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?

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My Final Two Penang Shows in the Works

I’ll be leaving my beloved Penang after 11 wonderful years. I decided to go out with a bang and produce two shows within one week during our school’s Fine Arts Festival in June. So this week, I fired up photoshop and did some mockups for both of the shows. I’ll have lots more to say about both of these shows as the dates approach, but suffice it to say, I can’t wait. It’s going to be really fun to go back into the archives and pull out a bunch of our most favorite material to say goodbye with. So here they are:

May 12-13:  RLT Players: Our Best

May 20: RLT Musical

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A Look at a Director’s/Producer’s Show Week

Did you ever wonder what a director or producer does during show week? I’m not sure what other directors do, but here’s what my week looks like.

Saturday

Printing all promotional display items which will be displayed outside the theatre.

Sunday

Put up all the display items on the display boards outside the theatre.

Monday

Double final run-throughs of the entire show. Finalizing all props.

Tuesday

Stage painting, getting ready for set-up the following day. We will be painting our triangular stage to look like a Christmas tree. Get ready to measure and paint.

Wednesday

Bump-in. We have to set-up all 12 microphones and plot out the lighting cues. Lighting cues are the bane of most director’s existence because of the excruciating about of time that it takes. But every second spent is worth it. Lights can  make or break a show. Plan on six hours here.

Thursday

Cast/Crew arrive around 12:30. We will settle in to the backstage area, introduce the props and do a technical rehearsal (showing all lighting cues for the first time). Once finished, we will do a complete dress rehearsal. Then in the evening, show #1.

Friday

Dress rehearsal for the pre-show. Cast/crew meeting then performance #2.

Saturday

Arrive at 11:30. Make-up, meeting show #3.  Meeting. Show #4. Curtain call and re-paint the stage black.

Sunday

It’s all over. Collapse and sleep.

This is one of the most exhausting and enjoyable weeks of the year for me.

Break a leg, everyone.

(By the way, this is just a small list of jobs. It doesn’t mention monitoring ticket sales, training front of house, ushering in people to make sure they have a seat, dealing with mistakes or equipment which isn’t working. The list goes on forever. Don’t forget to hug a director today!)

On Set Design and Stuff

Being a writer, director, and producer of theatrical performances, but yet not coming from a background of formal training, has given me an uneasy relationship with set production design. I do it by default, since there’s really not anyone else at this point to think through and make the design decisions about our production. Luckily, the actual artwork isn’t done by me – if that would be the case, all of my productions would be nothing but black-box theatre.

Here’s a sneak peak at part of the production set design for our show next month.

2015-04-22 15.29.42This awesome backdrop painted on thin plywood were skillfully done by one our of talented art classes.  This is a town scene form 1903. It is difficult to tell from this picture how big these are. They are six feet tall and in the picture sitting on some drama cubes for our photoshoot we did yesterday.

Realism and perspective are important in set design, but how much realism is needed to get the point across? These pieces will be in the background, flanked on either side by some additional black walls to help create depth and perspective. The action will be taking place quite a ways in from of this backdrop, but we are hoping that this will create a pleasing look to back the actors. Of course, we’ll never know for sure until we bump-in to the theatre.

I remember my first dramatic production when I wanted so much realism that the set changes took 5 minutes between scenes. It was ridiculous, and I’ve learned a lot since then.

Sleek, adaptable designs are certainly the way to go. This particular backdrop above will be easily attached and removed from a large wooden structure with a staircase on each side and a walkway above. Actually, we will have angels literally walking above the roofs of those houses. But those houses can be easily removed making the structure usable as a hotel and saloon scene as well. (I’ll need to get some more photos of that once finished.)

Here’s how I now insist on set designs for my production:

1) All pieces must be adaptable to other scenes.

2) Pieces which aren’t adaptable need to be able to be removed within seconds.

3) Scene changes (in most all cases) can occur when other action is taking place somewhere else – either on the side of stage or elsewhere. This ensures proper flow and minimal transition.

4) If a scene can be just as good without a prop of design piece which is a hassle, then don’t use it. Keep everything as simple as possible.

5) But don’t skimp on the essentials!

Lots more coming up about the production of my new show!

 

 

 

Theatre Production – So Many Hats

I’m back into full-swing theatre mode. So much of my day revolves around theatre and drama, and, of course, I love all of it. But it is a telling sign of what’s to come. Here’s a quick run-down of all theatre related items I did today.

  • A colleague came to talk to me about a duet act which two students are having trouble visualizing. It’s a piece I wrote, so she was asking me how I saw the two characters.
  • In my drama class, we defined theatrical performance and talked about audience dynamics. Plus we played some silly acting games.
  • I was asked by someone if I would write some short dramas for some upcoming meetings that we will be having. (I’m happy to.)
  • I was pulled out of my classroom into a production meeting concerning our big musical coming up. The set designers wanted to confirm my thoughts on their ideas.
  • I met with two other colleagues, our voice director and choreographer, and we walked through all 13 of the original songs that go with our new production. We were mapping out ideas and trying to figure out how to effectively rehearse with 29 students in the cast.
  • A student came by and asked me to meet with him next week to go over his character for an upcoming duet.
  • Tonight, I’ll probably do some drama writing for some of the plays and musical items I’m planning to write.

This was my day – and that doesn’t count my regular job which isn’t related to theatre.

Drama is, for me, an act of love. So all in all, it was a great day.