• Domonic Sack Covers the Bases
of Sound Design
• How To Finance Higher Learning
• A Backdrop Primer and Directory
Kevin Spacey Talks
Training and the Future
of the Old Vic
The Career Paths of Two
Regional Theatre A.D.s
Alternate Models of
Table Of Contents
20 Direction In All Things
Brigham Young University’s theatre program mentors students
toward success. By Logan Molyneux
22 The Skinny On Scholarships
Financial assistance for theatrical training is easier to find
than you think. By Lisa Mulcahy
24 Theatre Space
Centennial Hall looked around and went large when it came
time to upgrade their audio system. By Steve Shull
27 New Voices and Social
Dobama brings contemporary and thought-provoking plays
to the Cleveland theatre scene. By John Bliss
28 The Journey to Site-Specific
Pittsburgh’s Quantum Theatre has made a practice of making
the unconventional space work, from pools in Pittsburgh to
adult clubs in Madrid. By Kevin M. Mitchell
42 Backdrop Basics
A primer on backdrops and drapery, including a directory
of backdrop and drapery rental companies from the 2007
Theatre Resources Directory. By Erik Viker
Special Section: Artistic Direction
30 New Visions In Artistic Direction
Two bold theatres are trying to reinvent the A.D. wheel.
By Bret Love
32 Kevin Spacey Talks Training
Two-time Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey opens up to SD
about his unique role as artistic director of London’s Old Vic
theatre and his theatre training. By Alex S. Morrison
35 Career Path
SD sits down with some regional theatre artistic directors and
talks about the paths they followed to get into the hot seat.
By Kevin M. Mitchell
We give credit where credit’s due to Denver’s vibrant
10 In the Greenroom
New York Theatre Workshop lays off its entire production
department, Steinberg Charitable Trust creates
$200,000 award for playwrights, Microphone Interests
Coalition fires back at Google’s white space proposal.
14 Tools of the Trade
New tools corralled from USITT in Houston.
16 Light on the Subject
Part two of our lighting paperwork guide sheds light
on the Private Paperwork Packet. By Steve Shelley
18 Hardwired For Sound
We cross-examine Domonic Sack, a sound designer
who lives, breathes and eats sound.
By Bryan Reesman
52 Answer Box
The heroine has dreadlocks and a swing in Kneehigh
Theatre’s touring production of Rapunzel.
By Thomas H. Freeman
7 Editor’s Note
Conventions as a rite of spring. By Jacob Coakley
38 Show Biz
The NEA New Play Development Fund has a hefty
entrance fee. What can you do without that kind of
bank statement? By Tim Cusack
39 TD Talk
Keeping the faith in ourselves, in our craft and in our
crew is vital to get the job done. By Dave McGinnis
40 Off the Shelf
This month we fill the insatiable desire for monologues.
By Stephen Peithman
41 The Play’s the Thing
Culture and conflict intertwine with plays that
explore how basic differences can tear a world apart.
By Stephen Peithman
ON OUR COVER: Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum in the Old Vic’s production
of David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow
PHOTOGRAPHY: Courtesy of the Old Vic
This past month, I was privileged
enough to be able to attend two
completely different theatre conventions
in the same week.
First, I trekked down to Houston for
the USITT show. I somehow missed this
while I was a theatre undergrad, and
judging from the large number of students
there, I was the only one. Students
flooded the floor throughout the show, but everyone quickly
learned when the schedule was “Expo Only” — a period
when there were no educational panels scheduled, so as
to allow all the attendees to tour the floor and search for
schwag (not to mention interview for jobs or grad schools,
catch up with colleagues, or meet theatre sound legend Abe
Jacob). The number of panels I attended was dwarfed by
the number of panels I wanted to attend, and I left each one
amazed at the smarts and skills on display.
From Houston, I flew to Louisville, Ky., for the Actors
Theatre of Louisville Humana Festival of New American
Plays. Sure, it’s not technically a convention, and I won’t
review the shows, but I couldn’t give a more glowing recommendation
to the Actors Theatre community, as well as to
all the attendees. I spent most of my time getting to know
the artistic staff at theatres across the country, talking about
the challenges of developing and presenting new plays.
Everyone was keenly aware of the bind that larger institutional
theatres find themselves in when it comes to producing
new, risky work and actively searching for the best way
to get new voices into the mix. No one had a magic bullet,
but everyone was working on a solution, including some
unconventional ideas that may bear fruit down the road.
It’s easy (for me at least) to get burnt out on the intense
schedule and demands of theatre and just focus on the
sausage-making elements of production — It’s just another
show, just put it up, are we making our numbers? How can
we get more press? — It was great to have a long weekend
surrounded by passionate people on every side of theatre
(technical and performing artists, students and established
professionals, insiders and people trying to break in) who all
intensely, unabashedly, to-hell-with-practicality love theatre
and want to make as much of it as possible. It’s a daunting
proposition — the challenges to creating any work of art,
let alone making a career out of it, are legion and fatiguing.
So, I was incredibly grateful to be among so many committed,
vibrant and excited theatre people. It was inspiring and
reinvigorating — a perfect beginning to spring.
Publisher Terry Lowe
Editor Jacob Coakley
Audio Editor Jason Pritchard
Lighting & Staging Editor Richard Cadena
New York Editor Bryan Reesman
Managing Editor Breanne George
Contributing Writers John Bliss, Tim Cusack, Bret Love,
Dave McGinnis, Kevin M. Mitchell,
Logan Molyneux, Alex S. Morrison,
Lisa Mulcahy, Bryan Reesman,
Steve Shelley, Steve Shull, Erik Viker
Consulting Editor Stephen Peithman
Art Director Garret Petrov
Graphic Designers Crystal Franklin, David Alan
Production Manager Linda Evans
Web Designer Josh Harris
Advertising Director Greg Gallardo
National Sales Manager James Leasing
Audio Advertising Manager Dan Hernandez
Advertising Sales Associate Leslie Rohrscheib
General Manager William Vanyo
Subscription order www.stage-directions.com/subscribe
P.O. Box 16147
North Hollywood, CA 91615
6000 South Eastern Ave.
Las Vegas, NV 89119
Stage Directions (ISSN: 1047-1901) Volume 21, Number 5 Published monthly by Timeless Communications
Corp., 6000 South Eastern Ave., Suite 14J, Las Vegas, NV 89119. It is distributed free
to qualified individuals in the lighting and staging industries in the United States and Canada.
Periodical Postage paid at Las Vegas, NV, office and additional offices. Postmaster please send
address changes to: Stage Directions, P.O. Box 16147 North Hollywood, CA 91615. Editorial submissions
are encouraged, but must include a self-addressed stamped envelope to be returned.
Stage Directions is a Registered Trademark. All Rights Reserved. Duplication, transmission by
any method of this publication is strictly prohibited without permission of Stage Directions.
American Association of
Patrick Finelli, PhD
Chicago Spotlight Inc.
Lillenas Drama Resources
Maine South High School
I. Weiss & Sons Inc.
Dr. Phillips High School
Sachs Morgan Studio
Franklin Pierce College
OTHER TIMELESS COMMUNICATIONS PUBLICATIONS
Smoking On Stage
am weary of this whole debate and angry that it is returning
with such force. Let's suppose a playwright (I teach
playwriting and am married to a playwright) creates a
scene in which someone uses a gun. Let's suppose the playwright
opposes the "prop" gun route. Who is responsible
now if someone is injured? The playwright? Under their
argument of artistic freedom, no. The producers? Under
their argument of artistic freedom, no. The actor? They just
do what the director says. The director? No, they just do
what the playwright insists of them. What if an audience
member is injured by a stray shot?
So, let's turn the discussion back to smoking. Who is at
fault when someone is injured? If a producer requires a
performer to smoke for a role, they can be held liable in the
event of a future smoking-related illness. What if an audience
member has a reaction to, or dies from, the presence
of secondhand smoke? Who is responsible? Freedoms and
responsibilities are not the same. No one has the right to
harm someone else. We, as theatre artists, employ stage
combat. No one is intentionally killed in a sword battle. No
scenery is actually burned to the ground on stage. We do not
slash people open and put them through the meat grinder
during every performance of Sweeney Todd. To allow smoking
in a production endangers performers, crew and audience.
As an asthmatic, I have had to leave many productions,
in the past because of the presence of smoking on stage.
Just when I thought we were making progress, the practice
is returning. Whatever happened to willing suspension of
disbelief? We have laws regulating the use of pyrotechnics
on stage, we have begun holding accreditation courses for
electricians and riggers to insure the safety of all present.
So I would say, in response to your editor's note in the
April issue, "So is there anything you just can't put on
the stage? Besides smoking? (Joking, joking. Maybe)," that
smoking has no place on stage or in public places. The
presence of any smoke denies access to the vast majority of
the public that does not want to be exposed for reasons of
personal preference or personal health.
Shan R. Ayers, MFA
Associate Professor of Theatre
Our articles on smoking continue to generate the most
responses than any other stories — by far. And you’re in good
company, Professor Ayers. The Denver Post, in its reporting
on the ruling that upheld the smoking ban said: "In its ruling,
the Court of Appeals said that theatres were already in
the business of make-believe, and that barring smoking was
essentially no different from barring the use of illegal drugs or
real violence.” — ed.
In the Greenroom
New York Theatre Workshop Eliminates Production Department
New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) moved to eliminate
the theatre’s six-person production department on April 10,
including the production manager and technical director. The
five year-round staffers and one seasonal employee will be laid
off officially effective May 30, 2008.
Citing an urgent need to whittle a projected $5 million
annual operating budget down to $3.5 million, NYTW gave all
employees the option of taking a week long furlough without
pay beginning in January in order to avoid layoffs. According to
NYTW Production Manager Michael Casselli, the furlough idea
was put to the staff bluntly. “It was either take the furlough, or
there will be possible lay offs,” he says. “It’s not really a choice.”
Upon termination, the six production department staffers
were reimbursed for wages lost during the furlough.
The company-wide payroll reduction reportedly saved the
theatre nearly $50,000, but ultimately did not stave off the
Workshop’s financial situation. The NYTW Board of Trustees
issued a mandate to the theatre, calling for the shaving of $1
million from the operating budget.
Pointing to the imminent restructuring of NYTW when
new Managing Director Billy Russo begins his tenure in June,
Interim Managing Director Fred Walker informed the production
department employees of their termination behind closed
doors. The staff was in the midst of teching the Elevator Repair
Service adaptation of Faulkner’s The Sound And The Fury (which
began previews April 15) at the time.
Walker cited the lack of a production schedule for next
season as the primary rationale for cutting the production
department before anything else. “It’s [the production]
department, because it’s the most obvious,” Walker told
Casselli’s staff last Thursday.
Casselli claims the annual salary savings of the firings will
amount to approximately $280,000 plus varying benefits savings.
As of this writing, Casselli was also offered a deal to walk
off the job immediately without losing pay through the official
termination date at the end of May. The employees will be
covered by NYTW health insurance through June 30.
According to NYTW Spokesperson Richard Kornberg the
termination of the production staff is “fiscally responsible, not
reprehensible,” and referred to the goings-on at NYTW as a
“fluid situation.” Kornberg also emphasized that the Workshop
will not be producing any shows during the summer months,
and was unsure of the actual savings of the current cutbacks.
The theatre, known for its stagings of new work (including
the premiere of Rent over a decade ago), will almost certainly
cut back its production schedule next season and plans to either
hire production positions on a show-by-show or seasonal basis.
NYTW still plans on breaking ground for their new LEEDcertified
scene and costume shop facilities on May 20, although
questions have been raised regarding the lack of staff to operate
and maintain the building. Casselli has acted as the “liaison
to the architect” on the project since joining the NYTW staff
nearly two years ago, and has also been the theatre’s strongest
advocate for advancing environmentally friendly practices in
“Since NYTW intends to hire people on a per show basis
next season,” Kornberg says, “the [new] costume and scene
shop will not be affected.”
Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust Creates $200,000 Award for Playwrights
As part of the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright
Award, the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust
has created two new awards for established playwrights,
including one with a $200,000 cash prize.
The $200,000 award, whose first recipient will be
announced this fall, is one of the largest cash prizes
specifically targeted toward playwrights.
The second award, the Steinberg Emerging
Playwrights Award, is designed for up-and-coming
playwrights and has a cash prize of $50,000. This
award will honor two playwrights biannually beginning
City Theatrical Opens London Location
City Theatrical has opened its new
London office serving the UK and
European markets. The opening is timed
to coincide with the European launch of
SHoW DMX, City Theatrical’s new wireless
City Theatrical’s London office is headed
by Martin Chisnall, known for his work
in the UK theatre industry as a production
electrician for West End shows, as well
as national and international tours. Most
recently, his work has included Macbeth
in London’s West End and the international
tour of Mamma Mia!
All City Theatrical products will continue
to be available through existing
dealers. The new office will allow City
Theatrical to work closely with lighting
users to introduce more European orientated
products, along with providing
design and customization services to a
10 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
Microphone Interests Coalition Responds to Google White Space Proposal
A broad coalition of high-profile wireless microphone users,
organized as the Microphone Interests Coalition (MIC), has criticized
the recent proposal submitted by Google to open the socalled
“white spaces” to unlicensed device use.
Google is touting the proposal as a spectrum compromise
that eliminates any remaining interference concerns about using
personal/portable devices in the unassigned TV channels called
white spaces. The Microphone Interests Coalition, however, says
the plan is far from a compromise and should not be viewed as a
solution for wireless microphones.
The proposal, similar to one submitted earlier by Motorola,
would require wireless microphone users to purchase and operate
a so-called “beacon” transmitter — akin to a jamming device
— and would rely on white space devices to “sense” this beacon
in order to prevent the white space device from interfering with
Google’s proposal also identifies a “safe harbor” of three TV
channels in which wireless microphones could operate without
interference from new devices. Additional protections would be
provided by intelligent “spectrum sensing” technology embedded
in the portable devices. This sensing technology is currently
under evaluation in FCC laboratory testing.
“Despite their claims, the Google proposal does virtually nothing
to protect wireless microphones. In short, their ‘enhanced
spectrum protection plan’ doesn’t work,” said Ed Greene, Emmy
Award-winning audio director who works on the Academy Awards,
American Idol and Tony Awards. “Because of the potentially devastating
effect on thousands of wireless microphones in daily use,
the FCC should not consider adopting their proposal.”
“First, the proposed beacon has not been developed, operated
or tested in any fashion or in any forum,” said Scott Harmala, CTO
of ATK Audiotek, a firm that supplies wireless audio equipment
for many of the nation’s major TV award shows. “How can the FCC
possibly approve an interference protection technology without
anyone having seen it work? The Commission’s commitment to
testing before ruling is well known and should be followed here.
This includes field analysis in actual operating environments.”
Harmala continues, “Second, the beacon concept relies on
spectrum sensing — the very technology that is performing so
poorly in the FCC’s ongoing test. Beacons could be just as difficult
to detect as the wireless microphones themselves and could create
additional interference problems. Without thorough testing,
there is no way to know.”
Bill Evans, editor of Front Of House [Full disclosure — FOH
is a sister magazine to Stage Directions, published by Timeless
Communications —ed.] magazine, adds, “Assuming a beacon
were to be developed, the fine print reveals that very few wireless
microphone users would be allowed to own and operate
one. Documents filed by Google, Motorola and others make it
clear that they believe that the great majority of wireless microphone
users, who have developed a sophisticated, tried-and-true
frequency coordination system that has enabled operation in this
spectrum without issue for decades, do not deserve any protection
priority. Any proposal that leaves touring concert and show
productions, hotels and convention centers, Broadway houses
and theatres across the country, houses of worship, civic auditoriums,
educational institutions and large entertainment venues out
in the cold cannot be described as serving the public interest.”
www.stage-directions.com • May 2008 11
Companies Give Back at USITT
The Long Reach Long Riders and The ESTA Foundation
have raised a total of $8,364 for their joint raffle to benefit
the Behind the Scenes program at the USITT conference in
Houston. When added to the Challenge Grants provided
by Bigger Hammer Productions, Sapsis Rigging and Strong
Entertainment Lighting, the total reached $18,364.
The traditional pre-raffle kazoo parade kicked off the
festivities and was emceed by Bill Sapsis, one of the founding
Long Reach Long Riders. Sapsis invited a series of
guests to pull the winning raffle tickets, including USITT
President Sylvia Hillyard-Pannell, Rich Wolpert who had
just completed a 754-mile bicycle ride in support of Behind
the Scenes, and Michelle Kokal, who had just presented a
$1,000 check on behalf of the USITT Student Chapter at
Penn State University.
All proceeds of the raffle go directly to The ESTA
Foundation’s Behind the Scenes program, which provides
entertainment technology industry members with grants for
emergency situations, such as serious illness, injury or death.
Also at USITT, Chris Mount, a student at University of
Texas at Arlington, won the scholarship to Tomcat U.
The scholarship to the Hoist and Truss Workshop from June
4–7 will cover basic and advanced maintenance and troubleshooting
techniques for CM Lodestars and Prostars; advanced
troubleshooting scenarios; an overview of hoist control; basic
and advanced instruction on truss design, usage and theory;
live demonstrations of truss inspection and destruction.
“I’m excited to attend the workshop because it will give me
professional insight on trussing and motors,” Chris explained,
“This is knowledge I’ll need when I enter the workforce.”
Four Draft Standards to Review in Rigging, Power Distribution and Floors
Four draft standards are available for public review on the ESTA
Web site through May 26. The draft standards address specific problems
found in powered rigging, electrical power distribution and
floors used in live performances and special events.
BSR E1.6-2 - 200x, Entertainment Technology - Purpose Designed
Serially Manufactured Electric Chain Hoists for the Entertainment Industry,
is part of the BSR E1.6 powered theatrical rigging systems project.
BSR E1.18-1 - 200x, Standard for the Selection, Installation and Use
of Single-Conductor Portable Power Feeder Cable Systems for Use at
Less than 601 Volts Nominal for the Distribution of Electrical Energy in
the Entertainment and Live-Event Industries, is part of a larger E1.18
project to offer guidance on portable power feeder cable systems.
SR E1.19 - 200x, Recommended Practice for the use of Class A
Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) intended for personnel protection
in the Entertainment Industry, recommends practices for the
safe use of 100 amp or lower, 120-240 VAC, single or three-phase, 60
Hz Class A Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs).
The fourth draft standard is BSR E1.34 - 200x, Entertainment
Technology - Measuring and Specifying the Slipperiness of Floors
Used in Live Performance Venues.
12 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
Maggie Boland Named Managing Director of Signature Theatre
Signature Theatre has
announced the appointment
of Maggie Boland as
the new managing director
beginning May 5.
According to Signature’s
Board Chair Sarah Valente,
the nationwide search for
a managing director identified
a strong list of qualified candidates.
“We were surprised and lucky to find the perfect fit for
Signature ‘right in our own backyard,’” said Valente, “Maggie
Boland is contagiously enthusiastic. Her ‘can-do’ attitude will
be a great match for Signature’s Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer.
The Board predicts great things from their partnership.”
Boland was previously the director of External Affairs
at Arena Stage, a position that she had held since January
2003 when she assumed responsibility for Arena’s Annual
Fund, in addition to her oversight of the theatre’s marketing,
public relations and sales efforts. In late 2006, Boland
added the management of Arena’s $125 million Next Stage
Campaign to her portfolio, of which nearly $108 million has
been raised to date.
Boland succeeds Sam Sweet, who is now serving as
the chief operating officer of the Corcoran Gallery of Art,
Corcoran College of Art + Design.
Manhattan Theatre Club
Appoints Director of
Jerry Patch will be
Theatre Club’s artistic
team as the company’s
of artistic development.
Patch is currently co-artistic director
of San Diego’s The Old Globe where he
brought to the theatre works by such
renowned playwrights as Amy Freed,
Howard Korder, Richard Greenberg
and Donald Margulies.
Prior to joining The Old Globe in
2005, he was a member of the artistic
team of South Coast Repertory where
he coordinated the development of
150 new plays, including two Pulitzer
Artistic Director Lynne Meadow and
Executive Producer Barry Grove said,
“We have known and admired Jerry
Patch for many years and have always
had the highest regard for his talent
and his role in working with writers. The
Manhattan Theatre Club has had many
associations with Jerry and South Coast
Rep when Jerry worked there with David
Emmes and Martin Benson. We, along
with Acting Artistic Director Daniel
Sullivan and Associate Artistic Director
Mandy Greenfield, are thrilled that Jerry
is making the move east to join MTC in
its roles on and off Broadway.”
Patch will be working with MTC’s
artistic team including Daniel Sullivan,
Mandy Greenfield, Amy Loe, director of
artistic administration, and Lisa McNulty,
associate director of artistic operations.
Patch will also head up the play development
office, which includes Raphael
Martin, Literary Manager Raphael Martin
and Annie MacRae, play development
associate/sloan project manager.
www.stage-directions.com • May 2008 13
Tools of the Trade
USITT stole some thunder from the rodeo in Houston last month.
Here are some of the products that generated buzz on the show floor.
Global Design Solutions ProSM
The GDS ProSM is a flexible and
modular stage manager’s desk
designed to meet the demands of
the modern stage manager at any
size venue. It features seven configurable
panels, including lighting, with
custom work light setting and scene
selections; clock/timer, with battery
backup video monitors, with reverse
function and up to four inputs and
front panel switching; intercom/
paging interface, with up to four channels and four Aux outs;
intercom aux, with 16 switch outs; audio monitor, featuring mic/
line level monitoring, six selectable inputs and local and remote
global mute; finally a cue light panel with up to 12 channels of
control. Distributed exclusively worldwide by TMB.
HME WS200 Wireless Speaker Station
HME’s WS200 Wireless
Speaker Station is designed for
two-way intercom communication
when flexibility is at a
premium or wires can’t be run.
It features a built-in speaker,
built-in microphone, visual and
audible call signaling and a headset jack for added convenience.
It is intended for use with a DX200 or DX100 base station
and takes the place of a beltpac or an all-in-one wireless
headset communicator. The WS200 operates on six 1.5V AA
batteries or 100-240 VAC. It also features a selectable intercom
or isolated channel option, side-tone and mic gain headset
adjustments and an external 8-ohm speaker connecter.
Martin Maxxyz Compact
Maxxyz lighting console
is now available in
a compact version that
is designed to offer full
in a modular mid-sized
design. Built of a heavy-duty aluminium, Maxxyz Compact has
been designed with the touring and rental market in mind.
This latest addition to the Maxxyz range features four modules
requiring only USB and power connections. The modules
are: Cerebrum, Programmer, Motorized Playback and Master.
The Cerebrum module is a touch-screen computer and can
control up to 32 DMX Universes (four direct, 28 via Art-Net or
Universal USB/DMX). The Maxxyz Cerebrum can also be used
stand-alone for controlling installations. The Programmer and
Playback Modules are designed to make creating and running
shows easier, quicker and safer. The Master Module has two
faders — Grand Master and Flash Master by default.
Meyer Sound UPQ-1P Loudspeaker
Making its U.S. debut
is the new self-powered
UPQ-1P wide coverage loudspeaker.
The UPQ-1P, part of
the UltraSeries of loudspeaker
products, demonstrates the
same consistent and smooth
sonic signature of other Meyer
Sound products found in a
list of theatrical productions
as well as live performance
venues. UPQ-1P is designed to
deliver a peak power output
of 136 dB SPL with low distortion, while offering flexible rigging
options, wide vertical coverage and gradual off-axis rolloff to
accommodate a range of installation requirements.
Production Intercom IP-900 Connect
Production Intercom’s IP-900 Connect is an Internet/intercom
interface device that uses Voice Over Internet Protocol
(VOIP) technology to allow multiple users to join an intercom
system as if they were there. It connects to the intercom system
with a standard three-pin XLR connection and and to the
Internet via a Cat5 cable. Software allowing remote users to
connect is provided on a USB memory stick and can be run
from the memory stick or installed directly on the device.
TheatricalHardware.com Shackle and
There are five different
designs of Shackle Plates
com. Each one is designed
to give you as many options
as possible determining
the rigging requirements
of scenery. The Shackle Plate with a ½” hole is the most commonly
used Shackle Plate. It will accept shackles or jaw type
turnbuckles with a ½” through-bolt and mounts easily to the
bottom rail of any flat or for use as a floor or ceiling plate.
There are four other models that feature a ½” hole, and one
with a 3 /8” hole. The plates can be attached by bolting to the
lowest point of the scenery directly in-line with the keeper
plate bolted to the top of the scenery. The cable line used
to suspend the scenery is attached to the Shackle Plate and
then run though the Keeper Plate’s eye opening and finally
onto the suspending point. The plates are made from heavygauge
steel and pre-drilled for assembly with two ¼” bolts and
two #8 or #10 flat head screws.
14 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
Light on the Subject
By Steven L. Shelley
A Brief Practical Guide to
Lighting Paperwork,Part 2
In last month’s article about lighting paperwork, I examined
the categories (graphics, lists and forms) and classes
(public, private and infrastructure) of paperwork, as well
as the function of various pieces of paperwork and best
practices for distribution and storage. The article ended with
a long description of what types of paperwork needed to
be included in the public packet. If that sounds like a lot of
information, it is. Feel free to check out last month’s article to
refresh yourself before we dive into the final part of a lighting
paperwork packet, the Private Packet.
Private Lighting Paperwork Packet
The Private Paperwork Packet is comprised of documents
I create for my own use. I rarely give out copies of these
documents. Their purpose is more for my own personal use,
and they are tailor-made to primarily be comprehensible to
me. If others understand them, that is fine. But their primary
purpose is to act as shorthand memory storage for my needs
and no one else’s.
My Spike Groundplan show the detailed measurements
for each point on the stage as designed for Patti LuPone, who
requested that the relationship between her and the rest of
the stage picture be consistent and relative to the edge of
the stage. These spikes and any adaptation of them were
set only by myself and the stage manager, so there was no
need to send this information in advance or to share it with
Focus Digital Pix (Figure 1) is comprised of miniature
digital photos of fixtures focused into the back of the
translucency. Once the show opened, I photographed
each channel during light check and then imported them
as JPGs into a single VectorWorks document. I found that
the black and white photos provided better contrast and
didn’t require a color printer. These
photos reappear on the Hang Plots.
The tour’s schedule was sporadic;
there might be two or three weeks
between engagements. Reviewing
four pages of these photos, the night
before a load-in, got the focus visually
back in my head much faster than
old-school written focus charts.
Hang Plot Downstage (Figure 2) is
an expansion of the downstage four
overhead electrics in the light plot.
Starting in the lower right hand corner,
(1) the title block (and contact sheet)
indicates cell numbers and email
addresses for the company’s traveling
staff. In the lower right-hand corner
(2) the legend identifies the fixture
type. The scale bars (3) are drawn next
to each electric, in order to expedite Figure 2
measuring during the hang. For system fixtures (such as
backlight PARs), the plot showed channel, color, bulb type
and bulb rotation. For fixtures containing a gobo, I imported
images from the Web sites and listed their name, number
and proper orientation. For special focus fixtures (6), I created
a miniature diagram underneath each fixture. I found
the focus for the template system in channels 10 through 12
difficult to remember, so I created a groundplan detailing just
that system (7).
Hang Plot Upstage (Figure 3) expands the fifth electric
and all of the deck gear in the light plot. While using many of
the drafting techniques from the Downstage document, this
page relied much more on the digital photos to detail the
focus on the white translucency. Figure 4 shows a close-up of
channel 48. While the red circle (1) shows the hanging location,
electrical and gobo information, the digital photo above
(1a) shows the focus photo. I placed white ovals and numbers
on the photo to help visually match the unit number and
approximate beam placement.
16 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
This relationship is replicated
throughout this page. Circle 2 in
Figure 3 shows the hang location of
the fixtures plugged into channel 44
(2a) shows their pipe end-style focus.
The fixtures hung on the downstage
right boom are shown in their pseudo-front
elevation view (3) next to
the photo showing their focus on the
white scrim curtain (3a). The cluster
of deck-mounted fixtures, upstage
of the translucency, is plugged into
channels 49 and 50. Their complex
focus is detailed in the pair of adjacent
photos (4a). Even the centerline
fan focus of channel 43 (5a) is
explained for the four deck fixtures
above the picture (5).
I placed these two “Hang Plot
“pages back-to-back inside a legal-sized plastic page
protector. With this document in my back pocket, I could
hang, color, template, troubleshoot and focus the entire
plot without referring to another document.
The Track Sheet (Figure 5) is a close-up of a spreadsheet
document I constructed once the show was open and frozen.
It’s comprised of four basic components. The title information
in the upper left-hand corner states the show’s name, as well
as when and where these light cues were assembled. Under
that are the columns for the memory number, the count
and the placement or action of each memory. The channel
numbers and system identification are listed numerically
to the right of the title information. The channel intensities
make up the cue content, the rest of the document. Channel
intensities that are bold and centered are receiving a “hard
command” to move in that cue. Intensities that are non-bold
and aligned to the right side of the cell aren’t moving; they’re
“tracking through” the cue. The highlighted hard commands
made it easier to horizontally scan across the track sheet and
see what channels were moving in any cue. Scanning a single
channel column allowed me to view the channel’s usage and
its movement to other adjacent channels.
A f t e r p r i n t i n g
and taping together
pages of paper, I constructed
the cue “road map”
for the entire production.
Having this in
my pocket allowed
me to analyze any cue
sequence and instantly
be able to decide if
any change should be
recorded to “track” or
a n d d o c u m e n t s
p r o v i d e d m e w i t h Figure 4
the information and tools necessary to quickly
and effectively communicate the needs of the
production and be able to make rapid judgments
and decisions on the fly. While they’re
not the perfect combination
o f d o c u m e n t s t o a p p l y t o
every situation, the structure
I created with this lighting
p a p e r w o r k p a c k a g e a l l o w ed
me to spend less time generating
the same information
for each stop, and more time
to enjoy the great theatres,
institutions and folks in each
Steven L. Shelley is a lighting
designer and production manager.
He designs the plastic Field
Templates and the VectorWorks
toolkit SoftSymbols. He’s also
the author of A Practical Guide
to Stage Lighting.
www.stage-directions.com • May 2008 17
By Bryan Reesman
Hardwired For Sound
Domonic Sack, a sound man who
covers all the bases.
Nigel Casey as Dean Martin in The Rat Pack
— Live at the Sands. Domonic Sack and Sound
Associates designed the system for its West
Sound Designer and Installer Domonic Sack lives,
breathes and eats sound. He designs for shows, installs
sound systems into venues and, when he has free
time, performs as a choral singer with the Metropolitan
Opera, with whom he has been singing since 1989. (His first
opera was Parsifal.) As executive vice president of Sound
Associates, the company he has been with for 20 years, he
currently averages three permanent installs per year along
with 12 Broadway or off-Broadway type shows that he personally
works on. Last September alone he worked on the
off-Broadway Frankenstein, a musical about Ray Charles,
A Tale Of Two Cities in Florida (now headed to Broadway),
Three Mo’ Tenors at the Little Shubert and started a tour of
3 Mo’ Divas. When Stage Directions managed to catch him
sitting still for 45 minutes, we cross-examined him about
his life in sound.
Stage Directions: How do you balance working on shows
with your installs?
Domonic Sack: I don’t know. I’ve been doing it so long
that it just keeps going. Right now, I’m working on the
new Durham Performing Arts Center. They’re about halfway
through construction and will be opening in December 2008.
I’m designing a whole performing arts complex out west that
is slated to open a year and a half from now. And we’re bidding
on I don’t know how many things. We work with many
different designers. It’s good because I try to learn from all
I have to say that as far as the theatre design build thing,
we could probably be doing 10 times the amount of work if
we wanted to. There seems to be such a dramatic need for it.
The consultants do a spectacular job, but I think the process
gets in the way, and because of it, the majority of the money
is spent on a big paper trail. There is a lot of bureaucracy
involved in it, especially when it’s a public works project. The
accountability on these projects is good, and I understand
completely why it has to be done, but I’m just saying there’s
a tremendous amount of money that is spent, and unfortunately
the project is the one that loses.
How do the sensibilities of working on rock shows cross
over to doing Broadway musicals and cross over into
I always try to bring one area into the other. When I’m
doing the classical stuff, I think many times people feel like
they have all of these special needs, that what they’re producing
wants to be different than a rock show. It’s my experience
that they need everything that a rock show has, and
usually then some, only because you need to have the tools.
How you use the tools is really the important thing.
I like the cardioid speaker technology for the classical
shows, for the Philharmonic shows and for the operas
because we try to keep the stage sound as acoustic as possible.
Even then, when you start to think about what’s really
happening on the stage, when you’re outdoors there are
really no side walls, so that whole perspective is changed
anyway. What I don’t want to do is contaminate the microphones.
I like to keep a lot of the sound off the stage, and the
cardioid system is a very big help. You just try to take advantage
of the technology when you can.
18 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
Hunter Foster (left) as Victor
Frankenstein and Steve Blanchard as
the Creature in Frankenstein, an off-
Broadway musical that premiered in
Fall 2007, with sound by Domonic Sack
and Sound Associates.
Sack was involved with the Florida premiere
of A Tale of Two Cities at Asolo and
now its planned Broadway transfer.
Another moment from Frankenstein
You have to deal with what people have for rentals. If
you’re mixing the Hartford Symphony and there is no cardioid
gear out or something that you’re used to, you’ve got
to use what they have. That’s the one thing about classical
music, they have these relationships, and they’re usually
good about keeping those relationships alive. A symphony
orchestra will use a sound engineer and contractor for years
on end, and I’ve always liked that. They like to think that they
developed this sound together. I’ve always been very fond
of that because I think it’s true in some respects. The speaker
systems are the same, depending upon how many people
you’re trying to cover and what you’re trying to do.
As a sound designer, how do you bring your aesthetics
into installing sound systems?
I try to put it all together. I try to put a system together.
Here’s the key to it: I think the biggest mistake that people
make when they design a sound system is that they’re always
trying to design the perfect sound system for the theatre.
This is not what the theatre needs. They need the tools.
They don’t need the perfect sound system, because the fact
is when Tony Bennett or Metallica come into your theatre,
they’re going to want to use their sound system for their production.
And for you to say your speaker system is the most
perfect thing in the world and they have to use it is just such a
mistake. I think everyone loses in those particular situations.
Present something to them so they’ll want to use your sound
system. That’s the key to it — don’t fight it. Usually they’ll come
around. Those are the kinds of things you have to do. If you want
them to use your sound system, the best thing you can do as a
theatre owner is to make it available. Saves them time and that’s
saving money, which everyone understands.
Make sure you have a paging system that covers everything.
Make sure you address the problem areas of your theatre
because if they come in for a show, they don’t have time
to put speakers everywhere that they need them. Make it easy
to interface with your system so they can just plug into your
DSP and send the signal. Have proper power and disconnects
in the right spot so they don’t have to run 200 feet of feeder.
These are real tools. They don’t need this other stuff. They need
a loading dock where they can get three trucks up there and
stay parked there for a whole show and take the empties out
during the show and not take up stage space. They need a
broadcast hook-up outside of the loading dock so the broadcast
trucks can come in and tie into the same power system.
It sounds like the secret to being both a good sound
designer and a good sound installer is: As a designer, be
flexible to work with what’s available, and as an installer,
make things flexible for what people bring in.
Exactly, you need to have the tools in place. The sound
system is the main left and right arrays, and the speakers are
secondary to anything else that you’re doing. Because with
the speakers that are out there — whether it’s JBL, EV, EAW,
Meyer, or whoever it is — everyone is producing a good
product. Many times you look on a rider and they’ll say, “We
want a line array.” They don’t say, “We have to have Meyer.”
Sometimes they do — if they’re really, really into what they’re
doing. But the majority of the time, if you lay out a nice program
for them, that takes you a long way.
www.stage-directions.com • May 2008 19
By Logan Molyneux
(Matt Neves ) &
Neves was a
BYU’s theatre program guides its
students to success
Hamlet by grad
frame the picture.
“We have to make sure
we don’t overuse the
students because there
is so much going on.”
— Rory Scanlon
Near the end of the 2007 Fall semester, a couple of
Brigham Young University theatre professors were
speaking with Department Chair Rodger Sorensen
about the success one student had directing a student production
for class credit. “It’s the best work I’ve seen her do
since she has come here,” Sorensen said.
Sorensen said he pulled the student aside later to compliment
her, and then suggested she shift her focus from acting
(which had been her focus so far) to directing. Barta Heiner,
who runs the school’s acting major, was one of the professors
Sorensen was speaking with. After she overcame her surprise
that Sorensen could be so bold, she thanked him.
Janet Swenson, an associate chair who teaches costume
and set design, said such conversations
are common in BYU’s
Department of Theatre and Media
Arts because the department focuses
on giving students opportunities and
then mentoring to help them reach
their potential. “So that not only are
they capable of doing what they
do,” Swenson said, “but they have
a love of doing it that will carry on.”
Students work closely with at least
two and sometimes more faculty mentors who help with
everything from choosing classes to suggestions on design
and directing projects.
Rory Scanlon, associate dean and design instructor, said
their work is somewhat like teaching a child to ride a bicycle.
“When we see a student who we think is really ready,
we just kind of let go.” In the end, that means students are
doing well over half the work on the 450 performances the
department’s Design and Production team produces each
season. Students do half or more of the work on makeup
and costumes, scenic design, lighting design and sound
design for live theatre, musical events, dance performances,
film and television. That’s not to mention all the acting and
directing going on in two to three theatre performances a
week in the school’s five theatres.
“We tell our students, ‘The problem is not finding something
for you to do, the problem is getting you to graduate,’”
Scanlon said. “We have to make sure we don’t overuse
the students because there is so much going on.”
Building a Program for the Students
It’s taken more than 100 years for the BYU theatre
department to reach this point of busy activity. In 1901,
Miriam Nelke began teaching theatre courses at BYU, and
now a 223-seat theatre named after her is dedicated solely
to student productions. The program expanded with the
help of T. Earl and Kathryn Pardoe, for whom the department’s
largest theatre is named, and Harold Hansen, who
added many faculty positions and expanded course offerings.
In 1953, BYU became one of the first universities in
the country to have a formal film
production program, and in 1974 the
theatre and film programs merged
to form the Department of Theatre
and Media Arts. Today, the department
has about 450 students (about
240 in the four theatre majors) and
21 full-time and 54 part-time faculty
All BYU’s theatres have a full lighting
stock and are currently being
outfitted with sound and video recording systems so productions
can be taped and aired on BYU’s nationwide and
international cable channels. The Nelke student theatre
has a stage lift in it and the back of the stage can open
up into the black-box Margetts theatre, so there can be
an expanded stage with audience on both sides. Two theatres
have fly-line systems and the Pardoe Theatre has a
built-in electronic revolve.
BYU’s theatre offerings are a BA in theatre education,
a BFA in acting, a BFA in music dance theatre, and a BA in
theatre arts with emphases in directing, playwriting, theatre
design and technology and general theatre studies. The
majors take about 60 hours of required course work.
Sorensen said some students seek employment after
earning a bachelor’s degree, but many choose to pursue
graduate studies, and BYU’s liberal-arts based theatre
majors help them place well in graduate programs.
20 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
“They come with a pretty broad experience because they’ve
worked in the shop, they’ve designed on stage, they’ve
acted in performances,” Scanlon said. “So graduate programs
really like them because they have that experience
and they get put into assistantships very quickly.”
Building Moral Students
But what really sets BYU apart is that it is owned by
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and so
requires high ethical and moral standards of its students.
“There’s an honor code on campus,” Scanlon said, “and
students do agree to live a certain way and dress a certain
way and even do their hair a certain way. A lot of people
find that really restrictive, but most of our students find
that it really frees them up to take what they believe and
what they want to learn and marry those two together
and help build them as an entire human being.” BYU
admits students who are not members of the church,
but they must also sign the honor code and receive an
ecclesiastical endorsement from the leader of their preferred
denomination. All students are required to take a
substantial number of religion courses, almost enough to
minor in religion. Swenson said, “I think that when the students
leave here they are very ethical beings. They have a
good work ethic and they have a good personal ethic and
they’re able to get along with others easily.”
The department works closely with the church to support
the Young Ambassadors, a highly produced, 28-member
show choir that tours internationally. “The church
missionary department uses them as a door opening,” said
Tim Threlfall, chair of the MDT program. “They were the first
church representatives to be in China years ago, in 1979.”
Threlfall said about 500 students try out for the 28 slots.
Similarly, about 250 students audition for the selective MDT
program, but only 16 are accepted each year. At the end
of the semester, Threlfall sets up showcases in New York
and Los Angeles theatres for MDT and acting students to
impress agents and talent scouts.
When the students are ready to graduate, their professors
have high hopes for what they will be and do with their
careers. Swenson said commercial success isn’t their only
measuring stick — they hope students will be true to their
beliefs. “What we want to do is to create people who know
who they are and what they are, so when they go they can
be stars as artists and as people.” Heiner said she wants her
acting students to have versatility so they can play a whole
bunch of different characters.
“We hope,” Threlfall said, “and this sounds clichéd,
that they use their talents well. And that may be teaching
school, that may be doing the church road show or play
in a day, or they may be on Broadway.” Wherever they
work, Sorensen said, theatre is about telling stories. “I
hope they can tell stories that are meaningful to them in
truthful ways and in ways that will engage and entertain
audiences to help them see the world in clearer ways. And
“Graduate programs really like them
because they have that experience
and they get put into assistantships
very quickly.” — Rory Scanlon
The cast of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, produced in the summer of 2007. It was directed by George
Nelson with Eric Fielding as scenic designer and Jessica Cowden designing costumes.
The BYU fall 2007 Touring Shakespeare production of Twelfth Night. Every fall, BYU takes a “mini”
Shakespeare throughout the state, performing for thousands of elementary school students.
The opening scene from BYU’s production of Oklahoma, with scenic design by undergraduate Jennifer Mortensen
www.stage-directions.com • May 2008 21
By Lisa Mulcahy
The Skinny On Scholarships
Financial assistance for your training is
easier to find than you think — if you
research and apply the right way.
Hofstra’s production of Seven Against Thebes.
If you're about to enter a theatre training program, no
doubt you’re worried about paying for it. Here are a few
steps to help you take advantage of all your funding
Start Your Search At Home Base
Your first move in seeking financial aid should be to first
approach what's closest to you. There is readily available funding
from school, work or group affiliations you may have.
First, approach the financial aid office of the school you'll
be going to as early as you can. It doesn't matter whether you
heard through the grapevine that your school is tight-fisted; in
reality, there could be a very generous reservoir of assistance
available to you. Schedule an appointment in person or by
phone with an aid officer, and ask about direct assistance,
work-study programs and opportunities for federal or state
grants and loans. Be upfront about the fact that you're eager
to explore every conceivable funding possibility you could be
right for. Make their job easier by clearly laying out your current
financial situation (your ballpark income or that of your
family's, your employment status, your realistic ability to work
while attending school during the duration of your training).
Take careful notes on the evaluation your aid officer provides
you and make sure to take every information packet, Web site
address and application form you're offered.
Next, make a list of every educational institution you've ever
attended, every job you've ever had that you've done well at
(especially if this employment was through an established company
or corporation) and every local club, organization and religious/community
group you've ever belonged to or currently
belong to. Use the Web or phone book to compile contact info
for each listing. Call or e-mail each possibility. For schools, ask
what kind of financial aid might be available for alumni. For
places of employment, inquire about tuition aid programs via
human resources (you might also ask your parents to check with
their employers — often, children of employees are eligible for
aid as well). For clubs, organizations or religious/community
groups, make a point of speaking to someone you know and ask
about annual scholarship availability — most local entities will
have at least one offer to its membership per year. Follow up on
every positive response by obtaining all pertinent application
materials, instruction forms and essential contact names within
a day of your initial phone call, either through an in-person visit,
or through a letter of request. (Some of the material you need,
of course, may already be available on the Web.)
Once you've gathered all this info, sit down and go through
each option. Read every bit of information thoroughly and,
after you fully understand a funding source's specific requirements,
deadlines, cash limits and overall feasibility, decide
whether it's appropriate for you to pursue. Some sources
will have to be eliminated immediately (you can't apply for a
computer careers scholarship through your dad's company
if you're a playwriting student); others won't be a financial fit
(you may be in an income bracket that would disqualify you
from some need-based capped scholarships, for example);
others will offer so little money they aren't worth the bother,
or wouldn't award you funding by the time you'll need it.
Chances are good, though, that you'll find a number of
resources that fit your needs. Now that you've identified the
right sources to plumb, add up all of the money these sources
could collectively supply you with, assuming you received it.
Contrast this total number with the amount of aid you realistically
need. You'll instantly know if you'll be covered through
these assistance sources, or if you'll need to go after more aid.
Learn About Grants
If you do need to go after additional assistance, grants could
be your answer. Simply defined, a grant (or fellowship) is a
financial reward given to an individual by a foundation or corporate
grantmaker that can be used for educational expenses,
research or toward the completion of a specific work project.
Many foundation grants are given directly to schools, which
then distribute them to deserving students. Other grants are
available directly to an individual and are applied for much in
the same way as traditional scholarships.
The Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation in New
York City is a terrific example of how a grant-making organization
provides maximum benefits to young artists. JLPAF
was created to honor and celebrate the creative spirit of the
phenomenally talented Jonathan Larson, who composed
Rent before his death in 1996. Committed to helping the
individual artist, as well as nonprofit theatres that develop
fresh musical theatre works, JLPAF provides either general or
project support to help them further their work.
"Our winners are compelled to do what they do, and are
passionate about pushing the form of musical theatre in new
and innovative directions," explains Nancy Kassak Diekmann,
the foundation's executive director. "Although many of them
are not writing 'traditional' musical theatre, they are all highly
skilled at their craft."
22 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
If you define yourself as a highly motivated artist with very
specific project experience under your belt (a play or solo
performance project, for example), pursuing a grant may be
for you. Start learning about the specific grants that might
work for your situation via the Foundation Center, which provides
a wealth of data about foundations and grant-makers
online (go to www.foundationcenter.org). The Foundation
Center's incredibly comprehensive Web site offers application
basics, lists of over 6,000 funders, proposal writing tips
and an interactive online librarian service; It's the best place
to immerse yourself in the process, period.
Consider Merit-Based Aid
A growing number of colleges are actually rewarding
their students financially for doing exemplary work. Hofstra
University in Hempstead, N.Y., long regarded as one of the
country's top theatre training institutions, gives deserving
first-year students its Activity Grant award. The Activity Grant is
initially awarded based on a student's audition and interview,
and then can be renewed based on that student's ongoing
display of leadership and theatre department activity.
"The initial grant is given on the basis of potential," says
Jean Giebel, chair of Hofstra's drama and dance department.
"From that point on, the student has to maintain participation
in a range of ways, from performance or crew work on
any production by the university theatre, to honors/thesis
projects, to directing projects. We also ask students to do volunteer
service for the theatre department at various activities
throughout the year, from benefit productions to conferences
to aiding prospective students." Giebel also evaluates students
based on their overall commitment to daily academic discipline.
"We take citizenship into consideration: Does a student
come to class on time? Does a student come to department
symposiums? If a student shows up, and is an active member
of the theatre community, then that student is participating."
Consult your school's drama department administration
head directly about similar merit awards. Even though
you've already been accepted into a specific drama program,
a merit scholarship or grant usually requires you to submit
application paperwork all over again (most often, you'll be
asked for letters of recommendation outside of the school's
jurisdiction, as well as a resume and headshot). You may also
be required to maintain a specific GPA to maintain this type
of aid. Merit-based aid is usually available only to a limited
number of students, so apply as soon as possible.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
Go over each line of your application with a fine-toothed
comb. It's surprisingly easy to misinterpret application
requirements, accidentally forget the most vital point (like
your name), or make sloppy spelling or punctuation errors.
Even the tiniest mistake can work against you. "Read and
follow directions carefully, and call for advice if you don't
understand," urges Kassak Diekmann.
A few nuts-and-bolts tips to keep in mind before you
e-mail or snail-mail off any completed application package:
• Make sure you've submitted exactly what was asked for
— forms, essays, samples, recommendations, photos,
etc. Don't overload your package with extra promotional
material (glowing reviews, extra work examples,
etc.) if it isn't desired.
• Double-check over every square inch of the material
for errors. Then put the application aside for the night
and double-check it one last time the next morning.
• Make two copies of every complete application package
you send out for your files.
• Create a master submission log, noting the mail-out
date of each application you submit, the full address
of the person or department you sent it to and the
contents of the application package. Also note the
approximate date by which you are scheduled to
receive a reply, if that info is known.
Follow Up The Smart Way
You may receive a letter from a source you've applied to
asking for additional information or clarifications. Follow
up by sending whatever is requested immediately —
that's within 24 hours of receiving the request, no exceptions.
It's a good idea to call the source to let them know
you received the request and that your response is on its
Is it OK to check back on your application if you haven't
heard from a source after a good chunk of time? Yes and
no. In most cases, you will hear back by a specified date;
as a general rule of (polite) thumb, wait an extra week to
two weeks past that time before contacting the source.
Approach your source carefully. Writing is always preferable
to calling; send a short note (either by e-mail or snail
mail) courteously asking if a decision has been made.
Wait a few days for a response before calling, and again,
politely inquire about any potential decision.
Be prepared for anything — good news, or yes, bad
news. Whatever happens, it's never wrong to express
your thanks for the source's consideration, either over
the phone or in a second note. Don't be discouraged if
some of the aid you've applied for doesn't come through;
the financial aid process often boils down to a numbers
game. Increase your odds by applying to as many different
sources as possible and you'll definitely have success
in the long run.
Here are some additional online resources to help you in your funding search.
Fastweb (www.fastweb.com), a free scholarship search Union Plus Scholarship Database (www.unionplus.org)
engine that’s comprehensive and easy to use.
provides state-by-state scholarship listings and information.
Petersons.com (www.petersons.com) has a great wealth of
financial aid info, plus a database of over a million available
scholarships, grants and academic awards.
The College Board Scholarship Search (www.college
board.com) provides users with the chance to create their
own profiles, seek specific funders and calculate costs.
www.stage-directions.com • May 2008 23
By Steve Shull
Audio for the
Exterior of Centennial Hall at the
University of Arizona in Tucson.
Centennial Hall at the University of Arizona
embarked on a large audio upgrade
in order to keep its audience.
Historic Centennial Hall is located on the campus of
the University of Arizona. The university, through its
in-house agency UAPresents, is the largest performing
arts presenter in southern Arizona. A wide range of event
types use the hall to reach diverse audiences: school children
seeing their very first live event, programs that feature local
artists or world-class events that attract the entire Tucson
community. Designed by campus architect Roy Place and
opened in 1937, the hall is a beautiful Italian Romanesque
revival and was intended for band or orchestral concerts,
school convocations and commencements.
Commitment to the Community
The university has maintained a commitment to the
Tucson community to provide the best live entertainment
venue in the region. The type of amplified events presented
in the hall has developed to include pop, jazz and legitimate
theatre performances. However, while these events
are critical in building and maintaining an audience base,
they are not well suited for a hall with the original acoustics
as constructed in Centennial Hall. The architectural
characteristics for a hall without amplification will often
feature hard smooth finishes on many of the walls, floors
and ceiling. Some of these surfaces will be angled to reflect
acoustic energy into the audience seating level. This type
of acoustic space reacts negatively to amplified vocals and
music. Many loudspeaker systems will produce sound that
reflects off these surfaces and causes a substantial loss of
intelligibility (the audience must be able to make out the
words) and clarity to the vocals. In other words, the audio
program might be loud enough, but the audience will have
difficulty in following the words. The bad news is that when
the volume is increased the intelligibility gets even worse.
Patrons very quickly become frustrated, and over repeated
bad experiences will stop attending events. Once that happens
it is very hard to convince them to return.
This is what happened at Centennial Hall and is actually a
common problem in many historic theatres and auditoriums
originally designed for acoustic performance, but which now
need successful amplification to survive. What is noteworthy
about the Centennial Hall situation is that none of the people
in this article renovate sound systems for a living, but all of
them realized that a solution had to be found, financed and
implemented if the hall was to have any chance at keeping
patrons coming to shows.
Putting the Team Together
Natalie Bohnet, the executive director of the UAPresents,
is responsible for all of the activities at the hall and one of
her many contributions to this project was to provide the
background and rational and advocacy for the audio renovation
to the university. She credits George Davis, provost
emeritus, and Joel Valdez, vice president of finance, as two
key administrators that supported the project and lobbied
and guided the project through the university process to get
funded and scheduled.
Gary Lotze is the operations manager for Centennial Hall,
which means he has to know everything about anything that
happens (or doesn’t happen) in the hall. This project was just
one task on his overall “to do” list. Lotze worked with Bohnet
to pull information and budgets together and he also coordinated
the schedule, freed up the staff to do the work and
verified the rigging and hang points.
Mike Reinhard is the Centennial Hall sound engineer,
the audio point of contact for all of the events that play at
Centennial Hall. One part of his job is to try to help the visiting
audio engineer successfully set up and focus the touring
loudspeaker rig and then convince the engineer that turning
the amplified level up will not help the problem. Luckily,
Reinhard has close to 20 years of live audio experience. He
can quickly communicate the acoustic problems and the
best solutions for the room to a highly experienced road
engineer and also help a young engineer get the best sound
possible in the hall.
The company that provided the new system is Arizona
Pro Audio, owned by Mark Cowburn, a respected member
of the audio community who learned the business from the
Godfather of Broadway Sound, Abe Jacob. Cowburn has had
a continuing relationship with Centennial Hall, supplying
them with rental equipment and systems to augment the
24 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
“It was clear that this configuration
was the one that would meet the
needs of their clients.”
— Mark Cowburn
The EAW 730s on Matt Marcus’ storage dollies
house gear to support the events.
Setting Goals, Choosing Systems
The end goal of any sound system is
to provide to each patron an excellent
listening experience. That seems like
a terribly simple goal, but in a hall like
Centennial there is a large seat count in
a large single-seating-level room that
was not designed for sound reinforcement.
The audio experience of a patron
in row 15 at the center will be different
from a patron seated in row 35 on the
side of the house. What is most important
though, is that they both have
good listening experiences.
What contributes to a good experience?
In any seat, there has to be
intelligibility, the audio image must
appear to come from the stage and
the audio must be dynamic (able to be
loud or soft, depending on the performance).
The huge qualifier in meeting
all of these requirements is the level
of expectation from the audience. Our
modern audience has the opportunity
to enjoy high quality audio in every
moment of the day and night — the
system would have to provide the highquality
sound patrons have come to
expect and demand. Lotze, Reinhard
and Cowburn chose several industry
favorite systems to review in order
to make sure the new system’s audio
quality would be impressive.
Cowburn arranged a demo of EAW
730 line arrays at the hall. The configuration
presented had 11 of the 730s
on each side of the stage and eight
sub-woofers. The demo also included
the EAW UX8800 digital signal process
with Gunness Focusing processing.
This processor provides tremendous
flexibility for the performer to access
controls like input gain, equalization
and signal gain while also providing
factory preset processing that maintains
maximum sound levels while sus-
www.stage-directions.com • May 2008 25
Dionne Warwick was the first artist to perform with the new sound system.
taining sound quality. This combination provides almost
unlimited control access of the loudspeaker system for an
expert, yet safe and simple presets for a less experienced
When the group listened to the EAW rig in Centennial
Hall with the UX8800 processor, the choice was clear-cut.
“Since we have a similar rig that we have toured with,
I was pretty confident that this was the right choice,” says
Cowburn. “When we brought the EAW UX8800 online, it
was clear that this configuration was the one that would
meet the needs of their clients. The performance of the UX
8800 software is stunning.”
Matt Marcus, the sound designer/technician for the U
of A theatre department, developed specialized speaker
dollies so that the speaker system can be stored on wheels,
enabling it to be reconfigured and hung simply and consistently
with minimum supervision. Since Centennial
Hall will provide their space in any configuration a client
requests, the ability to remove and store the house system
was an important time and labor consideration.
In addition to the loudspeaker system, the renovated
sound system had several other key components upgraded.
The most vital and exciting of these was the provision
of a Yamaha PM5D-RH console for front of house mix.
Because Centennial Hall chose this console, touring road
mixers around the country now know that they’ll have an
opportunity to mix a great show in this venue. All venues
develop reputations in the touring industry. The equipment
selections made by the Centennial Hall team has put
them on many touring engineer’s “Favorite Hall” lists.
Thanks to the trusting relationship between university
administration, staff and the audio supplier, the upgrade
was a success. It’s a reward for both the artists who perform
in the hall and the community that continues to support
a major cultural venue.
Steve Shull is a member of the Theatre Department at SUNY
Oswego and has been an audio mixer and consultant for many
years. His Broadway show credits include: Les Misérables,
Cats, Fences, Grand Hotel, Little Shop of Horrors and The
Rocky Horror Show.
26 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
By John Bliss
New Voices and Social
Dobama doesn’t shy away from raising the issues.
When Dobama was founded, the theatre scene in
Cleveland consisted primarily of the Cleveland
Playhouse and a smattering of community theatres.
Nearly 50 years later, theatre is booming in Cleveland,
but Dobama remains one of the few theatres dedicated
to producing new and challenging work by contemporary
playwrights. Dobama is also committed to developing
young artists, through such programs as the Marilyn
Bianchi Kids’ Playwriting Festival. We talked with Dobama’s
Artistic Director Joyce Casey about their history, mission
and penchant for tackling difficult topics.
Mission: “Producing the work of contemporary playwrights
to provoke discussion about the issues we all face.”
Recent Productions: Highway Ulysses, by Rinde Eckard;
Homebody/Kabul, by Tony Kushner; Take Me Out, by Richard
The name comes from… the first letters of the names of
the founders: DOnald Bianchi, BArry Silverman, and MArk
Silverberg and MArilyn Bianchi.
And it’s pronounced… to rhyme with Alabama, not
Donald Bianchi’s philosophy: “The playwright is the
supreme intellect of the theatre. Without the playwright,
we would all be bowling.”
Anything else? “The poet or painter can wait for the Muse
to descend. In the theatre, the Muse is scheduled for 8:30
on Wednesday night.”
Five words that describe Dobama: impassioned, intuitive,
creative, perceptive, appreciative.
For 40 years, we performed in… a converted bowling
alley with 11-foot ceilings.
Our new home
is… a former YMCA
now owned by the
library. One performance
space was a
swimming pool, the
other a gymnasium.
Young artists are
important to Dobama because… we want the theatre to still
to be around in 20 or 30 years. It rejuvenates us to have young
people around — their energy and creativity is life-affirming.
The best thing about the Playwriting Festival is … seeing a
first or second grade student watching their play come to life
Most exciting production: Angels in America. What we didn’t
have in theatricality, we made up for with intimacy.
Most satisfying experience: Our five year collaboration with
Karamu House, one of the first African-American theatres in the
The most rewarding part of my job is… watching the work
The hardest part of my job is… having dreams and having to
figure out how to pay for them.
Coming up: Migration, the first part of a cycle of plays about
Cleveland, written by local playwrights Eric Coble, Eric Schmiedl,
and Nina Domingue.
This is a busy time because… we’re raising funds to remodel
our new space. The capital campaign is an enormous challenge
— it will take the theatre to next level. It’s a time of great
Todd Krispinsky and Joel Hammer in Dobama’s production of Caryl Churchill’s A Number
Victor Dickerson in Suzan-Lori Park’s In The Blood at Dobama
Scott Miller and Andrea Belser in a scene
from I Have Before Me A Remarkable
Document Given To Me By A Young Lady
www.stage-directions.com • May 2008 27
By Kevin M. Mitchell
Pittsburgh Quantum and the
Art of Found Theatre
The journey is the destination
— all the way to Madrid.
Hugo Armstrong, Mark D. Staley and Robin Walsh in Thérèse Raquin. Scenic design by
Tony Ferrieri and lighting design by Scott Nelson.
Too often there’s lip service given a theatre “challenging”
one’s audience. How about this? Changing the
locale of the show for each production — cemetery,
swimming pool, old movie theatre…
“We’re a homeless theatre,” jokes Production Manager
Scott Nelson, only to quickly take back his words lest he
convey the wrong impression. See, while it’s not uncommon
for theatres to move from one space to another before they
settle into their own brick and mortar home, for Quantum
Theatre of Pittsburgh, the journey is the destination.
“The environments contribute to the plays,” says Karla
Boos, founder and artistic director. “Sometimes what we do
is impossible! But it’s so good aesthetically. Our artists love to
go to unusual places that put them inside the work.”
Boos, who has roots in the Pittsburgh region, was a graduate
student at CalArts in Los Angeles studying acting when
Quantum’s seeds were planted. “I knew I wanted to make my
own work, and it didn’t seem that L.A. was there for me,” she
says. “I came to Pittsburgh, not expecting to so deeply fall in
love with the architecture,
the can-do spirit of
Her first production
in 1990 was a work
based on the short
novel by Mexican Juan
Rulfo Pedro Páramo.
“We made an original
work based on the
novel, and staged it in
an abandoned building.”
by the quality of the
work and the fact that
the first-time production
had an equity contract (Boos had gotten some grant
money for it as well).
It got the ball rolling, she tells, and it fueled the need to
find new spaces for the next production. But here’s where
Quantum’s story becomes unusual: Boos kept it on the proverbial
“Quickly, the idea of doing works in ‘found spaces’ became
exciting to the artists and attracted good designers and directors,”
says Boos. Quantum was “substantial” by 2000, and
today they have 500 subscribers doing four shows a season.
They enjoy audiences from 1,500 to 2,800 people, depending
on the show, the space, and in some cases, the weather.
Boos stresses that it is extremely challenging creating
a new work in a new space, but she seems to relish in the
mountain moving of it all. “I’m sure we spend more resources
on making our environment than if we had bought a building
and made a beautiful theatre,” she says.
Other spaces “found” include the country’s oldest cemetery,
Allegheny Cemetery. “It was beautifully lit, and the
headstone in front of the performance area read, ‘Earnest
Guest, Age 4’ — it was very moving.”
Quantum’s production of Zola’s Thérèse Raquin took place in a swimming pool in the basement of the first library Andrew
Boos is not afraid
to wrestle with, wait
out, cajole and get
ankle-deep with anyone.
She finds out who
is on the board of
whatever the organization/building
makes a connection
that will provide support
down the line,
makes her case. It’s a
roll of the dice every
28 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
Quantum A.D., Karla Boos
Kristin Slaysman and John Fitzgerald Jay in Quantum’s production of The Collected Works of Billy the Kid.
Andrew Hachey in
The Collected Works
of Billy the Kid
“When I got my meeting at the cemetery, I was thinking,
‘I can’t imagine this going well,’” she confesses, still
stunned. “Quickly, he showed me what he had on his computer
— all these found-spaces productions he had looked
up… and he was completely welcoming, excited about
having our audience of 2,000 in his cemetery.”
Sometimes, permission is not merely altruistic. Say a
warehouse is condemned and about to be turned into
lofts. The developer sees the benefit of buzz that comes
from one of these shows and let’s them in. Also, Boos
makes it easy, and comes with an armful of paper with tiny
print: “We have excellent liability insurance!”
Artistically, she’s “fearless in asking some great artist in
working with us.” Frenchman Dan Jemmett, was asked to
work on 2005’s Dogface. She had seen his work in Paris,
and she got him to come to Pittsburgh to work with
Quantum. For the production of Dogface, they found an
old abandoned steel mill, then brought in an abandoned
tractor-trailer to be part of the set.
“It was a gorgeous steel mill, and it had no heat,” Nelson
tells. “We thought it would be fine but, of course, it turned
out to be one of the coldest winters on record. We had to
install a propane heating system and hang industrial-sized
heaters overhead. Everything was formulated completely
Nelson adds that, in general, he finds himself using
every single skill he’s learned from grade school on. “I
never thought I would use those geometry skills, but I
have!” he laughs.
That production was invited to the Festival de Otono in
Madrid, Spain, an absolute thrill for Quantum. For that version
of Dogface, they actually cut that trailer in half, shipped
it to Madrid, got it in the theatre and performed the work in
it. “It’s the crème de la crème of touring,” says Boos.
Jemmett was called on for this season’s Collected Works
of Billy the Kid. Based on a book of poems written by Michael
Ondaatie (author of The English Patient) in the 1970s, it
resonated with Jemmett. Because Billy the Kid is an icon, so
shaped by the movies about him, Boos quickly decided an old
movie house would be the best found space for the work.
Hunting, she found “ an amazing place” with a catch…
let’s just say it was showing “blue” movies to a certain
adult audience. But the city had been trying to swish the
undesirable business out of the up-and-coming neighborhood
with an eminent domain broom. The absentee
owner, holed up miles away in Washington, D.C., held out
for 10 years waiting for more money from the city. Finally
he relented. And there was Boos.
“It was holding up the development of this one part of
Pittsburgh, and I say ‘let me make this work,’” she says.
Once inside, she and company couldn’t believe how perfect
the space was — many parts of the theatre hadn’t
been touched since it was built as a nickelodeon in 1917.
Also, there was a treasure trove of props from bygone
eras, many of which were used as props in the play. And
the actors performed in front of an ancient movie screen.
Stephanie Mayer-Staley quickly got to work on the set
design, and C. Todd Brown worked magic with the lights.
Still, even Boos has her limits: She had her team build a
deck with their own seats on top of, er, “other” seats “so no
one had to sit on those!” she laughs.
This production, too, was invited to the Madrid festival.
There they staged it in a former “gentlemen’s club,” which has
been defunct since the last turn of the century.
Meanwhile, back in Pittsburgh, Nelson is confident that
they will never run out of spaces to put on productions.
“There’s always a warehouse, always a garden, always a
cemetery.” Not that Quantum always gets what it wants.
For some time, the theatre company has been eyeing the
iconic Pittsburgh Plate Glass building. It features a top floor
that has a 360-degree view of the city — it’s all glass and
empty. But the rest of the building is very much in use.
“I have a board member of Quantum who is a senior vice
president there who is working with us, but they have a
problem with security — they can’t get their mind around
letting 200 people come into the building after hours. I’m
just not going to succeed at that right now.
“But I’ll come back to it!”
www.stage-directions.com • May 2008 29
Special Section: Artistic Direction
The current Neo-Futurist ensemble
New Visions In Artistic Direction
How two bold theatres are trying to reinvent the A.D. wheel
By Bret Love
The history and evolution of theatre can be traced back
more than 2,500 years, yet the role of artistic director
doesn’t seem to have changed much since the days of
In general, the A.D. has a range of responsibilities that may
include choosing the theatre’s production slate, hiring creative/production
personnel, directing productions, serving as a
resource for the theatre’s other directors, speaking to the media
and, in many cases, raising funds to support the theatre. In short,
the artistic director is more often than not the primary face, voice
and creative conscience with which the theatre is associated.
Shedding Light on the Neo-Futurists
But many theatrical companies have found that the singular
vision A.D. model doesn’t work for them, instead turning
to more democratic systems that share the balance of power
among several artistic directors, or in some cases, a whole
ensemble. One such organization is Chicago’s Neo-Futurists,
the hip creative collective founded by Greg Allen back in
1988 that’s best known for its 30-plays-in-60-minutes show,
Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind (and for famous
alumnus Stephen Colbert).
“When I created the company,” recalls Allen, “I based it
on my cooperative living experiences at Oberlin. Rather than
setting up a traditional hierarchy, I established a company
run completely on consensus voting, where no one had any
more power than anyone else. I felt this was by far the most
ethical way to run a company and the best way to buck Uncle
Sam’s capitalist system and create art. Everyone would be
that much more invested as equal partners.”
Even now, 20 years later, neither Allen or Artistic Director
Jay Torrence (both of whom receive a part-time salary) have
any greater power over the rest of the ensemble, with all
decisions regarding the theatre’s productions, tours, gigs and
policy made by consensus.
“We have a nurturing, challenging environment where
each writer/director/performer from the ensemble in that
week’s cast gives and receives critical feedback throughout
rehearsals and after every performance,” says Torrence.
“We spend a lot of time talking as a group about the art
we’re making. We experiment, we tweak, we challenge one
another. It keeps the work alive and ever-changing, and our
approach is full of chaos and personal voice, passion and
Of course, as with all experiments, the Neo-Futurists’
democratic trial-and-error hasn’t been without its fair share
of challenges. Allen and Torrence confess that their collective
has confronted obstacles ranging from the facts that reaching
a consensus decision takes forever and endless meetings
require everyone to be respectful and mature in the midst
of highly emotional discussions (a tall order in any group
dynamic) to the simple realities that sometimes creative artists
don’t think with a business mind, and when everyone
has power it’s difficult to know who can steer the ship when
inevitable storms come along.
“The consensus approach theoretically lets everyone be
equal,” admits Allen, “but the actuality is that often the
people who speak loudest and have the most stamina to
keep discussing are the ones who rule the roost. I admit that
I’m often one of those loud speakers and, since I have been
around for 20 years, it takes great effort for me to give equal
weight to the opinion of someone who has been with us for
six months. But I try.”
Still, both Allen and Torrence insist that the payoff is
worth the effort, resulting in distinctive productions like Too
Much Light that truly set the Neo-Futurists apart. “No one
person can dictate something not going into the show,” says
Torrence, which “allows for a broad range of style, voice and
risk-taking in our art. We are allowed to experiment, and we
embrace noble failures on our stage. We keep a high regard
30 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
and respect for the quality of our art. We each feel it is our
name and our theatre, and the individual is closely linked to
the identity of the artistic product we make. This ownership
comes with a high price and commitment, but also reaps a
generous personal reward.”
Collaborating In Out of Hand
That personal reward seems to be equally generous for
the ensemble of Atlanta’s Out of Hand Theatre, which aims
to alter the way people experience live theatre via engaging,
interactive productions such as the self-help movement
parody of HELP! and the drug culture critique of MEDS.
Named “[one of] a dozen young American companies you
need to know” by a prominent theatre magazine, this offbeat
ensemble operates with a three-A.D. structure, with founding
members Maia Knispel, Ariel de Man and Adam Fristoe sharing
“Out of Hand is a collaborative ensemble,” says Knispel,
“and we believe that our best art is created collectively. So
we have three artistic directors that all have equal say in the
artistic decisions of the company. We feed off of and build on
each other’s artistic ideas, and rely on each other to further
our own creativity.”
Fristoe explains their creative approach in a more esoteric
fashion, describing Out of Hand’s collaborative ensemble
as a reflection of what people love about theatre in the first
place. “I believe the primary element of theatre that excites
audiences is the way performers offer an alternative way
for people to interact with each other. Actors function as a
cohesive group working towards a common goal. They really
listen to each other, move together and form a true community.
The three of us bring different perspectives on the art
form and when we marry those perspectives, we challenge
ourselves, our company and our audience to grow in ways
that we as individuals wouldn’t imagine.”
They acknowledge similar challenges to those facing the
Neo-Futurists, but insist that the benefits of their approach
far outweigh the drawbacks. “In many ways the challenges
are also the blessings,” Knispel insists. “The three of us have
many different ideas and opinions, and distilling all of that to
only the finest gems is very hard and time consuming… but
so totally worth it! We disagree, we argue, maybe we fight,
but that’s all part of what makes it so awesome. All those
things create the path that leads us to the best product. We
know that we share the same artistic goals, and the struggles
are just signs of our depth of caring about the work, and an
inherent part of achieving the goal.”
The goal for Out of Hand is to continue to create original
theatrical productions that appeal to everyone from nontheatregoers
to traditionalists and theatre scholars, but also
to attract the coveted 18–35 set. “We want to keep making
the kind of crazy stuff we’re making,” says Knispel. “We want
to find better and wilder ways of making it. We want to share
our shows with as many people as we possibly can, touring
nationally and internationally. We want to introduce multitudes
of people to our methods of training and share our
work and knowledge as widely as we possibly can.”
Taking It Home
Asked what advice they would give other theatre companies
contemplating adopting a more democratic A.D.
structure, Allen, Torrence and Knispel all agreed that their
unique approaches should be handled with caution. Allen
recalls a time in the Neo-Futurists’ history where literally
every decision regarding the theatre was decided via
consensus, from casting issues to what concessions were
offered at the theatre, which ground things to a halt on an
“I think our consensus model works great for the art
if you’re creating an ensemble-driven, ever-changing,
on-going production which is all about self-expression,”
Allen admits, “but it is not the best model for the governance
of an organization.”
“Don’t do it because you’re trying to be democratic,”
Knispel warns. “Do it only if it is the best artistic choice for
your company. Be very careful. The key to successful artistic
‘power sharing’— which is a dangerous way to think of it —
is knowing that you have the same artistic goals. You must
love and respect those with whom you share something this
personal and precious.”
A cheery moment from Out of Hand’s MEDS A shot from the Out of Hand production Cartoon Neo-Futurist Dean Evans and audience member
www.stage-directions.com • May 2008 31
Special Section: Artistic Direction
at the Old Vic
Kevin Spacey relies on training
as he builds for the future.
By Alex S. Morrison
In the massive screening room of the Planet Hollywood
Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, surrounded by journalists,
Sony Pictures employees, celebrities and assorted
hangers-on, the buzz is palpable, built up by the red carpet,
blinding lights and swanky cocktail party leading up to this
world premiere of 21, the latest film from Kevin Spacey’s
Trigger Street Productions. The director and star fill the
stage, but it’s Spacey who commands our attention, goodnaturedly
ribbing his director for talking too much, giving
props to his production partner for finding the author on
whose book the film is based, and basically charming the
pants off everyone in the room.
The setting is a far cry from the confines of London’s Old Vic
Theatre, where Spacey has been found more often than not
since becoming the newly formed company’s artistic director
back in 2003. But the stereotypical Hollywood schmoozing is
a skill that has served him well in the position, where one of
his primary responsibilities seems to be raising money to preserve
a historic theatre that had essentially served as a rental
facility for nearly three decades before his arrival.
“For 30 years, the Old Vic was a booking house,” Spacey
acknowledges in an interview the next morning. “When
the National Theatre left in 1976 under Laurence Olivier’s
artistic direction, it became a booking house. There was
no theatre company, no education program, no outreach
program, so we’ve been trying to build a theatre company
that will survive in a commercial world, even though we
are a charitable organization.”
Becoming artistic director of a new theatre company
is an unusual undertaking for a big-time movie star, but
perhaps not too surprising when one considers Spacey’s
background. Born Kevin Spacey Fowler in South Orange,
N.J., the mischievous youth (who was sent off to a military
academy in an attempt to end his shenanigans) eventually
found a home in the theatre at Chatsworth High School in
the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, where his classmates
included Val Kilmer and Mare Winningham. After a
brief stint at Los Angeles Valley College, he was accepted
into the Drama program at Juilliard, which only served to
stoke the fires of his lifelong love of acting.
“There were probably 5,000 actors and actresses who
applied for the school and only 28 of us who were chosen
for a class,” he recalls, “so you start off feeling like one of the
thoroughbreds. It was life changing because it gives you a
tremendous amount of confidence, but I think what makes
great training great is that it keeps happening. There are a
lot of pieces of information that don’t have any value until
you put them into a personal context. The lesson isn’t necessarily
learned while you’re in school, but when you apply it
later. So in many ways I’m still learning those lessons.”
Though today Spacey credits his Juilliard schooling with
teaching him the technical facility for theatrical performance
— “the ability to get up on stage every single night, eight performances
a week, 12–14 weeks in a row, never lose my voice,
always be alive and ready to take it somewhere else, and be
there for your acting partners” — he left the school after two
years of training, hungry for real world experience.
Signing on with the New York Shakespeare Festival, he
got his first professional credit as a messenger in their 1982
production of Henry VI, and within a year was making his
Broadway debut in a production of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts. By
1986, he was working with his idol and future mentor, Jack
32 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum in the Old Vic’s production of David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow
Lemmon, on a production of Eugene
O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night,
and in 1991 he won a Tony Award for
his performance as Uncle Louie in Neil
Simon’s Lost In Yonkers.
Taking On Hollywood
But in Hollywood, where he was considered
more of a character than a leading
man, Spacey’s career took off much
more slowly. Though he established a
knack for playing gleefully sinister characters
such as a beady-eyed villain in the
TV series Wiseguy, a malevolent office
manager in Glengarry Glen Ross and
a sadistic film executive in Swimming
with Sharks, it wasn’t until 1995 that
mainstream audiences began to take
notice of his talents. With back-to-back
turns as the subtly creepy Verbal Kint in
Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects and as
a psychotic serial killer in David Fincher’s
Se7en, Spacey continued to explore his
dark side to riveting effect, earning his
first Academy Award (Best Supporting
Actor for Suspects) in the process.
But by the time he won his second
Oscar for American Beauty in 2000, the
actor had already begun to question
the course of his career, realizing he
wanted to achieve something more fulfilling
than merely remaining atop the
“My priorities changed when I made
the decision that I wanted to start this
theatre company,” he recalls. “Theatre
had always been my primary allegiance,
and while I spent 10 years being driven
by a personal ambition to have a film
career, I got to a point where that was
no longer of interest to me. I love movies
and have been very grateful to them,
because without them I couldn’t be in
the position I’m in. But I’m now doing
exactly what I want to be doing, and
don’t feel like I’m trapped in the cog of
the wheel anymore.”
Funding the Future
Asked how his experience at the Old
Vic has reshaped him as an actor, Spacey
says that shows such as Eugene O’Neill’s
A Moon For The Misbegotten and this
year’s run of David Mamet’s Speed-the-
Plow have taught him how to create a
story arc over the course of two hours.
www.stage-directions.com • May 2008 33
Special Section: Artistic Direction
Another moment from Speed-the-Plow
”If you haven't had that theatre experience,” he insists,
“it's much harder in a film to figure out how to create an arc
in a very crazy shooting schedule. The frustration in movies
is you never get to play the part straight through. But in the
theatre you learn in front of an audience, because they're
going to tell you very quickly whether you're holding their
attention or not, and whether they're following the story or
not. I’ve always believed that the work I've done in the theatre
has had a huge effect on the work I've done in film.”
It’s also had a huge effect on the amount of time Spacey
can devote to said work. Since taking the A.D. job at the Old
Vic in 2003, the 49-year-old actor has averaged just one film
per year, most of them either Trigger Street Productions
(such as 2004’s Beyond The Sea, which he also directed) or
reunions with old friends (such as Bryan Singer’s Superman
Returns). In fact, shortly after our interview, Spacey hopped
on a plane back to London for another sold-out performance
of Speed-the-Plow, leaving Las Vegas exactly 24 hours after
his arrival. It’s a punishing schedule, but one about which
Spacey remains passionate.
“I hope to be able to leave the theatre company in a position
where I’ve raised enough money for them that whoever
takes over my role as artistic director won’t have to spend as
much time fundraising as I’ve had to,” he say optimistically.
“When you have a 1,000-seat theatre and no subsidy from
the government, it takes a lot to raise that money. So I hope
to be able to leave an endowment to cover the running
costs of the company, to convince some of the government
agencies that our outreach work deserves to be subsidized,
and to raise the money to renovate the building to 21st century
standards, which is a £30 million campaign. Those are
my broader goals over the next five or so years.”
Sure, it sounds like a Herculean task, but it’s a challenge
Spacey seems to relish. “I’m much happier now,” he says
with a charismatic grin, “and I feel that the work I’m doing
there is the most important work I’ve ever done.”
34 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
Special Section: Artistic Direction
Artistic Directors Creating More Than Shows
Two found the
best path to an
position was to
start their own
A moment from the production of Brother Wolf by the Triad Stage
By Kevin M. Mitchell
Theatres are the birthplace of dreams. Audience members
dream of acting, stage techs imagine themselves as lighting
designers, actors want to direct. But it seems that most
around the boards have at one time talked, plotted, wished and
fantasized about having his or her own regional theatre.
Two who dared to have forged their own career path to
become artistic director of thriving theatres are Preston Lane
and Michael Hamilton. Their impressive stories are certainly
not common, but it is inspiring to know that running your
own theatre is possible.
“We look back on it and we can’t believe it happened,”
says Preston Lane, who is on his seventh season as artistic
director, cofounder and director of Triad Stage. Not bad for a
kid from the mountains.
“I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina,” Lane tells.
“It was in a small town called Boone, home to the Appalachian
State University. I remember seeing Hedda Gabler when I was
10, and it convinced me I wanted to be in the theatre.”
In a prelude of what would come, in high school he launched
a theatre program of sorts. The school would only occasionally
do musicals, and Lane, who admits he’s not much of a singer,
aspired to something else. “My friends and I conned some teachers
into directing a dramatic production we wanted to do.”
After that, he went to China for a year to “convince myself
I didn’t want to be in theatre. Apparently that didn’t work out
too well because I’m still here.” He received a BFA at North
Carolina School of the Arts, focusing on acting. Then it was off to
New York City. There he did scene presentations to agents, but
wasn’t happy with how they were trying to pigeonhole him.
“All the agents told me all I’d play was nerds, and in fact, I
was the ‘nerd’ in the Super Mario Brothers movie,” he laughs. He
decided he wanted to be a director so he could “be in charge
and control my career.” One
of his big breaks was working
as the assistant of noted director
Gerald Freedman; then it
was onto Yale where he got
his MFA in directing. It was at
Yale when he realized what he
wanted most was to have a
long-term relationship with a
particular audience, he says.
There he also met future
business partner Rich
Whittington. They worked Preston Lane
together in Summer Theatre
and their conversations increasingly turned to the idea of
starting their own theatre. They did a nationwide search of cities
and Greensboro won out. The two just showed up one day
in 1997 and said, “we want to start a theatre.”
Of course, it wasn’t quite that easy — it took a couple of
years for them to develop the ties to the community necessary.
Meanwhile, Lane left for Dallas for a while to be associate
artistic director at the Dallas Theatre Center under Richard
Hamburger (“I was ‘Hamburger Helper,’” he jokes). Fundraising
took hold and they raised $5.5 million, bought an old abandoned
department store building downtown, converted it
into a theatre and opened in 2001.
However, no one could have been prepared for the events
of September 11, 2001. The plays long chosen for their first
season leaned on heavier, darker material. “The stakes were
high because we hadn’t even done a show, and we were
defining ourselves by our selection.” After the attacks, people
weren’t in the mood to go out, let alone be challenged in
the theatre. Fundraising dried up. Yet they made it through
somehow and, interestingly, did not change how or the type
of material they were drawn to.
www.stage-directions.com • May 2008 35
Special Section: Artistic Direction
“We had people after that first season
say, ‘this isn’t exactly what we thought
this would be,’ and we spent our first two
or three seasons really finding who our
core audience was going to be.”
Today, they found that audience.
Their often provocative work has
garnered 3,000 subscribers and their
shows average 82% capacity. Most
recently, they were able to complete
work on the building they are
in to include offices and a smaller
“A lot of theatres, when they see
the audience isn’t showing, try to find
the lowest common denominator of
material to bring people in. Does this
mean every one of our shows is dark
and depressing? No.” Also, they appeal
to their community by building their
seasons around material written largely
by southern writers.
“Every city in America deserves great
theatre, and those in regional theatre
shouldn’t pretend they are on Broadway.
This is a theatre that is about community
Lane says that to be a successful artistic
director, you have to first be a good
theatre artist. “Whether you’re an actor, a
designer or director, you need to understand
that theatre is not just an art, but
also a business.” Fundraising, budgeting
and making difficult choices, making sure
tickets are sold, are all as much a part of
the job as the ability to pick a play and
put on a show.
Apparently, one of his tasks includes
the proverbial pinching: “No matter what
kind of day I’m having or what problems
have come up, I remind myself that this is
a dream job. I’m very lucky.”
Michael Hamilton grew up in
Kirkwood, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis.
Coincidently, in the exact reverse of
Lane’s upbringing, his drama teacher in
high school was not interested in musicals.
But Hamilton wouldn’t let that
technicality stand in his way. “I got a
bunch of friends together and talked
the principal into letting us do a spring
musical,” he tells. “It was Celebration!”
Hamilton directed, of course.
He attended Southwest Missouri
State School in Springfield on a
scholarship. There he worked alongside
the likes of John Goodman and
Kathleen Turner. Still, he, too, tried to
talk himself out of pursuing theatre as
a career and dropped out of college
and spent a year at the psychiatric
ward of a hospital. (He demurs to say
if that experience helped prepare him
for dealing with “theatre folk,” but
surely it didn’t hurt…)
He then was off to New York where
his focus shifted. “I got a couple of summer
stock jobs as a choreographer, and
one took me to a theatre in upstate
New York where I met Jack Lane [no
relation to Preston — ed.],” he tells. “Like
many young artists, we would have
post-mortems about shows, discussing
what we would have done differently…
it was arrogance, really! We thought we
could do it better!” he laughs.
Their conversations quickly lead to
the idea of starting their own theatre
because “both of us wanted to control
our careers.” Hamilton would be the
36 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
Zachary Halley, Keith Tyrone, Nicholas Kohn, Michael Halling, Matthew Skrincosky and Marc Kessler in the Stages St. Louis 2007
production of The Full Monty
artistic director and Lane would be executive
producer. And for Hamilton, the location was
easy: his hometown of St. Louis. With a $50,000
family loan, and two years of gestation, Stages
would have its inaugural season in 1987.
Hamilton says the success of the theatre
would not be possible without Lane, who while
he started his theatre career as an actor, “his
whole life has pointed toward him becoming a
producer. I’m a creature of dreams — Jack is a
creature of reality!” he laughs. In the beginning,
Lane was successful at bringing in the business
community and getting local support; today, he Michael Hamilton
continues to husband the growth of the organization
to the point that they are in the midst of an ambitious $31 million capital
campaign to create a new home for the theatre and their educational programs.
Currently, Stages has 45,000 patrons, 9,400 subscribers and 57 in its acting
company. A budget of $3.2 million annually allows for some of the best talent and
“We talk about providing our ‘E Ticket’ — Entertain, Enlighten and Excite,”
Hamilton says. “When I put together a season, I look to enlighten our audience
and uplift the human spirit.” He adds that it’s important for an artistic director of
a regional theatre to remember that it’s not about him or her. For example, while
he loves Spring Awakening, it’s not the kind of show that would do well at Stages.
“You can’t produce things in a vacuum. The great objective is to create theatre that
someone else is going to love. You need to pay attention to your audience — not
pander, but foster their interest so you can get them to buy in.”
His years of experience enable him to be good at picking shows. He’s careful to
steer clear from shows, while popular, might be dated and a product of their time:
“I don’t think Oklahoma can be created today, and I don’t think Rent could have
been created 40 years ago. The most important thing an artistic director can do is
to put together the right season, and that involves being a good dramaturge and
understanding the product and the community.”
Hamilton says that when people ask how one gets to be artistic director of your
own theatre, he tells them to get “a Jack Lane. I don’t mean to sound simplistic, but
to create something like Stages you need someone who can quickly gain the support
of the community, be proactive and go around to all the nearby restaurants
and shops and tell them how they will benefit from a theatre like this and then
enlist their support.”
That aside, his advice to those wanting to be artistic directors is “be a passionate
student of theatre. See as much theatre as you can. Go outside your comfort zone
and see theatre you aren’t necessarily excited about at first. And be a student of
the human condition — read the newspapers, the periodicals, know what is happening
in the world and try to understand how it can impact your art…
“And make sure you can’t do something else.”
www.stage-directions.com • May 2008 37
By Tim Cusack
Plays Without the Development Fund
The NEA’s new grant has an $80,000 entrance fee — where does that leave you?
Recently, the NEA announced the
New Play Development Program.
Administered by Arena Stage in
Washington D.C., companies awarded
this grant would be allocated either
$10,000 to support new play development
(with an additional $10,000 going
directly to the playwright) or $80,000 to
help underwrite the costs of a new play’s
But, in order to be eligible to receive
the money, your organization must be
able to match it dollar for dollar. That’s
right — to collect your 80 grand, you’ve
got to line up donors with some pretty
deep pockets who are ready to reach
into them. So, unless you’re a LORT A
theatre (maybe LORT B), you’ve got about
as much a chance of landing this grant as I
do of being cast as the next Superman.
So where does that leave us little
guys? Where we’ve always been —
making new work happen, without
tens of thousands of dollars in government
funding. Granted, for folks producing
under a code, whether on the
East or West Coast, not having to pay
the actors or make the monthly mortgage
on a big, expensive space makes
it much easier to take a risk on a young,
unproven playwright. But I would argue
there’s another factor in play — which is
that many smaller companies (the ones
that produce the majority of new plays)
have built up long-standing relationships
with the playwrights whose work
they are developing or are themselves
being run by playwrights.
OBIE-winning Director John Clancy
would certainly agree. One of the founders
of the NY International Fringe Festival,
Clancy is a huge advocate for using the
multinational network of fringe festivals as
a developmental tool for new work. Every
year for well over a decade he brought
work to the Edinburgh Festival, and his
persistence has paid off: This past year,
he received the first annual Edinburgh
Your #1 Source for
Control Systems for Live
Entertainment - 2nd Ed
Control Systems for Live Entertainment
provides essential information for
technicians, engineers and designers
interested in how control systems and
computers are used in the live
entertainment arena. Specifically
covering control for lighting, lasers,
sound, video, film projection, stage
machinery, animatronics, special effects
and pyrotechnics for theatre, concerts,
theme parks, themed-retail, cruise ships,
museums, corporate and other events.
Robert Simpson’s comprehensive
volume covers all aspects of lighting
control systems. It starts with two
foundation chapters outlining the
basics of electricity, light and
electronics as they apply to lighting
control. It then reviews all current
artificial lightsources, and
comments on their suitability for
Stage Manager The
“Larry Fazio presents the journey of
a stage manager, from interviewing
for the position through striking a
theatrical production. He describes
what does-and sometimes, does
not- make a good stage manager
based on his own experience and
that of other theatre professionals.”
- Janine Rauscher, Dramatics
Order online TODAY at
A step-by-step approach, Illustrated
Theatre Production Guide contains a
brief history of physical theatres and
the development of various forms
such as thrust, proscenium, and black
box venues. Operation of theatre
equipment is covered in detail in the
chapters on rigging and curtains.
Instructions for operating a fly
system and basic stagehand skills
such as knot tying and drapery
folding, are clearly outlined.
International Festival Award, which comes
with a £10,000 commissioning prize and is
bestowed on a fringe company of exceptional
artistic quality. For Clancy, this is the
perfect illustration of his belief that the
best way to foster the development of new
theatrical work is to “give the money to the
voices.” Clancy used part of his grant to pay
himself for the month he spent finishing
his new play. He applied another chunk of
it to underwrite the costs for a two-week
workshop that he directed, paying his cast
a modest fee, which culminated in a public
reading of his play. The process proved
invaluable —“I got two major rewrites out
of it” — but perhaps more important, it
was his process, not one imposed by an
institution. As Clancy puts it, “If you plant
my crop in the soil at the Magic Theatre, it
will taste like the Magic. But if you give me
the money directly, I can water the field
myself. And my play will taste like itself.”
Clancy would like to see younger organizations
given the opportunity to partner
with larger institutions as “shadow
companies,” taking advantage of underutilized
space, such as theatre lobbies, to
develop and rehearse new work during
Blue Coyote Theatre is moving in that
direction. Three years ago, they entered
into an agreement with Access Theatre
in Tribeca to take over that space’s dayto-day
management. In exchange they
have the right to book themselves into
any performance period on the calendar
at a reduced rate. According to Stephen
Speights, one of their four founding
directors, this “access” to space has proven
invaluable in enabling them to nurture
work they feel passionately about.
They also have used funding creatively,
taking a portion of the grant they
received for marketing and applying it to
publicizing their reading series to bring
in more members of the surrounding
community, allowing the playwright to
gauge their work in front of regular
theatergoers. Since quite a few of their
plays have shown up in the Plays and
Playwrights anthologies over the years,
their creative combination of savvy space
acquisition and out-of-the-box grant allocation
seems to be working as one model
for getting new work on its feet.
38 April 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
By David McGinnis
Keeping the Faith
It’s something larger that keeps the blades turning and the drills pressing.
By the time this reaches you undaunted masters known as
our readers, the show in question will have closed, and the
remnants of the intensive labor put forth from my crew will
have vanished into storage between the body of Jimmy Hoffa and
the Arc of the Covenant. That said, stories have passed that bear
repeating, and such a scribe as myself would be remiss to exclude
you from the adventure.
When the production on which I am currently working was
named, I knew that space would come at a premium. The required
set would more than double both our material needs and expected
man-hours. Storage has already run thin, and some small portions
of this new world we’re creating have yet to be completely
assembled. If I wrote in this mischievously honest memoir that my
nerves suffered, I would sue myself for libel, as such a statement
would not give due weight to my current scenario.
Having now begun the process, nights have passed that, as I
stride the threshold of my forgotten home at hours leaning toward
morning, I pass the sympathetic yet undeniably dismayed eyes of
a woman who has seen fit to endure my absence. She did not sign
any contract at any time that binds her to this life, and there are
days — rather nights — when I could not hold a grudge against her
if I found her as absent in the morning as I have been at night.
There are days when the sight of bare lumber stacked along a
wall and the sounds of circular saws remind
me that we have but begun this process. In
these moments, I sweat like a man dodging
fire because I have seen before the events that
precede failure, though time is still with us.
And my wife has yet to leave me.
It is faith that carries my wife, my crew
and myself through such times. Truth be
known, it is so for each and every one of us.
As I survey the seeming wreckage of a set
yet to take its final shape, I cannot escape
the fear that it will all crumble, but I cannot
shake the faith that it will all take shape. I
cannot shake the fear that I’ll return to an
empty home, but I stand on the faith that
I will not.
My wife entreats me to leave work as
soon as possible, and she fears that I’ll be
late yet again. However, she keeps the
faith that I’ll at least return, and I repay that
faith every night.
My crew stand beside me, awed by the
task before us, but they keep their faith
that it will stand one day. Though I cannot
be certain, I suspect a certain faith in me. If
this is so, then it is only right that I return
with faith in them.
We do not necessarily dwell in the world
of abstractions that our colleagues enjoy,
though most, if not all, of us are capable of
it. In our world, that which we might smell,
taste, touch, hear and see looms large over
that which it holds up — namely, the vision that birthed it.
Such a world does not resemble a place of faith. Such a
world dictates its rules through numbers, measurements,
tools. Are these the implements of faith?
Yes, my friends. A drill relies on our hand, and our hand
moves only when commanded by our mind, and that is where
our faith lives. Faith in ourselves, faith in our craft, faith in both
the people with whom we have the honor of working and
for whom we have the honor of doing our work. If we do not
believe in what we do, then it will never be done.
In light of that revelation, I know that every inch of these
drawings spread before me will one day stand, and I know that
I will be able to walk on it, touch it and let anyone know that,
“Yes, I helped the finest crew you’ll never know build it.”
Now, having shaved away that burdensome doubt, and
having renewed my faith that all of us will prevail, the time has
come to return to my sanctum — my shop. By the time you
read this, the show will have opened, run, closed and struck.
But you may keep the faith that it did.
And somewhere in Florida, a woman will have finally
stopped waiting through the night, for her vagabond will have
Keep the faith.
www.stage-directions.com • May 2008 39
Off the Shelf
By Stephen Peithman
Monologues and other resources for
portraying character and situation
The market for monologue collections seems insatiable.
Actors who use these to audition want something that
will set them apart from their competition, and teachers
often use monologues to help students develop character
and project a point of view in a very short time. They also are
a favorite with agents, directors and casting directors, offering
the opportunity to size up an actor’s ability in a minute or
so. Scenes for two actors take this a step farther — not only
establishing character and situation, but forcing each person
to make those choices mesh with those of the other actor.
In 101 Original One-Minute Monologues for Women
Ages 18-25, Author Kristen Dabrowski provides not only the
title’s promised number of short pieces for women (dramatic,
comic and seriocomic), but a variety of situations and personality
types that particularly suit the 18-25 age group. She
also includes some good advice on how to choose the right
monologue. [$11.95, Smith and Kraus]
Also gender-specific are The Best Men’s Stage
Monologues of 2007, and The Best Women’s Stage
Monologues of 2007, both edited by Lawrence Harbison.
Some of the playwrights represented are familiar (Theresa
Rebeck, A.R. Gurney, Terrence McNally), but much of the
material is from new and emerging authors — once again
giving the performer access to well crafted, but not overexposed
works. [$11.95 each, from Smith and Kraus]
161 One-Minute Monologues from Literature is an
eclectic anthology derived from novels, short stories, memoirs,
narrative poetry and essays, indexed by gender, age,
tone, voice and author. Editors John Capecci and Irene
Ziegler Aston include both classic and recent material, and
authors as varied as Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel
Hawthorne, H.G. Wells, William Goldman, Fannie Hurst and
Rita Mae Brown. This is an exceptional collection of unusual
material for audition and study purposes. [$19.95, Smith and
A compact volume with a very long title is The Ultimate
Audition Book for Teens Volume XII: 111 One-Minute
Monologues — Just Comedy! by Kristen Dabrowski. It’s
designed for auditions, class or practice, focusing exclusively
on the comic — from smiles to outright belly laughs. Young
people should enjoy working with this collection. [$11.95,
Smith and Kraus]
Ready for My Close-Up!: Great Movie Speeches, edited by
Denny Martin Flinn, contains 200 speeches from some of the
best — and a few of the worst — films ever made. Although
it wasn’t designed for audition or study purposes, it nonetheless
provides material for actors looking for something a bit
different — from Groucho Marx’s “I shot an elephant in my
pajamas” to Julia Roberts’ “What it takes to be a movie star.”
[$19.95, Limelight Editions]
The Best Stage Scenes of 2007 offers excerpts from recent
plays for student actors to learn how to share the spotlight
with another actor. There’s no time limit for any of the scenes
in this fine collection — some are short, others relatively
long. Characters range in age from teenagers to seniors,
and the tone varies from comic to dramatic. Again, many of
the authors represented may be familiar (Ken Ludwig, Alan
Ball, A.R. Gurney, Daisy Foote), while others are relatively
unknown. The collection includes scenes for one man and
one woman, for two women, and for two men. [$14.95, Smith
Many songs by Stephen Sondheim are essentially monologues
set to music, and now performers can practice their art
with professional accompaniment with Stage Stars Records’
sing-along CD release of Sweeney Todd. The two-disc set
includes 16 background tracks and guide vocals, plus 16
tracks with accompaniment alone. All selections are in their
original keys and tempos. Price is $33.49, and Stage Stars
offers similar discs for Avenue Q, Cats, The Fantasticks, Grease,
Into the Woods, Les Miserables, The Sound of Music and Wicked,
among many others [stage-stars.com].
And if you’d like to compare your Sweeney performance
with those in the original Broadway production, check out
the remastered classic 1982 video recording with Angela
Lansbury and George Hearn, in Dolby Surround 5.1, from
Warner Home Video [$14.97].
40 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
The Play’s the Thing
By Stephen Peithman
Five plays explore
how basic differences
can lead to conflict.
This month’s roundup of recently published plays centers
on five that explore conflict within and between
George Packer’s Betrayed, which centers on the plight
of Iraqis who worked for the U.S. as translators in Baghdad,
began as an article in The New Yorker. Surprisingly, it makes a
gripping play, detailing how these workers become trapped
between the hostility of fellow Iraqis who consider them
traitors and the Americans unwilling to reward their service
by granting them asylum in our country. The result is not so
much an anti-Iraq war piece as it is a drama about the sort of
human dramas that are the inevitable by-product of any war.
Although the situation and historical facts makes a happy
ending impossible, Packer alleviates the tension with a good
deal of humor, and the bittersweet ending is not without
hope. Cast includes 15 males, five females; some parts can
be doubled. [Faber & Faber Books; includes licensing information]
The Overwhelming, by J.T. Rogers, is the story of
an American family, newly arrived in Rwanda in early
1994, who become embroiled in politically driven, lifethreatening
situations with no clue of how to deal with
them. The action develops in a series of short, sharply
drawn scenes that bring the characters to life while
exploring the tensions leading up to the tribal conflict
that eventually killed 800,000 Rwandans. Rogers brings
his point home to us by using as his central characters a
visiting American family who are witnesses to the horrific
events. In doing so, he helps us understand not only the
Rwandan genocide, but what led to it and what it tells us
about ourselves. Eight males, three females; some parts
can be doubled. [Faber & Faber Books; includes licensing
On a much lighter note, Jim Knable’s Spain chronicles
a woman’s journey of self-discovery after an acrimonious
divorce. Dreaming of a new life in Spain, she conjures up
a dream lover — a sexy Spanish conquistador — and the
two of them begin a fantastical love affair as she discovers
more about herself than she might ever have dreamed.
It’s a funny play, although the second act isn’t as good as
the first. Still, the Conquistador and the Ancient (a sort of
Mayan figure) are intriguing comic characters. The New
York critics weren’t kind to Spain, but in the hands of a
strong cast and director, Knable’s dramatic comedy still
has much to offer. Three females, two males. [Broadway
In Huck & Holden, by Rajiv Joseph, a college student
from India named Navin comes to the U.S. to study engineering,
but ends up getting a first-hand look at some
other things America has to offer — like sex, porn and
J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Navin has been
assigned to write a paper on two American literary rebels,
Holden Caulfield and Huckleberry Finn, and develops
an immediate fascination with Salinger’s anti-hero, who
reminds him of Singh, a classmate of his back in Calcutta.
Immediately, Navin’s vision of a Singh/Holden combo
becomes an imaginary advisor who turns up whenever
he needs help in dealing with the conflict between what
is expected of him by his family and his relationship
with an attractive and outspoken African American student
named Michelle. The author’s writing is smart and
sophisticated in its ability to see past stereotypes and
reveal his characters’ essential humanity in this outstanding
new play. Three males, two females. [Samuel French]
A cultural conflict of a very different sort is at the center
of Theresa Rebeck’s Abstract Expression, published in
a new edition by Samuel French. After a scathing review
15 years ago, a once-celebrated painter has faded into
obscurity, living with his daughter in poverty, creating
works that he shows only to her. Then a chance encounter
promises — or threatens — to relaunch his career.
With biting humor and considerable compassion, Rebeck
compares the gritty reality of people living from day to
day with the capriciousness of the art world, where fame
can be a matter of who you know and reputations can be
bought and sold. Six males, three females.
www.stage-directions.com • May 2008 41
By Erik Viker
Backdrops Fantastic’s Tropical Beach Sunset TB004 used for South Pacific at the Theatre Macon in Macon, Ga.
Large-scale painted backdrops are a mainstay of professional
theatre production, and veteran scenic
designers and stage technicians effortlessly select,
install and operate them almost daily. Even with talented
scenic artists on staff, the space needed to sew and paint
scenic backdrops often makes it impossible for small
theatre companies to create their own panoramic backdrops.
With some planning and simple training, community
theatres, academic programs and small professional
companies can also take advantage of the versatility and
flexibility of painted backdrops. If your budget allows, you
can use several backdrops for impressive yet quick scene
changes augmented by easily moveable set pieces and
complementary lighting effects.
A Practical Solution
If your scenic design requirements are flexible and a specific
artistic approach isn’t necessary, backdrop rental may
be a practical solution for your production design needs.
Backdrop rental companies (such as those listed in the directory
pages that follow) maintain extensive online catalogs,
including thumbnail photos of their available products and
rental rates and policies. Online backdrop rental companies
offer backdrop packages tailored to specific popular plays
and Broadway-style musicals, or customers may browse galleries
arranged by design theme. Because these companies
do brisk business year round, you should inquire about
availability before assuming your preferred design is in
stock when you need it. Depending on the design selected,
backdrop rentals can range from $100 to $500 per week,
plus shipping costs. Remember, fabric is surprisingly heavy
and a 50-pound package can be expensive to ship both
ways, so budget your production accordingly if you plan
to rent backdrops. Of course, it is important to make sure
costuming and set pieces are artistically comparable to the
backdrops selected, so your scenic and costume designers
should be involved in the decision-making process from the
beginning. For example, a Victorian environment majestically
displayed across the entire stage may not be what your
designers have in mind as the setting for a “casual contemporary”
The size of the soft goods you select must be carefully considered.
Pre-painted rental backdrops may range in height
between only 10 feet tall to over 30 feet tall, and widths can
exceed 50 feet in some cases. Consider the sightlines of your
venue to ensure the backdrop you choose will meet your
needs, and consider the side masking necessary to adequately
frame the drop visually. Do not underestimate the effect of
distance on perceived size of your scenery: What may seem
like a huge painted surface from the stage apron may look
like a postage stamp to the patrons in the 15th row. If your
design requires one or more backdrops to fly out of sight, you
42 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
Grosh backdrop ES1313 at the Glasgow Summer Theater’s production of Children of Eden
must measure the travel distance of each rigging lineset to
be certain the bottom of the drops can be flown out entirely.
You can determine this distance by loosely fastening the end
of a flexible tape measure to the batten with spike tape and
slowly flying it out to maximum height. Also consider diagonal
sight lines from the first few rows to the bottom of the
flown scenery. If a glimpse of the very bottom of your painted
backdrop from the first few rows is unacceptable, you may
need to add black masking downstage of the backdrop.
Installation and Operation
If your staff does not include an
experienced rigging technician, you
should first ensure your personnel are
properly trained in the installation and
operation of counterweight rigging
equipment before flying any scenery.
Pre-painted backdrops, like most
conventional theatre curtains, usually
include sturdy jute webbing across
the top hem, with metal grommets
and ties installed at 12-inch intervals.
Installation simply consists of centering
the backdrop on a pipe batten
and fastening each tie to the pipe
with shoelace-style knots. For the best visual effect, you
may need to slide sections of threaded one-inch steel or
aluminum pipe (called “bottom pipe”) into a pre-sewn
tube at the bottom hem, thereby stretching the fabric
slightly and minimizing wrinkles. This bottom pipe adds
to the overall weight of the backdrop assembly and must
be considered when flying the backdrop. If your theatre
lacks working linesets, you may still use a painted backdrop,
but you may need to tie ropes or “pick-up lines”
from an architecturally sound location
above the stage, such as a grid or gallery
railing, to support the steel pipe to
which the backdrop will be tied. This
approach is available when the backdrop
does not have to be flown out of
sight. The backdrop should be tied to
Schedule 40 steel pipes, with pick-up
lines leading from the pipe batten to
the grid or other architecture, placed
every 10 feet to avoid flexing the pipe
under load. Your technicians must be
experienced with several types of knots
to ensure the scenery does not place
anyone at risk.
You should follow information about how to handle and
maintain the backdrop as provided by the rental company,
and make sure the painted surface does not drag on the
theatre floor at any time during installation or operation.
Alteration of the backdrop dimensions is not permitted,
but if the drop is too wide for the venue you may be able
to gently fold back the excess width on both sides and tie
the reversed excess to the pipe.
Although rented backdrops are sometimes not the most
Charles H. Stewart’s Paddington Green backdrop used for Oliver
cost-effective scenery solution, they offer lavish design execution
with minimal effort. There is no easier way to visually
fill a large area on stage, and backdrops can add versatility
and elegance to even a modest production.
Erik Viker is an assistant professor of Theatre at Susquehanna
University, where he serves as faculty technical director for
the Department of Theatre and teaches courses in theatre
operations and stage management.
www.stage-directions.com • May 2008 45
BACKDROPS & DRAPERY
Acme Scenic & Display, Inc.
7737 NE Killingsworth St.
Portland, OR 97218
439 County Rte 45 Ste. 1
Argyle, NY 12809
AE Mitchell & Co., Inc.
4316 Wheeler Ave.
Alexandria, VA 22304
ASI Production Services, Inc.
10101 General Dr.
Orlando, FL 32824
Automatic Devices Company
2121 S 12th St.
Allentown, PA 18103
7990 Dagget St. Ste. C
San Diego, CA 92111
552 Poplar St.
Macon, GA 31201
See their ad on page 47.
Backdrops.us/ New York
8 John Walsh Blvd. Ste. 322
Peekskill, NY 10566
Big Image Systems USA
4208 Ottawa Ave. S
St. Louis Park, MN 55416
571 Queensbury Ave.
Queensbury, NY 12804
BMI Supply South
209-B Depot St.
Greer, SC 29651
See their ad on page 7.
BN Productions, Inc.
P.O. Box 353
Boxford, MA 01921
28250 Ballard Dr.
Lake Forest, IL 60045
873 Broadway Studio 603
New York, NY 10003
Charles H. Stewart Co., Ltd.
115 Flagship Dr.
North Andover, MA 01845
See their ad on page 43.
Chicago Canvas & Supply
3719 W Lawrence Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625
See their ad on page 51.
Classique Decor Ltd.
5528 47 A Ave.
Wetaskiwin, AB T9A 0M1
P.O. Box 79 134 Royce Rd.
White Lake, NY 12786
Continental Scenery, Inc.
7802 Clybourn Ave.
Sun Valley, CA 91352
22395 S Western Ave. Ste. 302
Torrance, CA 90501
124 Enterprise Ave. S
Secaucus, NJ 07094
See their ad on page 47.
724 Kevin Ct.
Oakland, CA 94621
Demolli Fine Art Studio
3200 Liberty Ave. Unit 2C
North Bergen, NJ 07047
6450 Lusk Blvd. Ste. E106
San Diego, CA 92121
See their ad on page 45.
3401 Indiana Ave.
Winston-Salem, NC 27105
Fullerton Music Theatre
218 W Commonwealth Ave.
Fullerton, CA 92832
46 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
G&G Design Associates
310 S Long Beach Blvd.
Compton, CA 90221
130 Winterwood Ave.
Ewing, NJ 08638
Georgia Stage, Inc.
4153 Lawrenceville Hwy.
Lilburn, GA 30047
Grosh Scenic Rentals
4114 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
See their ad on page 46.
770 Tolman Creek Rd.
Ashland, OR 97520
Hudson Scenic Studio, Inc.
130 Fernbrook St.
Yonkers, NY 10705
2-07 Borden Ave.
Long Island City, NY 11101
See their ad on page 44.
John S. Hyatt & Associates,
420 Alabama Ave. NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
Joseph C. Hansen
423 W 43rd St.
New York, NY 10036
8125 Santa Fe Dr.
Overland Park, KS 66204
See their ad on page 48.
BACKDROPS & DRAPERY
13201 NE 16th Ave.
North Miami, FL 33161
12660 Branford St.
Los Angeles, CA 91331
Lite Trix, Inc.
2422 Long Rd.
Grand Island, NY 14072
Limelight Productions, Inc.
471 Pleasant St.
Lee, MA 01238
129 W. Pittsburgh Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53204
See their ad on page 50.
Major Theatre Equipment
190 Dorchester Ave.
South Boston, MA 02127
Michael Hagen, Inc.
207 Ferry Blvd.
South Glen Falls, NY 12803
Newmark Scenic Productions
2917 Poplar St.
Sarasota, FL 34237
825 Rhode Island Ave. S
Golden Valley, MN 55426
Performance Solutions FX
29 Basin St.
Toronto, ON M4M 1A1
615 S. Alaska St.
Seattle, WA 98108
Premier Lighting &
12023 Victory Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91606
Production Advantage, Inc.
P.O. Box 1700
Williston VT 05495
9940 NW 79th Ave.
Miami, FL 33016
Paron West/Paron Annex
206 W 40th St.
New York, NY 10018
Performing Arts Supply Co.
11421-B Todd St.
Houston, TX 77055
Quality Stage Drapery Ltd.
18021 105th Ave.
Edmonton, AB T5S 2E1
Ravenswood Studio, Inc.
6900 N. Central Park Ave.
Chicago, IL 60712
Rose Brand East
4 Emerson Ln.
Secaucus, NJ 07094
See their ad on the inside
of the back cover.
Rose Brand West
10616 Lanark St.
Sun Valley, CA 91352
See their ad on the inside
of the back cover.
S&K Theatrical Draperies, Inc.
7313 Varna Ave.
North Hollywood, CA 91605
P: (800) 341-3165
San Diego Opera Scenic
3064 Commercial St.
San Diego, CA 92113
Scenery First, Inc.
207 Elmwood Ave.
Sharon Hill, PA 19079
539 Temple Hill Rd.
New Windsor, NY 12553
Scenicsource Fabrics Inc.
1209 Security Dr.
Dallas, TX 75247
Schell Scenic Studio
841 S Front St.
Columbus, OH 43206
BACKDROPS & DRAPERY
Sculptural Arts Coating, Inc.
P.O. Box 10546
Greensboro, NC 27404
8650 109th Ave. N
Champlin, MN 55316
36 W 20th St.
New York, NY 10011
P: (800) 422-7381
29 Basin St.
Toronto, ON M4M 1A1
Sew What?, Inc.
1978 Gladwick St.
Rancho Dominguez, CA 90220
Showman Fabricators, Inc.
47-22 Pearson Pl.
Long Island City, NY 11101
Silhouette Lights & Staging
2432 S Inland Empire Way
Spokane, WA 99224
411 San Anselmo Ave.
San Anselmo, CA 94960
Stage Front Presentation
6 Southern Oaks Dr.
Savannah, GA 31405
Stage Technology, Inc.
3110 Washington Ave. N
Minneapolis, MN 55411
Stagecraft Industries, Inc.
5051 N Lagoon Ave.
Portland, OR 97217
1510 S Main St.
Little Rock, AR 72202
Sunbelt Scenic Studios
8980 S McKemy St.
Tempe, AZ 85284
Syracuse Scenery &
Stage Lighting Co., Inc.
101 Monarch Dr.
Liverpool, NY 13088
50 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com
Texas Scenic Co.
5423 Jackwood Dr.
San Antonio, TX 78238
Theatre Service and Supply
1792 Union Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21211
1221 Jordan Ln.
Huntsville, AL 35816
Tobins Lake Studios/TLS
7030 Whitmore Lake Rd.
Brighton, MI 48116
See their ad on page 49.
622 Sonora Ave.
Glendale, CA 91201
United Stage Equipment
110 Short St.
Hartselle, AL 35640
UV/FX Scenic Productions
171 Pier Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90405
1300 W McNab Rd.
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33309
408-A Meco Dr.
Wilmington, DE 19804
For more information about the companies
advertising in Stage Directions® and serving the
theatre profession, go to the links listed below.
Advertiser Page Website
ACT Lighting 5 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-237
American Musical &
Dramatic Academy/ AMDA
Angstrom Lighting 51 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-176
Apollo Design Technology 25 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-104
Atlanta Rigging Systems 13 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-177
Audiovend Wireless Systems 36 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-102
Backdrops Fantastic 47 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-251
Barbizon 37 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-275
BMI Supply 7 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-107
Bulbtronics 36 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-110
Charles H. Stewart & Co. 43, 51 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-113
Chauvet Lighting 9 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-155
Chicago Canvas & Supply 51 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-179
City Theatrical Inc. 12, 51 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-114
D.A.S. Audio C2 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-180
Datapro Systems 51 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-252
Dazian Products 47 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-181
DreamWorld Backdrops 45 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-157
Eartec 12 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-276
Elation C4 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-182
Full Compass 15 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-274
Graftobian 51 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-208
Graham Swift & Co/
Grosh 46 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-253
I.Weiss 44 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-254
Kenmark 48 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-255
Light Source, The 1 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-160
Mainstage Theatrical Supply 50 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-256
Mask Arts Company 51 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-296
NATEAC 26 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-280
New York Film Academy 6 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-133
Rosco Laboratories 11 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-143
Rose Brand C3 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-140
Sculptural Arts Coating 39 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-141
Stagelights.com 51 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-167
Techni-Lux 33 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-250
RC4 Wireless Dimming
TheatricalHardware.com 34 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-247
Tobins Lake Studios 49 http://infox.hotims.com/18508-257
information contact James at
By Thomas H. Freeman
Let Down Your Swing
The swing flown at stage level connects the two circular platforms.
Rapunzel sings to her prince while sitting on the swing,
not a tower, in the Kneehigh production of Rapunzel.
For a revisionist take on the tale of Rapunzel, Kneehigh
Theatre staged a swing, not a tower.
Blame Into the Woods, or Disney backlash, but
fairy tales are rarely given the earnest, straightahead
treatment on stage anymore — and
Kneehigh Theatre’s production of Rapunzel at The
New Victory Theater in New York is no different.
Playwright Annie Siddons and Director Emma Rice
reached back to the older texts of Rapunzel that lie
behind the Grimm Brothers’ famous version to find a
more capable heroine and a little jolt of “va va voom.”
As part of the staging for this nontraditional take,
their Rapunzel has long, black dreadlocks and the
step-mother isn’t so much a witch as just incredibly
As part of this re-imagining, the tower where
Rapunzel is trapped is staged as a swing. A red, ovalshaped
piece of floor is flown to stage level during
the show, to bridge a gap in two circular stages. The
same oval piece is also flown approximately six feet
above the stage and supports two performers who
use the platform as a tower and swing. A small, portable
Saxis control unit and BigTow winch, from Stage
Technologies, is being used to create these effects for
the touring production.
Stage Technologies worked with Production
Manager and Lighting Designer Alex Wardle on this
project and provided a system capable of flying a
small platform carrying two performers.
“Part of the reason we chose the system is that the
Saxis is simple to program and operate,” says Wardle.
“During the performance, it is operated by our Stage
Manager Amy Griffin, who is in costume, running
around the stage passing props to actors, setting off
pyrotechnics, fetching the rabbit from its hutch and
flying two hemp sets — so it’s got to be simple! Also,
the tour in the UK played in the round, which meant
that the winch was in the same room as the audience,
so it was important that it runs reasonably quietly”.
Also in the unit’s favor was the compact size of the
Saxis unit and BigTow winch, which make the system
easy to install and transport, and give it more options
for installing in the rigging, making it a good option
for small and touring productions.
Answer Box Needs You!
Every production has its challenges. We’d like to hear how you solved them!
Send your Answer Box story and pics to firstname.lastname@example.org.
52 May 2008 • www.stage-directions.com