection designer, scenic carpenter, production manager,
prop artisan and many, many others. Information provided
includes job duties, estimated earnings and recommended
training institutions, plus examples of career trajectories,
internships and apprenticeships, as well as a helpful list
of Web resources. Throughout, Lawler makes it clear that
work is more than about just making a living — that there
are creative rewards and fun in technical theatre. [ISBN
978-1-58115-485-6, $19.95, Allworth Press]
40 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
The Play’s the Thing
By Stephen Peithman
Plays that look at the dark side of life
There are no lighthearted comedies in this month’s roundup
of newly published plays. Each one takes a serious look at
life, love or politics — with results that vary from the dramatic
to the darkly disturbing.
An account of revolutionary Che Guevara’s imprisonment in
Bolivia in late 1967, Jose Rivera’s School of the Americas is part
fiction, part truth. Guevara was indeed visited in prison by an
idealistic young schoolteacher only days before his death, but
what went on between them is unknown. In Rivera’s play, the
revolutionary trusts the teacher enough to share something
about his life and philosophy in more personal terms than he did
in public. The circumstances are intriguing, and the sheer theatricality
of the playwright’s concept is riveting. The challenge for
the director and actors is to get past the political and historical
underpinnings and work on more specific development of
character and motivation. Still, if handled right, School of the
Americas has much to intrigue an audience. Four males, two
females. [Broadway Play Publishing, ISBN 978-0-88145-336-6]
Samuel French has reissued David Steen’s A Gift of Heaven,
reminding us of how well-crafted a stage piece this is, even
though more people are familiar with the 1994 film version.
Set in a poverty-stricken shack in the hills of North Carolina,
the story follows the Samuals family’s struggle to make it
through their difficult daily existence. Ma Samuals is a hard
woman whose pain-filled childhood has led to a twisted view
of love and religion. Her son, Charlie, is a simple man with
innate wisdom who yearns to break away and leave the hills.
Her daughter, Messy, constantly strives to win the affections of
her distant mother. Anna, the shy and innocent visiting cousin,
has left her own troubled past in hopes of finding a new life
filled with love and happiness. Her arrival sparks the emotional
fires still smoldering from the family’s dark past, leading to the
haunting final scene that sticks in the memory. Three females,
one male. [Samuel French, ISBN 978-0-573-63281-5]
Sometimes a play is at its most powerful after the final curtain.
David Harrower’s Blackbird is a good example. It moves
slowly as it builds to its provocative final scenes, and then the
heated discussion begins as the audience moves to the lobby.
Fifteen years before the play begins, when Una was 12, she
had a sexual relationship with a 40-year-old neighbor named
Ray. He was sent to prison for six years, changed his name
and moved to another city. Now Una has found his picture in
a trade magazine and traces him to his workplace. However,
Harrower’s play does not take a simplistic view of an evil adult
abuser and an innocent, victimized child. As the two talk, the
anger and hurt stored up for 15 years leads to a troubling revelation
and a series of unanswered questions. Is Ray remorseful
or a very clever criminal? Is Una mentally unstable — and if so,
how did she get that way? Is it possible that a 12-year-old girl
and a 40-year-old man could fall in love — and the adult not
being guilty of abuse of power? Let the lobby debates begin.
[Faber & Faber, ISBN 978-0-571-23319-9]
Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People was written in 1882
in response to the public outcry against his play Ghosts, which
had challenged the hypocrisy of Victorian morality with its veiled
references to syphilis. The protagonist of Enemy is a communityminded
physician who has promoted the development of public
spas in order to attract tourists to his town. When he discovers
that the water supply for the baths is contaminated, he attempts
to publicize the problem and correct it. As a result, he and his
family are all but driven from the community he was trying to
help. Nicholas Rudall, who has brought a fresh perspective to
his translations of the classic Greek playwrights, here turns his
talents to one of Ibsen’s most darkly provocative plays. [Ivan R.
Dee, ISBN 978-1-56663-727-4, $9.95,]
Spring Awakening was the first play by German playwright
Frank Wedekind, published in 1891. Centered on the budding
sexual maturity of young people in the repressed society of
the time, the play has seen new interest thanks to the Tony
Award-winning musical version. It’s interesting to compare the
musical to the original — and it’s now easy to do so, since the
scripts for both are available in paperback. In his well-written
preface to the musical’s libretto, bookwriter Steven Sater notes
that the play has been “fundamentally altered,” creating “journeys
for our three lead characters which do not exist in the
original.” He then proceeds to explain those differences to help
us understand the ways in which a musical must rework its
source material. Turning from this to Jonathan Franzen’s excellent
translation of the original play is instructive as well. The
musical is published by Theatre Communications Group [ISBN
978-1-55936-315-0]; the Franzen translation of the original by
Faber and Faber [ISBN 978-0-86547-978-4].
www.stage-directions.com • January 2008 41
For advertising information
contact James at
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www.stage-directions.com • January 2008 43
By Thomas H. Freeman
Model Spitfires take flight,
crash and burn onstage.
The Spitfires onstage in The Fortunes of King Croesus
Opera North, in Leeds, England, had something special in
mind for its production of Richard Keiser’s The Fortunes
of King Croesus — eight Spitfire airplanes. Scale models
with a wingspan of 25.6 inches (650 mm), each of the Spitfires
also needed to accommodate a small function and be constructed
from a robust material that could be reengineered
to add future functions. They also needed to be mounted on
poles, allowing them to be “flown” on stage by performers.
Additionally, three needed mini smoke machines to be mounted
in their engine compartments, two needed to have snapping
wings and one a breaking tail. Two also had to catch fire during
the battle. And, oh yeah, the designer wanted them in gold.
The bodies of the planes, carved from a block of epoxy
To fill all these needs, Opera North’s prop buyer Mandy
Barnett initially approached Phil Martin of Bath-based
Theatrical Props. When Martin was confirmed for the project,
production Set and Costume Designer Leslie Travers
sent him a model Spitfire for a starting reference.
After looking at all the requirements, Martin contacted
Fineline, a lighting and set/prop construction company, to take
advantage of the production possibilities of the company’s
five-axis router. Darren Wring managed the project at Fineline,
and Wring and Martin looked at various options on the materials
front before deciding on a 0.77 density solid epoxy resin
board. The basic elements
of the planes were rough
cut and shaped from epoxy
model board by the CNC
router. To cut the exact, correct
Spitfire shapes, Fineline
obtained the 3-D files from
the Turbosquid Web site.
The planes were produced
in seven sections The finished Spitfires in the shop
over three days on the router
using a 6 mm and a 12 mm
bull-nosed cutter. It was a difficult task for the router as the
wings were so thin. The propellers also needed to be
durable, so Martin brought model plane ones and filed
them into the correct Spitfire shape.
To have the planes catch fire, Martin custom-designed and
built flame paste holders and then installed them in the engine
cavities of the planes, complete with a safety cutout that automatically
extinguishes the flames once the planes are placed
onstage. To get the gold sheen, the planes were finished in a
high-gloss gold, applied through vacuum metalization.
The planes take center stage toward the end of the first
act of the opera, during the battle between King Cyrus of
Persia and the Lydians, of whom Croesus is king.
Answer Box Needs You!
Every production has its challenges. We’d like to hear
how you solved them! Send your Answer Box story and
pics to email@example.com.
44 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com