Download a PDF - Stage Directions Magazine

Download a PDF - Stage Directions Magazine

• Strategies for

Grant-Writing Gold

•Making The Addams Family Skyline Sandwich

•Successful Scenic Designers Share Their Secrets

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10 Shaking the Money Tree

The art of finding, and receiving, grants. By Kevin M. Mitchell

12 Duncan Sheik’s Irony-Free Zone

The ghosts sing for Sheik in the world premiere of Whisper House.

By Bryan Reesman

Special Section: Scenic Design

14 The Scenic Route

How three highly accomplished set designers ply their trade.

By Lisa Mulcahy

19 125 Years of Making Partners


J.R. Clancy stays aloft thanks to service and safety. By Richard


22 The State of the Ever-Reliable Drop

Industry trends and the search for SFX.

By Kevin M. Mitchell


4 Editor’s Note

In which I compare theatre to all my ex-girlfriends, and try to

explain why I still love it, and not the exes. By Jacob Coakley

5 In the Greenroom

Renaming theatres becomes the new craze, Shaw and IATSE come

to terms, ACTA names Steinberg Prize winner and more.

9 Tools of the Trade

All the gear that’s shiny and new.

32 Answer Box

Chicago Scenic explains how they made the city sparkle for The

Addams Family. By L. Jean Burch


28 Gear Review

Gear reviews make their debut in Stage Directions, starting with

the Chauvet COLORado 1-Tri Tour. By Trevor Long

29 The Play’s the Thing

A savory mix of comedies, dramas & musicals. By Stephen Peithman

• Strategies for

Grant-Writing Gold

•Making The Addams Family Skyline Sandwich

•Successful Scenic Designers Share Their Secrets

ON OUR COVER: Holly Brook as a

Ghost, with Eric Brent Zutty as

Christopher and David Poe as a Ghost

(top), in the World Premiere of Duncan

Sheik and Kyle Jarrow’s Whisper House

at The Old Globe.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Craig Schwartz



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Why I Love Theatre

And how, exactly, I’ve managed to make

this relationship last…

[In March I was the keynote speaker at the

Texas Nonprofit Theatres’ annual conference in

Beaumont, Texas. What follows is the introduction

to my speech. You can read the rest of the speech

(more or less—I’m sure I deviated from this script a

little during the presentation) at www.stage-direc]

Thank you Tracy Alexander, Linda Lee and everyone at the Texas

Nonprofit Theatres organization for having me here. You’ve all

been very friendly, and I’ve had a great time, which is why I’m sad

to say that I cannot deliver the speech I had planned.

See, I had this great speech all worked out: “Consumption, Creation,

Connection.” It was going to be a rousing talk about the relationship

between theatre and media studies, the continued encroachment of

the Internet into recreational space, the rise of the maker community,

the linguistic originations of the word amateur, socio-economic and

mathematical game theory as it relates to community theatre and to

top it all off, an examination of what the famous French psychologist

Lacan said about performative identity—and trust me when I tell you

that it was going to be great! My God it was going to be brilliant. You

would have really been impressed.

But a few weeks ago I called up Linda and asked how much time

I had—I had a lot to cover, after all. Linda told me the speech should

be about 20-30 minutes in length. I was shocked. I explained all that I

had planned and had started reading her my bibliography when she

politely interrupted me and explained, “Jacob, the point of the conference

is really to promote connections between theatres and make

them fired up to go out and make more theatre.” And I said “Oh, oh

yeah. I can do that. I can do that.” And then I hung up the phone and

thought, “How the hell am I going to do that?”

It was clear I had to change the piece, and the best way I knew to

fire up people to make more theatre was to talk about how much I

loved theatre, but that brought me up cold when I realized I’d have to

explain why I loved theatre. And I didn’t have a good answer to that. I

mean, it’s obvious I love theatre—I’ve been thinking about, watching

and making theatre practically my entire life. But why? This, naturally,

got me thinking about Billy Joel.

Joel has said that he got into music just to impress girls. Now, he’s

been through a few marriages, but he keeps making music. And it

occurred to me that, among the many other ways I’m like Billy Joel,

I have been involved with theatre longer than any woman I’ve ever

been in love with, including my wife. She knows this—she’s loved

theatre longer than she’s known me, too. And so I figured that if I was

going to get to the bottom of why I loved theatre, I was going to have

to examine why theatre was different than all the women I’ve ever

dated. Why theatre was better. So here you are: In 20-30 minutes, why

theatre is better than all my ex-girlfriends.

Publisher Terry Lowe

Editor Jacob Coakley

Lighting & Staging Editor Richard Cadena

New York Editor Bryan Reesman

Editorial Assistant Victoria Laabs

Contributing Writers L. Jean Burch, Richard Cadena,

Trevor Long, Kevin M. Mitchell,

Lisa Mulcahy, Stephen Peithman,

Bryan Reesman

Consulting Editor Stephen Peithman


Art Director Garret Petrov


Production Manager Linda Evans


Web Designer Josh Harris


Advertising Director Greg Gallardo

National Sales Manager Michael Devine

Audio Advertising Manager Jeff Donnenwerth

Sales Manager Matt Huber


General Manager William Vanyo


Subscription order

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North Hollywood, CA 91615


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TEL 702.932.5585

FAX 702.932.5584

Jacob Coakley


To read the thrilling conclusion, head over to

Stage Directions (ISSN: 1047-1901) Volume 23, Number 5 Published monthly by Timeless Communications

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4 May 2010 •

In the Greenroom

theatre buzz

Next to Normal Surprise Pulitzer Winner

The Pulitzer Prize board awarded the 2010 Pulitzer for

Drama to Next to Normal, a musical composed by Tom

Kitt with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, Monday, April

12. The Next to Normal win meant the Pulitzer board

bypassed the Drama Committee’s recommended finalists:

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad

Deity, by Kristoffer Diaz; Bengal Tiger

at the Baghdad Zoo, by Rajiv Joseph;

and In the Next Room (or the vibrator

play), by Sarah Ruhl.

In their statement about their

choice the Pulitzer Board commended Next to Normal as

“a powerful rock musical that grapples with mental illness

in a suburban family and expands the scope of subject

matter for musicals.”


Unveiled and


New York's Signature Theatre

unveiled models for their new Frank

Gehry-designed Signature Center,

which will feature three spaces: the

End Stage, a 299-fixed-seat space;

the Courtyard, a 199-seat flexible

space; and the Jewelbox, an intimate

199-seat theatre. Auerbach

Pollock Friedlander, Performing

Arts/Media Facilities Planning and

Design, is providing theatre and

audio video systems consulting for

the project.

Also in NYC, the Roundabout

renamed their newly-opened

Henry Miller’s Theatre the Stephen

Sondheim Theatre in dedication

of the contibution a small group

of his “devotees” made to the

Roundabout’s Musical Production


In. L.A. the Geffen Playhouse

named their main stage the Gil

Cates Theater to honor founder,

and producing director, Gil

Cates. And up north in Berkeley,

Calif., CalShakes raised more

than $500,000 at its annual gala

and announced that the green

room at the theatre’s new Patron

and Artists Center at the Bruns

Amphitheatre would be named for

A.D. Jonathan Moscone. •May 2010 5

theatre buzz

Shaw Festival, IATSE Local 461 Come to Terms

Shortly after we went to print last month with the story that the Shaw Festival had enacted a lockout against certain

members of IATSE Local 461, and that the Local had authorized a strike as a result, both the Fest and IATSE issued identical

statements declaring that they had reached a tentative agreement for the terms of a first collective agreement for the

Festival’s Facilities Department, and tentative renewal agreements for the Production and Audience Sales and Services

Departments. The tentative agreements will be voted on by the bargaining units. IATSE Local 461 and its bargaining

team is recommending the ratification of all three tentative agreements.

2010 Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award-Winners Named

The American Theatre Critics Association named Bill Cain’s

Equivocation winner of the 2010 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/

ATCA New Play Award, which recognizes the best scripts which

premiered professionally in 2009 outside New York City. No

play is eligible if it goes on to a production in New York, where

there are plenty of awards, during the same award year. Cain

received a commemorative plaque and a cash prize of $25,000

for his work. The Steinberg/ATCA and two additional citations

were presented March 27 at Actors Theatre of Louisville during

the Humana Festival of New American Plays. The two citations,

including plaques and $7,500 each, went to Time Stands Still,

by Donald Margulies, and Legacy of Light, by Karen Zacarías.

“The long-standing partnership

between the Harold and Mimi

Steinberg Charitable Trust and the

American Theatre Critics Association

has recognized some of today’s greatest

writers, and helped identify the

great playwrights of tomorrow,” said

ATCA trustee Jim Steinberg. “We’re

delighted to help support the unique

telling of tales on the American stage.”

Theatre Face 4x6 promo.indd 2

2/20/09 4:17:27 PM

HME Acquires Clear-Com

Communication Systems

HM Electronics Inc. (HME) has

acquired Clear-Com Communication

Systems from the Vitec Group. Clear-

Com will continue operation as a

wholly-owned subsidiary of HME,

with no changes planned for its product

portfolio. The move is meant to

take advantage of HME’s experience

in wireless and Clear-Com’s leadership

in TDM Matrix and integrated IP

solutions. The acquisition will expand

HME’s reach into new markets, while

allowing the combined companies to

continue current development and


“After enjoying substantial growth

in all our key sectors over the last

decade, it was time for HME to take

the next step,” said Chuck Miyahira,

CEO of HME. “Clear-Com is the bestknown

brand in the mission-critical

intercom marketplace, and brings a

wealth of industry knowledge, innovative

technology and great business

partnerships around the globe. This

acquisition will expand the HME business

in the pro audio space with a

wider range of complementary communication


industry news

6 May 2010 •

industry news

Roscolux #359 Benefits Behind the Scenes

On the show floor at USITT Mark Engel, President of

Rosco Laboratories, presented the ESTA Foundation with

a check for $2,252, the second annual royalty payment to

Behind the Scenes from sales of the color Roscolux 359

Medium Violet.

Upon presenting the check, Engel said, “Once again

we are honored to participate in The ESTA Foundation’s

Behind the Scenes program. As you know, we contribute

part of the sales proceeds from the popular Roscolux 359,

Medium Violet, to Behind The Scenes. The entertainment

community is a family, and we at Rosco believe it is important

to take care of family in times of need. Our sincerest

thanks goes to The ESTA Foundation for creating a way for

us to help and to all the folks who use 359 and make this

donation possible.”

Tobin Neis, a longtime member of the Behind the Scenes

Committee and a member of The ESTA Foundation Board of

Directors, accepted the check from Mark and commented,

“We thank all those that purchased Roscolux 359 in the last

year and especially Rosco, for generously supporting Behind

the Scenes on an ongoing basis with this program. These

types of programs provide wonderful opportunities for vendors

to include their customers in their charitable activities

and we encourage others to follow Rosco’s lead.”

The ESTA Foundation’s Behind the Scenes program provides

entertainment technology industry members with

grants for emergency situations created by serious illness,

injury or death. For more information about Behind the

Scenes, to donate, or to apply for a grant, visit www.esta


In the article titled “A Factor of

Four” in the February issue of Stage

Directions, comments from Jack

Blacketer were truncated and misinterpreted

in the editing process,

making it seem as if he advocated

buying theatrical rigging gear at, and

receiving rigging advice from, sporting

goods stores. In fact, Blacketer

does not advocate this. Additionally,

Blacketer does not recommend using

Schedule 40 aluminum “whenever

possible,” as there are many factors

that will influence the decision on

materials. Equipment, practices, procedures

and responsibilities are specifically

addressed in OSHA laws, not left

to the employer or rigger to figure out.

Do not underestimate the inherent

risk in entertainment rigging and

the dangers of incorrect stage rigging

practices to the riggers as well as both

the performers and audience. Safe rigging

is mandated and specified by law,

and the safety of the worker, the public

and the performers below the tons

of equipment suspended is the primary

concern of these rules. There is

no room for error and there is only one

way to guarantee that the work will

be done correctly every time—hire a

known quantity to design, specify and

execute your rigging needs. For those

interested in the craft of rigging: affiliate

yourself with an IATSE local union

or rigging company that can train you

to do the job correctly and put you to

work with experienced riggers under

the supervision of, preferably, ETCPcertified

head riggers.

8 May 2010 •

ADB Lighting Technologies ALC4

LED Cyclorama Light

ADB Lighting Technologies’ ALC4

modular LED Cyclorama light uses

four RGB+White LED light sources.

One ALC4 is designed to deliver the

equivalent of 1250W of halogen

power while consuming 160W. The

ALC4 provides seven user-selectable

white light presets from 2700K to

Daylight 6500K. The Lexel LED module is color-tuneable (RGBW)

and the light is mixed in a mixing chamber for homogeneous light

output. An internal feedback system enhances color consistency.

The system can be controlled by DMX in different modes, including

color-tuneable RGB mode or in a white-tuneable CCT mode. In the

CCT mode, the white color temperature can be controlled from

2700K to 6500K. The color rendering index (CRI) is above 80.

GAM Products Go-Lite

GAM Products Go-Lite is a modular

expandable system featuring

Go-Lite cubes with four colored

LEDs: white, red, blue and green.

Each of the color circuits can be

turned on and off separately or in

any combinations desired for multiple cueing requirements. Each

Go-Lite has an “IN” and “OUT” recessed receptacle and measures

approximately 1 x 1 1 /8 x 2 3 /4 inches, a size designed to be compact

Tools of the Trade

enough to go just about anywhere you need it. Because it’s lightweight

(1 oz.) it can be taped, tacked or glued to almost any surface.

Wiring between the modules is 6-wire telephone cable with 6-pin

telephone connectors, economical and conveniently available.

GoboMan 6W LED Gobo Projector Light

GoboMan’s new 6W LED GoboMan

Gobo Projector Light is a LED fixture

designed to be a long life version of

the popular GP75 GoboMan Projector

Light. This LED Gobo Projector is

designed with all the same features

of the GP75 but with a 100,000 hour

lamp life thanks to the LEDs. Five steel

gobos and four glass color filters come standard along with the LED


Martin MAC 350 Entour

The Martin MAC 350 Entour, an

LED profile fixture, features a newlydeveloped

light engine based on seven

high-power diodes that give the MAC

350 Entour a total light output of nearly

8000 lumens according to manufacturer

testing. Since the fixture is an LED,

is also features electronic dimming and

strobe effects, flicker-free operation, no re-strike delay, no mercury

and long life service intervals. • May 2010 9



By Kevin M. Mitchell


Cheshire Isaacs

(From left) Emily Rosenthal, Andrew Calabrese, Melanie Salazar

Case, and Jon Nagel are hilariously ruthless music execs in one of

the dance numbers from the world premiere of Enrique Urueta’s

Learn to Be Latina at Impact Theatre. For a case study on how

Impact searched and won grants for the show visit

The art of finding, and receiving, grants

Here’s the good news: Right now there are organizations

that want to give your theatre money. The catch? It takes

fierce dedication, a willingness to dedicate time learning

an ever-changing landscape, and your ability to either train yourself

or hire someone with strong grant skills.

Yes, asking for money is usually not fun, and almost always

overwhelming. And—no spoiler alert needed here—but searching

is all the more challenging because of the economy.

“Foundation money is way off, so everything is way down,”

Freelance grant writer Elizabeth Willis says. “Nobody is getting the

money they used to from states, communities, corporations…it’s

all down. Foundation money comes from invested incomes, so

while they are still giving, the grants they are giving are smaller.” A

$5,000-a-year grant she was getting for a client three years ago is

now down to $1,000 per year.

But that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop raising money—far

from it. “It’s time to double up your efforts,” she adds. “People

need to explore more funding opportunities.”

“People hate to write grants,” Willis states. “It’s not a fun game

for most people, and it can be really intimidating and frustrating.”


For a case study on Impact Theatre’s successful

grant search and application, surf over to

Money Tree

And a pressure cooker: With a grant, you can’t make any mistakes.

Still, there is money to be had, for even the smallest of theatres.

Troy Heard was artistic director of Chattahoochee Shakespeare

Company in Columbia, Ga. for three years, a small company he

incorporated as a non-profit org himself. “Our most consistent

corporate giving organizations were, …

basically ‘,’” he laughs. “As a neophyte organization

without a proven track record, the corporations were more

helpful.” But it wasn’t easy: Establishing your theatre as being

worthy of a grant is key. “The fact that education was a big part of

what the theatre did helped.”

He credits his experience as a writer as being part of the success.

“I believe you have to be able to create and craft an exciting

narrative. People think grants are tedious and they can be, but

think about the person reading it and how many they have to

look through.”

Where to Begin

St. Louis-based freelance grant writer Susan Gregory TeStroete

advises to begin a search by looking at organizations that are

doing similar work. “If you’re a small theatre group, look at other

small theatre groups and see who is funding them,” she says.

“Generally, they give acknowledgment to them on their Web

site.” Also, she says don’t just restrict yourself to your immediate

geographical community, but look all over for ideas and possible

places to apply for a grant.

A 990 form is the tax document that tax-exempt nonprofit

organizations file each year with the IRS—it’s also a clue. You can

view these on, and TeStroete says it’s good to start

by making a list of similar organizations and then pulling their 990

forms. Make a list of those financial supporters, and see if they

could be a good fit for you.

“Another good place to go is—it’s a

membership-based research resource that costs money to join,

but is available at most public libraries,” advises TeStroete. Go in

with a list of key words starting with the obvious (arts, theatre,

dance). Then “write down all the terms that applies to your

group—education, youth, disadvantaged, minority, etc.—and

use those as key words to search.”

10 May 2010 •

Then there’s “They have

everything about all federal grants,”

TeStroete says. But don’t forget about your

local corporations and organizations.

Willis is a professional freelance grant

writer who specializes in arts-related organizations,

including theatres. On her site, she writes that she’s

been a successful artist, arts administrator

and technical writer for 15 years and boasts

a 94 percent success rate. She’s also an

adjunct professor at several schools, including

Florida State University and University

of Central Florida.

She credits her efficacy in large part to

staying well informed about the region and

staying abreast of funding sources. Her first

word of advice is to look locally. “Whether

you’re a community or professional organization,

you should know where all your

local funding is,” she says. “Though it

doesn’t mean you’re going to get it!”

Sometimes organizations want Willis to

write a specific grant for a specific funding

source, and other times they need her to

search for them. Not surprisingly, the need

is as unique as the theatre organizations

are themselves.

“At community theatres, where you

primarily have a volunteer staff plus

maybe one paid staff person, they don’t

have information about grants, much less

on how to get one,” Willis explains. “Some

of those types want me to do the research

and provide them with the information.

Often, they need a consultant to do everything

whereas big theatres with a full paid

staff often come to me for a little extra


Reality check: “I’ve never seen a situation

where an organization has more

money then they are asked for, so every

grant is competitive.” Put yourself in the

grant-giver’s shoes: You’ve got to eliminate

many, so he or she is in fact looking

for a reason to toss one from the pile

immediately. “They want to get rid of proposals,

because while they want to give

money to everyone, it’s not possible.”

For those looking for outside help,

exercise care when hiring a freelance grant

writer. “There’s a lot of disreputable grant

writers out there,” Willis says. “Many who

like to charge a fortune for applying for a

grant that an organization has no chance

of getting. I won’t write a grant for anyone

who doesn’t have at least a shot of it.” She

adds that as a general rule, reputable, professional

grant writers never write a grant

on commission, believing it’s unethical.

“People do it all the time, but that’s a first

sign of someone who a theatre company

should not work with." And no matter

what check references. Actually talk

to the clients they’ve served in the past.

Successful organizations view the

grant process as practically a lifestyle,

monitoring new grant opportunities

and changes to known ones. The challenge

for any organization is to find

someone who can do that.

At the end of the day, getting financial

support for a theatre is not for the

faint of heart, and sometimes victories

aren’t enough. Despite Chattahoochee

Shakespeare Company’s success in getting

some grants, it wasn’t enough: The

company still hit hard times and is currently

on hiatus. All the more reason to

re-double the fundraising efforts.

A moment from Chattahoochee Shakespeare Company’s

2008 production of Measure for Measure. The production

received grant money from Target.

Tom Cearley •May 2010 11

Sound Design


By Bryan Reesman

Duncan Sheik’s

Irony Free Zone

The Ghosts sing for Sheik in the world

premier of Whisper House

Duncan Sheik, composer of Spring Awakening and the new musical Whisper House, which had its premiere earlier this year at the Old Globe in San Diego.

Duncan Sheik never planned to compose rock musicals,

it just happened that way. While he scored a big hit

in 1996 with the Grammy-nominated song “Barely

Breathing” from his debut album, Sheik’s chance encounter

with lyricist Steven Sater in 1999 lead to a long, fruitful collaboration

that begat the Tony, Grammy and Olivier Awardwinning

Spring Awakening, which premiered in December

2006 and ran on Broadway until January 2009 (and continues

to tour). The play’s story about sexual awakening was matched

by Sheik and Sater’s vibrant music and lyrics; their energetic,

untraditional approach garnered critical acclaim, audience

praise and helped usher in a new wave of rock musicals that

appealed to younger generations that felt disconnected from

old school musicals.

At the beginning of 2010 Sheik’s latest musical, Whisper

House, debuted at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, and he

recently toured and performed songs from that production,

which will be workshopped at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie,

New York on July 10 and 11. Meanwhile, Sheik has another

musical with Spring collaborator Steven Sater called The

Nightingale that’s been in development for nearly a decade.

The busy singer-songwriter has successfully balanced his solo


To find out what Duncan Sheik thinks The Phantom

of the Opera has in common with Queensryche, surf

over to

career with a theatre life that has certainly proven to be quite

rewarding, as he attested to Stage Directions during our chat.

Stage Directions: How did the run of Whisper House go in San


Duncan Sheik: It was really good. It was really productive. We

learned a lot, and I think that we all know how we want to do

things differently the next time around. Musical theatre projects

involve so much more development than making records or

almost anything else, and this is a relatively new project. We’re

gearing up to re-imagine and re-conceive it a little bit and see if

we can get it better.

You first came to public attention with a folksy pop record in

1996. Before that time, how interested were you in musical

theatre, and was it always your intention to transition into


No, there was none. Frankly, I was almost completely disconnected

from musical theatre. I would go see straight plays

relatively often because I’ve always really loved theatre, but there

wasn’t a lot going on in contemporary musicals that was interesting

to me, certainly not from a musical standpoint. It is something

that I frankly avoided, but when this opportunity came up, it was

really Steven and I sitting around and talking about how one

might conceive of a musical where the music functioned in a

different way and was stylistically of a different stripe. I wouldn’t

say reluctantly, but I gingerly stepped into the water of doing this,

and it was tough. It’s so much more of a collaborative thing, and

sometimes you have to put some of your own desires and wishes

a little bit to the side for the good of the whole. You’re not used to

doing that when you’re a singer-songwriter because you call the

shots when you make a record. That was also a learning curve, and

I’m really glad I did it.

What was the inspiration for Whisper House?

The play was written by a young playwright named Kyle

Jarrow, who went to Yale and is a really smart and funny writer. He

12 May 2010 •

“I’m not writing songs as Duncan Sheik, I’m almost writing them with a

caricature voice in a way, and that made the process fun and opened

things up a lot.” —Duncan Sheik

A moment showing off the set of Whisper House Left to right: Ted Kōch as Charles, the Sheriff, Kevin Hoffmann as Lieutenant Rando, David Poe as a Ghost

and Arthur Acuña as Yasuhiro in the world premiere of Duncan Sheik’s Whisper House

wanted to do something that was maybe a little bit more earnest

and heartfelt story. We started working on it. It’s a ghost story set

in World War II, and what was fun about the project for me when

I started writing the songs was this idea of writing songs from the

perspective of the persona of these sardonic, cynical and whimsically

malevolent ghosts. I’m not writing songs as Duncan Sheik,

I’m almost writing them with a caricature voice in a way, and that

made the process fun and opened things up a lot. A song like

“The Tale Of Solomon Snell” is an old-timey story in a way, which

you wouldn’t necessarily get away with doing on a pop album

or a straight-ahead singer-songwriter album; or I wouldn’t have

done, I should say. It’s great to have the opportunity to do things

like that.

Will Whisper House be coming to New York?

We’re talking about it. I think we might do one more out-oftown

production. They’re talking to a theatre in Seattle about

that. If that went well, and we’re able to find some commercial

producers who are really passionate about it, then I’d love to

bring it to New York. It’s a little tricky with Whisper House because I

think it could be a Broadway show, but it’s a little further removed

from traditional Broadway shows because the actors don’t sing,

and the ghosts who are doing all the singing don’t speak any

text. There are really only two singers. It’s

kind of a big band, but you don’t have this

thing of big choreography numbers and

12 people singing a rousing number. You

have to manage people’s expectations in

a way that still gives them what they want

ultimately. That’s a challenge, and that’s

what we have to figure out.

to do with how other composers sound and have their own set of

rules. Unfortunately, so much music that is composed for theatre

just really sounds the same to me. You want the medium to really

thrive and to go in different places and different directions and to

be this living, breathing thing. My advice is always don’t be afraid

of eccentricities and sounding different than what’s out there

because that’s ultimately something to be championed.

It’s like the joke about Hollywood musicals from the Forties:

“Let’s go to a barn and put on a show!”

And that became something that was a caricature of itself.

Obviously it was parodied by South Park, and even a show like

Avenue Q, in a funny way, is almost like a satire of itself. Again, I

don’t mean it as a criticism, but it’s just an acknowledgement of a

certain approach to the work.

Like [title of show].

Perhaps. Frankly, my work with Steven tends to be a lot more

earnest and is pretty much an irony-free zone. Whisper House

has a little bit more of that self-awareness going on, but Spring

Awakening certainly didn’t and wasn’t meant to. It was meant to

be a pure statement of itself.

What advice would you give to up-andcoming


What I’m always interested in is people

having a truly unique sound to their

songwriting and how they think about

harmony, words, melody and rhythms and

how those things fit together. I like to hear

things that are different and have nothing

Special Section:

Scenic Design

The Scenic Route

Ruth Neeman

True West tasks any set. Ruth

Neeman designed the set for

the Quannapowitt Players

2008 production, shown here.

How three highly accomplished set designers ply their trade.

By Lisa Mulcahy

Welcome to a slice-of-life glimpse into the perspectives

of three top scenic designers working on Broadway, in

community/regional theatre and in educational theatre.

How do each of these artists view the work they do, practically

and creatively? How did they navigate their career path, and

how do they define success for themselves or for any aspiring pro?

Wizard of the Great White Way

On any given day, Ted LeFevre, one of the most prolific scenic

designers working on Broadway, may be designing a new musical,

consulting as an associate to directors like John Doyle, or

visually interpreting esteemed material for playwrights like Tom

Stoppard. Over the past two decades, LeFevre has lent his talents

to 20 Broadway shows, including Aida, The Invention Of Love and

“If I draw bricks, I want them to look

and feel authentic to the audience,

so I always consider, how would

these bricks actually be used?”

— Ruth Neeman

Sweeney Todd, not to mention 65 regional/Off-Off Broadway


LeFevre began his training at Brown University, where he studied

oil painting and figure drawing; he also took classes in drafting,

watercolor and interior design at the Rhode Island School

of Design. “Still, I felt the need to specialize further, and to gain

more theoretical experience,” he explains. “So, after two summer

internships at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, I got an MFA in

scenic design from Carnegie Mellon.” LeFevre built up early work

experience at the Sante Fe Opera and Glimmerglass Opera, but it

was his admiration for other designers that truly jump-started his

career in NYC.

“My early influences were other working designers,” he says.

“Through them, after gaining admittance to United Scenic Artist

Local 829, I built a career as a Broadway associate, starting with

Disney Theatrical Productions. Other mentors were freelance

technical supervisors, with whom I saw many shows, British

imports in particular, in and out of scene shops, loaded into theatres,

through tech rehearsals and previews, and in some cases, on

to subsequent touring versions.” His illustrious credits also include

stints at the Metropolitan Opera and as resident designer for the

Miranda Theatre Company.

However prestigious his resume, though, For LeFevre, true

career success is survival.

“I’ve always worked in some capacity in my chosen field, no

mean feat in this profession,” he explains. “Juggling enough overlapping

jobs to keep from applying for unemployment, and not

dropping out and moving on is a major victory for any designer.

Through good management of my own resources, I’ve stayed the

course, often subsidizing small design projects with assisting on

larger scale productions. There is a great deal of competition for

very few jobs.”

LeFevre’s top piece of advice for newly minted set designers?

Laugh a lot.

“A positive attitude and sense of humor are just as important

as good taste and experience when you’re starting out,” LeFevre

says, who advises new designers to be persistent, punctual and

14 May 2010 •

pleasant to work with. “Remember that you’re part

of a collaborative team; you are there to serve and

enhance the larger picture of someone else’s visit.

Capitalize on your strengths in the best way possible!”

Robert Sunderman

The Esteemed Explorer

For Ruth Neeman, scenic design is a way

to meld practical skill with artistic curiosity. A

highly respected principal in the Concord, Mass.,

architecture firm Levi + Wong by day, Neeman

spends her nights arranging flats and handpainting

her own set pieces as scenic designer

for scores of Boston-area community/regional

productions; her credits include Proof, Three Days of Rain

and True West.

A native of Israel, Neeman began her theatrical career

as a performer while concurrently serving in her country’s

army. “I have no formal training as a scenic designer, but

being onstage and exposed to theatre did greatly interest

me,” she recalls. Neeman subsequently worked as a stage

manager and assistant director on several productions

after coming to the U.S. and starting her intended career

in architecture. “Scenic design made sense to me to pursue

as well because I thought, this is me,” she continues. “My

Robert Sunderman’s design for Iowa State University’s 2007 production of The Marriage of Figaro

architectural experience offered the perfect background.

So in the early 1990s, I designed my first show, for a

Boston-area community theatre.”

Neeman always sees her work in context to the play

as a whole. “As a scenic designer, my whole mindset is

to think of myself as being in the service industry,” she

explains. “The director is my client; my job is to provide the

vision, functionality and structure he or she needs. How to

achieve that, within the show’s structure, is my process. My

strategy on how to approach a show’s design comes from

the information I get from my client.”

Neeman believes the more factually based a design is, •May 2010 15

Special Section: Scenic Design

A moment from the 2009 Iowa State University production of Sweeney Todd, with set design

by Robert Sunderman.

the better. “What I always want to do when I design a set

is recognize realism—how things are really constructed

in the real world,” she says. “If I draw bricks, I want them

to look and feel authentic to the audience, so I always

consider, how would these bricks actually be used? When

you ground your design in reality first, you can then take

license to change things creatively.”

Think-out-of-the-box research is her mainstay. “Around

1991, when I started designing, there were

barely any resources on the web,” Neeman

remembers. “Particularly when it came to

researching something like projections,

there wasn’t much to find out. So when

I approached a design for A Piece of My

Heart, in which I wanted to utilize projections

extensively, I had to think in an innovative

way. I used an abstract background,

rich with memory-evoking elements of the

show’s ‘60s setting, and incorporated slides

effectively—we were still using 35mm at

the time, but it was such a great success!

A totally amazing experience—during the

months I worked on it, I really felt I was

back in the Vietnam era.” Neeman also

believes in physical sense memory as a

design tool. “For the Boston TheatreWorks

production of The Laramie Project, which

was the play’s New England premiere, I hopped on a plane

and went to Laramie,” she recalls. “I immersed myself in

the atmosphere of the material, which is a wonderful way

to create a design.”

Neeman’s other piece of advice to new designers? Know

when to not be innovative. “When you’re facing a challenge,

don’t reinvent the wheel,” she stresses. “A good way

to solve any design problem is to see what other people

Robert Sunderman

Special Section: Scenic Design

have done—you can research previous designs online, or

turn to a good online discussion group like theatrecrafts.

com. It works!”

The Academic Artist

Robert Sunderman’s typical day as resident scenic

designer/associate professor of scenic design and technical

theatre at Iowa State University encompasses teaching

classes, supervising building for his set designs for productions

of Arcadia and The Marriage Of Figaro, and working

on numerous fine arts projects. He has exhibited his sculptures

and work in many 2D and 3D mediums around the

country, and feels that his well-honed art skills have always

positively informed his stage designs.

“I knew I was going to be in the arts from a very early

age,” Sunderman recalls. “My drama teacher Jack Parkhurst

at Clarinda High School here in Iowa became my great

mentor; he let his students become really involved with

all aspects of the theatre, so as a teenager when I became

interested in trying set design, I was actually able to do

it!” At the University of Iowa, Sunderman double-majored

in theatre arts and fine arts, and appreciated the wide

academic curriculum he was afforded. “I’m a really strong

believer in liberal arts—dabbling in a little bit of everything

in terms of study,” he says. “As a scenic designer,

that’s good, because you need to have knowledge of

lots of different subjects and points of view.” After college,

Sunderman designed sets for numerous Iowa school

programs, and public television before getting an offer to

teach at Iowa State. “Teaching was, and is, incredibly exciting

to me,” he says. “I knew I wanted me career to be predominantly

about theatre design, and to be able to inspire

students as well is the perfect fit for me.”

Sunderman’s design philosophy centers on utilizing

a complete stage picture. “I really look at space as living

sculpture,” Sunderman explains. “Backdrops, and audience

seating are also important, as are the logistics of a

set—how do actors move and interact within your design?

I like to use the whole space I’m given whenever possible.”

Still, he resists the notion of creating a trademark “look” for

each show he designs.

“I think of each show as an entity unto itself,” he says.

“Some designers are known for a signature style; although

I think everyone innately has a unique take, I am very conscious

about not imposing ‘my’ style specifically on a set.

In terms of my artwork, yes, I think my work is signature.

For scenic design, though, I don’t think that works.”

Ultimately, Sunderman feels that collaboration is the

golden rule when it comes to doing the best work. “One

of the biggest things to remember as a working scenic

designer is that directors come with many different intentions

and backgrounds,” he concludes. “If you don’t agree

with a particular director, try to learn about that person

and appreciate where they’re coming from—that can be a

way to gain some common ground. Also, know the other

people you’re working with—other designers, cast, crew.

The better you understand your co-workers, the better

you’ll know, in a conflict, when to give in, or not to give in,

because you’ll understand the limits of how to get along

with any given person. It’s all about listening and asking

questions—that’s the true process of success.”

18 May 2010 •

Scenic Design

Special Section

25 Years of Making

Partners Successful

J.R. Clancy stays aloft thanks to service and safety

By Richard Cadena

The road to corporate success is littered with the ghosts

of companies who have spun out in the ditch or otherwise

failed to navigate the twists and turns along the

way. Life on the corporate streets can be rough. But every

once in a great while a company comes along and defies

the odds of survival. J.R. Clancy, the manufacturer of stage

rigging systems based in Syracuse, NY, has not only survived

for 125 years but has thrived in the theatrical rigging market.

The company officially began in 1885 when a stagehand

named John Clancy started designing and building stagerelated

equipment. Today they design and manufacture

automated rigging and controls, manual rigging systems,

accessories, fire safety curtains, acoustic shells and canopies,

and a plethora of theatrical rigging hardware. They also

design custom rigging systems for every application from the

conventional to the unconventional.

J.R. Clancy is housed in a 40,000 square-foot facility where

all of their products are manufactured. Most of it is dedicated

to warehouse space, manufacturing and fabrication, research

“This place goes nuts when we

get a customer complaint.” – Mike

Murphy, President of J.R. Clancy

and development, while the front offices take care of sales,

project management and administration. The building’s signature

smoke stack belies the purpose of the facility, and in

fact is used as a 60-foot high circular fly loft to test new products.

It’s a fitting statement about the company’s nimble ability

to adapt to the changing times and to find new uses for

old technologies. How has the company managed to remain

vital after 125 years in business?

The Corporate Culture

Spend just five minutes with virtually any employee of the

company and you begin to get a sense of what the corporate

culture is all about. They are quick to recite their mission

statement, “Make Our Partners Successful,” and to describe

what they call their “extraordinary guarantee.” Ship it on time,

they say, and make it complete and correct.

Chairman Bob Theis explains the philosophy behind the

guarantee. “If you’re going to take a hit, take it early,” he says,

meaning that it’s better to correct any problems than to allow

them to fester in the mind of the customer.

“If we miss a ship date,” said Tom Young, VP of marketing,

Bob Theis, Chairman of J.R. Clancy

“we’ll pay for the lost time.”

It sounds as if it could add up to considerable expense,

but the reality is that they seldom fail to meet their promises.

They are intensely focused on their commitment to the customer,

as evidenced by their ISO 9001:2008 certification.

A few years ago they invested a huge amount of time and

effort to put into place procedures and documentation for a

quality management system. They hired a consultant who is

knowledgeable in the ISO standard to study their manufacturing

process and look for ways to increase their efficiency.

Theis called her a “shop floor psychologist.” The consultant

focused on teaching the company to improve upon what

he called the five S’s – sort, straighten, shine, standardize

and sustain. In the end they were better able to handle their

larger orders such as PowerLift systems by making smaller

shipments and having smaller build lots. The resulting gains

in efficiency allow them to reinforce their commitment to

customer satisfaction.

In addition to the physical layout of the manufacturing

process, the company implemented a campaign to raise the

awareness of quality throughout the company. They documented

the procedures for maintaining quality standards

and implemented internal audits, a Corrective Action System,

and a series of systems for collecting feedback from both

employees and customer including surveys, comment cards,

“Partner visits,” and more.

To close the loop, they hold company-wide meetings

quarterly to review the results of their efforts. If they average

9.5 out of 10 on all the returned surveys in a quarter, then all

of the employees receive a bonus.

All photos courtesy of J.R. Clancy •May 2010 19

Special Section: Scenic Design

Does it make a difference? You


“This place goes nuts when we

get a customer complaint,” says

President Mike Murphy.

The incentives help pull employees

together to work as a team.

When one part of the equation slips

they all suffer; when they succeed,

they all benefit.

The company philosophy, Young

said, is to “take care of the customers,

and take care of the employees.”

It seems to work; of the roughly 50

employees that work for J.R. Clancy,

there are several who have been

working there for more than 20


The Technology

J.R. Clancy began manufacturing

theatrical hardware when Thomas Edison was just starting

to build DC generator systems and George Westinghouse

was just starting to build AC generator systems. It was still

undecided whose system would dominate, and the advent

of the electronics industry was still far off. But J.R. Clancy

The cover and interior pages from an undated J.R. Clancy magazine

has changed with the times and today much of their

sales come from automation and control of rigging

systems. The PowerLift motorized winch system, for

example, is built around an aluminum backbone with

steel mounting clips. It has a series of headblocks with

self-lubricating Nylatron sheeves, a motor, gearbox,

one of the two brakes integrated in a single unit and a

redundant failsafe electric brake that monitors the speed

of the drum to ensure it never exceeds the command

speed or the maximum allowable speed. The system is built

with an emphasis on safety and quietness, and there are five

variable speed models plus a fixed speed model with a variety

of speed ranges and load capacities.

Their top-of-the-line automated rigging controller is the

SceneControl 500. It is a PLC-based system with a touch

screen display, a joystick, load monitors

and deadman push buttons for

added safety. The interface also has

a 3-dimensional visualization of the

rigging system and stage area, which

aids in programming and control and

makes it easy to use. There is even

an offline editor for programming

when the stage in inaccessible. The

system can run an unlimited number

of motors and its dual playbacks

allow you to run two independent

scenes at once. When the system is

installed, and every time a load on a

set is changed, the controller “learns”

the load profile by running it up and

down one time. If there is a mishap,

such as when a batten catches on an

obstruction or lands on a set piece, the

controller senses it through the load

monitors and stops immediately.

The company is intensely focused

on safety, as evidenced by the multiple

layers of safety features, including

password protection, deadman

operation, emergency stop button

and more. They also offer an extended

3-year warranty on their automated

rigging systems provided the system is

inspected annually. Dealers who participate

in training are allowed to perform

these inspections as part of their

ongoing efforts to insure the safety of

their systems.

20 May 2010 •

Exciting Time

"It’s an exciting time to be in the rigging

business," Young says. Not surprisingly,

the growth rate of automated rigging

is brisk. The flyman’s job is rapidly

changing from tossing pig iron to spotting

or operating automated rigging systems.

Stagehands are moving from manual

labor positions to more skill positions

as they learn how to program and run

the controller. From the venue’s point of

view, converting to automated rigging

speeds load-ins and load-outs, and it significantly

increases the safety factor. Even

though an automated rigging system

costs more than a counterweight rigging

system, the safety factor can’t be ignored.

In Holland, counterweight rigging systems

have been banned and others may

follow. J.R. Clancy is poised to meet the

demands of the market.

A few days after touring the factory, a

book arrives in the mail from Bob Theis.

It’s titled On Becoming a Category of One:

How Extraordinary Companies Transcend

Commodity and Defy Comparison by Joe

Calloway. Reading it, one can clearly see

where Theis gets many of his ideas.

“…extraordinary companies (have) a

clear sense of who they are,” Calloway

writes. “They all define themselves, not

in terms of what they sell, but in terms

of what the point is for their employees,

stakeholders, and customers. The drive

to serve, accomplish and achieve is much

more powerful than the drive to simply

make more money or to sell more widgets.”

The company has been through only

four owners in 125 years, including J.R.

Clancy, Ben Tomkins, George Scherrer, Jr.,

and Bob Theis. Remarkably, the words of

the original owner and company namesake

echo the sentiments of Calloway

in one of the earliest company catalogs

published in 1903: “Our object is to

please every customer (large or small)

every time…Yours very respectfully, J.R.


A view of the J.R. Clancy factory floor then, and now. •May 2010 21

Special Section

Scenic Design

The State of the Ever-Reliable Drop

Industry trends and the search for SFX

By Kevin M. Mitchell

The Charles H. Stewart “Blue Moon Garden” backdrop in the Hawthorne Players production

of Enchanted April.

The humble backdrop. A mainstay of theatres everywhere

it can transport any show to an exotic locale

quickly, but is that enough in today’s high-tech world?

We convened a round-table of leading backdrop manufacturers

and rental houses to get the pulse on this industry

stalwart, and find out how the economy is affecting both

business practices and renters' tastes.

George Christo of Charles H. Stewart, the scenic backdrop

rental shop based in North Andover, Mass., now in

its 117 th year in business, says “The obvious of trying to do

more with less prevails. However, it is more imperative than

ever to have a great selection. Regardless of the economy,

clients are still very selective.”

Because of the economy, he notes that their clients are

renting less in volume and more in all-purpose drops that

cover multiple scenes. “This definitely affects production

quality to those who are knowledgeable,” he says. “As a

purist, I firmly believe that if/when the economy returns

to some semblance of normalcy, that the all-purpose drop

will disappear into the trap door. There will probably be

a minority tendency to continuing the trend, but the true

directors will get their way with the producers!”

At Cobalt Studios, owner/director Rachel Keebler says

that translucent backdrops and scrims and backdrops that

are painted on unusual surfaces are popular. “Our clients are

wanting very clean artwork,” she says. “Many of the renderings

are done on a computer now, which means the scenic

designers can get specific with what they want. Designers

that provide hand painted renderings

still want hand painted backdrops,

and count upon us to interpret

their work accurately.”

The small custom-only shop has

a reputation for working closely

with designers to meet their needs

and lately they’ve also been creating

backdrops that are lighter,

flexible, and durable. “We just

completed reproducing two drops

for Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte

Carlo,” Keebler says. “They needed

larger versions of their drops, but

needed them to be lighter because

of their international trips. We were

able to find a lighter fabric and a

dye substitution that significantly

decreased the weight.”

Dan Willoughby, president of

Tobins Lake Studios notes that

yes, there is a lot of interest in fiber

optic drops, but they “are on the

wane, being replaced by LEDs. You

have to make a decision if you want

22 May 2010 •

to deal with low-rez technology or

want a higher resolution. That technology

changes so quickly it’s hard to get

your return on investment.”

Their custom shop is busy, though

not as much as they have during better

times. “We’re based in Michigan,

and the economy is really hard now,”

Willoughby says. But he does see theatres

building less sets and more willing

to rent drops instead, “but they are

renting smaller orders, fewer drops at

a time, and fewer bulk rentals.” Their

customers would love to rent packages

of shows but usually can’t afford it,

so they figure out what their primary

scenes are and go with those.

Gateway Playhouse has entered its

61 st year as an active theatre, declares

Producer Paul Allan, and part of their

business model includes a side business

renting backdrops and drapes.

Among their goods are specialty products

like fiber optic, rain, and sparkle

pieces. He says a sparkle curtain of

theirs is particularly popular: “It’s not

powered, but when it’s well lit, it really

comes alive. It’s very lightweight and

easy to ship.”

Being a theatre, Gateway is clear

on the expectations of the audience,

which increasingly influenced by movies.

“In the old days, expectations of

the scenery was less, and the shows

were a little less complicated to produce

and build. Today with productions

like Hairspray, you have to do

more than give them just a few flats

and drops.”

For a unique special effect, UVFX

Scenic Productions has been designing

and painting UV Day to Night, Dual

Image, Complete Invisible, and UV 3D

backdrops and scenery since 1989. “In

the early days there were very limited

fluorescent materials, really just a

few colors of day-glo paint colors and

almost no invisibles at all,” president

Richard Green says. “Later as we started

developing more painting options

with new colors and materials we started

to expand what was possible.”

His products are primarily aimed at

the higher-end market, likely because

few scenics have the required experience

to do the type of work they are

doing. “We know how to achieve the

desired effect.” Recently they did a

detailed map of the world in invisible

UV paint, so all that was seen was a

large white canvas. On cue, a power- •May 2010 23

Special Section: Scenic Design

ful UV light mounted on a movable

mount hit various section on the map.

“They used a snoot over the UV fixture

and were able to illuminate specific

sections of the map on cue. It looked

very cool!”

They are working with 3-D technology

as well. “We figured out you can

design with all of our various styles and

when designed properly, the warmer

colors move forward and the cooler

colors move back to create amazing


“There appears to be a trend

back to more soft scenery,” says

David Rosenberg, president of I.

Weiss. “Digital printing is growing.

Transferring this digital information

to a large format printer is getting

easier and has allowed for use of a

range of theatrical fabrics.” He cites

their recent work the Winspear Opera

House in Dallas, saying Argentine artist

Guillermo Kuitca was commissioned

to do a house curtain, and his creation

was completely computer generated.

Otherwise, “the most interesting

requests we are getting are from

designers looking to stretch the

boundaries of gravity and scale. For

example, for his design of Les Liasons

Dangereuses Scott Pask wanted a curtain

that served as almost a character

in the production. Over the course of

two acts, 60-feet of height slowly made

its way onto the stage via six motors

and interacted with the actors.”

Josh Jacobstein at Rose Brand

echoes the trend towards more soft

goods as scenery. Last fall Rose Brand

introduced their Precision Cut Fabric

line, which can take a CAD or vector

drawing and cut it into fabric—think

of it like a CNC router for fabric. They’ve

done intricate pieces with this process

for the Boston Ballet and the Broadway

revival of West Side Story. The automation

makes the designs possible and

affordable—at least for bigger players.

But all is not lost for smaller theatres.

Rose Brand rents “Dimensional Fabric”

pieces that 6 or 7 years ago would only

have been seen on big rock ‘n’ roll

shows, making them available to those

with a smaller budget.

“With those fabrics it’s all about the

lighting, ” says Jacobstein. Different

patterns of neutral fabrics are wrapped

around aluminum tubing and other

structures to add shape and dimension-

Backdrop Resource guide

Backdrops Fantastic

552 Poplar St.

Macon, GA 31201

P: 800-508-1916


Charles H. Stewart

115 Flagship Dr.

North Andover, MA 01845

P: 978-682-5757


Cobalt Studios

P.O. Box 79

134 Royce Road

White Lake, NY 12786

P: 845-583-7025


Gateway Playhouse

215 South Country Rd.

Bellport, NY 11713

P: 631-286-1133


I. Weiss

2-07 Borden Avenue

Long Island City, NY 11101

P: 718-706-8139


Rose Brand East

4 Emerson Lane

Secaucus, NJ 07094

P: 800-223-1624


Sculptural Arts Coating

P.O. Box 10546

Greensboro, NC 27404

P: 800-743-0379


Tobins Lake Studios, Inc.

7030 Whitmore Lake Rd

Brighton, MI 48116

P: 888-719-0300


UVFX Scenic Productions

171 Pier Avenue

Santa Monica, CA 90405

P: 310.821.2657


Special Section: Scenic Design

Night and Day versions of a UVFX backdrop; the night one (left) uses UV light to get the colors.

ality, the lighting makes them pop. “The fabric becomes a set

piece, and can be the central focus.”

John Saari, president of Sculptural Arts Coating says

they will be celebrating their 20 th year in the business next

year. “Our Artist’s Choice Saturated Paints were discovered

through much experience and testing adhere to virtually any

material or fabric with pretty much the exact same results,” he

says. Last year at USITT they participated in a panel “Making It

Stick” and took more than 50 different fabric samples, including

poly stretch, spandex, etc., and used their products on

them, with strong results. He says there is a small increase in

things like LED curtains or metallics, etc., but not so much for

theatre. “What I have noticed is a substantial increase in the

use of synthetic fabrics, those that are IFR or Inherently Flame

Retardant,” he says. “Many of those we painted on were either

FR or IFR fabrics. The Naturals, cotton, linen or the new, green

bamboo all are relatively easy to paint on and for our materials

to adhere to.”

26 May 2010 •

Backdrops Fantastic’s Katy

Thompson reports theatres are covering

a large amount of stage with one

of their drops – it’s something that

she, as a working director knows from

personal experience. “Last year we

did a production of West Side Story,

and I just used one of our New York

City skylines and put some scaffolding

up and it was wonderful,” she says.

Backdrops Fantastic are getting

more requests for packages, but ultimately

find their clients preferring

to ultimately put together their own

“package.” When a theatre wants to

do a production of Wizard of Oz, they

end up mixing and matching which

is helped with discounts for volume

from the company.

“The biggest trend now is ease

of use,” she says. “We’re shipping

our drops in suitcases, ones where

the director can just roll it and put

it in the car.” Fabric-wise, lighter is

better: They are using a cotton/poly

blend that’s very lightweight. “It can

be hung by one person, and after

it’s been hung for a few hours, the

wrinkles fall away.” •May 2010 27

Gear Review By Trevor Long


Chauvet COLORado 1-Tri Tour

A community look at a multi-function LED fixture


In March, interactive gear reviews

debuted on with

me and my cohorts taking the

Chauvet COLORado 1-Tri Tour out for

a spin, performing tests TheatreFace

members requested and generally

putting the unit through its paces.

The interactive format was a great

success, and we gave a lot of people

an in-depth look at this fixture. A

condensation of the results appears

here, but if you’re hungry for all the

back and forth, requests and results,

head over to


The COLORado 1-Tri Tour is an

LED PAR unit with 14 3-watt tri-color

LEDs. It measures 9.6 inches long by

9.6 inches wide by 8 inches high and

weighs 9 pounds and comes with

16° optics. Control options include

a three-pin DMX port (with passthrough

capability) and a control

panel on the back of the unit which

will let you use pre-set colors and

programs as well as set master and

slave options. More on this later.

To satisfy the online gear geek

quotient, I documented the unpacking

progress on the unit. My first

impression, right out of the box,

was that it was sturdy and well put

together—a fact that got tested on

two separate events when 1) the

light took a nasty spill off a workbench

and 2) was dropped in a concrete

hallway. There were no visible

dings, and it didn’t even scratch

the paint job. Bonus, the light still

worked too. Try doing that with an incandescent.

Once we got past the initial plugging it in and pushing the

buttons phase we started testing it out in various rooms and

conditions. With the unit at 100% with all channels on full we

got a reading of 1500 lux at 6 feet throw distance with a beam

width of approx. 1 foot 8 inches. That gave us a field angle of

30° and a beam angle of 16°, very close to the manufacturer’s

specs (1600 lux at 6 feet, 32° field angle and 16° beam angle).

The COLORado 1-Tri Tour puts out really strong and vibrant

primary colors. Online you can see the comparison between

this unit’s blue at max value and an incandescent PAR with a

Rosco R68 Sky Blue filter on it. The LED pumped out a very rich

color with a good center spread at 20 feet out. Spaced correctly

this would light a cyc well, especially with the brightness of the

unit. Along with all the presets you can mix the hue, saturation

and value to your liking and create some stunning, rich colors.

I’m also a big fan of the 1-Tri Tour’s low power consumption

The Chauvet COLORado 1-Tri Tour

Back of the COLORado 1-Tri Tour, showing the power and

3-pin DMX pass-throughs as well as the control screen.

and its heat—or lack of heat, if you

prefer. I could still pick up and move

the light without gloves after it had

been on for more than 15 minutes.

The pass-through power and

DMX capabilities are another great

feature. It’s possible to hook up 12

units and plug them into one power

source. In a similar way one unit can

be the master and you have control

from a single source without the

need for a light board. You can program

a sequence of cues and upload

them to other units attached via

DMX—all without having to attach

the units to a console. Or you could

just have a solitary unit run a program

you uploaded or keyed into

the unit. And this brings up another

good point: I keep coming up with

new uses for this light. With its lack

of heat and the ability to be untethered

to a light board I keep coming

up with new ideas of what to do

with this.

Practically nothing on this light

is user-serviceable, which could be

a good thing if you lack that experience,

but it also means that you

either have to be in warranty to get

it fixed, or get a new one. The kickstand

is useful for non-traditional

uses, but if you’re planning on hanging

these lights I would get rid of it,

as the time it takes to secure both

parts isn’t worth it.

There are more thoughts, opinions

and pictures available at

tritour. Not a member? Join

up at

join and become part of the

conversation. Thanks to everyone

for their suggestions.


View the entire review

process online at


Chauvet COLORado COLORado 1-Tri 1-Tri Tour Tour

What it is: A tri-color LED PAR fixture.

Highlights: Sturdy; strong, vibrant colors; power and

DMX pass-through; versatile.

What it costs: $550.00 MSRP

28 May 2010 •

By Stephen Peithman




A savory mix of comedies, dramas & musicals

The Play's the Thing

Somewhere in Hollywood, a playwright directs his

autobiographical play about a family of rednecks that

includes a son who wants to be a cheerleader so he can

get close to a girl on the squad. (Dad won’t hear of it, believing

that only a gay male would want to be a cheerleader.)

As the play goes through rehearsals, the lines between art

and life become blurred—for the director and his actors.

7 Redneck Cheerleaders, like most backstage comedies,

involves artistic angst, boundless egos and a looming opening

night. However, (real) playwright Louis Jacobs lovingly

satirizes the idealism and disappointing realities of the smalltheatre

scene in L.A.—perhaps the main reason this show has

been a cult hit in that city. Four males, four females. [Original


Another show business tale, Sam Marks’ The Joke, focuses

on the friendship and the rivalry between two comic partners

during the golden years of the Borscht Belt. Punchlines and

cheap shots fly fast and furious—on stage and off—as Doug

and Ed battle for the spotlight, revealing both their personal

and professional lives in unflattering fashion. Like a doomed

marriage, the comedians’ impressively dysfunctional relationship

makes for a darkly comic drama—especially as the

play draws to its merciless close. Two males. [Samuel French,]

Uneasy relationships are also central to The Chalk Boy, by

Joshua Conkel, a sharply funny look at the high school caste

system. It centers on four young women in Washington state,

struggling with faith, friendship, sex, the occult and algebra—

and the mysterious disappearance of a classmate (whose

popularity seems to grow as the days roll on) named Jeffery

Chalk. Conkel keeps the action to a minimum, emphasizing the

four women’s emotional journey, as they define themselves

in relation to their missing classmate, as well as to each other.

The result is a refreshing teen comedy-drama. Four females.

[Original Works,]

It’s rare that a major playwright directs his own work—as

Edward Albee has done—and it’s this fact that drives Rakesh

H. Solomon’s Albee in Performance. We learn how Albee has

shaped his plays in performance, the attention he pays to each

aspect of theatre, and how his conception of the plays he’s

directed has evolved over a five-decade career. Solomon covers

the major works, from The American Dream and Zoo Story

to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, plus lesser-produced titles

such as The Marriage Play and Three Tall Women. Included are

interviews with Albee and his collaborators on all aspects of

staging, from rehearsal to performance, making this an invaluable

resource. [Indiana University Press,]

David Tennant and Patrick Stewart star in a video version

of the critically acclaimed Royal Shakespeare Company production

of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s an outstanding production,

directed by Gregory Doran, with familiar scenes driven

by causes and motives, rather than the need to get from one

set-piece speech to another. As a result, the play emerges as

a taut political thriller. Tennant is more than fine in the title

role, but Stewart’s award-winning Claudius is even more

impressive, moving from strained geniality to a tense watchfulness,

as his crime comes closer to discovery. This speciallyshot

screen version, filmed on location rather than in the

theatre, includes a documentary on the making of Hamlet,

which includes interviews with director Doran, cast members

and the art directors, set designers and others involved in the

production. [$19.95, BBC/Warner Home Video]

Now that Rent is no longer on national tour, the hit show is

fully available for licensing from Music Theatre International.

In addition to the original version of the musical, theatres may

also choose to perform the Rent: School Edition. Generally,

MTI’s School Edition titles are reserved for performers no

older than high school age, but the royalty house recognizes

that the material in Rent may be too controversial for some

communities, making this “slightly edited” version a better fit.


Also on the musical scene, Stage Stars continues its release

of musical accompaniment CDs with Spring Awakening and

The Wizard of Oz. Both two-CD sets include accompaniment

tracks without vocals, complete tracks with guide vocals, and

full lyrics. As always, songs are provided in the keys used in

the original stage productions. List price is $29.95 each. Other

new titles include Little Shop of Horrors and the single-CD

Sondheim Solos, Female Selections, the latter at $19.99.

[] •May 2010 29

For more information about the companies advertising in Stage Directions®

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

Advertiser Page Website

Angstrom Lighting 31

Apollo Design 21

Arena Drapery Rental 31

Atlanta Rigging 5

AudioVend Wireless Systems 13

Backdrops Fantastic 22

BMI Supply 9

Bulbtronics 20

Charles H. Stewart & Co. 31, C3

Chauvet Lighting 3

Checkers Industrial Products 11

Chicago Canvas 30

CM Rigging 15

Cobalt Studios 27

Dreamworld Backdrops 27, 30

Eartec 9

Full Compass 16

Gateway Playhouse 26

Graftobian 30

Graham Swift & Co/ Theatre Guys 30

I Weiss 18

In An Hour Books C2

JR Clancy 23

Light Parts 31

Light Source, The 1

Ocean Thin Films / SeaChanger 24

Production Intercom 6, 8, 11

Sculptural Arts Coating 23

Soundcraft / Studer C4 31

Stagestep Dance & Theatre Flooring 8

Theatre Wireless/ RC4 Wireless Dimming 31

Tobins Lake Studios 25

UV/FX 17

Vari-Lite 7 • May 2010 31

Answer Box


By L. Jean Burch


Making the Skyline Sparkle

Chicago Scenic makes a city sandwich for The Addams Family.

Chicago Scenic Studios created the city-scape

ground rows on The Addams Family, now

playing on Broadway.

Diane Langhorst

Diane Langhorst

Set-up for final lighting integration & circuiting

The production team for the Broadway-bound production

of The Addams Family, which had its outof-town

premiere at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre,

contracted with Chicago Scenic Studios to produce the

upstage ground row. Designed by Julian Crouch and

Phelim McDermott, the show’s co-directors and co-designers,

the units represent a view of New York City’s Central

Park and the cityscape behind it.

The ground row was made up of three layered units. The

first layer was a tree line; the next two layers featured buildings.

Each unit was 44 feet long, 7 feet 6 inches tall and less

than 2 feet deep. Pulsar Chroma-Strips, built into troughs,

light up the front of the buildings; behind the buildings’

facades, grain of wheat lamps illuminate nearly 2,000 windows.

The lights are run on multiple circuits and help set

the time of day as they switch on and off throughout the


The two building units were fabricated in 24 sections as

a “sandwich”; the first layer was printed graphics on selfadhesive

vinyl. The next layer was ½-inch thick Sintra PVC

board, and the final layer was a piece of Masonite. In each

finished unit some lights shone softly through the vinyl

while some poked through the surface to create brightly

focused spots for streetlamps and headlights.

Chicago Scenic used a multi-step process to accomplish

the varied effects. While the graphics were being printed,

they used an in-house CNC machine to cut the registration

the individual grain of wheat lamps

marks and the windows on the Sintra; each window was

approximately ½ inch by 1 inch. They then matched and

applied the vinyl to the registration marks. After this the

sections were returned to the CNC machine for a subsequent

two-step cut. The first cut was through the vinyl. The

second cut went through the entire piece and was slightly

offset to minimize vinyl tearing or curling.

The Masonite layer was the last piece of the sandwich.

These pieces were cut slightly smaller than the building

fronts to minimize their visibility. Craftsmen drilled a

small hole where each light was located to accommodate

the grain of wheat lamp. While carpenters adhered the

vinyl to the Sintra and CNC’d the pieces, the electrics

team laid out the Masonite pieces for lamp installation.

One tiny white lamp was used for each window; it was

pushed in through the back and glued it on its side. Car

headlights and streetlights, a combination of white and

yellow lamps, poked through the face of the unit and

shone brightly.

Once the electrics department finished the unit backs,

they attached them to the unit faces with Velcro. The

Masonite’s front surface needed to be white to assist

light transmission. Each piece was then bolted into a

trough that held the Chroma-Strip lights, and to the tree

line. The finished piece was easy to install, designed to be

easy to maintain, and realistically resembled a nighttime


32 May 2010 •

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