May Issue - Stage Directions Magazine

May Issue - Stage Directions Magazine

• How To Attract (And Keep) a Diverse Audience

•New Arts Facility Energizes

a California Town

M A Y 2 0 0 7

Miking Broadway’s

A Chorus Line

Inside BMI’s

Lehman Engel


Should You Hire a

Musical Director?

Table Of Contents

M a y 2 0 0 7


24 Theatre Space

A West Coast community gets a theatre that’s no joke.

By Charles Conte

26 Theatre For Everyone

Building diversity is smart, but it takes staying power.

By John Crawford


20 Molière’s Legacy

Inside the French Academy at the Comédie Française.

By Karyn Bauer-Prevost

22 Parfait of Excellence

For more than 30 years, the Training Center for Professional

Theatre Technicians has been training France’s finest techs.

By Karyn Bauer-Prevost

Special Section:Musical Theatre

30 The Eternal Dilemma

Computers versus live musicians — it’s a question that’s

only going to get hotter as computers keep sounding better.

By Kevin M. Mitchell

33 Covering Your Tracks

What you need to know about using backing tracks.

By Jerry Cobb

34 Music & Lyrics

The BMI Workshop is nirvana to musical theatre makers; we

examine why. By Brooke Pierce

36 A Perfect Harmony

For everything there is a season, but is your show the time

for a musical director? By Lisa Mulcahy




7 Editor’s Note

There’s no such thing as summer vacation.

By Iris Dorbian

9 Letters

A TD weighs in on tardy designers.

10 In the Greenroom

Yale rep finds a new #1; the Tacoma Actors Guild

and the Jean Cocteau rep fold; a Disney VP retires

and more.

14 Tools of the Trade

The onset of summer brings gear for the outdoor


16 Light On the Subject

Building a profile for the profile spot. By Andy Ciddor

44 Answer Box

Getting the fog just right. By Jason Reberski


15 Vital Stats

Lighting designer Ryan Koharchik flexes his craft at a

number of venues. Just don’t ask him to fill out

paperwork. By Kevin M. Mitchell

18 On Broadway

A Chorus Line, that one singular sensation, is back. By

Bryan Reesman

39 TD Talk

The bid system might be designed to save money, but

inexpensive and cheap are different. By Dave McGinnis

40 Show Biz

Is there really any such thing as competition?

By Jacob Coakley

41 Off the Shelf

New books and CDs imply that musicals still have life

yet to live. By Stephen Peithman

42 The Play’s the Thing

Diversity in tone grabs the ear. By Stephen Peithman



ON OUR COVER: The cast of A Chorus Line



Editor’s Note

What Hiatus?

kimberly butler

One of the biggest fallacies

that theatre outsiders have

is that the season rumbles

to an end in May, remaining dormant

for the summer until the fall

when everything revs up again.

From the inside, it’s a much different

story. Sure, for most venues

throughout the country, the regular

season does end this month, but that doesn’t mean

all is quiet on the theatrical front. Some theatres rent out

their space to local companies and schools for various

functions (i.e. trade shows, conferences, parties, etc.);

others take stock of their inventory and make plans to

upgrade gear or renovate dilapidated space. Still others

are putting the final touches to the next season’s programming,

conferring with board members and artistic

staff about casting and logistics. Then there are those

who are launching their new seasons in mid to late summer

with new productions. (Broadway has begun doing

this the last few years with certain productions.) When it

comes to theatre, all is relative, subjective and arbitrary

— pretty much the way human opinion is on any topic!

But then again, problems may arise when theatres

find themselves multitasking during the summer. For

instance, I remember one time when I was interning at a

regional theatre in New Jersey, the artistic director decided

to not only mount a small cast revue in the mainstage

during the summer months — but to commence a long

overdue lobby renovation. Suffice it to say the theatre

looked like a mess (and it didn’t smell too good, either)

when patrons trooped in to buy tickets. If the gung-ho

artistic director had simply planned ahead, listened to

advisers and realistically weighed the consequences of

doing this type of renovation while still keeping a show

running in the mainstage, he might have realized the

disaster that ensued. Clearly, the solution would have

been to postpone the revue to the following season and

begin the renovation when the theatre was dark; or the

exact opposite.

So the moral of this story is…be patient, plan ahead and

don’t jump the gun until you’ve thought everything out.

Iris Dorbian


Stage Directions • May 2007

Publisher Terry Lowe

Editor Iris Dorbian

Editorial Director Bill Evans

Audio Editor Jason Pritchard

Lighting & Staging Editor Richard Cadena

Managing Editor Jacob Coakley

Associate Editor David McGinnis

Contributing Writers Karyn Bauer-Prevost, Andy Ciddor,

Jerry Cobb, Charles Conte, John

Crawford, Kevin M. Mitchell,

Lisa Mulcahy, Stephen Peithman,

Brooke Pierce and Bryan Reesman

Consulting Editor Stephen Peithman


Art Director Garret Petrov

Graphic Designers Crystal Franklin, David Alan


Production Manager Linda Evans


Web Designer Josh Harris


Advertising Director Greg Gallardo

Account Manager James Leasing

Warren Flood

Audio Advertising Manager Peggy Blaze


General Manager William Vanyo

Office Manager Mindy LeFort



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Advisory Board

Joshua Alemany


Julie Angelo

American Association of

Community Theatre

Robert Barber

BMI Supply

Ken Billington

Lighting Designer

Roger claman

Rose Brand

Patrick Finelli, PhD

University of

South Florida

Gene Flaharty

Mehron Inc.

Cathy Hutchison

Acoustic Dimensions

Keith Kankovsky

Apollo Design

Becky Kaufman

Period Corsets

Todd Koeppl

Chicago Spotlight Inc.

Kimberly Messer

Lillenas Drama Resources

John Meyer

Meyer Sound

John Muszynski

Theater Director

Maine South High School

Scott Parker

Pace University/USITT-NY

Ron Ranson

Theatre Arts

Video Library

David Rosenberg

I. Weiss & Sons Inc.

Karen Rugerio

Dr. Phillips High School

Ann Sachs

Sachs Morgan Studio

Bill Sapsis

Sapsis Rigging

Richard Silvestro

Franklin Pierce College






A P R I L 2 0 0 7

Utah Plaudits for

New Mexico

Just thought

I’d send along a

thanks for the range

of articles you put

together for the April

2007 issue of Stage

Directions. Having

gone to the University

of New Mexico way back in the dark ages (the

new Rodey Theatre hadn’t been built yet), it was interesting

to hear what’s happening on campus and in the

city of Albuquerque. It was also exciting to hear about

Fusion Theatre Company. I checked out their Web site,

and it looks like they are doing some interesting work.

The Special Section focus on New York City was also an

enjoyable read.

Bill Byrnes

Dean, College of Performing & Visual Arts

Southern Utah University

A TD Weighs In

Regarding the TD Talk article “On Your Hands” (SD

April 2007) where the TD is waiting for long overdue scenic

plans or has only napkin scribbles, I have worn both

hats as scenic designer and TD. If a director has difficulty

reading ground plans, please let that be known to the set

designer early on so alternatives like 3D CAD or a model

can be built. If you are responsible for lighting a subtle

drama, let someone know your past expertise is really as

the lighting designer for a rock band. As a designer, let

the director know up front if you expect to run late.

I recall an opening night that came before I saw parts

of one design; instead, we built what we had plans for. It

is not fair for the designer to eat into the build time.

The group you are working with does not want to hear

about the other two groups you are also trying to keep

happy. Don’t burn your bridges on purpose or by blaming

others; just consider, “I might possibly be causing this

difficulty so I better help fix it.”

Rich Desilets

Santa Rosa, CA

Miking & Mixing







Gets its Moment

in the Sun

300.0704.CVR.indd 1 3/12/07 6:08:30 PM


On page 24 in April’s Vital Stats, the production photo

of Romeo and Juliet was misidentified as being from

Mockingbird Theatre. The production was produced at

Tennessee Repertory Theatre on the Polk Theatre Stage.

The production was directed by David Grapes who was

then the producing artistic director.

By Iris Dorbian

In The Greenroom

theatre buzz

Theatre Critics Honor Playwright with Award

The American Theatre Critics Association recently named

Ken LaZebnik winner of the 2006 M. Elizabeth Osborn New

Play Award for an emerging playwright. LaZebnik picked up

his award March 31 at the Humana Festival of New American

Plays in Louisville, Ky. His play Vestibular Sense was also one of

six finalists in the 2006 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American

Theatre Critics New Play Awards.

“I’m deeply appreciative to the ATCA for recognizing

that a playwright may emerge at any age,” says LaZebnik.

“The Osborn Award inspires me to continue writing for the

theatre, which remains vital and essential for the heartbeat

of American culture.”

The award, chosen by ATCA’s 12-person New Plays

Committee, is designed to recognize the work of an author

whose plays have not yet received a major production,

such as off-Broadway or Broadway, nor received other

major national awards.

The Osborn Award was established in 1993 to honor the

memory of Theatre Communications Group and American

Theatre play editor M. Elizabeth Osborn. It carries a $1,000 cash

prize and receives recognition in The Best Plays Theater Yearbook,

the annual chronicle of United States theatre founded by Burns

Mantle in 1920 and currently edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins.

Brian Skellenger and Karen Landry in Mixed Blood Theatre’s world premiere,

Vestibular Sense by Ken LaZebnik

Ann Marsden

Yale Taps New Press Chief

Yale Repertory Theatre and Yale School of Drama

recently named Susan R. Hood as its press director; she

assumed the post March 5.

Hood has more than 20 years of experience in public

relations covering theatre, dance, music and the visual

arts. She has promoted and marketed choreographer

Eliot Feld and the tours of Felds Ballet/NY, as well as the

New Ballet School (now Ballet Tech). Also, as a member

of Ellen Jacobs & Associates, she served the press needs

of Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Bill T. Jones,

Pilobolus and other renowned dance companies. She

has also represented Mabou Mines, one of America’s

foremost avant-garde theatre companies.

Prior to her stint with Ellen Jacobs & Associates,

Hood was the senior press representative for Brooklyn

Academy of Music (BAM). Her work at BAM included

publicizing commissions and premieres of work by

Philip Glass, Robert Wilson, Laurie Anderson, Meredith

Monk, Twyla Tharp and Mark Morris. Most recently,

she has served for nine years as the media relations

manager for the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

in Hartford, Conn.

Lack of Money Dooms Tacoma Theatre

According to a Seattle Times article dated March 8, 2007 by

Misha Berson, the Tacoma Actors Guild, which was Tacoma’s

only professional resident theatre company, shut down

operations in late February because it didn’t have the funds

to continue. This follows the recent closing of Seattle’s Empty

Space Theatre, which also shuttered due to a cash shortfall.

James V. Handmacher, a local attorney who is president of

the theatre’s board of directions, stated, “We canceled the last

show of our season, Romeo and Juliet, and have no intention

of going on with a season for next year. Our entire staff has

been laid off.”

Although a major fundraising campaign liquidated much

of TAG’s debt, it still owes money to its landlord and the

Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, as well as actors

and staff. Yet there are no immediate plans for TAG, which

was founded in 1978, to file for bankruptcy.

“We really fell short on support from foundations,” explains

Handmacher of the board’s decision to close down the theatre.

“Many took the position of ‘wait and see,’ which doomed us

to failure. What we needed was another $100,000 of working

capital to get us through the year. If that had come, TAG would

have survived.”

10 May 2007 •

industry news

New Music Licensing Agency Opens

After several decades of experience

in management positions at Music

Theatre International, the William Morris

Agency and Rodgers and Hammerstein

Theatricals, Steve Spiegel recently

launched Theatrical Rights Worldwide, a

new musical theatre licensing company.

In its first few months of operation,

the NYC-based agency has acquired a

number of well-known titles, including

All Shook Up, Forbidden Broadway, I Love

You Because, Ring of Fire and Zanna Don’t.

They also have an exclusive relationship

with Nickelodeon to develop and license

live stage adaptations of their properties,

starting with Blue’s Clues.

“We’ve learned from our customers

what they need to produce the best

possible shows for their audiences,

and we have applied those lessons to

making licensing a musical from TRW as

easy and rewarding as possible,” explains

Spiegel. For example, customers keep

all materials — scripts and scores; they

can be used, marked and personalized

to their wishes. Also, all scripts and

scores are available in large, clear print,

prepared in Microsoft Word and Finale

software, designed for ease-of-use both

by directors and performers.

Steve Spiegel

To find out more, visit the Web site at

Courtesy of TRW

Montreal Staging Co. Names New Bigwig

Courtesy of Scene Ethique

Ron Morissette

Scene Ethique, a Montrealbased

scenic design and

fabrication company, recently

appointed Ron Morissette to

corporate development. There he

will oversee standard staging and

grandstand products that have

evolved from Scene Ethique’s

custom fabrication products.

Martin Ouellet, president of

Scene Ethique, says, “Ron will

allow us to use the technology

that we have developed with our

custom designs for international

tours and apply it to standard

products that can be used in a

wide range of live performance

applications from staging, to

turntables, to grandstands.”

Morissette, who is a past

president of the Canadian Institute

of Theatre Technology (CITT ) and is

currently vice-president external for

CITT, has been involved in design,

sales and consulting for more than

25 years. Most recently, he served

as vice-president of operations for

the Montreal company Realisations,

where he worked closely with

its founder and president, Roger

Parent (who helped bring Cirque du

Soleil to international audiences),

on projects in Las Vegas, Honolulu

and Detroit.

PRG Partners Up

Production Resource Group,

LLC (PRG), a top equipment rental

and services company in the

entertainment technology industry, is

expanding with its latest acquisition:

High Performance Images (HPI), a

Chicago-based video operation.

“HPI’s resources and expertise in

high-end video staging solutions

adds depth and breadth to our

video division and gives us a greatly

enhanced presence in the Chicago

video market,” says Kevin Baxley, PRG’s

co-president and chief operating

officer. “It will greatly enhance our

ability to offer our clients the complete

package of PRG equipment and

services — video, lighting, audio and

scenic — as well as the start-to-finish

production management that so many

customers are looking for today.”

HPI founder and president, Adam

Benjamin, who has been named

general manager of PRG Video in

Chicago, is enthusiastic about this

milestone change: “I am delighted

to be able to offer PRG’s full range of

products and services to my customers.

I look forward to helping grow PRG’s

video division into one of the leading

professional video resources in the

United States.”

Known as a fully integrated

equipment rental and services

company, the expanded PRG has a

global presence, with major operations

in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Nashville,

Toronto, Orlando, Las Vegas, Los

Angeles, London and Tokyo.

12 May 2007 •

changing roles

Walt Disney Entertainment


Rich Taylor flanked by friends

Rich Taylor, who headed Walt

Disney Entertainment’s costuming,

cosmetology and entertainment

divisions for the past 10 years, retired

in February to “pursue a variety

of other professional endeavors,”

according to the press release. Overall,

Taylor, whose last position made him

a vice president with Disney, had

been with the company for 26 years.

EAW Taps Rowe For Appointment

EAW recently announced

that veteran concert sound

professional Martyn “Ferrit”

Rowe will join their staff as

product specialist. One of Rowe’s

first duties will be providing

hands-on training for operation

of EAW’s new UMX-96 largeformat

digital mixing console;

he will also develop curriculum

and presentations for company

educational programs.

Prior to EAW, Rome worked

for several years as the head of

audio technical services for the

Las Vegas branch of Production

Resource Group (PRG). He has

also freelanced as a monitor

engineer for the Cranberries and

as a system technician for Mötley

Crüe, in addition to working on

myriad Las Vegas productions.

“It’s an exciting time to come

aboard as a member of the EAW

Martyn Rowe

Courtesy of EAW

team,” says Rowe. “There’s a

congregation of veteran pro audio

talent that is firmly committed

to truly serving the pro audio

industry in terms of technological

innovation combined with indepth

support, such as a deep

commitment to education, to

back it up.” • May 2007 13

Tools Of The Trade

May MélangeThe rise in temperature

Wybron Transition

T h e W y b r o n , I n c .

Transition, a CMY Fiber

Illuminator, uses similar

CMY dichroic color mixing

technology to Wybron’s

Nexera lighting fixtures. The

Transition offers smooth color

changes with nearly infinite

color choices and silent operation. The advantage of using fiber

optics is that the light source is separated from the light output,

and its fiber optic strands do not conduct UV radiation, all of

which is meant to allow practically heatless illumination.

The Transition allows the fiber common ends to remain cool,

and the unit will not burn PMMA fiber. It has a compact design

that measures less than 6 inches wide and weighs just less than

8 pounds. The Transition includes an integral electronic ballast

and power supply. It uses a 150-watt compact UHI light source

and has a 10,000-hour lamp life. It accepts 17 through 34 mm

common end fiber bundles and is RDM compliant. The Transition

can be placed in an accessible location for easy maintenance.

QSC SC28 System Controller

The QSC SC28 System Controller is a two-input, eight

output DSP controller that additionally offers user-adjustable EQ

and delay.

The SC28’s

audio quality is

rooted in 48 kHz,

24-bit A/D and

D/A conversion

technology with 32-bit, floating-point DSP offering wide dynamic

range and low distortion. System tunings can be selected by

scrolling through a list of QSC loudspeakers found on the SC28’s

front LCD panel and selecting the desired configuration.

Once the SC28 has been configured to match a system, integral

six-band parametric equalization can be added along with high

and low shelving filters and signal delay. Password protected to

deter unauthorized tampering, the SC28 also provides thermal

and excursion loudspeaker protection, as well as a channellinking

feature that can be used to select linked or independent

control of stereo channel settings.

ETC SmartFade ML

ETC’s new SmartFade ML is a compact, portable and easyto-use

board. The

SmartFade ML

is intended for

small touring acts,

schools, house of

worship venues,

industrials and

other applications.

SmartFade ML brings professional features like palettes,

parameter “fan” and built-in dynamic effects to novice or

experienced users. Its direct-access style of operation means that

Photo Courtesy of Wybron

Photo Courtesy of QSC

Courtesy of ETC

students, volunteers, non-technical staffers and others will be

able to use the console.

With a capacity for up to 24 moving lights and an additional

48 intensity channels (dimmers), and the ability to patch to

two universes of DMX512A (1,024 outputs), SmartFade ML

provides control for smaller lighting rigs.


Look Solutions and City Theatrical Wireless DMX-it

The Wireless DMX-it, by Look Solutions and City Theatrical,

i s a n a c c e s s o r y

d e s i g n e d t o m a k e

any Look Solutions

fog or haze machine

WDS-ready; also, City

T h e a t r i c a l ’s W D S

wireless technology

can control any Look

Solutions product from

their DMX console without DMX cables.

The Wireless DMX-it has a built-in WDS receiver and two

control output jacks: a 1 /8-inch Mini, to control Look Solutions’

Tiny-Fogger or Tiny-Compact, and a 3-pin XLR to control a

Power-Tiny, Viper NT or Unique2. A 5-pin XLR DMX Out is also

included, allowing the unit to function as a conventional WDS

DMX Receiver while simultaneously controlling a fog machine.

Clear-Com Tempest

The Clear-Com

Tempest 2400

a n d Te m p e s t

900 is a wireless

intercom system

that has been

continues to usher in a diverse

array of new products.

engineered to

avoid the need

for licensing and

frequency coordination. Utilizing Frequency Hopping Spread

Spectrum (FHSS) in conjunction with TDMA technology, Tempest

operates in both the 2.4 GHz and 900 MHz bands.

Tempest is intended to serve as a solution for the dilemma

wireless communication system users will face when the DTV

transition is completed in early 2009. Tempest operates in the

unlicensed 2.4 GHz and 900 MHz bands, so it is unaffected by the

reallocation of the UHF-TV spectrum. 2xTX Transmission Voice

Data Redundancy sends each packet of audio data twice on

different frequencies and through different antennas.

Tempest can interoperate with other Clear-Com intercom

systems, as well as those from other manufacturers through fourwire

and two-wire connections. Each base-station can operate

up to five wireless belt-stations.

A Shared-Slot feature allows one of the five belt-stations slots

to be used for up to 25 half-duplex, single transmit belt-stations.

The new system has a PC-based control panel, with set-up and

programming transferred to belt-stations via Ethernet or a USB


Courtesy of City Theatrical

and Look Solutions

14 May 2007 •

Vital Stats

By Kevin M. Mitchell



Based in Indianapolis, lighting

designer Ryan Koharchik flexes his

craft at a number of venues. Just

don’t ask him to fill out paperwork.

From IRT’s production of A

Midsummer Night’s Dream

Current Home: Indiana Repertory Theater, Indianapolis

About the Organization: The IRT was founded in 1972, and since 1980 has occupied

a 1927 movie house that was renovated to feature three stages (Main, Upper and

Cabaret). The Main Stage is a proscenium-style theatre, seating around 620, and the

upper stage, a three-quarter thrust, Ryan seats Koharchik 315. The IRT typically puts on nine shows a


Moonlights At: Indianapolis Civic Theater, the Gregory Hancock Dance Theater and the

ShadowApe Theatre Company, which he co-founded.

Schooling: Koharchik holds an MFA in lighting design from Boston University and a BS

in theatre design from Ball State University.

Recent Work: Beauty and the Beast, Driving Miss Daisy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Most

Valuable Player and The Turn of the Screw.

Up Next: Twelfth Night.

From IRT’s production

of Turn of the Screw

His Approach to the Work: “I like to meet with the whole creative team and talk about

the script. I don’t like the word ‘concept’ because it’s limiting after a while and can

hinder the creative process. But I like to come up with ideas, impressions and ways to

tell the story as a group.”

Tools of the Trade: ETC lights run by ETC Obsession.


On Moving Lights: “I love moving lights, but they can become burdensome. They are

great for musicals and shows that require a lot of scenery, but they do become very

loud, which is difficult to deal with.”

Favorite Part: “I love the beginning because it’s most creative. You work with others

and make ideas concrete. And I love the end — the tech process — from focus on to

opening. I must admit the drafting, paperwork, data entry… if I had enough money to

pay people to do it, I would.” • May 2007 15

Light On The Subject

By Andy Ciddor

The Right


Why are profile spots so different in the U.S.

as opposed to the rest of the world?

One of North America’s most widely used ellipsoidal

spots is the basic fixed focus Altman 360Q.

Selecon’s Rama 150 PC is an example

of a spot fixture that’s popular abroad.

The ETC Source Four is another very popular

ellipsoidal spot used in North America.

Globalization has been bulldozing its inexorable path

through the world of theatre since Genghis Kahn decided

to take his European vacation. Wandering about

backstage in any vaguely modern performance space anywhere

in the world, most of the equipment will seem familiar to you.

But only at first glance.

You may well see your favorite brands of dimmers, consoles

and luminaires, but look more closely — you are likely to find

some surprising differences. Some of the ellipsoidal reflector

spots (known in other parts of the English speaking world as

profile spots) may have a zoom focus knob on the lens barrel,

and some of the Fresnel spots may actually have smooth (plano

convex) lenses rather than the stepped lens you were expecting.

While not entirely absent from North American equipment

inventories, these variations are not very common in the U.S.

In Historical Context

The plano-convex spot (known in some places as a focus

spot) was in common worldwide use in the early 20th century.

Like today’s Fresnel spots, these luminaires used a spherical

reflector to capture some of the light from the lamp and send

it forward through a lens that allowed the beam to be focused

onto the stage. At that time, the lens was a simple plano-convex

lump of moderately heat-resistant glass, and the lamp was likely

to have a cage or drum-shaped filament.

The combination of the comparatively crudely made lens

with a filament that lay anywhere but on the focal plane of the

optics produced a vaguely rectangular blob of light with dark

and light bands due to the structure of the filament. Moving

the lamp and reflector within the fixture enabled some variation

in the size of the beam and the sharpness of the striations.

The uneven output pattern from these plano-convex (PC) spots

made them particularly difficult to blend together to get an

even stage wash.

It should come as no surprise to learn that the lighting industry

was anxious to find a better instrument than the PC spot.

Developments took two directions. The first approach, taken by

Levy and Kook, was to build a more efficient and accurate optical

system using an ellipsoidal reflector and a grid filament lamp,

which provided a more even beam of light through the PC lens.

The beam was sufficiently flat that it projected a crude profile

of any object placed at the right point in the beam. Thus arose

the Leko ellipsoidal reflector spot (ERS), or profile spot, whose

descendents would be fitted with shutters, irises and gobos.

The other tactic for dealing with the PC spot’s main imperfection

was to use a fuzzier and less accurate lens to remedy

the uneven beam. The Fresnel lens, with its molded-in “imperfections”

and its inaccurate focus due to the stepped rings,

turned out to be ideal. The more diffuse beam was less striated

and much easier to blend into even coverage. The shorter

focal length of the Fresnel lenses also brought with it a wider

range of beam angles. Although cost was initially a barrier to

its widespread adoption, once manufacturing processes were

improved, the Fresnel spot drove the PC spot to virtual extinction

by the middle of last century. The archeologically inclined

reader may be able to find a few dead PC spots (usually with a

big crack in the lens) buried in the equipment graveyards under

the stages and in the back corners of the equipment stores in

older performing spaces.

The States Versus Abroad

Since its introduction, the ERS has been the subject of much

research and development effort. The reflector system has been

redesigned several times to collect more light and to focus it

more sharply. A variety of lamps, featuring higher outputs and

better filament arrangements, have been developed. In different

efforts, the lens system has been both simplified for higher

efficiency and made more complex by introducing zoom focus.

The projection capabilities have been vastly improved through

the addition of condenser optics before the gate, while the

gate itself has been fitted with a vast variety of shutter systems,

including a second set of offset blades to allow for both soft

and hard focused edges. Despite all of these possibilities, North

America’s most widely used ellipsoidal spots remain the basic

fixed focus Altman 360Q and the fixed focus models of the ETC

Source Four.

The situation in the 200V+ regions (i.e., Asia, Africa and

Europe) has been almost the complete reverse. Since the CCT

Silhouette, a zoom-focusing quartz-halogen powered profile

spot, first appeared in the UK in the early 1970s, there has been

almost no interest in the fixed focus variety. So little interest, that

even the world’s most popular ellipsoidal, the ETC Source Four,

only became popular in the 200V+ regions after a range of zoom

focusing models were introduced.

16 May 2007 •

Why the Difference?

There has been much gnashing of teeth and pounding of

café tables and bars over why these differences have arisen. The

fixed focus fanatics base their fervor on the higher output and

sharper focus possible with the simpler optics of their favored

fixture. The zoom focus acolytes believe that the additional

flexibility offered by the wider range of beam angles justifies

the marginal light loss, the higher weight and higher price of

their choice. One particularly hurtful (but valid) comment from

the fixed beam camp is that, in many installations, the front-ofhouse

rig is immutable because of a venue’s structure, and so

nullifies any possible benefit from zoom optics.

There may be other, less clearly identified forces at work,

however. In most of the world, a luminaire is seen as a long-term

investment that may not be replaced for 15 to 25 years, so buying

the most flexible unit possible is seen as a measure of futureproofing

the investment. Equipment upgrade and replacement

cycles tend to be much shorter than this in the U.S., particularly

when the inventory belongs to a commercial enterprise.

In the same way that continental drift has separated the continents

and allowed differing evolutionary paths for related species

of animals and plants; so, too, has supply voltage difference

isolated the two branches of luminaire development. Ohm’s

law makes it quite clear that if you halve the voltage to a device

(230V to 110V), you will need twice the current to produce the

same amount of power (approximately 4 amps per kilowatt at

230V and 8 amps per kilowatt at 110V).

What Ohm’s law doesn’t tell you is that a 100V+ lamp is

almost 10 percent more efficient than

its 200V+ equivalent, due to increased

heating efficiencies in the heavier filament.

It also neglects to mention that

the thinner filament is much more fragile

or that the insulation required for

200V+ devices is substantially heavier

and more expensive than that required

for 100V+. There may be 200V+ and

100V+ versions of many lamps, but they

are by no means equivalents in terms of

filament size, robustness or efficiency.

It was only quite recently, when voltage-independent

switching power supplies

became standard on some moving

lights, that it was possible to make a

luminaire that would work wherever in

the world it was plugged in.

The Altman 360Q probably didn’t

make it in the 200V+ regions because

there was no decent lamp available for

it and because it came with 110V insulation

that could not be approved by

electrical authorities. Similarly, CCT was

so busy building Silhouette luminaires

to run at 200V+ that no effort was made

to develop a 100V+ version. Even in this

time of galloping globalization, only a

handful of theatrical luminaire manufacturers

set out to build products that

can work across the entire voltage and

regulatory spectrum.

While one evolutionary branch of the

plano convex spot may have become the Fresnel spot in most

of the world, in Europe in the early 1980s, Fresnel lens technology

was used to craft a hybrid lens. This is a kind of back-cross

between the original ground and polished plano-convex lens

and the molded Fresnel lens. Variously known as a prism convex

or pebble convex lens, this variation has some knobby features

molded onto what was previously the flat surface of the PC lens.

The intention is to remove the unevenness of the original PC’s

beam without losing its sharp focus. The result lies somewhere

between an ellipsoidal and a Fresnel spot. Some less charitable

critics of the result have observed that it combines the worst

characteristics of both. While many LDs will use this luminaire

for specific applications, such as tight stage pools, their use in

the professional industry is not widespread. Nevertheless, most

200V+ theatrical Fresnel manufacturers also offer a PC variant

of their products.

Nigel Levings, the 2003 Tony Award-winning lighting designer

(La Boheme) who works in venues and productions on both

sides of the Atlantic, gets to have the final to say on the subject.

“From time to time, I have been forced to use PCs in repertory

rigs, but I don’t like them much, “ he admits. “I see them as a lazy

substitute for those who can’t calculate beam coverage. My rigs

these days are mostly S4 fixed beam profiles (ERS) with various

frosts and PAR cans.” I guess that this argument will probably

continue in the bar after tonight’s show.

Andy Ciddor has been involved in lighting for nearly four decades

as a practitioner, teacher and technical writer. • May 2007 17

Sound Design

By Bryan Reesman

What I Did For

At a time when glitzy, big budget productions dominate

Broadway, the revival of Michael Bennett’s Pulitzer Prizewinning

A Chorus Line is a welcome breath of fresh air. The

current producers of this high energy, character-driven show even

kept the show’s original 1970s look and musical vibe intact to

present its timeless tale of a group of aspiring chorus line singers

and dancers auditioning for a demanding but personable director.

The staging is simple, with the actors being the focus, and the

director’s voice generally emanating from offstage. The one visually

dazzling element is the mirrored wall that occasionally is used

to give the audience a sense of the performers’ perspective.

The new Chorus Line features sound design by Tom Clark of

Acme Sound Partners, and the live mixer is long-time Broadway

veteran Scott Sanders, who spent seven years on Les Misérables

and recently tackled Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Hot Feet. During

a break in his busy production schedule, he chatted about working

on this classic show, which had a profitable run at the Curran

Theater in San Francisco last summer, and which reportedly made

back its $8 million budget on Broadway in 18 weeks — a new


Stage Directions: A Chorus Line is more stripped down compared

with the other stuff you’ve worked on recently.

Scott Sanders: This one’s really simple. The original production

was foots and shots. I think they had five foots and three

or four shots. There are no sound effects; there is very little happening,

and the band takes care of itself for the most part, unlike

Hot Feet, where I was constantly mixing the band. Having no

sound effects and being based on a lot of monologues, it’s pretty


Which console are using?

A DiGiCo D5T. I’d say we’re using about 90 to 100 inputs. We’ve

got duplicate wireless for the cast. We’ve got 20-some wireless

mics to start the show; then we have another set of 17 that we use

for the finale costumes. So for the quick change, there’s a transmitter

already rigged into the gold costumes. There are 40-some

inputs and wireless inputs just there, and then there are another

60 in the 18-piece band.

Which mics are you using on the actors?

We’re using Sennheiser SK-5012 transmitters with the DPA

4061 microphones. The one tough challenge in this show was the

fact that the director was adamant that he didn’t want to see any

wires, so we sort of stepped back a generation and almost everybody

is rigged on their chest.

I recall when one of the actors put her hands together, I could

hear a little bit of a thud.

Yeah, everybody seems to like to touch their heart when they

say something about themselves. That’s about where most of the

women are wearing them, right in the seam of their bra, and the

men are wearing them in various positions on their shirt, in a lot of

cases, underneath the shirt. We found the DPA works surprisingly

well there, even if it’s covered by fabric. We use a lot of high boost

caps, more than any other show I’ve ever done. Typically, when

you’ve got mics on their head, you don’t need the high boost. We

found that the high-boost cap on the people with it in their clothing

gives not only a little more high-end articulation, but because

the windscreen is flat, it also gets less fabric noise.

So this show is high-tech but old school at the same time.

It’s like going backwards. Fifteen years ago, when people realized

that if you put mics on actors’ heads you could solve a lot of

problems and get so much better quality, they stopped putting

mics on people’s chests. But here it was the only way to do it

because of the shorter haircuts. There are three women who do

have it on their heads. The woman who plays Diana wears it on

her head the entire show, and for the other two women who wear

it on their heads, it changes over to a chest position during the

18 May 2007 •

Theater Spotlight


The challenges of microphone placement — foot

and head — figures prominently into the current

Broadway revival of A Chorus Line.

Cassie dance and monologue, because the problem during the

second half of the show is that they start playing with their hats.

So if we had left those head mics on, we would’ve probably lost

those two voices due to hat noise. We don’t have a great mic position,

but I think with all the EQs that Tom put on people and the

tuning of the system, they did a good job for what we were put up

against. It wasn’t our choice to not have mics on people’s heads,

but it still sounds clear, and because of all the delay changes we

keep it pretty fairly well imaged to the stage, as long as they give

me enough source to image.

Is anyone double miked?

No, because the leotards are so small. In fact, most of the

women are wearing the pack itself in the bra, and most of the

men are wearing their packs in their dance belts. A couple of the

women wear it in the back portion of their bodies because they’re

not comfortable with that in their bra.

You have a separate mic for the director when he leaves the

stage and goes to the back of the theatre, correct?

I use that like any other wireless microphone. I only bring it up

when he speaks. Then there’s one regular mic backstage, where

he does his final speech. It’s just an SM58, like the one he sits in

front of when he goes to the back of the theatre. I only use his

wireless when he’s onstage. Otherwise, he’s right in front of me,

at the very back of the house in one of the last two seats, behind

a pillar.

Was there live sound in the original production that ran from

1975 to 1990?

Yes. In fact, my mentor was Otts Munderloh, who was the

designer that I first worked for when I came to Broadway, and he

was the original sound man on this show. That was one of the

turning points for me in taking the job. It was a nice circle for me

because he’d been the original mixer. I’m not sure what they used

back then, but he described it as dials, so the first console they had

must have been a radio static dial of some fashion. I think that it

had more dials than faders. As a matter of fact, a lot of the blocking,

which is still true in our production, came from the necessity

of the foot mics. When Sheila first has her conversation with Zach,

and he asks her to step downstage, she takes a diagonal step to

her right — that was originally to get her in front of foot two. For

a lot of the blocking, where you see them step from the line and

head to a certain place, there were five various sections along the

front of the stage that they utilized. So when they were primarily

singing a lot of their solo work, they were dead center in front of

one of the foot mics.

Do you have foot mics this time?

We’re using some DPA mics with boundary mounts, but that’s

only for emergencies. We have three total, but because we don’t

have anybody double packed. If I lose somebody, it’s the only way

the band would know that they were still singing. The center foot

is the most important one, and it goes pre-fader down to the band

because they’re in the basement in a room called “the bunker”

with a double sheet rock wall with soundproofing, installation

and air-conditioning. It’s a whole isolated room that, if I didn’t

have any mics there, you wouldn’t know there was a band in the

building. It’s that isolated. So if I were to lose somebody’s mic, the

conductor wouldn’t know where the hell he was. I have the center

mic pre-fade going to the Aviom mixers downstairs, so he’s always

getting something from the stage. The only other times I’ve used

them have been when Diana’s mic went dead a couple of times

during “What I Did For Love.” Thank God the blocking was the

way it was, because she stepped downstage to sing most of the

big part of the number and was standing right in front of mic two.

That worked out pretty well.

Bryan Reesman is a New York-based writer who has been published in

the New York Times, MIX, Billboard, and FOH. • May 2007 19

Theatre Spotlight

By Karyn Bauer-Prevost

Molière’s Legacy

all photos courtesy of Comedie Francaise

The façade of the Comedie Francaise

After nearly 400 years, the Comédie Française is more than just

France’s oldest theatre — it’s an institution.

Affectionately referred to as the “Française,” with a capital “F”,

the Comédie Française remains, after almost four centuries

of brilliant performances, dramatic failures, internal battles

and popular successes, France’s foremost cultural beacon. With

nearly 400 employees on the roster, three distinct theatres and an

amazing performance schedule, the Française is more than just a

theatre; it is an institution that holds its own amid the 150 working

theatres in Paris.

The Comédie Française is composed of the historic 18th century

Salle Richelieu, located at the Palais Royal, a luxurious marble

and red velvet lined Italian-style theatre where 900 spectators can

admire the chair where Molière pronounced his last words in Le

Malade Imaginaire; the Théâtre du Vieux Colombier, whose bare

stage was designed for performances without sets and, with its 300-

person seating capacity, was acquired in 1993; and the smallest of

“Ours is an ancient company. It

is also contradictory, passionate

and fragile.” — Denis Podalydès

the three, the 100-seat Studio Théâtre, built in 1996 in the basement

of the Carrousel du Louvre shopping plaza, providing for a most

intimate, if technically complicated, setting.

On any given week, from September through the end of July,

the audience can enjoy five different performances, with three

different shows at the Salle Richelieu alone. Actors are required to

juggle roles among the three theatres and are often required to

perform three times in one day, starting with a matinee at the Vieux

Colombier, an early evening performance at the Studio Théâtre and

ending with a role at the Salle Richelieu.

“They must be very versatile,” says company administrator

Isabelle Baragan. “It is a very demanding schedule.”

Mandated in Versailles in 1680 by King Louis XIV, the original

company, under the direction of Molière, functioned as an independent

unit, with actors surviving on profits from ticket sales. The

better the performances, the greater the crowds, the higher the

pay. Despite heavy government funding covering nearly two thirds

of operating costs, France’s only permanently salaried theatrical

company has maintained its 17th century philosophy.

The company works under the direction of an administrateur

général, appointed by the French Minister of Culture, who selects

the season’s performances, their respective directors and hires

new actors. The new actors are hired for a two-year trial period as

pensionnaires. They are then judged annually by a jury of their peers,

known as the comité, who can promote them to the coveted level of

sociétaire, providing them with a 10-year renewable contract, profit

dividends and tremendous pride. Currently, there are 60 members

of the company, of which 37 are sociétaires and 23 pensionnaires.

“Despite the monetary progression,” adds Baragan, “it is a great

honor to be recognized by a jury of your peers. Becoming a sociétaire

allows an actor to become a member of a very elite and prestigious

company. They carry on a 400-year-old tradition.”

The six-member jury, known as the comité, is also responsible

for firing actors at any level. The ax can fall, without warning, at any

time. Both pensionnaires and sociétaires can have their contracts

revoked, provoking anger and fury. Some may fall back on lawyers

to defend their status.

“Ours is an ancient company,” says sociétaire Denis Podalydès,

director of the hugely successful Cyrano de Bergerac. “It is also contradictory,

passionate and fragile.” The election process is severe

and inflicts hostility, but prevents stagnation, keeping this otherwise

permanent company in constant flux.

Three theatres and an impressive production schedule allow

20 May 2007 •

“One false move can provoke

a dramatic domino effect of

hazards.” — Nicolas Fralin

the Française to offer diverse fare, from Racine and Corneille to Pier

Paolo Pasolini’s Orgie and Nathalie Sarraute’s For Yes or No, to its

enthusiastic audiences. Nine hundred yearly performances attract

nearly 350,000 theatregoers in Paris alone. Thanks to private funding

by the Pierre Bergé Foundation, the Jacques Toja Foundation,

the Crédit Agricole Bank and the Accor Groupe, The Française can

export such ambitious productions as the Fables de la Fontaine,

staged in 2005 by Robert Wilson and headed for the Lincoln Center

Festival in July 2007.

For Nicolas Fralin, chief production manager for the three

theatres, the heavy programming schedule at the Salle Richelieu,

known as alternance, is a source of daily headaches. “It is so complex,”

he says, “that one false move can provoke a dramatic domino

effect of hazards.”

The Salle Richelieu boasts a staff of 150 stage technicians. The

flies are equipped on a permanent basis with sets for four different

productions. At the Salle Richelieu, a production is never performed

consecutively. At 8:30 a.m., a team dismounts the sets from the

prior evening. They then install decor for the play in preparation.

At 1:00 p.m., the actors begin rehearsing, and at 5:00 p.m., another

technical team installs the sets for yet another different evening


In addition to the ETC Congo lighting console that was installed

last year, one of the more recent production improvements that

has eased the load for Fralin came in 2005, when the sound

technicians were provided with a discreet and

open position on the level of the second balcony.

Until then, the sound engineers had been

working behind a glass panel on the third balcony,

thwarting their ability to properly control

sound quality.

When, in February 2007, the company performed

Bernard-Marie Koltès’ Return to the

Desert, under the direction of sociétaire and

now Administrateur Général Muriel Mayette,

Fralin was faced with a predicament. He was

The motto of the Comédie Française — “Simul et singulis,” which means

together while alone

required to install a wall stage center capable of moving to different

levels smoothly and quietly throughout the performance, but

he did it without fail. “It was complicated,” he says. “It required a

special set of pulleys, maneuvered by the flies, which insured its

smooth movement.”

Perhaps last year’s arrival of Mayette, appointed administrateur

général in July 2006, is most symbolic of the historic Comédie

Française’s efforts to remain resolutely modern. She is the first

woman to hold such a function, the youngest to be appointed and

the first staff sociétaire to be honored with such a promotion.

Mayette, 43, intends to export her company’s talents more

often, with more demanding traveling time. She also hopes to

bring greater notoriety to her actors, bringing them into the light

of the media “prior to their retirement.” Two days after her official

arrival in the administrative offices of the luxurious 17th century

Salle Richelieu, the most prestigious of the three theatres, she had

the gold letters “Comédie Française” mounted onto the building’s

exterior wall. Until her arrival, the theatre was bare and enjoyed an

elusive, hidden status. Another new era has begun.

Inside the Salle Richelieu • May 2007 21

School Spotlight

By Karyn Bauer-Prevost


of Excellence

For more than 30 years, the

Training Center for Professional

Theatre Technicians has been

training France’s finest.

A student works the board for a production in rehearsal

Deep inside the gritty Parisian suburb of Bagnolet lies

a theatrical jewel. Unique in its vocation, and highly

acclaimed for the excellence of its academic offerings,

The Training Center for Professional Theatre Technicians (Centre

de Formation Professionelle aux Techniques du Spectacle, or

CFPTS), has been attracting students from across France for more

than 30 years. Open to both high-school graduates and practicing

technicians, the school is fertile ground where professionals

and amateurs meet.

“It is a crossroads,” says educational supervisor Béatrice

Marivaux. “Our goal is to promote the greatest amount of interaction

among beginners and experts. Students often return to the

school to engage in that rich exchange”.

During an average year, some 200 active professionals will

take time out of their demanding schedules to teach classes here.

The school boasts nine classrooms, five stage facilities, four sound

studios and nine extensive workshops. The incoming professors

are invited on a rotating basis, keeping coursework contemporary

and evolutionary.

Often unaccustomed to working in a classroom environment,

this rotating staff frequently requires assistance from the school’s

in-house team of teachers who, according to Marivaux, “transform

their enthusiasm into academic tools.”

Nearly 1,000 professionals will have taken continuing education

classes at the CFPTS this year, ranging from the more popular

crash course on WYSIWYG Lighting Design and perfecting the

grandMA console to working with the Pyramix Virtual Studio and

understanding Flying Pig Systems. A variety of long-term training

sessions are also available in the areas of theatre administration,

technical direction, staging, rigging, lighting and sound.

The school also prides itself on the diversity of its stage accessory

classes, unique in France, which teach skills that include ironworking

for designing stage jewelry; sculpture for creating masks

and molds; and special effects for mastering onstage fires, explosions,

snow, smoke and indoor fireworks. A variety of safety classes

ensure that technicians function in a low-risk environment.

Housed in a former sawmill factory, the CFPTS opened its

doors in 1974 as a semi-private continuing education center for

theatre technicians, who take classes to perfect their skills, or to

change jobs entirely. It has since evolved, and in 1992 the school

launched the Center for Art Training, otherwise known as the

CFA. Unique in France, the program is open to recent high-school

graduates, ages 18-25 years old. The 50 students admitted into

each academic cycle must pass a written and oral examination,

proving their scholastic level. They must also demonstrate their

motivation by obtaining a two-year paid internship at a local

theatre prior to enrollment.

“If they are struggling to find an appropriate contact,” says

Emmanuelle Saunier, the school’s outreach officer, “then we can

provide them with some guidance, but we prefer to let them

approach the various theatres on their own. It is essential for prospective

students to demonstrate a certain level of enthusiasm

and assertiveness prior to enrolling.”

That assertiveness will be essential to their training throughout

this two-year program as they alternate between six-week

classroom sessions and hands-on work. Not only do interns

receive a minimum salary, but the majority of those students

studying here, whether in the CFPTS or in the CFA, pay no tuition.

Fees, which can be extensive, (880€ Euros for a three-day rigging

class, 17,200 Euros for a nine-month class in sound production)

are covered by the “taxe d’apprentissage,” a French tax requiring

businesses to reinvest a small percentage of their profits into

training centers like the CFPTS.

“We all learned by watching,” says Marie Noëlle Bourcard,

lighting production supervisor at the Théâtre de l’Athénée Louis

Jouvet in Paris, who frequently takes CFA interns under her wing.

“We know how essential it is for theatre technicians to have that

hands-on experience. They develop into an integral part of the

team and are usually hired once their internship ends.”

The post-graduation placement rate for CFA students is nearly

100 percent. Among the prestigious venues where students have

found jobs are the Paris National Opera and the National Theatre

22 May 2007 •

photos courtesy of CFPTS

School Spotlight

Students set up before a production

A student works on a mold

of Chaillot, as well as smaller, private-run theatres such as the

Théâtre du Soleil or the Théâtre de l’Athénée.

Degrees in lighting, sound or staging are only issued after

the final exam that focuses on fully coordinating and executing

a production. Students must demonstrate their technical skills

and work as a team, negotiating situations with their peers and

displaying problem-solving skills.

A theatre company, dance troupe or circus act have come

in occasionally, providing students with hands-on material. For

Marivaux, “it is likely the first and only time in their careers that

the actors will be working for the technicians.”

The shows are often riddled with theatrical dilemmas, such as

installing a curtain of rain without runoff or puddles, having an

actor catch flying glasses on various intervals

or creating a lighting atmosphere

similar to one found under a sunlit tent

in the desert. “If our students are asked to

outfit a production in the middle of the

Gobi desert, it is our job to ensure that

they can, with no injuries,” notes Saunier.

A recent production saw a rich collaboration

between the graduating students

of the National Circus School of Bondy,

which allowed students from both sides

of the curtain to work together in what

might be considered a two-tiered final

exam. “Many love stories resulted from

that production,” chuckles Marivaux.

Eric Proust, senior production supervisor

for the annual Festival d’Art Lyrique

in Aix-en-Provence, was among the 1996

jury. “It was fabulous,” he recalls. “We

were observing future technicians at work

and exchanging ideas with fellow experts,

some of whom were even former CFA

graduates.” This 30-year veteran has since

become one of the school’s most enthusiastic


Prior to touring with the Théâtre

Vidy-Lausanne’s latest production

of Mademoiselle Julie, performed in

November 2006, Proust enrolled in his

first CFPTS class: Perfecting AutoCAD.

“It was amazing to finally sit down in a

classroom and work with other pros in a

learning environment,” he says. “It is truly wonderful to learn. All

theatre technicians should take classes — how stimulating!”

Next year, Proust will teach his first class, a session on becoming

a theatre administrator. While there, he may cross paths with

Philippe Groggia, chief electrician from the Comédie Française,

who will be teaching an electrical theory class, or perhaps he

will meet Dominique Ledolley, sound operator from the Opéra

Bastille, or art history professor Gérard Delpit from the Louvre

Museum. Together they will be working to forge future talents,

like Samuel Chatain, a young CFA student who is here for one

simple reason: “Because they are the best.”

Karyn Bauer-Prevost is a freelance writer based in Paris. • Aprilr 2007 23

Theatre Space

By Charles Conte

Victoria Station



An isolated West Coast community

gets a cultural boost thanks to a

new theatre complex.

The exterior of the Victoria Gardens Cultural Center

Interior view of the Playhouse

Along with Timbuktu, Bora Bora and Walla Walla, Washington,

Rancho Cucamonga, a city of some 170,000 42 miles east

of Los Angeles, carries on the proud tradition of bearing a

quirky name that’s guaranteed to make people smile.

Far from hiding its heritage under a bushel, the city of Rancho

Cucamonga embraces it. In 1993, the city erected a statue of

Jack Benny (the comedian used the city name as the punch

line in a running gag on his radio show) outside The Epicenter,

home of baseball’s California Angels Class A affiliate, the Rancho

Cucamonga Quakes. The statue was actually commissioned to

encourage the creation of a performing arts center in the city.

Today, that statue sits in the lobby of the 536-seat Lewis

Family Playhouse, the focal venue of the Victoria Gardens

Cultural Center, along with the Victoria Gardens Library.

Completed in August 2006, the Cultural Center is a major

anchor to the 1.5 million-square-foot Victoria Gardens

retail center.

The city enlisted WLC Architects and Pitassi Architects (both

with offices in Rancho Cucamonga) to interpret the city’s vision

for a facility combining a community-gathering place with a

playhouse and a library. The city wanted to create a place that

inspires, entertains, educates and sparks the imagination. The

architects and the Berkeley Calif.-based design firm, Flying

Colors, Inc., delivered on all counts.

Auerbach Pollock Friedlander collaborated with the architectural

team as theatre, sound, video and communications

consultants. They also provided the design for all of the

theatrical systems. The firm’s architectural lighting design

division, Auerbach Glasow, provided lighting design services

throughout the public spaces.

In the Lewis Family Playhouse, home to the resident

MainStreet Theatre Company, the Auerbach-specified FOH

system is based around a Yamaha M7CL-48 digital audio console

and loudspeaker arrays from NEXO.

The Lewis Family Playhouse

The Lewis Family Playhouse is a flexible proscenium theatre.

As Auerbach’s project manager, Mike McMackin, explains, “A

flexible platform system is configurable for use as a thrust stage,

additional audience seating or as an orchestra pit. In-house side

stages and side balconies provide an extension of the performance

area into the volume of the audience chamber.” The

proscenium opening is 40 feet wide by 22 feet high by 34 feet

deep. The stage is fully trapped to accommodate entrances and

exits from the space below.

Sound system design for the theatre presented a number of

challenges. First of all, the theatre would host a variety of performances:

theatre for young audiences, professional theatre, classical

music, musicals, pops performances and large format DVD

presentations. Secondly, though line arrays were preferred for

delivering the best possible left/center/right image to every seat,

according to Auerbach sound system designer Greg Weddig, “We

struggled with long line arrays, trying to integrate them into the


The NEXO Geo Series presented an interesting solution: their

GEO S830 loudspeaker could be vertically or horizontally mounted.

“Essentially, we turned a vertical line array on its side,” says

Weddig. The center cluster consists of five GEO S830s, with appropriate

(NEXO) processing, each delivering a 30 degree dispersion

pattern. Vertical arrays consisting of three S830s each, left and

right of the proscenium arch, are nearly invisible: the speakers

measure approx. 16 inches by 10 inches by 6 inches.

Two NEXO subs located at catwalk level above and slightly

downstage of the center cluster are angled down and out toward

the center of the house to minimize the sound energy being

directed toward the stage. Three NEXO delay loudspeakers,

used primarily for high frequency fill to the balcony seats, are

mounted at the rear catwalk rail and delayed against the mains.

Loudspeakers are driven by 12 QSC amps.

24 May 2007 •


Following is the sound and lighting equipment used at the

Lewis Family Playhouse, a significant component of the Victoria

Gardens Cultural Center.

The Playhouse from the stage

Inside the Lewis Family Playhouse


1 Nexo Controller NX241

11 NEXO GEO S830


cardiod subs


1 Yamaha M7CL-48

Digital Console


2 EAW JFX 200 Sidefills

6 JBL SRX712M Wedges


9 QSC CX Series

2 QSC PL Series


4 Shure SM58

4 Shure SM57

2 Shure SM81

2 Shure Beta 52

4 Shure MX418s

Lectern Mics

12 Shure ULXP14/50 UHF

HH (3) & Bodypack

wireless Mics (12)

16 Isomax E-6 headset mics

(14 Tan + 2 Black)

2 Countryman DI

Speaker Controller

Peavey Media Matrix X-

Frame 88; 24x24 matrix


352 2.4 KW ETC Sensor


2 6.0KW ETC Sensor


24 2.4 KW ETC Sensor

Dimmers racked and


1 ETC Expression 3

w/ Emphasis Control


1 ETC Smart Fade 2496

“We’re primarily a family theatre,” says City community services

director Kevin McArdle, “but we host a wide variety of performance

events. The NEXO system has proved suitable for most

everything we’ve done. Honestly, the sound quality we have here

is much better than we ever expected.”

Analog or Digital console?

Providing an FOH mix position in this venue without losing many

seats also presented a challenge. “The solution we came up with in

conjunction with the architects is what I call the ‘audio porch,’”

says Weddig. “We took the sound booth, which normally would be

pushed back under the balcony, and pulled it out into the audience

chamber, getting rid of the window. This improved the sound lines

to the FOH clusters, so the sound operator has a better position to

mix from.” The lighting and stage managers booths, isolated behind

glass, are on either side of the FOH mix position.

The choice of a digital console also helped saved space, though

the decision between analog or digital turned on other issues.

“We didn’t want a complicated digital console in this venue,” says

McArdle. “We had committed to an analog board, until we saw the

Yamaha M7CL. This console was a very agreeable mix of analog and

digital functions.” Ease of use and programmability, for handling

the multiple shows that come through the theatre each week, were

the deciding factors in favor of the M7CL.

The Playhouse is equipped with a full counterweight rigged

fly loft, dimmed theatrical lighting throughout (with lighting positions

integrated into the architecture of the theatre) and a fully

automated ETC theatrical lighting system. A digital video system

includes Extron switchers and scalers, Panasonic digital video cameras,

a Sanyo projector and Stewart rear projection screen for scenic

elements and a retractable 18-foot by 24-foot Da-Lite screen for

large-format presentation.

“Dry Cat5 network lines run through a patchbay so that any Cat5

audio or video interface can run to any location in the theatre,” says

Weddig. “It’s a standalone network, separate from the complex’s

data network.” Video tie lines to the library video wall allow for live

broadcast of theatre events.

The Library and Celebration Hall

The Lewis Family Playhouse, the Library and the 4,500-

square-foot Celebration Hall are all under one roof — an

unusual, if not unique, melding of performance art, education

and a community-gathering place. “All three are really

joined at the hip,” says McArdle, and joined, too, by the “Main

Street” theme that invites visitors to stroll and explore.

The library features a vividly colorful palette with an

overhead 12-foot by 9-foot rear projection surface that is

part of a digital signage package developed by Auerbach for

displaying media, information and digital art.

The Celebration Hall Conference Center, a large room

used primarily for meetings and banquets, is divisible into

three sections and can seat 450. A Crestron AV2 control

system and TPS-2000L touch panels for each section offer

control of room configuration, playback devices and loudspeaker

volume. The loudspeaker system can also be divided

or combined as one. The touch panels were programmed for

easy use by the non-technically minded.

The community has embraced the Lewis Family Theatre

and its programming. The reviews from adults and children,

says the cultural arts supervisor for the Lewis Family

Playhouse, Susan Sluka, are pretty much head-over-heels

ecstatic. “Comments often touch on the idea that we have our

own professional group, The MainStreet Theatre Company,

performing in such an exciting space right here in our community,”

she says. “Previously, parents would have to drive to

L.A. for their children to experience anything of this quality.”

The Theatre’s “specialty” and “community” series offer

grown-up programming throughout 2007. As the headline

of an area daily newspaper said, the Victoria Gardens theatre

complex inaugurates a “cultural awakening” for the city and

the region. “I love that headline,” says Sluka.

Charles Conte is a communications consultant and writer serving

clients in the commercial audio industry as well as in other fields. • May 2007 25


By John Crawford

Theatre For Everyone

courtesy of American Stage

From the American Stage in the Park’s production of Regina Taylor’s Crowns

Building a diverse audience is smart strategy,

but it requires sustained commitment.

In the mid-1990s, when South Bend Civic Theatre decided

to tackle Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, it had almost no

support from the local black community. For the most

part, African-Americans didn’t come to the community

theatre’s shows, and staff only knew of three or four black

actors in the area — a problem, given that the August Wilson

play required eight actors. “We had to pound the streets to

cast the show,” recalls Jim Coppens, executive director of

the South Bend, Ind. theatre.

Starting with that production, South Bend Civic Theatre has

made a commitment to diversity. Every year, it has put on at

least one show that centers on black issues, and word has spread

about their efforts. Today, out of its pool of about 450 actors,

some 50 are black, a percentage consistent with the population

at large. A similar percentage of African-Americans attend the

theatre’s productions, though that rate might shoot up to as

high as 50 percent for a show dealing with black issues. Diversity

hasn’t just enlarged its pool of actors; it’s also brought in a wider,

larger audience.

Such diversity is obviously something to strive for. “You can’t

be a true community theatre unless all members of the community

are represented,” says Coppens. But committing oneself to

diversity involves more than just putting on an African-American

play once in a while. It involves more than just giving out discount

tickets to a local Hispanic church.

As South Bend Civic Theatre demonstrates, creating a diverse

audience requires a long, sustained effort, one that ultimately

makes everyone feel welcome at the theatre, no matter their

race, age or class. “It’s a matter of sticking to it,” notes Coppens.

“There is no magic bullet.” Unfortunately, not all theatres are

able to spend the resources needed to make such a commitment,

even though they’re faced with the daunting reality that

their traditional white audiences are aging.

Make the effort, though, and the people will come. They’re

waiting for work that speaks to them. Just look to recent productions

on Broadway as an example. Both The Color Purple and the

Tony Award-winning revival (starring Sean “Puffy” Combs) of A

Raisin in the Sun attracted sizable black audiences.

“The audience is always there,” says Donna Walker-Kuhne,

founder and president of Walker International Communications

Group, a Brooklyn-based company that provides marketing and

audience development services for cultural arts organizations.

With a potential audience out there, theatres just need to find

what will inspire people to buy a ticket. That being the case, any

attempts at diversifying an audience starts with the plays a theatre

chooses to do. Often, theatres make the mistake of thinking

“The country is diversifying,

we’ve got to be dealing with it.” —Seth Rozin

26 May 2007 •

“The main thing is to build bridges.

It’s about relationships with people.” —Jim Coppens

Gary N. Mester

that marketing holds the answer, but a

theatre can’t market a play that holds

no interest to the population it’s trying

to reach.

“Programming needs to lead,”

explains Jack Reuler, artistic director

of Minneapolis’ Mixed Blood Theatre,

which by taking its inspiration from

the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King,

Jr., tries to present a world onstage

where people celebrate and respect

each other’s differences.

That’s not to say that marketing

isn’t important. Much as it did with

the black community, South Bend

Civic Theatre is now trying to reach out to the area’s growing

Latino population. This summer it’s doing Stand and Deliver, the

third production it has done focusing on

Hispanic culture.

To promote the show, the theatre

is going into the Hispanic community,

meeting with leaders and schools, and

doing an acting workshop at a Latino

church that already has its own drama

program. Because theatre staff is often

busy and torn in many directions, South

Bend has recruited one person whose

sole responsibility is to represent the theatre

and act as point person in the Latino

community. “The main thing is to build

bridges,” says Coppens. “It’s about relationships

with people.”

This grassroots marketing is effective.

A person can easily ignore a TV ad, but if

a person’s minister, alumni group, social

organization or friend suggests a certain

play to see, “that’s a whole different

energy,” says Walker-Kuhne.

When it reaches out to community

members and groups, Philadelphia’s

InterAct Theatre Company talks about

the questions its plays raise and why they

are pertinent. It also emphasizes its history

of focusing on racial issues and cultural

clashes. That’s important, because

it establishes credibility. “Community

organizations can be resentful if you’re

trying to cash in on the one diverse show

you do once in a while,” says Seth Rozin,

InterAct’s producing artistic director.

From the South Bend Civic Theatre’s production of Holes

To spread the word about its plays,

Mixed Blood engages in what Reuler calls

a “hand-to-hand combat” style of targeted

marketing. “We get them in one by one,”

he notes. In a typical year, the theatre may

have five shows that appeal to five distinct

audiences, so it comes up with a different

marketing strategy for each production.

For instance, in 2006 it started the year

with Indian Cowboy, a play about an Indian

man’s journey to America. Point of Revue,

a show about the black experience, was

next, followed by Ten Percent of Marta

Solano, which was performed in Spanish

and English on alternating days, followed

by Yellowman, another show about African-American concerns,

and Vestibular Sense, a work about a young man with autism. • May 2007 27


Seth Rozin

Depending on the production,

the theatre may work with

autism information groups who

distribute promotional materials

and special offers right to

families. It also may work with a

Latino communications company

that owns varied media outlets

or with diversity networks

at major local corporations,

according to Kathy D. Graves,

Mixed Blood’s marketing and

public relations consultant.

When thinking about diversity,

however, Mixed Blood goes

beyond just concentrating on

marketing and what plays it’s

putting on. To grow a diverse

audience, it looks at the whole theatre experience a patron

may encounter, from not only who’s onstage, but also who’s

taking your ticket. Their mission is Dr. King’s vision, and that

influences all aspects of their operations. “It’s our reason for

existence,” says Reuler.

Baltimore’s Centerstage also takes a holistic approach to

diversity. While one-third of every season is devoted to blackthemed

shows, the theatre strives to be more inclusive in

everything, including its board representation, staff, volunteers,

community outreach, media choices, photographs on the walls

and brochures. The end result is an environment that seems

open and respectful of every patron who walks in the door. “If

people come in the door, they don’t feel like they’re entering

an alien territory,” says Gavin Witt, the professional theatre’s

resident dramaturg.

And if people feel welcome on their first visit to the theatre,

they’re likely to come back. “I keep likening it to dates,” says Witt.

“If we’re clear about who we are and what we’re about, you’ll

have better second dates.”

Lately, Centerstage has been thinking of diversity not just

in terms of race, but also in terms of age. “Diversity is an ever

expanding term for us,” he says. As with African-Americans, the

goal is the same: to make young people feel welcome. And as

with African-Americans, the entire theatregoing experience

needs to be examined in order to obtain that goal.

“It’s not just putting young people onstage,” says Witt. “It’s

not just putting on funky shows.” The theatre is looking at its

From InterAct Theatre Company’s production of A House With No Walls

promotional materials. Do they

catch the eye? Do they utilize the

Internet effectively?

American Stage Theatre

Company, in St. Petersburg, Fla.,

also has been trying to diversify

its audience by reaching out

to the young. Its educational

programs serve lots of children,

which gets them, as well as their

parents, involved in the theatre.

It offers an inexpensive ticket

it calls the Next Wave Pass

for people 30 and under. It also

offers pay-what-you-can-nights.

“On those nights, we find we

have a real diverse audience,”

says Todd Olson, the theatre’s

producing artistic director. When American Stage builds its new

theatre, it’s hoping to provide drop-in childcare and a crying

room for fussy children.

The theatre also has been reaching out to the black community.

Faced with dwindling audiences for its Shakespeare in the

Park series, a 20-year tradition, the theatre changed the outdoor

performances last year by performing Crowns, a gospel musical,

instead of Shakespeare. The result was the biggest black audience

the theatre ever had.

Olson warns, though, that reaching a diverse audience

shouldn’t be the main reason to do a particular show. “Ultimately,

it’s got to be about quality,” he said. Besides, the best works transcend

barriers and speak to everyone. They’re universal. A Raisin in

the Sun isn’t just a black story. “It’s a human story,” says Olson.

Typically, though, most theatres aren’t thinking about diversity,

says Rozin. It takes time and money to broaden an audience,

and doing so takes away from energy spent on making sure the

people who always come still do. Running a theatre is often a

precarious financial enterprise, so staffers often don’t have the

luxury of worrying about the future and what it will mean for their

audience. They’re worried about the here and now, which means

many theatres are content with the status quo. But in the long run,

that attitude could be shortsighted.

“The country is diversifying,” says Rozin. “We’ve got to be dealing

with it.”

John Crawford is a freelance writer living in the Boston area.

28 May 2007 •

Special Musical Theatre Section



courtesy of Stages


By Kevin M. Mitchell

Canned Music or Live? Which

option may be best for your

theatre and why.

While musicals sans musicians is certainly

not music to the ears of anyone

who has enjoyed a check for playing

in an orchestra pit, it’s certainly a trend that

is here to stay. To some purists, prerecorded

music in any form is an insult; to a struggling

community theatre, it’s a chance to do a Sound

of Music, whereas they otherwise couldn’t.

It’s a complex issue with many approaches

available, as we learn when a playwright, an

executive producer, a publisher and a musical director

weigh in on the plusses, minuses and creative possibilities.

The Biggest Expense

Patricia Cotter’s The Break-Up Notebook, a new musical

that won an Ovation Award for Best New Musical in

Los Angeles this past winter, broke the bank to have live

musicians. Cotter, who wrote the book, tells that her collaborator,

composer/lyricist Lori Scarlett, was adamant

about using musicians. But when the creative team, led by

producer Rose Marcario, sat down to do the numbers, a

collective gulp was heard.

“It absolutely was the biggest expense of the whole

show,” Cotter sighs. “And not just for the four-piece band.

Once we had them, we realized we needed mics for the

cast. That was another big expense.

“But then having live musicians made all the difference

in the world. If you’re going to put money anywhere in a

musical, it should be for musicians. If you’re going to do a

new musical and you want it to have a life after its initial

run, it’s really worth it to invest in a live band.”

Cotter had co-written another musical called Fat! The

Musical! that was performed in 1998 in Hollywood, which

was done on a very low budget, and the music for that

show was pre-recorded. Then again, that musical had wildly

different musical styles, as opposed to Breakup, which

was all done in a pop/rock style and thus required fewer

musicians to pull off.

Cotter’s experiences have changed the way she sees a

musical, she says. “Honestly, when I go into a theatre to see

a musical and there aren’t live musicians, I think it’s going

From St. Louis’ Stages production of Cabaret, in which pre-recorded music was used

to be an amateurish show. I’m open to saying, ‘I’m wrong;

this is great,’ but it’s like seeing that the set is a little shaky.

All the elements have to add up.”

Despite all that, the producer is looking to mount it

again in Cleveland, and budget issues may force that version

to use pre-recorded music — or at least whittle down

the band to three members. “You feel live music differently

than when it’s from a CD,” notes Cotter. “But if there’s no

choice, it’s not the worst thing in the world.” [There are

ways to combine both approaches. See page 33]

Sometimes it’s not just budget issues, but space issues.

And sometimes even pre-recorded music is live.

“The theatre we’re in was not designed as a legitimate

theatre,” says Jack Lane, executive producer of Stages, a

community theatre in St. Louis. “It was originally designed

as an organ recital hall. There is a space under the stage,

enough room for a piano, bass and drum, but the sound

from there comes out very thin, not that flowing orchestral

sound you want.”

Founded in 1987, Stages seats 400 and does four main

shows a year, all musicals. Each show runs 40 performances,

and the organization boasts 11,000 subscribers with a

total of 50,000 people a year coming to see their shows.

“Some people don’t appreciate or understand what it takes

to do a good musical, all those disciplines that are needed,”

says Lane. “Next to opera, it’s the most expensive art form

to produce.”

At Stages, though, they don’t pull a CD off the shelf

— they get the score — and the music is arranged and prerecorded

by their orchestral designer especially for their

productions. Also, they sometimes supplement with a live

musician or two playing along when they feel it will add to

30 May 2007 •

“Four or five instruments just don’t

cut it for these fully-scored, classic

Broadway shows. ” — Jack Lane

Courtesy of Patricia Cotter

the production. Recently, they had a single cello player to

supplement the music for a particular show.

Lane says that, while the cost of musicians is certainly

more expensive than Equity actors, Stages’ decisions are

more about space than anything else. Once they tried a 12-

piece orchestra that they put in the scenic shop and then

“piped” into the theatre, but that was not successful. Also,

while publishers often provide scores for smaller groups

of musicians, “four or five instruments just don’t cut it for

these fully-scored, classic Broadway shows.”

The success of Stages is due to all the details they manage,

and that certainly includes the quality of the sound.

They use a sound designer and have experimented with

speaker placement to ensure the best possible experience

for the audience. Currently, the theatre includes four

Electro-Voice SX 200s and a Carver PM 1200. They use

two as a center cluster, they place one house left and one

house right for fill and a sub-woofer in the space beneath

the stage. It’s run through a Soundcraft

Series 2 soundboard powered by two

Crest Audio 643-010s.

Lane says that, while prerecorded

music is controversial, technology is

making it harder to tell the difference.

“Being a singer myself, I have a sensitive

ear, and I have difficulty telling the

difference between augmented recordings

and live musicians. In the last 10

years, technology has truly become

so sophisticated it’s hard to tell the

difference. When one of my friends, a

Broadway percussionist, saw one of our

shows, he said he could not tell the difference.

He was actually disappointed

he couldn’t!” he laughs.

Know Your Group

“Every single new musical we publish

comes with a production CD,”

says Steve Fendrich of Pioneer Drama

Service, based in Denver. He says

recordings have opened up a huge

market. “A smaller community who

wants to put on a big musical can do

it and get a full sound,” notes Fendrich.

He adds that his productions come

with rehearsal tracks as well, so there’s

no need to hire a rehearsal pianist.

Pioneer caters to schools, churches

and community theatres, and Fendrich,

who has been a publisher since the

1980s, has seen a lot of trends and

From Patricia Cotter’s The Breakup Notebook, in which live music was used

changes. “When we started this in 1982, it was an experimental

project and we were able to produce recordings

for four musicals,” he recalls. “Today we have around 150

musicals, and it’s an area that brings in the most money

for us.”

But he admits there are drawbacks. If a director wants to

make more of a dramatic pause, that can’t really be done.

Also, if a singer misses a cue or stumbles, they just have to

catch up.

South of Detroit is Southgate, home to the Southgate

Community Players, a 600-seat community theatre cur- • May 2007 31

Special Musical Theatre Section

Another scene from Patricia

Cotter’s The Breakup Notebook

courtesy of Patricia Cotter

courtesy of Stages

Pre-recorded music is used by Stages, a community theatre in St. Louis. Shown is a scene from their production of Grease.

rently celebrating their 50 th anniversary. Productions this

season include Fiddler On the Roof and Aida — all done with

live musicians under the careful direction of musical director

Rich Alder. They perform in a middle school auditorium

with no real pit, just an open area in front of the stage,

where Alder places anywhere from eight to 20 musicians.

“Talented musicians really like what I do, and the theatre

appreciates the people I bring in. When hiring a musical

director in the community theatre setting, you are paying

for who he or she knows,” says Alder. For every production

he works with a list of people who have some good, serious

musical training and won’t do it for free.

In Alder’s 18-year history with Southgate, he has dabbled

in pre-recorded music. “I was one of the first to use

MIDI technology for musicals in 1990, and using a computer,

I sequenced the accompaniment.” (MIDI allows you

to control the tempo without changing the pitch.) But that

took a long time for him to program, and it still came up

short and lacking spontaneity. Another challenge with prerecorded

scores is special care needs to be taken in setting

up a good monitor system for the actors on the stage to

hear the music, or it can lead to disasters.

There is wiggle room when he puts together an orchestra.

Alder says he looks at the whole season, not just

one show; he’s able to pay for a 15-member orchestra

for one because he squeezed by with an eight-piece for

another. Another time a few seasons

ago, he studied the score of

a musical carefully and figured

out that he could get by with

three reed players instead of five,

though that required him rearranging

the music. Often, when

a score requires a lot of strings,

he’ll substitute an extra synthesizer


His advice to any group is to

know what you have to work

with. “Also, in the building process,

you have to pick shows that

have draws, because musicals are

so expensive and you need the

ticket sales.” Something interesting

but obscure is going to be a

poor choice, as opposed to something

like Sound of Music. “There’s

no such thing as a bad production

of Sound of Music,” says Alder.

“The kids are cute, and the audience

comes. You don’t need a lot

of men, and if you have a lot of

women, make them nuns.”

32 May 2007 •

By Jerry Cobb

Covering Your Tracks

Backing tracks should ideally complement,

not overwhelm, what the audience

perceives onstage. A handful of

singers producing a thunderous chorus can

come off as overreaching. A massive wall of

orchestral bombast emanating from a jazz

band might elicit unwelcome chortling.

Conversely, a dinner theatre with no visible

musicians might be able to pull this off

without a hitch. And overblown orchestration

may be used intentionally to humorous

effect. It’s all in what you’re trying to

project from your stage. And, of course,

what you can get away with.

Sound Judgment

While shoving a microphone in front of

a cassette deck and playing tapes through

the school P.A. may be okay for a kindergarten

show (actually, it’s not even okay there),

your facility needs to have a decent sound

system — and someone to run it — in

order to pull off a musical. This becomes

especially important when considering

adding musically dense tracks to a P.A.

that’s already struggling. P.A. Audio professionals

call this “headroom,” which you’re

going to need. If your company is portable,

you’ll need to bring along as good a P.A. as

you can afford and/or carry, or hire a pro

sound company locally. When it comes

to sound reproduction, the adage “garbage

in, garbage out” is especially apropos.

Keeping it simple is fine; using audio junk

is not. Musicals should be a treat for the

ears and not a headache-inducing distortion

fest. Make sure your audio gear is up

to the task.

With the addition of prerecorded tracks

to the mix, the musical director’s job gets

more complicated. Performers need to

rehearse more intensely with the tracks and

memorize purely musical cues, because

once the track starts, it will play through

with no mercy. This is equally true for any

live musicians, as they must now synchronize

to a harsh taskmaster. And everyone

must be able to clearly hear the tracks at

all times, making placement of monitor

speakers crucial both on the stage and in

the pit. These monitors will play a different

mix from the one the audience hears,

which should be a subtler blend of live and

canned music than that which the performers

need to hear.

All this necessitates thoughtful sound

design and competent sound persons running

the show.

Types of Tracks

Backing tracks come in a variety of flavors,

each with its own pros and cons. If

your theatre is already equipped with a

particular playback device and no budget

to buy anything different, guess what you’ll

be using? But if your company is new to the

tracking game, you have choices:


Perhaps the simplest plug-and-play

solution are prerecorded CDs. Many online

sources offer complete plays recorded in

the original show key and tempo. These

albums are re-recordings of the original.

Each song appears on the album twice:

once with music and vocals, and once with

accompaniment tracks alone. This allows

the performer to learn a song by singing

along with the vocals and music, then to

practice their technique accompanied only

by the background tracks.

Pros: Good audio quality, familiar format.

Cons: Can skip or develop “dropouts”

over time, can be a bit futzy to stop and

start, especially on less expensive gear.

Minidisc (MD)

While not as sonically detailed to some

ears as a CD or DVD, MDs are nearly bulletproof

when it comes to ease of playback

and skip-free dependability. CDs may be

transferred to MD format using an MD

recorder or having it done for a fee by many

of the retailers who offer showtune CDs.

Pros: Reliable playback, easy to stop and

start, creates playlists.

Cons: Slightly less audio fidelity than CD,

fewer pre-recorded titles available for purchase.

Equipment not as readily available

(or repairable) as more popular formats.


Yes, of course you can transfer other formats

to play on an iPod or an MP3 player.

A karaoke collage of backing tracks from Broadway Best

It’s not the most professional way to go,

but it is doable.

Pros: Massive song storage, ease of

access, ability to create song lists. Instant

downloads available.

Cons: Less audio fidelity than CD, small

connectors can be troublesome in a darkened

theatre. Never trust batteries in a live



Think of a MIDI sequence as an old-fashioned

player piano roll; it’s a series of zeros

and ones telling your sound card which

virtual instrument to play, how loud and

what notes. Standard MIDI Files (SMFs) are

widely available and varied in quality. On

many songs the instrumentation will sound

fake, and none will contain backup vocals.

MIDI files can be played back by some

synthesizers, dedicated hardware players

or directly from a computer.

Pros: An expert musician can tweak

existing MIDI files to sound good. Song

keys and tempos can be changed, and specific

instruments may be muted or made


Cons: Instrument sounds are only as

good as your sound card. MIDI files found

on the Internet range from horrible to just

okay, depending on genre and the skill of

the original sequence artist. SMFs rarely

sound as good as other formats without a

lot of talented tinkering.

A Legal Note

Just because you purchase music doesn’t

mean you have the legal right to perform it

publicly. Remember to check on licensing

before pressing play for an audience.

Jerry Cobb is the sole proprietor of

Videografix/LA, a video boutique specializing

in music video, corporate and

entertainment reels, and professional

voiceovers. • May 2007 33 • Aprilr 2007 33

Special Musical Theatre Section




For more than 30 years, the BMI

workshop has been churning out

the finest musical theatre writers,

dispelling the popular myth that the

art form is dying.

By Brooke Pierce

In the best of circumstances, when the lights go down and

the curtain comes up at a Broadway musical, the audience is

taken into a new world where it doesn’t seem at all unusual

for characters to break into song. Music is such a seamless part

of this world that the viewer suspends his or her disbelief and

is effortlessly drawn in.

However, creating that kind of world couldn’t be more

difficult, as anybody who has ever tried to write a musical

will tell you. Bringing the elements of story, music and lyrics

perfectly together is a feat like no other. And every week at

the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop in midtown

Manhattan, a select group of writers and musicians are learning

to perform that miracle.

Beginnings Start here

More than 30 years ago, Tony-winning composer and

conductor Lehman Engel partnered with BMI to create

workshops that would help train aspiring musical theatre

writers. “It’s a complicated craft, and there are few places

nowadays where you can really study its intricacies,” says Masi

Asare, who is currently in the Advanced Workshop. “The BMI

workshop was highly recommended over and over again

by working professionals as the place to learn how to write


There’s really nothing else out there quite like it: A place

where dedicated, talented people can gather regularly

to work on their craft, get feedback from their peers and

theatre professionals — and for no charge whatsoever. It is

competitive, though. There is an application process, in which

interested parties submit a tape and/or sample lyrics. Finalists

then audition in person.

The workshop — or simply “BMI,” as participants and people

in the theatre world usually refer to it — is perhaps best known

as the place where great writing partnerships are created.

Ragtime authors Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens started

collaborating there. More recently, it is where Jeff Marx and

Bobby Lopez first began writing their Broadway hit Avenue Q.

A shot from a recent production of Titanic at University

of Northern Colorado. Titanic was developed at BMI.

“I had several musical ideas, which had been brewing a long

time, but I didn’t know where to find a collaborator, so I thought

BMI would be a great place to meet people in the community,”

says lyricist Tom Gualtieri. There he met composer David Sisco,

with whom he is currently working on two projects.

The Structure Song

“The first year of the workshop was structured into specific

exercises and specific kinds of songs in their pure form: the

‘I Am’ or ‘I Want’ song, the ‘Charm Song,’ the ‘Comedy Song,’”

explains Gualtieri. “Apparently these exercises have been in

the workshop since its inception and are notoriously difficult.

I found them to be some of the most successful and satisfying

lyrics I have ever written.”

“The most valuable thing I learned,” says Asare of her first

two years in the workshop, “was that, for a character to sing in

a musical, she has to want something really badly. In writing

songs for musicals, we are working as musical dramatists.

So we have to put the tools of melody, rhythm, harmonic

structure, lyrical structure, tone and ‘singability’ to dramatic

use. We have to use the tools of songwriting with the mindset

of playwriting.”

First-year participants who are considered sufficiently

qualified are invited to come back for a second year, when they

work on writing a full-length musical. At the end of the year,

they present a portion of that musical, at which point selected

members are asked to return to the Advanced Workshop.

The Advanced Workshop is looser in structure. Rather than

focusing on exercises, members sign up to present songs from

their current projects and then receive feedback from the

other members and the class moderator.

“The trick is to have a really fantastic moderator who can

synthesize the feedback from the class and sort of sum it up

for you in a neat, concise package,” notes Asare. “Pat Cook and

Rick Freyer, who teach the first and second year classes, are

fantastic at this.”

Several other dedicated individuals oversee this meeting

34 May 2007 •



(Right to left) Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez, composers

of the Tony Award-winning smash Avenue Q.

Jennifer Barnhart

with Mrs. T in

Avenue Q

of the musical minds as well. After Lehman Engel himself

passed away in 1982, many of the workshop participants

became more heavily involved in running it — A Chorus Line

lyricist Ed Kleban and Little Shop of Horrors tunesmith Alan

Menken were two of the quickest to take up that task.

These days, two of the most frequent guest moderators

are Lynn Ahrens and composer/lyricist Maury Yeston

(Titanic, Nine). “They are keen, sharp minds who can decipher

your intention and give clear, constructive criticism or

suggestions,” comments Gualtieri. In fact, these experienced

pros sometimes go beyond just offering smart criticism and

actually help the songwriters to reconstruct their songs for

the better right on the spot.

In addition to the famous names above, an impressive

array of other notable composers and lyricists have come

through the BMI workshop during its 30 years, including Carol

Hall (The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas), Clark Gesner (You’re

a Good Man, Charlie Brown), Gerard Allesandrini (Forbidden

Broadway), Michael John LaChiusa (Marie Christine, The Wild

Party), Brian Crawley and Jeanine Tesori (Violet), Paul Scott

Goodman (Bright Lights, Big City), and Andrew Lippa (jon and


Passing the Torchsong

Seeing the talent on display at any given class, there is

little doubt that many more fine musical theatre writers are

about to emerge. Bookwriter/lyricist Ben Winters, whose

musical Slut was produced Off-Broadway in 2005, has found

the BMI experience valuable. An especially helpful exercise

that he notes is “when we went through the plots and songs

of famous or classic shows to see what made them tick.”

Winters also singles out the usefulness of “talking with a lot

of different people, with a lot of different perspectives, about

the art form.”

In addition to the “structure, discipline and the value of

audience response” that Gualtieri cites as being the best

aspect of BMI, the workshop also has other resources, such

as its series of in-house cabarets aimed at exposing the work

of aspiring songwriters to the theatre industry. They also

offer awards such as the Jerry Bock Award, a monetary gift

that allows the winner the opportunity to further work on a

musical theatre project.

Non-songwriters need not feel left out of all of this.

Knowing that the book (or script) is the foundation on which

a great musical is built, Lehman Engel also established a

Librettists’ Workshop to nurture writers who want to focus on

learning the complicated craft of musical scriptwriting. The

librettists are also given the opportunity to collaborate with

members of the songwriters’ workshop on assignments to

further develop their skills and meet potential collaborators.

With so much activity done in the name of creating better

musical theatre, it’s no wonder that the BMI Lehman Engel

Musical Theater Workshop has been heaped with praise

lately. In 2006 alone, it was awarded a special Tony Award

for Excellence in Theatre and a special Drama Desk Award.

In a time when theatre struggles to compete with TV and

film, the workshop is helping to pass on the musical theatre

writing craft and tradition to new generations.

Brooke Pierce is a freelance writer living in New York City.



Jean Banks

Senior Director of Musical Theatre


320 West 57th Street

New York, NY 10036


Members of the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop and invited industry professionals

gathered at BMI’s New York office for a presentation of new songs from the Workshop. • May 2007 35

Special Musical Theatre Section

A P e r f e c t H a r m o n y

Should you hire a musical

director for your school

or community theatre

production? Here are the

pros and cons.

By Lisa Mulcahy

Courtesy of Turtle Lane Playhouse

The job of being a musical director can

make juggling knives seem downright

easy, even in the best theatrical circumstances.

Throw in the additional challenges

that helming an educational or community

production bring, and you really have your

work cut out for you. Think about it: not only

do you have to stage the piece effectively

and make sure that show’s score sounds good, but you’re

dealing with a talent pool that may be inexperienced.

Some directors up the ante even further by trying to act

as their own musical directors as well. Is this savvy — or


It depends on the director, the show and the institution

you’re working with. Some theatres see hiring an

outside musical director as an unnecessary expense, and

really push for a show’s director to pull double duty. On

the other hand, many theatres are averse to any potential

creative risk, so they urge their director to work with a

music specialist to ensure a show’s success. The question

remains: what’s right for your show?

Know Your Needs

Your first step in determining whether to hire a musical

director or let your director take care of the job is to

objectively evaluate the specifics of your production. The

first key factor to consider: the nature of the material itself.

How musically heavy is the piece? If you’re dealing with a

script that contains five songs or fewer, and those songs

are relatively uncomplicated compositions, allowing your

director to teach them to the cast can possibly work

— if your director is musically skilled and experienced.

However, should your show be musically complex, filled

with many vocal parts or with a rangy, sophisticated score,

it’s a far better bet to leave the musical direction squarely

in the hands of a pro who can focus their talents solely on

the job.

If you do end up leaning toward handing the director

the musical reins, your next task is to carefully analyze

whether they can realistically handle both jobs. Your

director’s first commitment must be to guiding the show

as a whole: blocking, character development and technical

supervision will consume a ton of their energy and

The cast of Big River at the Turtle Lane Playhouse, directed by Elaina Vrattos

time. Is your director not only musically adept, but highly

organized and great at multitasking? How much prep

time can they really afford to devote to the music? How

will rehearsal time be effectively structured so that all

aspects of the production get the attention they deserve?

If your director honestly tells you they

are uncomfortable trying to bite off

so much, respect that decision and

resolve to go with a separate musical


Many directors balk at the idea of

adding music to their job description.

“There are many reasons why you

should never be your own musical

director,” warns Michael McGarty, artistic

director of the Harvard Community Theatre in Harvard,

Mass. and director of Harvard’s Broomfield School Drama

Society. “It can only work if the director is somewhat

superhuman, and frankly, not many of us are. Most

directors who function as their own

musical directors run music programs

in schools. They have great musical

skills, but usually poor acting/directing

experience. They function by hiring

a pianist for rehearsals, and think

that they can then do it all.”

“I personally think it’s a bad start

when roles get doubled,” agrees

Elaina Vrattos, a stage director who

Michael McGarty

Elaina Vrattos

has directed musicals throughout New England. “In my

opinion, you are setting yourself up for disaster. It is tough

enough having a director and musical director putting the

piece together. But having one person doing it all? Ugh!”

Some companies actually elect to hire a musical director

to handle the entire show, which is definitely not

courtesy of Michael McGarty

courtesy of Elaina Vrattos

36 May 2007 •

Courtesy of Michael McGarty

Getting Out, by the Broomfield School Drama Society; Michael McGarty acted as director.

recommended. “In this case, a large

musical too often becomes a vehicle

to showcase the musical talent of

the actors, with the acting taking a

back seat,” says McGarty. “The proof

comes during the production week,

when the musical director adds in an

orchestra and stage technicians in

addition to the actors, and can’t figure

out why all the elements won’t magically

come together. The only time

I see this type of situation working

is with small, intimate musicals, like

Little Shop of Horrors and Nunsense,

or revues, where a musical director

and chor

e o g r a -

pher work


to create



parts of a production that I can collaborate

easily on, and other parts

of a production where I’d prefer the

musical director takes a back seat.

There has to be a good balance of acting,

music and dance for the show to

be successful. If the director, musical

director or choreographer try to make

the show more about their specific

area rather than the whole, the entire

show will suffer.”

Even the most collaborative directors

may feel amrmers make invaluable

gains from the work, improving

the production as a result.

“It can only work if the

director is somewhat superhuman, and

frankly, not many of us are.”

—Michael McGarty

The Dream Team

A smart director sees his/her work

with a musical director as an equal

partnership from the get-go. “You

need to know your staff,” advises

Vrattos. “Meet them ahead of time.

Ideally, be responsible for hiring so

you can really choose who you want

to work with.”

Make sure you mesh personalitywise

as well. “Getting along with a

musical director can be the biggest

challenge of the show,” says McGarty.

“I always have a long discussion with

any new musical director well in

advance to set the ground rules for

who will play what role. There are

“Understand that you can’t do it all

by yourself,” says Kelly Ford, a musical

director/producer/engineer whose

theatre experience also includes her

position as artistic director of the

Medieval Manor Theater Restaurant

in Boston. “Divide and conquer when

possible. Often in a musical production,

there will be times when I need

to work with a soloist or a small group

of kids on something specific. That

leaves the rest of the group to sit

quietly and watch — good luck with

that! Kids like having your attention,

especially when they aren’t the center

of it.” Ford suggests putting the

other young performers to work on • May 2007 37

Special Musical Theatre Section

an alternate production activity (i.e.,

the director can block a scene while

the musical director teaches a song).

“The more clear you are with your

instructions, the more likely it is you’ll

get the right result from the majority

of kids,” continues Ford. “If there

are certain musical terms that I need

the kids to know, I’ll teach the terms

during warm-ups at the beginning of


Charge At Those Challenges

Any seasoned director knows that

no matter how well prepared you

are, there are always going to be

obstacles. Working with a musical

director on a show isn’t always

going to be a bed of roses — the

trick is to persevere.

“I directed Nine at a small

theatre in 1991 and had a very

difficult time working with the

musical director,” recalls Vrattos.

“I took over for another director who

had quit, so I was coming onto a

staff that I had no experience with or

knowledge of. The musical director

taught with a heavy hand and really

wore the cast and musicians down. I

was new to the process and was hesitant

about taking charge, as I should

have. I was unclear as to where and

when I could step in. Eventually, I was

forced to speak up when the orchestra

all started to pack up and leave

after a long, arduous rehearsal a few

days before we were to open. It was

an awful night, but we hashed everything

out. The show ended up being

a huge success, winning 10 EMACT

(Eastern Massachusetts Association of

“Understand that you can’t do

it all by yourself; divide and

conquer when possible.”

—Kelly Ford

Community Theatre) Awards.”

McGarty’s toughest challenge was

less personality-driven and more technically

difficult. “City of Angels provided

the largest vocal challenge for

me,” he recounts. “I had to rely heavily

on the talents of my musical director

for that one to succeed. I gave her as

much leeway as I could, because I realized

early on that the actors needed

much more vocal rehearsal to make

the show a success. My instincts were

correct, and on opening night, the

actors felt so comfortable with their

vocal roles that they could easily focus

on the listening skills needed in the

acting scenes.”

Working on a musical is never a

total breeze, but a director

can make things easier by

targeting a show’s problems

with their musical director’s

strengths and talents.

By confronting problems

head-on, and maintaining a

respect for each other’s talents

and abilities both can

work in harmony.

Lisa Mulcahy is the author of the book

Building The Successful Theatre

Company (Allworth Press).

38 May 2007 •

TD Talk

By Dave McGinnis

I Can Do It for This Much

Does the bid system prove that you get what you pay for?

Many theatre artists have found refuge in governmentally

funded entities. These institutions, whether they’re universities,

performing arts centers or community theatres, provide

a relative haven in which to pursue your artistic goals. The pros to these

entities are obvious, but there is one skeleton in the closet that loves

to show its face whenever you open the door on a new project: the

bid system.

For those not familiar with the bid system, the governing body

(state, county, etc.) will set a dollar amount below which the TD has

the right to find whatever materials they need to get the job done. For

anything above this amount, whoever is in charge must solicit bids

(estimates) on the job from various contractors. Whoever submits the

lowest bid gets the contract. This applies to construction projects and

equipment purchases.

Officially, contractors are bidding on exactly the same work —

materials, equipment and labor/installation. This would lead you to

believe that you are saving money on the job. However, according to

a friend of mine, everybody in this business works with their friends

because they know they can trust one another. This is where the bid

system causes a clash.

I once worked for a performing arts facility that had contracted

some new wall pockets. These were not being set up to require DMX

or anything, just simple hot-neutral-ground wiring. The contract had

gone to the lowest bidder, and that contractor hired a sub-contractor

to install the new wiring out of the dimmer racks and into the wall.

When the job was supposedly completed, these pockets had no

power. Only after numerous trips back to the facility did the pockets

work…when the crew chief for the installation came out personally

and alone.

If you are operating on a bid system, how can you protect your

space from this kind of incident? Here are a few suggestions:

4. Hold the contractor and/or architect accountable.

If a contractor bids on a large project, like the construction of your

facility, they must be held to the blueprints on which they initially submitted

the bid. If the initial bid involved two catwalks, then the building

had better include two catwalks. If they bid on a 96-dimmer rack, then

the rack had better end up being 96 dimmers, and it had better work.

If not, then make sure the contract facilitates some means by which

payment can be withheld until the requisite work is done.

5. Be involved.

If you have the option, make sure that you are involved in as many

steps of the process as possible. When in conflict, the way the facility

looks will likely trump the way the facility functions if left to administration.

If you are involved, then the functionality of the space will always

have at least one person “defending the faith.”

Of course, every administration operates differently. Some have

rules that prohibit some, or possibly all, of these guidelines. They want

blind bids, and they believe that cheaper is always better. Always

remember, though, that it is your crew who will shoulder the burden

for whatever contract goes out. Try to explain to administration that

the long-run costs of repairs on substandard equipment will outweigh

the immediate costs of implementation of quality gear.

Let me know how your install went:

1. Make sure companies you trust receive the bid request.

I don’t even like to buy toothpaste that I haven’t tried out in a travel

size, so why would I entrust my livelihood to some stranger whose

work I have never seen before? Quality work that you can trust will save

capital in the long run when you consider repairs and maintenance.

2. Establish a requirement that the winning contractor performs

the work personally.

Many construction and installation issues fall apart because the

lowest bid involves sub-contracting to a cheaper source. It begs the

question, “Why is the sub-contractor so much cheaper?” Often, it’s

because the sub-contractor may rely on day laborers who know little

about working in entertainment venues. Depending on the complexity

of the contract being offered, it might behoove you to specifically

prohibit the use of day labor, either on specific portions of the contract

or altogether.

3. Specify everything.

If you fail to specify what dimmer rack you want, you might get

whatever came cheapest while still providing the contractor the

widest profit margin on installation. Specify every possible piece of

equipment, from the dock to the booth. Not every administration will

allow this. They sometimes will want bids on equipment, too. If this is

the case, then make sure that you specify every possible function that

every piece of gear you want should have. Leave nothing to chance. • May 2007 39

Show Business

By Jacob Coakley

Let Them Eat Pie

We all want a bigger slice, but does someone else’s audience mean fewer people for you?

Theatre Communications Group — the leading advocate

group of nonprofit theatre in America — closes its “Our

Philosophy” statement with the phrase “We all benefit from

one another’s presence.” On the other hand, their philosophy

statement is also heavily slanted towards an idealistic view of

theatre — could this rosy view possibly stand up against the cold,

hard logic of cash? How do you reconcile the fact that a butt in

somebody else’s theatre Friday night is a butt that’s not sitting in

yours? This non-competition clause sounds like a nice philosophy,

but do the actual numbers bear it out?

According to Teresa Eyring, the new executive director of TCG,

they do. She cited the Performing Arts Research Coalition reports

available on the TCG Web site (

projects.cfm#parc) as evidence. The reports were developed in a

three-year collaborative research project TCG undertook with four

national service organizations — American Symphony Orchestra

League, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Dance/USA

and Opera America — and were funded by The Pew Charitable


“That study was really quite enlightening to a lot of people in

the field,” Eyring says, because the data it collected from the 10

communities it studied helped develop a clear profile of an artsgoer.

“There are people who do things, and there are people who

don’t do things. And the people who do things — theatregoers

and performing arts participaters — tend to be people who are

engaged in the community in more than one thing.”

Eyring says the report is clear on this fact.

“People who attend theatre in general are engaged in community

life, and so tend to not just focus on one thing and say

‘I’m focused on this theatre and I don’t do anything else.’” So even

if that audience member isn’t in your house Friday, they will be


Barry Grove, executive producer of Manhattan Theatre Club,

agrees with Eyring, though he arrived at his conclusion through

his own studies.

“MTC has done a lot of focus groups and analytical studies

of our subscriber base,” Grove says. “You find that people who

are subscribers to MTC may be subscribers to three or four other

theatres. They may be going to the theatre more often even than

theatre professionals are going. And that leads me to believe that

the real theatre fan is not making a decision between us and one

other place. They may have four or five subscriptions and be buying

single tickets as well.”

This echoes the thoughts of Joan Channick, managing director

of Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Conn., a lecturer on Theatre

Management at Yale School of Drama and former managing director

at TCG. Channick left TCG for her position at Long Wharf seven

months ago, so she’s in the unique position of seeing first-hand

how TCG’s big picture ideology gets applied to daily theatre management.

She finds the TCG studies still bear out.

“People who go to the arts go to a lot of arts. People who are

interested in theatre go to a lot of theatre,” says Channick, who proposes

cooperation between theatres as opposed to competition.

“It’s not ‘how do I get a bigger piece of pie than you have’;it’s ‘how

do we collectively create a bigger pie,’ so we all get bigger pieces.”

So how can theatres of any size — not just nationally recognized

behemoths — create this sort of cooperation?

“I think what’s critical is having a distinctive identity,” says

Channick. “You can have lots of theatres in one town, but as long as

they’re doing different kinds of works, audiences can have different

experiences and you’re not really competing.”

Grove stresses that to create a larger audience you need “e-mail

blasts and direct mail list cultivation so you have groups of people

that you know are prone to be interested in the kind of work you’re


And Channick promotes the idea of handling all of that cooperatively.

“In Boston the arts organizations have collaborated in maintaining

a centralized mailing list,” says Channick. “Rather than being

possessive about their lists, there are efficiencies in having a shared

database of arts-goers that they can all have access to. It’s probably

improved their reach for all organizations.”

So go ahead, reach out to your competitors. After all, can you

ever have too much pie?

Tell me how you collaborate:

40 May 2007 •

Off The Shelf

By Stephen Peithman



New books and CDs reflect the

enduring vibrancy of the musical.

If, as some say, the musical is an endangered species, no

one seems to have told book and CD publishers, as this

month’s column attests.

Because musicals are more expensive to mount than

straight plays, the role of the producer in securing funding

is critical. The Commercial Theater Institute, now in its 25th

year, provides resources and guidance for those interested

in the various paths one can take to creating commercial

productions for the stage. The new book, The Commercial

Theater Institute Guide to Producing Plays and Musicals, is

a distillation of advice presented at the CTI to students from

agents, directors, production designers, general managers,

fundraisers, marketing directors, producers and theatrical

attorneys. Topics include the developmental process of producing

plays and musicals, collaborations between not-forprofit

and commercial theatres and investing and raising

capital, among others, in the book’s 25 chapters. A resource

directory and glossary are also included. [ISBN 1-55783-652-3,

$19.95, Applause Books]

The musical has changed greatly over the past several

decades because popular music itself has changed. Thus, The

Theater Will Rock: A History of the Rock Musical, from Hair

to Hedwig, is a welcome addition to the musical theatre bookshelf.

As author Elizabeth L. Wollman points out, even the

success of shows like Rent hasn’t convinced theatre producers

that rock musicals aren’t risky ventures. Wollman traces the

genre’s evolution through such hit productions as Hair, The

Who’s Tommy, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Rocky Horror Show,

Little Shop of Horrors, Rent and Mamma Mia! — as well as such

notable flops as Dude and The Capeman. She also explores

the influences of sound and recording technology on these

shows. This is serious scholarship, and long overdue. [ISBN 0-

472-11576-6, $29.95, Univ. of Michigan Press]

One of the chief criticisms leveled against the sungthrough

musicals of Boublil and Schönberg (Les Misérables,

Miss Saigon, Martin Guerre) is their use of recitative instead

of spoken dialogue and the repetitive nature of many of

their songs. But, as we learn in The Musical World of Boublil

and Schönberg, they not only know what they’re doing,

but believe their approach is the only way to go. Author

Margaret Vermette does an outstanding job here of presenting

interviews with these two intensely private writers, who

talk openly about their methods and the creative processes

involved in writing the book, music and lyrics. [ISBN 1-55783-

715-5, $17.95, Applause Books]


Company. For the new Broadway production of Stephen

Sondheim and George Furth’s piece about a single man

observing the benefits and follies of marriage, director John

Doyle borrows the same controversial concept he used for

his production of Sweeney Todd — with the actors playing

instruments onstage. On CD that isn’t really an issue, other

than “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” in which the original

trio’s vocal “doo-doos” are replaced by their solo saxophone

lines, robbing the piece of its parody of 1940s girl groups.

Most of the songs benefit from the reduced orchestrations,

which make the words clearer. Raúl Esparza is head-andshoulders

above Dean Jones’ pinched tones on the original

1970 cast recording. All that, plus a song deleted from the

original (“Marry Me a Little”) and some helpful dialogue

bridges, make this one a winner. [Nonesuch/PS Classics]

Spring Awakening. Boasting a rock score by Duncan

Sheik, with book and lyrics by Steven Sater, this show is

based on Franz Wedekind’s 1891 expressionist play, which

was scandalous in its day for addressing sex, violence

and suicide. The musical is still set in 1891, but the songs

themselves are completely modern in sound. The music is

energetic and engaging, in a variety of styles, and the performances

on the cast CD are topnotch. [Decca Broadway] • May 2007 41

The Play’s The Thing By Stephen Peithman





Diversity in subject matter and tone characterizes this month’s installment.

This month’s roundup of recently released plays is all

over the map — not geographically, but in terms of

style, audience, and impact.

An adaptation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Austin Tichenor’s

one-act Dancing on the Ceiling is designed for young

audiences. That’s because Tichenor believes that Kafka’s

darkly comic tale of a man turned into a cockroach will

strike a chord with adolescents who are often experiencing

struggles with their own changing bodies. He’s most likely

right on the mark here, for like his work for the Reduced

Shakespeare Company, Dancing on the Ceiling is both smart

and fun; it’s youth theatre that grownups will enjoy, too. Two

males, three females. [Broadway Play Publishing]

A.R. Gurney’s Post Mortem is set in the not-too-distant

future, when the religious right holds sway. Alice, a lecturer

in drama at a faith-based state university in the Midwest,

and Dexter, an enthusiastic student more interested in his

teacher than the theatre, discover a play by an obscure late

20th century playwright. When the authorities destroy the

script, the two work to piece the play together, and with it

the future of a world seemingly gone mad. Gurney displays

an earnest concern for our country’s well-being, but manages

to keep the tone light most of the way, whether he’s on the

attack against the current political situation or the lack of

cell phone etiquette in the theatre. One male, two females.

[Broadway Play Publishing]

From Yale University Press comes Eugene O’Neill: Collected

Shorter Plays, which includes The Hairy Ape, Hughie, The Long

Voyage Home, Fog, Thirst, Bound East for Cardiff, Ile, The Moon of

the Caribbees and In the Zone. As a group, they represent the

broad span of O’Neill’s work. Hughie is a two-character play

set in the lobby of a New York hotel, and received acclaimed

productions starring Jason Robards (1964) and Al Pacino

(1996). The expressionist masterwork The Hairy Ape (1922)

tells the story of a brutish, unthinking laborer who searches

for a sense of belonging in a world controlled by the rich. The

Long Voyage Home is an intriguing early play about a Swedish

sailor who is kidnapped in London and forced to sail on the

worst ship on any sea. Interestingly enough, the 1940 film

version of The Long Voyage Home also used elements of The

Moon of the Caribees, In The Zone and Bound East for Cardiff —

all of which can be found in this excellent collection, which

includes a helpful introduction by Robert Brustein. [ISBN

978-0-300-10779-1, $15.95]

Many studies have shown that moving is one of the most

traumatic events in life. That’s the starting point of Bernard

Slade’s Moving, which covers the journey that 11 characters

go through in one day that alters all their lives. Based on his

script for the 1987 TV movie Moving Day (featuring Candice

Bergen and Keanu Reeves), the stage version is touching,

insightful and humorous, as one might expect from the

author of Romantic Comedy, Tribute and Same Time, Next

Year. Slade doesn’t work hard to create tension — comic

or dramatic — but simply lets the story develop from the

characters themselves. Six females, five males. [Samuel


We end, as we began, with a play for young audiences. In

Beckwourth: The Later Years, Mark Weston tells the story of

frontiersman and scout James P. Beckwourth, who discovered

the best route into northern California in 1850, known today

as the Beckwourth Pass. Named a chief of the Crow Nation,

the African-American Beckwourth’s accomplishments

have gone largely unsung in American history. However,

Weston’s single-act play makes this obscure but important

historical character come alive, telling his tale with wit and

honest emotion. That’s particularly so at the end, when

Beckwourth contemplates his complex relationship with the

Native American tribe he called his second family. This well

constructed play may be done as a one-man performance, or

with a cast of up to 15 supporting male players.

42 May 2007 •


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Answer Box

By Jason Reberski

All photography by Jason Rebersk

Revisiting Tragedy

How a lighting designer for a

college production created a

dramatic fog effect that didn’t

steal focus.

As both a theatrical design student

and a freelance lighting designer, I’ve

come across my fair share of difficult

situations. The challenge posed in Deborah

Brevoort’s play The Women of Lockerbie, at Lewis

University in Romeoville, Ill., was no exception.

The play takes place seven years after the

crash of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie,

Scotland, and the script mandates that a few,

very plot-specific, atmospheric effects be

created. There was a lot of discussion early on

regarding the subtlety of the fog effects that

would appear throughout much of the show.

As lighting and special effects designer

for the production, I was charged with

developing a versatile system capable of

delivering both subtle and dramatic fog effects onstage.

Since the audience was in very close proximity to the

action taking place on the thrust stage, there was also

some concern of fog drifting into the audience and

pulling focus.

There were many opportunities for the introduction of

fog onstage with this set. However, most of the preliminary

solutions looked great on paper but, in reality, proved to

be far too visible in the intimate atmosphere of the Philip

Lynch Theatre.

The scenic design was done by Harold McCay, who is

the technical director of the theatre. His abstract set was

reminiscent of Scottish hills and the ruins of Greek theatres.

Harold decided to use a type of burlap fabric, which he

painted and textured, for the fascia of the platforms that

composed the set.

I realized that the burlap had a lot of open surface area

and was actually porous enough to allow the movement of

air through it. So I designed and developed a system in which

A scene from the Lewis University production of The Women of Lockerbie

the fog, from a Look Solutions Viper NT DMX fog generator,

was drawn into an accumulator (stuffer) box by a 134 CFM

centrifugal blower. The box acted as a plenum for fog and air,

giving the aerosol time to expand. The blower pressurized

the fog and sent it out through more than 50 feet of 4-

inch ducting. After passing through several manifolds and

subsequent sections of ducting, the fog emerged through

the porous burlap fascia in six different locations on the

set. The use of a quick dissipating fluid ensured that the fog

didn’t drift into the audience or linger for any appreciable

length of time once the cues were over.

The final effect was subtle and diffused. I like to think of the

solution as a “scrim” for fog effects. Most important, perhaps,

is that the thematic and visual elements of the script were

supported by a combination of various technologies. It truly

is “better theatre through science.”

Jason Reberski is a freelance lighting designer based out of

Chicago. He can be contacted at

44 May 2007 •

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