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• 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

www.stage-directions.com

JANUARY 2008

Lighting on a Dime

The Balboa Theatre

Explores New

Territory

New Gear

for the New Year

Alan

Menken Talks

Mermaids and Musicals


Table Of Contents

January 2008

Features

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

Special Section:

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

24


30

Carol rosegg

Departments

9 Letters

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

Columns

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

20

Courtesy of suny purchase

ON OUR COVER: Sierra Boggs as Ariel and the cast in The Little Mermaid.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Joan Marcus


Dan Hernandez

Editor’s Note

Working Outside-In

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

possibilities.

Jacob Coakley

Editor

Stage Directions

jcoakley@stage-directions.com


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Editor Jacob Coakley

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New York Editor Bryan Reesman

Managing Editor Geri Jeter

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Associate Editor Breanne George

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Contributing Writers Katja Andreiev, John Bliss,

Tim Cusack, MC Friedrich,

Evan Henerson, Tan Huaixiang,

Dave McGinnis, Ellen Seiden,

Amy Slingerland

Consulting Editor Stephen Peithman

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Letters

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

post:

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.

Thanks,

Mike

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.

Brent

Got a better idea? Or questions of your own? To follow

this conversation, or start your own, head on over to

www.stage-directions.com/forum.

Corrections:

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

theatre buzz

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.”

changing roles

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

Shakespeare Festival.

“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


industry news

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

ThunerSeespiele

Theatre Company

at Lake Thun

in Switzerland

recently performed

Les Misérables on the

company’s outdoor

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,

southwest London.

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

and tracking.”

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

lighting.

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

Karen Wood

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

(www.altmanltg.com)

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.

Chauvet (www.

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

lights.

Visitors to the Harlequin booth (www.harlequinfloors.com)

walked on the company’s

new Liberty Clip

Sprung Panel floor, a

transportable, easily

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

Expendable category.

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. . .

Figure 1

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

happen.

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

intermission.

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

Figure 2

14 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com


With just sockets

and PARs, I’ve made

booms that looked,

and worked, like

stadium lights.

Figure 3

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


Sound Design

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

theatre undeniably

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


Sound Design

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


School Spotlight

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

the beginning.

“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

you for.”

Getting In

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

discuss costumes.

“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

in touch.”

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

from Purchase.”

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


Theatre Spotlight

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

Cecilie Keenan.

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

the Heights.”

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

have food!”

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


Theatre Space

By Evan Henerson

Exploring

New

Territory

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

action flicks.

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

during intermissions.

“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

allows.”

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

the job.

“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

Getting

Behind

Masks

They may hide the face, but

masks can reveal a lot about

a performance.

By Ellen Seiden

Karl Lipke

Alyssa Ravenwood

designed masks for

Radiant Theatre

Company’s production

of Scapin.

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

www.stage-directions.com/tipsformasks/.

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

Karl Lipke

Alyssa Ravenwood

Two different moods

can be evoked from

one mask, as evidenced

in these pictures of the

mask for the dell’arte

character Sylvia.

Left to Right: Megan Marut, Michael

Nazar and Melanie Coakley wear masks

in BTE’s production of Shakespeare’s

The Tempest.

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

Portland, Ore.

Alyssa Ravenwood

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

theatrical performances.

ONLINE RESOURCES

More tips and exercises from Alyssa

Ravenwood can be found online at:

www.stage-directions.com/tipsformasks

Alyssa Ravenwood’s Web site:

www.alyssaravenwood.com

An online community of mask makers

and enthusiasts can be found at:

www.maskmakersweb.org

Dell’Arte School in Blue Lake, Calif.:

www.dellarte.com

The Clown Conservatory in San Francisco:

www.clownconservatory.org

www.stage-directions.com • January 2008 29


Special Section: Costumes & Masks

Quick-Change, Long-Lasting

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

appears effortless.

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


Carol Rosegg

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

Get Your

Head Straight

One designer walks you through how to

make a mask with unconventional materials.

Photos and text by Tan Huaixiang

Alien mask design

I

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

• Fosshape

• Foam backer rod

• Foam Armacell

• Straight pins

• Steamer or steamer iron

• Scissors

• 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

thicknesses.

Armaflex is pipe insulation used to retard heat gain and

control condensation drip from chilled water and refrigeration

systems.

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.

Step One

• 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

mouth openings.

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)

Step Two

• 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.

(Figure 7)

• 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

completely dries.

• Highlight the mask with paint

as necessary.

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


Show Biz

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 tc@stage-directions.com.

38 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com


TD Talk

By Dave McGinnis

Elves Unseen

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@

stage-directions.com.

www.stage-directions.com • January 2008 39


Off the Shelf

By Stephen Peithman

Instructions Included

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

expertise.

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,

Focal Press]

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,

Meriwether Publishing]

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

Publishing]

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

Getting Serious

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


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For advertising information

contact James at

817.795.8744

Employment

42 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com


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www.stage-directions.com • January 2008 43


Answer Box

By Thomas H. Freeman

On

a

Wing

and a

Router

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 answerbox@stage-directions.com.

44 January 2008 • www.stage-directions.com

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