Are You Missing These Kind of People in Your Life?

Are you missing these people in your life?  What is special about community theatre actors?

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That’s my student portraying Mary Poppins!

This is a subject near and dear to my heart.  I have a very long relationship with community theatre.  I helped to create one in Columbia, Missouri back in 1979 I believe.  It is still in existence today.

In fact, I co-developed a national playwriting contest for youth theatre plays while being involved with  Columbia Entertainment Company.  You can find more information about the contest at:  Start a Playwriting Contest Using 20 Questions

But I digress…

Sometimes, although less now than in the past, people who aren’t involved in community theatre have sort of scoffed at it.  As though the people who enjoyed it were dopey or something.

It is no different than playing on a adult intramural soccer team or bowling with your league buddies.  My community theatre friends just enjoy performing on a stage under stage lights.  (It’s the next closest thing to playing dress up and make believe and didn’t we all enjoy that when we were kids?)

summer theater 1

Community theatre actors come from all walks of life. Many simply love theatre, but chose to have another vocation other than performing.

I direct many doctors, lawyers, teachers, fireman, policeman, nurses, college students, business people,  and whole families from the youngest only six years old to the eldest in their eighties.  I  work with people from television shows I watched several decades ago.

I have a varied acting resume as well. Through community theatre, I’ve been directed by a Yale graduate, a Broadway professional, a high school drama director and even a priest!

Image result for community theatre actors in dressing room

What is special about community theatre actors (and let’s not forget all the technical people either,) is the comradery one feels when you work with them.  There is simply no other group of people quite so warm and supportive.

Think about it.  These people put in an eight hour day at their jobs, rush home to eat a bit of dinner and head out to the theatre in under an hour.

It can be grueling and…it can be boring but it’s also a heck of a lot of fun! Many times they rehearse for three hours with no breaks. Or they sit around for an hour and chat with their cast members while they wait to rehearse.  It’s all part of the experience.  (Note:  Professional theater can look the same.)

They memorize their lines while driving in their cars, during lunch breaks or watching their child’s soccer games. I am sure there were times where my husband and/or daughters knew my lines as well as I did from quizzing me on them.

Usually, community theatre actors bring in their own personal items to fill out their costume.  It is not uncommon for them to purchase several pairs of dance shoes, tights, leotards, wigs or purchase contact eye wear since they can’t wear their modern glasses in a play set in the 1800s.

But the costumes can be outstanding and exciting to wear.  These aren’t generic Halloween costumes or something dragged out of an attic.  I’ve had costumes custom made especially for me.  Here is one from Cricket on the Hearth:

cricket on the hearth (2)
Dot in “Cricket on the Hearth” a straight role

The men are known to grow mustaches or beards if need be.  Or the opposite.  They’ll cut off their long hair or shave off their beards if it gives them a look of  authenticity. Women have dyed their hair for a role as well.

If the show is a musical, the musicians bring in their own instruments, music stands and whole drum sets. I know some musicians accompany for little to no stipend.  That’s okay with them. They enjoy the experience just as much as the cast.

Building the deck: Anna Townswick, Indigo Fish, Jesse Fish on top of the structure. (Photo: Mette Hammer)

You want to talk about a time commitment?

Usually the rehearsal schedule is four or five evenings straight for about six weeks and then the run of the show.  A spouse might not see their partner for weeks on end. (If the spouse is smart, they’ll get involved in some capacity and now the couple with something new to talk about!)

Sometimes the actor will help build or paint the set, create props or sew a costume or two on the weekends. And….when the show is over, they help strike the set!

They throw the BEST cast parties too.  Check out one my favorite cast party recipes here:

Easy Peasy Party Appetizer #1

Easy Peasy Party Appetizer #2

Easy Peasy Appetizer Recipe #3

They hand out gag gifts, act in funny parodies of songs from the show or sit around singing songs from the show yet. another. time.

They can go overboard a little, but that’s because the experience is very intense.  I’ve even been known to have separation anxiety from my cast members and that’s the worst feeling of all.

Image result for community theatre cast party

But they persevere and sign up for the next audition or merely serve as ushers, but generally they continue to be involved in some capacity.

In other words, they are completely invested in the production!

So the next time, you see your neighbor dash off to rehearsal and he doesn’t have time to chat, just remember he isn’t sitting around home in front of the television or on his phone. He could be sitting around wasting his time, but he’s not.

He is doing theatre and he loves it!

Sound like fun to you?  Try it.

The American Association of Community Theaters is a not for profit organization which can give you more information about community theatre and a whole hosts of subjects you might be interested in.  Check them out here:

What community theatre productions have you been involved in?  Tell me about it.  I’d love to hear from you.

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No Small Parts

The Hidden Meaning Behind “There Are No Small Acting Parts Only Small Actors”

"There are no small parts only small actors."

I bet you have clicked on this post because you expect to find out the hidden meaning to “There are no small acting parts, only small actors.” Here’s my take on it.

The Tony Awards show is Sunday, June 11!  I’ve been listening to the Sirius Broadway station all week (honestly, I do most days anyway) and it’s wonderful to hear the performers’ interviews and all the nominated show music.

The Tony Awards are the Oscar Awards for Broadway–except they are more classy, in my humble opinion.

Theatre is different.

It is special, because it is live.

What’s the hidden meaning behind, “There are no small parts, only small actors.”?

I got to thinking about the performers who are playing smaller parts in the nominated productions.  If you ever see them on television in a short quip on a syndicated news or talk show, you’ll observe those supporting characters and chorus members are just as invested in the production as the leading actors.

That’s impressive.  I bet the nominated actors and actresses began as chorus members and under studies many years ago.  They put in their time portraying small acting parts and earned their stripes to receive the spotlight.

Just because you are cast in a small acting part does not mean you are not important to the show. If you think so, you have missed the point entirely.

You are still important to the show.  Believe me.

However, if you can’t get past the fact that you are certain you could portray the role you didn’t receive just as well or better than the person cast, it might be best for you to focus on something else in your life.

 Get over yourself, you know?

Brighton Beach (2)

I was Blanche in “Brighton Beach Memoirs” 1989

If you aren’t cast in the role you wanted, it is not a big enough reason not to be involved in a production.  Maybe you are to learn or gain something else from the experience? Life is a journey, you know.

For several days after I cast a production, I deal with hurt egos of cast members or those who auditioned for me and didn’t receive the role they desired.

I know I’ve previously mentioned this–casting a production has a lot to do with who a director envisions in a role.

Sometimes I have no idea who I want to play a part.  Other times, the right person walks in and is perfect. They are the essence of the character all ready.

 Some people can mold themselves into what I am looking for in a character.  Those people are special because they are versatile.

There are other factors in the decision to cast someone, however.

Do I know their work?  Are they responsible?  Are they known to be difficult to direct and/or not a team member?

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I was Dot in “Cricket in the Hearth” 2000

There are people who can only portray straight roles.  Straight roles are those parts most closely related to your personality.  Have you ever seen someone in a movie who plays the same sort of roles in each movie?  The roles the actor portrays is much like her off screen. Aha. Personally, I think Meg Ryan is a good example of someone who can only portray a straight role.

Then there are character roles.  Characters roles are those parts which are unlike you–because of your age, stature or personality. Paul Giamatti can portray character roles with such genius.

Character roles:

Ugly step sister

Wicked Witch

Cowardly Lion


Straight roles:





Luckily, I can play both straight and character roles. That makes me more valuable to a director.   To be honest, I enjoy performing character roles the most, because usually they are interesting and unique.

It isn’t about playing the lead.  It is about who you are best suited to portray.

Guess what?  I have not been cast in a production before.  No joke!  (I’m scoffing here a bit.  I hope you understand.)

So, chin up! If you don’t receive the role you craved for, your time will come in the future.

If you’d like to know about my acting journey, check this out: 

Watch the Tony Awards this Sunday, June 11 and pick out the chorus members or those supporting characters, folks portraying small acting parts.  See if you notice them.  If they are good at it, you’ll only observe them filling out the stage–sort of like shadows in a painting.

I know several actors who will perform that evening.  I am very excited for them.

 Shout a Bravo to your television and I will, too.

I think they will magically hear us…..

Importance of Beaing Earnest (2)

I was Miss Prism in “Importance of Being Earnest” 1976

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Ten Audition Secrets From a Director

Previously, I blogged a list of ten audition secrets from a director.

You knew this subject was coming, didn’t you? It only seems natural to speak about how I make decisions about casting someone in a play.

Remember, these are only my opinions. Someone else will have a different viewpoint, obviously.
Here is my advice (and secrets) to landing the part:

1. Arrive on time for the auditions and stay until they are finished. If you arrive late or are in a rush to leave early, it implies that the production is not that important to you.

2. Dress appropriately for the audition. If you are auditioning for a musical and there are going to be dance auditions, either bring the right shoe wear or wear them. There is nothing more distracting to a director than observing someone flop around in the wrong shoes as they attempt to dance or move about the stage. And ladies, you hair needs to be swept back away from your face and controlled with a bobby pin or something.

3. Read the script prior to auditions. Now reading the script ahead of time does not guarantee you a part in the production, but most scripts are very well written (that’s why they are produced) and worth your time to read. Or at least watch a movie version of the play or musical if there is one available. My guess is some people don’t read the entire script before auditioning because they don’t want to commit their free time because if they aren’t cast, it feels like they have wasted their time. One hasn’t wasted their time. They have enriched it.

I try to be patient with people who haven’t read the script ahead of time, but secretly nothing is more frustrating than having someone say to me, “So, what’s this play about?” I don’t have the time to explain the story to them nor do I think it is my job to do so.

4. Pay attention during the auditions. If the auditions aren’t closed and you are able to observe them, watch other actors. You never know when a director might call you up to read with someone and if you pay attention you are ready to go.

Ten secrets to a great audition5. A director doesn’t need to know if you have a cold or don’t feel well, or whatever the excuse might be at the moment. So, don’tannounce your maladies–just audition confidently. A director will ask the actor to call backs if he thinks he needs to hear the actor once the cold or illness is over.

6. If you mark on your audition sheet that you will accept any role you are offered, please tell the truth. Nothing is more frustrating than taking the time to cast someone and afterward they announce they won’t accept the role you gave them (since the person wanted another one instead.) Tacky! And, if the accused auditions for another one of the director’s plays, chances are the actor won’t even be considered them based on their past actions.

7. If you mark on your audition sheet that you have no conflicts, then a director expects you to have no conflicts! Avoiding informing the director of a few conflicts and spinning that you have none then coming back later with a litany of conflicts does nothing for the actor’s relationship with the director. Better to tell the truth and let the director work around the conflicts if he thinks he can do so. An actor’s behavior gets around in a theater community very quickly, so just be honest and up front.

8. Sometimes a director will put out the word that they are looking for a particular age actor for a role. It is not wise to try and make yourself up to look half your age if you aren’t really able to convince your best friend of your age change. If your friend thinks you look silly trying to be twenty-five when you are fifty-five, then believe them. Audition for a play that suits your age range.

If you are an adult, you can usually appear ten years either direction of your age. Children and teen agers are a bit different in this regard. Personally, I am more likely to cast someone who is taller and thirteen to play a sixteen year old than a short thirteen year old to play a ten year old.

9. No matter what, always finish your audition with a thank you and get the heck off the stage. An actor trying to make conversation with the director can come across as a desperate attempt for attention. If the director initiates the conversation, then I think it is safe to chat a moment with him or her. But I wouldn’t begin the conversation. Directors are usually considering many things during auditions, so it’s best not to interrupt them.

10. Be confident in your audition. If you audition with others and someone does something that is comical (and the director reacts by laughing), it does not mean you must do the same thing if you read the same part. Be yourself. Be clever and memorable, but don’t behave in such a manner that you make others feel uncomfortable by your audition. In other words, keep your clothes on, keep your mouth clean and be polite.

10. The biggest secret to auditions? Listen to what the director asks of you. I am more likely to cast someone who honestly tries to do what I ask of him (such as lowering the pitch of his voice, trying an unusual laugh or reaction), than someone who has a preconceived vision of the character and can not or will not budge from that idea. Also, I really don’t like it when an actor just imitates someone else portraying the role–either someone else at the auditions or someone they have seen portray the role in the film version, for example. Generally, if I don’t think the inflexible person can adapt themselves to my needs, then I can’t cast them. Simple as that.

So, there you go—audition secrets from a director.  I hope this helps you. I would love to answer any other questions you might have about auditions, so send them on. P.S.  If you’d like to audition for Beauty and the Beast, go here for information

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Critical Steps in Producing a Play or Musical: Costumes


Spring Version of The Secret Garden May 2016 St. Vrain Valley Schools

Jill Shepherd, Costume Coordinator

When I was a little girl, Halloween at our house was not a big production.  Actually, I don’t know if it was ever as big a deal as it is now.  This was in the 1960’s and early 70’s (or ‘mid century’ as interior design people label it now…), so keep that in mind. I mean, we used to carve a pumpkin, buy some cheap candy and hand it out to the neighborhood kids.

When I was five years old, I was coerced into dressing as a pilgrim (really?) because my sister had brought home a pilgrim-looking hat from an overseas trip with the Girl Scouts–her present to me.  It was a terrible costume and that’s all I remember probably because I stuffed away the memory.

When I was nine years old, my mother put together a Queen Isabella costume for our class play about Christopher Columbus.  That was about as close as I came to a costume that you would expect, and I LOVED it!  The shoes were too small and crimped my chubby foot and the crown was made of aluminum foil and these blue bauble-looking things flailed themselves around my head.

My only line was, “Rise, Christopher!” because he was kneeling before me.  That was my first play and I’ll never forget it, mostly because of the costume my mother created for me. I also got to be the center of attention…

She didn’t create another for me ever again. Well, she did sew a celery stalk costume for me in high school for some sort of club initiation but I don’t think that counts as  a Halloween costume. Ironically, the celery stalk idea was mine and I thought it was a hysterical.  Don’t know that anyone else understood my vision, but there you go…

Costumes are one of the most creative and exciting components of theatre.  Honestly, they are a critical step in your selection of a play or musical.  Two facts come to mind when I think of a particular production–costumes and set.  Can this company afford the costumes and built them?  Can we rent or borrow?


Mulan, Jr.  Presser Performing Arts Center July 2015

Evelyn Zidick , Costume Designer

Actors and Their Costumes

I find that novice actors are all about their costumes. I try to assuage their fears and trepidations right from the beginning.  Depending upon the company, during our first read thru, I show my cast some examples of what all of the costumes will look like. This includes the color palette for the show.

As a teacher, I know that most human beings are visual learners.  By showing costume examples to the cast, I help them to be more confident (if they weren’t so) and of course give them a rough idea of my director’s concept and a beginning step toward my thoughts about their character.

Do you have a costumer designer?  Or is it you?

Again, if you have a costume designer you’ll need to communicate your concept to them.  I ask for the budget for the show.  Let’s say you are directing Oklahoma! and you are expected to costume the show yourself.  Oh my.  That’s a big one, although somewhat simple to create.

Years ago, I’d trudge to the public library and find photos or pictures of painting that depicted the time period of a particular play.  Now it’s soooo easy!  Hello internet!Look on line and find some examples that you can print for your costumer (if they are inexperienced) and/or the cast. Don’t forget your public library, though.  Sometimes it’s easier to peruse their book shelves than search around on the web.

And….I nearly forgot!  Walk yourself into a fabric store such as  Joanns Fabrics or Hobby Lobby and study the various pattern books. They have a plethora of costumes.  Years ago, we had maybe three patterns to choose from, but since then these companies have done an excellent job of re-creating clothing from several times periods.

In particular, check out the Simplicity costume patterns.  If you are expected to build the costumes yourself, I’d begin my designing at a fabric store.

   Mulan, Jr. April 2016 Apex Home School Enrichment program

Renting Costumes

You can easily find a costume company in your city  or near to you from which you can rent. Generally, costume companies rent costumes for a set amount of time such as two or three weeks, depending upon the length of your production.

Sometimes they will ask for a deposit (per costume, thank you very much).  There will be a contract with the company’s rental policy, etc. Someone will need to be responsible for these rentals. Also, check with other community theatres, college theatre departments and area high schools to see if anyone rents to outside groups.  Perhaps instead of renting, you could do a trade of advertising space in the program?

Thrift Stores

Then there’s the good old thrift store.

I could write an entire blog about the value of thrift stores.  They are that useful to a theatre company. Everyone who works in theatre visits thrift stores at some point in their season. Obviously, it is cheaper than a box store and you’d be surprised at the gold mine you’ll find.

One tricky costume piece is children’s boots.  Recently, I directed Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. (for the fourth time in my career) and my entire cast of forty students, ages ten to eighteen, needed ankle length boots.  I warned the parents about six months ahead of time  (because this was a musical theatre class that lasted the entire school year).  Finding a pair of child’s boots can be difficult in the spring when our show was going to be performed.

Certain costume pieces such as children’s boots, are a hot commodity.

As usual, the diligent, enthusiastic parents went right out and found boots at thrift stores. Ta-da.  Those folks who waited until March were bereft for lack of inexpensive shoe wear. (That’s a funny phrase, I must say.) It was too late. So, start with your neighborhood thrift store in your quest for costumes.  It will save you time and money, I promise.

My One Concern

One thing I want to stress to you, friend.  I dislike present day plays or musicals merely because I find that those involved in the production can think a play set in 2016 will be easier to produce.  Oh contraire…

Recently, I directed On Golden Pond and boy, I grew weary saying, “No, you can’t wear your favorite skirt (or sweater or shoes or hat) on stage because you feel most comfortable in it.

You need a costume that depicts your character, not you.”  Even if you are directing for 2016, the costumes must be treated with the same respect and care as if the show was of the 1860’s.

Remember, theatre is a visual art although I don’t think that audiences often refer to it in this manner.  When the curtain rises and the lights warm the stage, an authentic looking costume which demonstrates time period, mood and character means EVERYTHING to the audience. It is the difference between a good show or an excellent one.

I don’t have the room here to go into great detail about the potential fun of costuming can be for you. But if you write to me privately, I’d be happy to help you.

I’ve costumed shows for nearly thirty-nine years.  Trust me or as my daughter says, “I got it covered.”

Next, I’ll give you some advice concerning stage lights.

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Eighteen Ways to Make Your Directing Experience Less Stressful, Part Two

actors singing.jpg


This is a continuation of my second post about my experiences in directing. Click here for my first post:

Eighteen Ways To Make Your Directing Experience Less Stressful, Part One

If I have learned anything over these thirty-eight years of directing it is that directing is stressful.  Hopefully, my lessons learned can help you!

9.  I begin and end rehearsal on the prearranged time. There is nothing worse than being told, “rehearsals will be from 7:00 to 9:00 pm” and then the rehearsal times change to three hours each night. Ugh.

10. Glib lines between weeks of the show. Glibbing lines is a way to rehearse the lines of the show in a quick and focused manner. Generally, I have my actors sit in a circle and run the lines, but other directors ask their casts to practice the blocking as well.
11. I announce a deadline for the off book date and stick to it. This is a biggie with me. Deadlines are deadlines. If I think a cast needs more time with their scripts in hand, I’ll adjust the schedule. But one can’t really “act” until her hands are free. The first rehearsal off book is usually laborious, if not excruciating. I bode up when I know it’s off book night, but the deadline is a necessary evil.
12.. Use rehearsal props and tape the floor to the set’s measurements. There are people who are tactile learners and all of us are visual learners. Using a rehearsal prop benefits the actor in several ways. Showing the set’s measurements, parameters, steps. window, etc. is hugely helpful.
13. I suggest to a cast, but don’t require, that they rehearse in the shoes they plan to wear for the show. It’s amazing how much an actor’s posture and gait will change once they don their shoes. Long skirts are necessary on ladies as well. We have become a very relaxed dress society. Some women have trouble carrying off the poise that they need once they put on heeled shoes and a long skirt.


14. I always have two dress rehearsals.
15. I make time for a read thru of the script before my first blocking rehearsal. This gives me an opportunity to answer questions right from the beginning of the project. Everyone has a better idea of where I stand on everything.
16. I discourage an actor’s personal drama in rehearsals, encouraging them to leave it at the stage door. Enough said…
17. I  substitute swear words only  if I think the audience’s demographics can not tolerate them or the particular actor requests it of me.  If I think an audience is going to spend their whole evening shocked by a swear word, like the dirty four letter F word, then I’ll cut it. If I have an actor who is very religious and is uncomfortable when using the Lord’s name in vain, I’ll adjust the verbiage to something that will give the same feeling, but won’t upset him.

18. I teach novice and student actors the correct way to rehearse accepting that some will have their own method to rehearse.
19. I close my rehearsals to anyone outside the production staff or cast. There is nothing worse than having a surprise guest to rehearsals. It distracts me and my cast members.


( When I was six years old, I had  the opportunity to see Marcel Marceau in person in Paris, France. 

 I will NEVER forget it.)

20. I expect moments of frustration and euphoria in every rehearsal process. A little frustration isn’t going to hurt anyone, so long as it isn’t prolonged stress. And there is nothing more rewarding than a moment of “Oh my gosh, we did it!”

  I love to direct, I honestly do.  My resume is proof of that.

Next time, I’ll talk about my protagonist in Bumbling Bea, Beatrice Brace.

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Directing Experience More Successful

Eighteen Ways To Make Your Directing Experience Less Stressful, Part One


As I am sure you are aware, I have directed countless plays and musicals. Honestly, I quit counting when I was around two hundred. No matter how many times I direct, however, there are certain occuramces that I experience each time.

Now listen folks, I can save you TIME if you’ll apply my lessons to your directing experience. (I probably sound your mom, don’t I? Sorry.)
1. The play or musical will always be challenging in ways I didn’t expect.
2. I require the actors to remain quiet and respectful of me and others when rehearsal is in process. I can’t creatively problem solve if there is unnecessary noise around me. It distracts me.
3. Some props, costume or set piece will cost more than was budgeted. The miscellaneous money I set aside is for this purpose. Use the miscellaneous money, if you don’t, there may not be any the next time.
4. Someone in the show won’t jibe with everyone else in the cast, even if it is a one person show.  No, really. Working with people and their many personalities is tiring and challenging. The bigger the cast, the more issues arise. Some actors only think of themselves. They aren’t team players. I can’t fix a person’s personality in the time I have to rehearse and produce a show.  I just smile and keep my opinion to myself until I’m at home with a glass of wine in my hand. 😊
5. Usually, I  can direct a particular actor in a creative and inspire manner. But, sometimes NOTHiNG will work until the opening night curtain closes. Just as there can be a nonteam player in my cast, it’s not unusual to have someone who resists my direction. Some people lack confidence and novices are some of the most reluctant to trust me. However, once a show opens I find that a person’s resistance to my direction eases. I wait for them to come to me, then I try to direct them again.


Diary of Anne Frank   March 2012

6. Actors can be challenged to attempt far more than is asked of them and I require a lot. “People don’t care how much you know, until they know much you care” is a motto I live by. Socializing with my cast, asking them about their day, job, school life or family helps me.  Creating a safe environment in which to take risks is essential. Just think about it–some people are never challenged at their jobs, complimented or acknowledged. I can do that for them. What a heady experience that must be for someone.

7.   If I rehearse the cast in a methodical and steady manner, we will make opening night in good shape. I don’t like to over rehearse or if I am acting, to be over rehearsed myself.  Usually play can be rehearsed in three or four weeks with an additional week for tech. A musical will take about six weeks to ready. That’s enough!

8. I always warm up my actors or ask that they warm up prior to the curtain each night. It is tough to focus at the beginning of a rehearsal. I ask my actor to socialize prior to rehearsal time, so we can begin on time and end on time.

I love to direct, I honestly do.  My resume is proof of that.

Go to the next post and find the rest of my lessons I learned to make directing less stressful.

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Critical Steps in Choosing a Play or Musical: Stage Properties


Stephens College Theatre Department

I have something to admit.  I knew very little about the workings of a play production until I attended college,  Stephens College to be exact.  I was aware of this about myself, but you know, I had NO IDEA how much I didn’t know, you know?  Enter technical theatre hours.

I very gleefully signed up for technical theatre crew positions as I was expected to do.  In the theatre department, at least at the time, we were not allowed to audition for productions until our second year of school there.  It was part of the process of this solid program that continues to be excellent.



 A Christmas Story  Performing Arts in Children’s Education  December 2004

I’m an over achiever.  It’s terrible how much of an over achiever I can be at times.  Anyway, we were required to have 100 hours.  I finished with 200.  See?  Truthfully, I found I loved crewing backstage.  My first experience was when I worked on the stage properties crew and I’ll never forget it.  I enjoyed it so much that one summer I served as prop mistress at the Okoboji Summer Theatre, Stephens’ summer theatre venue.

I’m virtually an expert  (because I’ve been around since dirt was invented) on stage properties.  A combination of art and theatre, using one’s imagination and ingenuity, stage properties are important to the overall effect of the production. Think about it.  What is an important prop used in Into the Woods?  The milk cow. How about in Seussical?  The clover!

In my very long career in theatre, I have:

  • found two identical Afghan dogs
  • discovered and was loaned Venetian glass in the middle of Iowa
  • borrowed a baby grand piano
  • needlepointed an alphabet sampler (I didn’t know how to needle point when I began)
  • made a fake cheese ball complete with Mickey Mouse ears plopped on top for a chip bowl (I know you are impressed!)

and a gazillion more  cool things…


The Giver  Fine Arts Guild of the Rockies 2013

Properties Master

If it’s your job to fill out your staff, then look for a volunteer who is very crafty  and clever and draft them to be in charge of your props.  Or, if you are working for a theatre, they should provide you with someone.  I would advise you to stay out of their way and merely accept what they bring in if at all possible.  Volunteers do become very possessive of their things, especially when they “searched all weekend to find a pair of wooden knitting needles”. I rarely decline props, because I had a very specific discussion at my prop meeting and preplanned for my needs (including a LIST).  Yet, even with the preparation, I need props that I hadn’t thought of or my actors require personally as they develop their characters  or we discover spontaneously as we rehearse.


Into the Woods  Performing Arts in Children’s Education 2004

(The cow was created by a volunteer–wow!)

Back to Budget

Again, you will want to check and see what was allotted in your budget for props.  Props can be created –Gandalf’s staff for The Hobbit, a smoking cauldron for Macbeth, fake meat pies for Sweeney Todd or…a really inexpensive smoke machine you can create with dry ice and a plastic garbage can.  No joke!

You can purchase props on line from theatre supply companies such as   They have an excellent inventory, broad and detailed, so if you are looking something historically accurate, I’d start there.  Of course, there are other suppliers, but I usually go to them first.  I have been a customer of theirs for over thirty years.

Many props can be borrowed–a Victorian love seat  for Arsenic and Old Lace, a hand water pump for The Miracle Worker, a Tesla coil for a mad scientist or even the smoke machine I mentioned previously.   I’ve asked many people if I could borrow a particular prop for them.  Usually, people are happy to loan something to you. You should sweeten the request by offering a pair of complimentary tickets and a listing in the program in exchange for their loan.  It’s standard protocol. Or place a sign in the lobby that acknowledges the business or person who helped you out.  That’s nice, too!

Balance of Production Value

I do have one gripe, however. I just  really annoys me when the props are uneven, for lack of a better phrase.  I mean, some are authentic looking, but others in the show are not.  I like for my entire “production package” to be equal from the set design to the lights, the costumes to the program.  If one piece is lacking (for instance, the sound equipment is inadequate and unable to amplify the actor’s voices over the orchestra who is full and loud), then the whole thing feels odd.

Perhaps it’s the director in me, but that’s what I notice when I attending a production–whether the show is comprehensive, balanced components.  I like to be a good role model and representative of the arts.  Anything I can do to attract a person to attend or participate in another production is my primary goal.  To me, it is lifeblood of the art. People laugh when I say, “When I direct in any theatre, I think of myself as a cruise director.  I want the people to have such a wonderful, meaningful evening that they will be overcome with emotion and tell everyone they know about the experience. Then I smile and nod.” (An old teaching technique to persuade people to agree with you…)

Next, I’ll give you some great tips on costumes.  Look for them soon!

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