• How To Attract (And Keep) a Diverse Audience
•New Arts Facility Energizes
a California Town
M A Y 2 0 0 7
A Chorus Line
Should You Hire a
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
COURTESY OF CFPTS
7 Editor’s Note
There’s no such thing as summer vacation.
By Iris Dorbian
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
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
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
PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Paul Kolnik
DAVID GRAPES COURTESY OF AMERICAN STAGE
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
So the moral of this story is…be patient, plan ahead and
don’t jump the gun until you’ve thought everything out.
www.stage-directions.com • 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
Audio Advertising Manager Peggy Blaze
General Manager William Vanyo
Office Manager Mindy LeFort
P.O. Box 16147
North Hollywood, CA 91615
6000 South Eastern Ave.
Las Vegas, NV 89119
Stage Directions (ISSN: 1047-1901) Volume 20, Number 05 Published monthly by Timeless Communications
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SALUTES NEW YORK CITY
• A TALE OF TWO SCENE SHOPS
• THEATRE TOURS TAKE YOU BEHIND THE SCENES
A P R I L 2 0 0 7
Utah Plaudits for
I’d send along a
thanks for the range
of articles you put
together for the April
2007 issue of Stage
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
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.”
Santa Rosa, CA
Miking & Mixing
the TRIPLE THREATS
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 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
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
10 May 2007 • www.stage-directions.com
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.
To find out more, visit the Web site at
Courtesy of TRW
Montreal Staging Co. Names New Bigwig
Courtesy of Scene Ethique
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
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
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 • www.stage-directions.com
Walt Disney Entertainment
DISNEY VP RETIRES
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
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
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.”
www.stage-directions.com • May 2007 13
Tools Of The Trade
May MélangeThe rise in temperature
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
audio quality is
rooted in 48 kHz,
24-bit A/D and
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. www.qscaudio.com
ETC SmartFade ML
ETC’s new SmartFade ML is a compact, portable and easyto-use
is intended for
small touring acts,
schools, house of
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. www.etcconnect.com/
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
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.
a n d Te m p e s t
900 is a wireless
that has been
continues to usher in a diverse
array of new products.
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 • www.stage-directions.com
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.
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF RYAN KOHARCHIK
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.”
www.stage-directions.com • May 2007 15
Light On The Subject
By Andy Ciddor
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
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 • www.stage-directions.com
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
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.
www.stage-directions.com • May 2007 17
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 • www.stage-directions.com
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
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.
www.stage-directions.com • May 2007 19
By Karyn Bauer-Prevost
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 • www.stage-directions.com
“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
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
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
www.stage-directions.com • May 2007 21
By Karyn Bauer-Prevost
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
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 • www.stage-directions.com
photos courtesy of CFPTS
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.
www.stage-directions.com • Aprilr 2007 23
By Charles Conte
ALL PHOTOGRAPHY BY JERRY LAURSEA,
COURTESY OF CITY OF RANCHO CUCAMONGA
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
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 • www.stage-directions.com
LEWIS FAMILY PLAYHOUSE THEATRE
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
2 NEXO CD-12C
3 NEXO PS-8
1 Yamaha M7CL-48
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
12 Shure ULXP14/50 UHF
HH (3) & Bodypack
wireless Mics (12)
16 Isomax E-6 headset mics
(14 Tan + 2 Black)
2 Countryman DI
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
“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.
www.stage-directions.com • 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,
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 • www.stage-directions.com
“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
“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
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
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.
www.stage-directions.com • May 2007 27
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
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
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
“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
John Crawford is a freelance writer living in the Boston area.
28 May 2007 • www.stage-directions.com
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
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 • www.stage-directions.com
“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
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
South of Detroit is Southgate, home to the Southgate
Community Players, a 600-seat community theatre cur-
www.stage-directions.com • 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 • www.stage-directions.com
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.
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
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.
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
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
www.stage-directions.com • May 2007 33
www.stage-directions.com • 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
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 • www.stage-directions.com
(Right to left) Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez, composers
of the Tony Award-winning smash Avenue Q.
with Mrs. T in
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.
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.
www.stage-directions.com • 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
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
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 • www.stage-directions.com
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
e o g r a -
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.”
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
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
www.stage-directions.com • 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.”
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
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 • www.stage-directions.com
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
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
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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
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.
www.stage-directions.com • May 2007 39
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 (http://www.tcg.org/tools/other/
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: email@example.com
40 May 2007 • www.stage-directions.com
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]
www.stage-directions.com • 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
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 • www.stage-directions.com
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By Jason Reberski
All photography by Jason Rebersk
How a lighting designer for a
college production created a
dramatic fog effect that didn’t
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
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
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 JRLightingDesign@comcast.net.
44 May 2007 • www.stage-directions.com