Wearing a New TECH Hat

My role as drama director has shifted as I now produce my shows in a brand new theatre-style auditorium. In the past, I’ve had a dedicated theatre tech staff, professionally trained in lighting design for dramatic shows. I used to tell those fine professionals what I wanted and they worked their magic.

Well, no more. I’ve had to add lighting tech to my list of responsibilities, and shall I say, I actually love it.  Here’s a photo of me doing design work from the ETC Element console in our auditorium.

Lighting Booth
I designed that setting red sun along with a blue wash for my play “No in Spite of Itself.” I added a starry gobo to it as well though not noticeable in the shot.

 

Lighting design is just the type of creative activity which I love to do. Along the course of my theatre journey, I’ve had to learn graphic design on photoshop, audio editing on Audacity, and now I’m knee deep in the wonderful world of theatre lighting.

I have a lot to learn, and I have to learn how to do proper lighting with the limitations of our new theatre.

Drive By
In this shot, spotlight on stage left focused on the mayor’s press conference. A scrim at center stage is lighted by a Source Four ellipsoidal and the cyclorama is lit in blue and red by our Source Four LED par lights.
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Distant view of the same shot.

 

I was happy with the results of my first lighting design. I can’t wait to do more!  There’s really an unlimited type of creativity offered in this type of work–especially with the high-end LED lights that we have. The color, oh my, is tremendous. Every scene can be shaded differently to help set the tone.  So much fun!

I’m fortunate to be able to run the whole gamut of theatre in my current setting – writing, producing, directing, and now sound & lighting design.

Let’s keep it going! I have three more shows planned for next year.

LED Lights and Theatre

Most of my experience in doing lighting design for theatre was drawing a sketch of what I needed and handing it to a talented technician who actually knew what to do to make it happen.

The systems I worked with were good but old school. You know, strip lights, parcans, colored gels, fresnels, and ellipsoidals. All that stuff did the trick and I was, in conjunction with those talented technicians, able to create some pretty cool lighting landscapes for shows over the years.

I got my first taste of LEDs a few years back in a small venue. I was not impressed. These were obviously cheap LED lights. Some of the lighting nodules stopped working after a while. We had a terrible system for controlling them, and I kept thinking: give me a parcan any day over a LED. At least I can blast the stage with reliable light!

I have now switched my opinion about LED lights in theatre because of the brand new auditorium I’m now working in which installed the Source 4 LED. Wow! And double wow!

Our auditorium is equipped with 20 of the Source 4 Lustre units – 10 of them having the ellipsoidal zoom lens and 10 of the them having the Fresnel adapter. We also have 20 of the Source 4 LED Par lights and four of the magic dot.

Forty-four lights for theatre is not a lot. Probably will need another 20 at some point, BUT what these lights can do is impressive. I’ve been spending all of my free time learning the ETC Element console for controlling these bad boys. It’s a little overwhelming but also really fun.

Here’s what sticks out to me about the Source 4 LED. Brightness. These babies are bright and the zoom lens creates crisp outlines. The Fresnel lens creates beautiful soft light, which when coupled with the barn door attachment, can be directed in a myriad of ways.

Next. COLOR. Oh my goodness. The color that comes out of these LEDs is unparalleled. I wowed my students the other day but doing a color wash of the stage from a deep blue  to a vibrant green to a hot red to every combination in between. All with a click of a mouse. No more changing gels!

This is impressive stuff, and I feel fortunate to be able to work with this system into the future.

Source 4 LEDs give theatre so many new options never before available to lighting designers. Imagination is the limit, so I hope my imagination will take-off and do something really special in this venue.

I know I’m going to enjoy the ride.

A Lot of Learning on the Horizon

The school where I teach drama is on the verge of having a brand-new, state-of-the-art auditorium. I like to call it a theatre, myself.

It’s completely outfitted with Source 4 LED lights which are awesome and so incredibly versatile. It’s got a ETC Element lighting console and a complete professional Bose sound system coming next week. It’s got 10 rigging bars with high capacity motors and a powered curtain. It’s going to be a sweet facility and it will be my domain day in and day out. I can’t wait!

But what hit me, yesterday, as I was being trained on the ETC Element, is that I have a TON of learning to do, and I have to learn fast because the very first show in our theatre is opening on April 24. Now that I know I’ll have the auditorium, it changes everything about the show. Ahhh!

Where to begin? Scrims. I need to make some scrims. Gobos. I need some gobos!

Oh yeah, I need to learn the equipment.

And lighting plan? How’s this? My first rough draft.

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Don’t try and decipher it. I can barely understand it, but it’s my first real lighting plan, so that’s exciting!

In the past, I’ve had the privilege of working with professional technicians trained in lighting for theatre. Not any more. I gotta learn, and some of the AV guys at the school gotta learn. Lighting for drama is a BEAST, and we have to tame it!

Anxiety level: high!

Excitement level: even higher!

Here’s a mock-up of the poster for my April show. I can’t wait. No, yes, I can because I have so much work to do until I get there. But it will be a fun ride.

Time to replan the backdrop for the show. Anyone going to be in Jeddah in April?

Stories poster2

Finally – Christmas Drama Collection Coming in 2019

I love writing Christmas plays, and I’ve written thirty of them over the last few years — including a couple Christmas mini-musicals.

Now, finally, I’m going to be pushing hard over the next few months to get them out into the marketplace.

Tales of Wonder is a three-part series of full-length Christmas shows which premiered at the Penang Performing Arts Centre from December 2015 through December 2017.

The collection is a mix of secular and sacred, silly and serious. I had so much fun producing two of these shows. There’s something about the Christmas season which lends itself extremely well to the dramatic arts. There’s no greater time to focus in on family-drama with societal implications.

I love this collection and I’m super excited to finally getting this project off the ground. These shows (or individual sketches) are great for a variety of settings such as community theater, schools (both public and private), and churches.

I’ll keep everyone updated on the project’s progress. Hope to have them out by spring so folks thinking about Christmas shows will have plenty of time to prepare for something truly special.

Oh, and I even have a first-draft mock-up of the book’s cover.  Let me know what you think!

front cover Tales of Wonder

Successfully Built Dictator 2.0

Last night ended another show. We had two successful showings of HOW TO BUILD A DICTATOR 2.0. It was loads of fun and had two great, responsive audiences.

The premise of the show is a political rally where people show up to nominate THE ONE for world leader. I can’t get into the gist of the show without giving away the punchline, but it’s a tremendously fun evening which includes a full party with food and drinks, with the venerable Wael Sedky gracing us on the strings. Yours truly even had an on-stage role which I clearly loved. I got to scare two boys with my loud voice. They were talking, so they deserved it.

This is experimental, black box, interactive theatre at its best.

Now I’ll give myself a month break and get ready for our next show in April.  Here are a few shots of the evening.

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How to Build a Dictator 2.0

Two years ago I debuted an experimental theatre piece of mine entitled “How to Build a Dictator.” It was directed by my talented former student and theatre wizard Ysabel Loh and it was part of the Penang Performing Arts Centre Black Box Experiments series. It was tremendously fun to put on. We had a great audience and they reacted wonderfully to this unique audience-interactive show.

Now, I’m introducing “How to Build a Dictator 2.0” I start production on it this weekend with a completely revamped script I just finished writing. It’s 25% longer with even more insane stuff happening which will completely confuse (and hopefully amuse) the audience. I held auditions for it last Sunday and I have a dozen great actors ready to roll on this, though they have NO idea what they are actually getting themselves into. And that’s the beauty of it.

I haven’t had a show since April, so it feels good to get working on one. I’ll be sure to post many updates as we go along and get closer to the show dates of early December. But for now, I’ll leave with our mock-up poster – courtesy of Ysabel Loh who designed this for the first dictator show. I feel like the design is set in stone. This is the branding for this show. So here we go. Let the fun begin. dictatorPOSTER.jpg

Would the Bard Approve?

In my drama class this week, I emphasized one of the most basic points related to the dramatic arts – plays are meant to be performed.

You may think I’m stating the obvious. But the obvious sometimes gets lost in the well-meaning jungle of academic minutia.

Ask yourself, how many plays did you have to read in an English class at some point in your life?

In college, I had the Riverside Shakespeare – the massive volume of all the bard’s plays and poetic works wrapped with hundreds of pages of commentary. It was overwhelming on both the brain and my muscles. And I went to college in the days before backpacks. At least I don’t remember backpacks. I remember carrying books under my arms with my knuckles dragging on the ground from the weight of Lady Macbeth’s scheming. All of those plays I read by myself in my dorm room. Is it any wonder I had trouble paying attention to them.

This is what I have concluded: Plays. Stage. Perfection.

Plays. Classroom. Less than perfection.

How much better is Shakespeare when seeing it live? How about a bizzilion times!

Case in point. This summer I had the opportunity to see “As You Like It” in a small outdoor park venue. The lively performance used the hillside and trees as part of the  stage – a terrific natural setting which added to the imagination of the piece. The actions and language brought the play to life in vivid ways, and hundreds of people sprawling out on lawn chairs and lounging on the natural green grass amphitheater enjoyed a terrific evening of entertainment away from the television or sports or cell phones.

The pages were alive, as they should be.

I’m sure the bard would have approved of the spectacle in Allen Park, though I have to wonder what he would have thought to see his works studied like ancient manuscripts in a static classroom.

Plays are meant to be brought to life.  They are meant to be performed. They are meant to be read aloud. The voice, the emphasis, the cadence, the rhythm, the sound of the varied pitches, the laughter, the growls, the crying, the joy, the humanness.

Lets get the plays out of the classrooms and onto the stage.

But if they must be in the classroom, I hope an impromptu stage emerges with students reading and acting out the words on the page which were never meant to stay there.

 

THE BIRTH OF TECHNICOLOR in Brooklyn

THE BIRTH OF TECHNICOLOR in Brooklyn

I had the privilege of watching the world premiere of my play THE BIRTH OF TECHNICOLOR at the Gallery Players’ Theatre Black Box New Play Festival 2018.

Here I am, excited standing outside the theater.

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The play was adeptly directed by David Thomas Cronin and beautifully acted by two talented actors: Elizabeth Pickering Hopland (who played the character Black & White) and Danielle Ferretti (who played Technicolor). Here we are basking in the aftermath of opening night.

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You’ll notice Elizabeth was too quick with taking off her make-up since she didn’t know the nosy writer would be there requesting a photo after curtain call.  So I grabbed a promotional photo from dress rehearsal so you can see what she looked like.

blackandwhite

Yes, fabulous. Both of them. And they shined on-stage with terrific chemistry and point-on timing. It is always such a treat for a playwright to see a new work come to life. This is a quirky and funny play which honors the throwback golden era of cinema with loads of references to many of the great black and white films of all time.

This was the very first time I have ever gotten to see one of my plays in America. I’ve spent so much time overseas and produced many different shows in some unique venues, but it was special to finally be able to be there in the Big Apple at Brooklyn’s “premiere off-Broadway theater” to see a great show.

I tip my hat to all involved including Sue and Dominic who produced the show.

Hopefully, there will be many shows to come.

In Brooklyn This Week: “The Birth of Technicolor” @ Gallery Players’ Theater

In Brooklyn This Week: “The Birth of Technicolor” @ Gallery Players’ Theater

If you are in the NYC area this weekend, don’t miss the world premiere of my play “The Birth of Technicolor” at the Gallery Players’ Black Box New Play Festival. It is one of four plays which will be performed Thursday June 14 through Sunday June 17. (Thurs-Sat @ 7:30 & Sunday @ 3:00)  I will be on hand Thursday and Friday evenings. Hope to see you there!

The play itself is a cute little thing. Black & White Film and Technicolor Film show up to give an audition to famed movie director DW Griffith. Each of them want the starring role in his next film. It doesn’t take long for Black & White to feel threatened by Technicolor’s brash and colorful personality. Eventually they each perform a death scene for the director, but the outcome is not what either of them expects.

Play: The Birth of Technicolor   Written by Mark W Sasse

Directed by David  Thomas Cronin

The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11215

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For the Glory of Stagecraft: Broadway Flats

Stagecraft. It’s an art form without limits in many ways because the artistry of stage craft can achieve stupendous monumental artistic heights. Most theatre productions, however, are not quite so grandiose in reach – including my own productions. My artistic abilities certainly have their limitations. I depend greatly upon actual artist to draw and paint and create much of the visual magic which takes place on stage.

I am, however, interested in stage craft, and I’ve been learning the different methods of creating backdrops and visual textures on stage. One indispensable part of building a set, in my opinion, is the Broadway flat. Essentially, Broadway flats are wooden frames with taut muslin fabric stretched across them. Here, let’s look:

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This is the backstage view of the flats we made for our show “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” I decided I wanted a static background which represents the entire show. So we built the frames, stretched the muslin over it, and treated the fabric with diluted white glue which helped to tighten it so would be good for painting. You’ll notice that Broadway flats (ours were 8 ft  x 4 ft) need wooden jacks which support the flats. The jacks were attached to the flats with metal l-brackets and then attached to the stage floor with small screws. Weights or sandbags would also work if you aren’t allowed to screw into the flooring.

Here’s what the front looked like:

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These cloth flats have the illusion of being solid wood. Even my tech person didn’t know they were made out of cloth. What’s great about them is that they are very light to move in case you need to strike the set during the show, and very cost effective because when the show is finished, you can paint over them for the next show.

I also love to use them for colored textured on stage. When painted white, they can be splashed with color or the pattern from a gobos to create great visual backdrops for drama, dance, or music.

Creating Broadway flats was one of the first things I wanted to do at my new school since they didn’t have any. In my opinion, they are an essential element of theatre production, and a really enjoyable project to make with students.

This particular backdrop added a lot of color and life to our production.

So, do you love Broadway flats as much as I do?