Critical Steps in Producing a Play or Musical: Stage Makeup

Let’s talk about steps in producing a play or musical:  stage makeup

Staging, Theatre, Emotion, Drugs, Misery, Black, Stage


When I was in seventh grade, I wanted to wear makeup. Of course, that was about 100 years ago, so let’s keep it in perspective….. My mother wasn’t ready for that step in my life quite yet, but I was.  Boy, was I ready. I read in a Seventeen magazine that I could make my own “home made” mascara using charcoal and petroleum jelly.  I went to work!

Now I’m not known to be very patient (although I am better now that I have grown older), so I looked around our house for the two ingredients I needed.  Hmmm.  I found a jar of petroleum jelly  in my bathroom cabinet, but charcoal?

The only charcoal I knew of was charcoal briquettes.  Being my impatient self and not taking into account that perhaps a charcoal briquette was the wrong kind of charcoal for my DIY mascara, I mixed it into the jelly anyway.  Yes. I. Used. A. Charcoal. Briquette.

No kidding.

Needless to say, it was a flop. Upon entering our dining room for dinner that evening while modeling my  “homemade mascara”, my mother let out an “Oh my!” Soon after  she drove to a Merle Norman store and enrolled me in a class about makeup.

I have refrained from making any other makeup products since that day.  I will admit that whenever we grill burgers over charcoal briquettes,  I grow a bit misty eyed remembering my DIY makeup days..

The Infamous Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz film

The Thrill of Wearing a Costume

Like a costume, stage makeup ranks up there as one of the most popular aspects of theatre.  For some people, donning a costume and applying makeup IS theatre.

A costume and makeup psychologically comforts the actor and helps him to feel “safe.” A good director, especially in amateur theatre, must be careful not to lean on a character’s costume and makeup as the only characterization of an actor.  In that case, let’s just put the costume designer on stage and let her perform the show (I doubt she would appreciate that…) because the character solely originates with her and not the actor.  Tsk,tsk…

Stage makeup is different than street makeup (makeup worn for everyday use).  It is durable, saturated color and easily blended. It’s sturdy–you can cry, eat and have water thrown in your face and the stuff stays on!

Makeup Designer

Makeup Designer

Since this series of posts concerns producing a play or musical and the critical steps one must take for a successful production, I  knew I should discuss stage makeup.  Do you have a makeup designer?  If not, a good place to find one is through hairstyling salons.  Most hairstylists are trained to do makeup as well as hair.  Many hairstylists LOVE this kind of work, because it is so creative.

If I need special makeup (say, for Ursula in Lil Mermaid), I give them photos of my ideas first.  Like set and costumes, a designer needs somewhere to begin in their designing.  In your budget, you need an amount for stage makeup.

I include wigs and hair needs in that budget, too–hairspray, bobby pins, hair nets, etc. If a designer must build a mustache or beard, that is an additional cost.  If you have someone who is familiar with stage makeup, so keep them around.  They are invaluable.

If you don’t have budget money for a designer, perhaps you could acknowledge them through your program and give them complimentary tickets to the production?

Specific Makeup Products

Every cast member should own their own makeup, however some things can be shared if you are on a tight budget.  If the makeup is selected ala carte, then I suggest you purchase:

  • foundation–several shades (I like crème foundation, but some people prefer pan.)

  • hi-light and shadow for contouring

  • translucent powder to match the foundation

  • eye brow pencil

  • blush–several shades

  • eye shadow–several shades

  • makeup sponges

  • spray sealer

  • makeup remover

  • eyeliner (should not be shared with others)

  • mascara (should not be shared with others)

  • lipstick (should not be shared with others)

You are going to pay more ala carte, than if you buy a kit or collection. Your actors may find that they like owning their own makeup.  I have my own makeup when I perform.

There are several companies and different size kits as well.  Like a “one size fits all” tee shirt (I have never understood that phrase), you can buy kits such as fair/lightest, to brown/Dark.  Ultimately, I suggest you find one close your skin color and work from there with the color provided in the kit.

Ben Nye Makeup is very good as is Mehron.  I’m partial to Ben Nye myself. The kits can run as little as $20.00 and upward to $150 for a comprehensive collection.  You’ll find what you need quite easily on line.

I played Nellie Forbush in South Pacific when I was in my twenties. This was NOT a character I ever thought I’d play.  In my mind, she was “101 pounds of fun” as the song says.  I wasn’t that poundage by a long shot.  The part called for a  bright, cute, sincere and naive young woman.   I worried that no one would believe my performance.

My favorite part of the whole experience (other than my husband, then fiancé who was the conductor) was the shower scene.

  I actually washed my hair and yes, danced with shampoo in my hair. Then I’d rinse it under ice cold water (!) while speaking with another character, wrapped it up in a towel and exited.  In the next five minutes, I dried my hair, reapplied my makeup and donned an elegant full length evening gown, drop earrings and elbow length gloves.  It was a blast to do!

Something about those two scenes helped me past the worry.  Every night as I stepped on the stage,  I knew I was surrounded by a wonderful armor which carried me past my fears and supported my character in a way I could never have done all by myself.

That’s what makeup and a costume can do for you.


No, this is not me in my South Pacific costume…it is Talulah Bankhead which, for some odd reason, my mother nicknamed me.

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Diary of Anne Frank

The Most Important Play I’ve Directed in My Career of 38 Years

most important play I've directed

Here is the story of the most important play I’ve directed in 38 years.

Twenty-nine years ago, I received the rare privilege to perform Mrs. Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank.  I will never forget the experience. This is one of those shows that seldom comes along but when it does, people flock to participate in it.

Luckily, I had the opportunity to serve as director to the production twenty-two years later. The Diary of Anne Frank is the most important production I’ve directed in my 38 years of my career.


Here’s why:

The most important reason to produce The Diary of Anne Frank is because Anne Frank was a real person who lived and died during a terrible time in our history.  Her diary is real and validates the facts of this injustice. You’ll want to read to the end of this post. I’ll explain my affinity for it, too.

We can’t tell this story enough times.

Let’s first talk about the standard requirements one considers when producing this amazing play.

  • The cast totals ten five women and five men, three of which are teen actors.

  • In my opinion, there is nothing better than a cast varying in age and gender. Of course a young female is needed to portray Anne and another for her sister, Margot.  There is a young man, Peter Van Daam, too.  The women’s roles are excellent, especially Mrs. Frank and Mrs. VanDaam.  Because they are everything motherly, it is fairly easy to cast them with amateurs.  Mr. VanDaam is a nice role with much complexity of which to play. Other than Anne, the most important character is Mr. Frank– a fatherly, husbandly, respectful man who serves as the leader of the families.

  • The play appeals to all ages.  Young teens relate to Anne’s need for privacy, her crush on Peter and continuous disagreements with her mother.  I think it is important for our youth to see that even though over seventy years have passed since Anne’s demise in 1945, her wants and needs were much the same as any young girl of today. Even the dialogue sounds like something you might hear emanating from a present day home.


  • The set consists of one place—the attic, although within it one needs a kitchen area (for preparing real food), an eating area, an attic room and several small bedrooms.  The costumes are simple 1940’s style. The props are easy to collect.  You do need a lot of beds (6) but that can be readily found.  We used cots for my production.

  • I believe the play is best served in an intimate setting then audience members have the best view to observe the story as it unfolds.  The closer the audience is to the actors the better. The first time I was involved in the play a small community theatre produced it. The audience was no more than six feet from us.

  • Yet, even as I state this I’m reminded I directed it on a high school stage in a four hundred seats auditorium.  It didn’t matter.  Every moment is riveting.


  • Surprisingly, there are humorous moments in the play. I don’t think people expect them.  Most center on Anne and Peter— flirting with each other while trying to grow up as everyone is watching and their first kiss.  It is sublime young love, I must say.

  • The families’ dynamics while sharing the tiny apartment space are exactly those of some unfortunate people living in present day circumstances–sharing one bathroom, multiple people sharing a bedroom, never having enough food to eat and always in despair. These challenges resonate with audiences.

  • I’d suggest a director invite someone of the Jewish faith to speak with the cast. This person can answer questions, give insight into the plight of the Jews, explain the Jewish faith and serve as advisor when needed.

  • There is a sound effects CD you can purchase to use for the show. It is conveniently listed with the play on the Dramatists Plays website. This takes care of the sounds that can be difficult to find on your own—the Gestapo marching in the streets, the cathedral bells, etc.  It even includes the sound of the Gestapo banging on the annex’s door.  I didn’t utilize it because I thought it was more effective to have a live sound effect at that point in the performance. It gives the audience an opportunity to feel the jolt of surprise and fear the moment the families were taken. Nothing is more frightening and shocking.

Let’s be honest and discuss the most important reason for producing this powerful play.

The Diary of Anne Frank play demonstrates the social injustice and religious persecution of Jewish people during Hitler’s reign.

It’s one thing to study the history of WWII.  One can view a video or read a book about it, but nothing compares to observing real people telling the story right in front of you.

An important note:  Several years ago Mr. Frank’s monologue near the end of the play was edited and updated. It contains gut wrenching, eye witness accounts of Anne’s last days while living alone in the concentration camp of Bergen-Belzen.

As our World War II veterans pass away and we have fewer and fewer left to share their experiences during the war, eye witness accounts are tremendously important.

I’d like to state that I’m certain there is no family in world today who is living in similar circumstances to Anne Frank.  I’m sad to say I’m certain someone is living this life all over again.  Merely look at Syria.

My father was a battalion aid surgeon during WWII.  Like many veterans, he never spoke of the war.  I do know that he snuck behind enemy lines to deliver a French woman’s baby while under the watchful eye of a sniper.  I know he was a prisoner for a few days.  I know he contracted pneumonia from hiking through wet terrain and damaged his ear drum enough to lose the hearing in his ear.  I know he was present when they freed Dachau. He felt the warm walls of the crematorium. He saw Jewish prisoners, nearly naked, emaciated, dazed and confused wander out of the camp. These were eye witness accounts, true facts.

That’s all I know.

Maybe in some small way, I am not only remembering the Jewish people but honoring my father’s life by directing this play.

I can help us all to remember and not allow us to repeat ourselves.

Do you want to make a mark on the world? Do you think all people matter? Do you have the opportunity to select a play for a theater’s season? Please consider The Diary of Anne Frank.

If you have the rare opportunity to be involved on this play, shoot me an email, too.  If I can, I would be honored to attend.


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Anne of Green Gables

Ten Reasons Why Everyone Produces Anne of Green Gables

Netflix is televising a new series of Anne of Green Gables which begins on May 12.  This is super news!anne-of-green-gables

Anne of Green Gables is a perfect play for your company.  How do I know?  I have directed it (not surprised, are you?) and produced it as well. In fact, I know that many companies have produced the play.

There are certain shows that are guaranteed winners for a company.  Anne of Green Gables ranks up there with The Diary of Anne Frank, The Miracle Worker, Alice in Wonderland, The Best Christmas Pageant to name a few.

If you want to attract people to your theatre, Anne of Green Gables is one of those plays of which you can’t go wrong.

There are many reasons to include it in your season, but suffice to say you will make happy a lot of your potential audience members and your regulars.  In particular, I recommend Sylvia Ashby’s adaptation. It is published by Samuel French at

The strengths:

1.The cast  is comprised of both males and females, BUT two of main characters are females.  Hallelujah!

Anne of Green Gables 3.jpg

2.There are roles for adults and children of many ages. Nine females and seven males.

3.The costumes can be as easy or complicated as your costume budget allows.

4.You’ll have to figure out how to make Anne’s hair turn green at one point, but that’s not too difficult.

5.There are several scenes with many characters on stage at once which means more time for everyone to have fun.

6. It’s a good length, about 120 minutes.

7.The set can be as elaborate are you require (I’ve seen it produced on a revolving stage.) or simple. I have directed it with the house up center and the other various locales down stage of it.


8.There is a need for a boat.  One time a father went crazy on me and built an entire boat (yes, you read that right), but really, that’s not needed.

9.In a school setting I directed it with two  Marillas and three Annes (one for each age we see as she grows up).  This plan was terrific for a number of obvious reasons.  It gave more females the opportunity to perform leads and lessened the number of lines they had to memorize.

10. The themes of family and friendship radiate through the plot.  It is suitable for all audiences.

There are no cons against producing the play, in my opinion.

So, the next time you are looking for a play that will become a guaranteed winner for your  audience, select Anne of Green Gables.  You’ll be glad you did!

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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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Do You Wanna Dance?

Do You Wanna Dance? I do! Introducing: Juke Box Musicals, A Review

Are you looking for a musical with lots of roles so all your students can be involved? One that is entertaining, fast moving and light?  One with “ear worm” songs and hip, dancing beats?  Then Juke Box Musical’s Do You Wanna Dance is for you!


When I saw this musical advertised on Facebook, I asked the advertising firm if they were looking for pre-launch reviews.  They were and I accepted.

After directing productions for nearly forty years and creating a national playwriting contest, I can call myself an expert in both fores.

 I’m a tremendously experienced drama teacher, too.  I have read countless scripts and directed over 250 productions. I’m the gal you want for this job, that’s for sure.

There are many positives to this cute musical:

  • Twelve leading roles with an even split of female and male. (Hooray!) Plus a chorus of interdeterminate size who portray many different characters.  Kids like to be busy on stage, not bored back stage.  This is a real plus.

  • At least twelve “catchy”  popular songs that encourage the listener to reminisce of latter days when they listened to a juke box

  • List of characters with noted vocal ranges and brief character descriptions

  • Appropriate singing range for younger students (my advice– the production is mountable by middle school students and younger)

  • Simple plot, somewhat easy to project its outcome but moves along nicely and has a good message– Don’t let anyone stop you from the joy of dancing and singing. Everyone can dance.

  • Set description per scene (useful when planning production)

  • Stage directions, indepth (novice directors will appreciate these)

  • Simple costuming that most groups can create (another PLUS in my book)

  • Prop list with no difficult props to secure

  • Projection package of the various locales so that an erected set is not needed (this is a separate cost to the renter)

  • Suitable story for the whole family

Co-writers Mark Brymer and John Jacobsen  are qualified and experienced  musicians who can easily take on the challenges of writing a musical.  Mark Brymer has been a leading choral writer/arranger for the educational and church choral music markets for many years.

John Jacobson is known as a music educator, choreographer and author.  Both gentlemen are prolific creators.  Their resumes attest to their expertise.

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Do You Wanna Dance seems like a musical review. I think that’s what the writers were aiming for in writing it. I did a little research on line and found a youtube video of the co-writers discussing the show.  John Jacobson called the show “campy fun.”

I’d agree with him. Kids love to dance and sing and surprisingly, they will sing songs from other time periods with no qualms or embarassment.

“Walking on Sunshine” was released in 1979. That was over thirty years ago.  That doesn’t matter with music-a popular song continues to be popular long after its time.

Think about it… A family is sitting around the dinner table and their student begins humming one of the songs he’s hearsing from  Do You Wanna Dance. Before you know it, the parents recognize the song, begin singing along and the little sister jumps up and dances with a broom.  (Sorry, I got a little carried away there…) if you ask me, that’s a pretty clever way to involve the whole family and the show hasn’t even opened yet.

Most importantly, Do You Wanna Dance doesn’t talk down to students and that’s a plus for me. Next time, I would challenge the writers to create another juke box musical with a more difficult plot–our kids can handle it these days.  They are quite sophisticated and love a good challenge. Other than the junior musicals through Music Theatre International, there aren’t many musicals appropriate for younger students to perform. Or they are insipid and not worth anyone’s time. If nothing else, Do You Wanna Dance is just plain fun! A church youth group, Scout troop or an after school drama club  could produce Do You Wanna Dance quite successfully.

Who doesn’t like to sing and dance? (Now I’ve got Walking in Sunshine stuck in my head…) kids-dancing[1]

Which is your favorite?  Singing or Dancing?

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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!

Got a question? Ask me.

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Critical Steps in Producing a Play or Musical: Set Design and Set Construction


The Giver  Fine Arts Guild, 2014













I think a powerful, creative, unique set design is vital to a production.  Depending upon the production budget (there’s that word again-it’s going to come up a lot in these blog posts), the set can be as elaborate as possible or simple.

If a director has the freedom to choose what she wants, always keep in mind that old adage, “Less is more”.  Personally, I think a set can distract the audience from the production if one isn’t careful.  On the other hand, a simple set can be distracting as well especially if one’s actors aren’t skilled in creating the atmosphere themselves.  A skilled actor should be able to imagine the setting and demonstrate that through character and movement.

Set Designer

But back to designing the play or musical’s set.  First, you need to know whether a designer has been hired or volunteered to design your set.  If so, then you are generally stuck (and I do mean stuck) with that person.  I’ve worked with good ones, lazy ones, entitled ones and very creative-but-can-not-get-it done ones.  If you are lucky, the designer will have ideas of his own and share them with you and vice versa. As I mentioned in the previous post, have your concept board handy to share with him.

If you are expected to design your own set, start by researching on the internet.  As you find ideas (probably from other companies’ productions of the show), you might want to make a copy of them.  Note:  I am going to say this one time.  If you are capable enough to direct the show then you are capable enough to come up with your own ideas for the set.  It is just tacky to lift (steal, copy or what have you) someone else’s design.  It isn’t polite, it certainly isn’t unique and it isn’t right.

I expect the designer to create a model of the set for me.  In fact, I require it.  Most humans are visual thinkers and consequently it helps the actors (and everyone involved for that matter) in their visualization of the show. As well, it aids me when I am blocking.  I remember directing Something’s Afoot and its first musical number is crazy busy.  Character are entering and exiting one right after another.  The model helped me to keep straight everyone as I placed little spice bottles with each character’s name in the right places.


The Diary of Anne Frank   Fine Arts Guild of the Rockies  2012

Ah, the set budget!

Set, costumes and prop budgets are the most challenging to estimate. If you are in charge of the budget, you will first need an inventory of the company’s set pieces (flats, platforms, stair units, etc.) .  Are you thinking of using a scrim?  Does the company own a scrim?  If not, will they purchase one for you?  Would you rather have a stylistic set?  That’s a good idea, especially is there is little  money for the set. Is the production a period piece?  You need to consider that question, too. There’s many more questions to ask yourself, but you get the idea….

If  I have a designer, I make it my designer’s job to create a line item budget.  Generally, designers (costumes too) ask for a color pallet from me.  It’s fairly easy to share my choices using my concept board that  I made at the beginning  of the project.

I have had many opportunities to direct on a great looking set.  However, some of my most favorite are simpler ones like The Giver (photographed above).  It was understated, perfectly suited the play’s message and met the budget requirements.  Recently, I directed The Wizard of Oz (my first time ever, I know–better late than never).  I didn’t want to regurgitate the movie in any manner.  For countless hours, my designer and I discussed how to create the set on a very limited budget, build it with inexperienced students while giving the audience something to imagine and enjoy.  The tornado and its metaphoric moments within the story was our thrust.  We used bicycle wheels, barbed wire and fence posts to create the Witch’s Lair.


The Wizard of Oz  Presser Performing Arts Center  July 2016

If you take the time to pre-plan every aspect of a production, it will save you time later.  Trust me, I have gone into rehearsals thinking I could be spontaneous and think out details as I rehearsed.  Admitting this, that’s a ridiculous thought to me!  I can guarantee you I still have spontaneous moments.  That’s part of my nature.  But everyone working with you will appreciate your forethought and I bet you find that people are more confident if they can rely on your somewhat established concept right from the first day of rehearsal.

See my next blog post on stage properties.  I’ll have plenty of tips for you there!

For more advice, check out these posts:


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Critical Steps in Selecting a Play or Musical: Casting


Into the Woods   Performing Arts in Children’s Education  July 2004

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Have you ever seen someone do something  that you know is very difficult to do, but they are such experts that you think that you could probably do it too?  I’ve been watching the Olympic Games and in particular I’ve enjoyed cheering on Simone Biles as she catapults herself all over the gymnastic mat.  Incredible!

An experienced director looks much the same way.  They make it look effortless.  It is not. Casting a production can be challenging, or easy and even fun but it can also be hugely nerve wracking.

In this series on selecting a play or musical, this is the next item to consider–casting

What abilities are required of performers for this production?

First, you have to look at the roles and decide who is most essential.  Does the show require tap dancers for 42 Street (not easy to come by in adult actors)  or singers who can sing in six part harmony for Sweeney Todd (not easy to come by either)? How many men? Men aren’t in great number in community theatre. Many plays and musicals require more men than women (aint’ it the way ?)

If the play calls for a thirteen year old female  for The Diary of Anne Frank, do you have one who can play the character?  If an elderly man is needed for King Lear, do you have person who can play it? How about someone who can dance the ballet in Oklahoma? Or juggle in Barnam? Or you think could learn to juggle? Really take the time and be honest with yourself about what the production requires.  My advice:  If you don’t think you have the people (or at least l/2 of them) that you need BEFORE you hold auditions then change shows.


The Diary of Anne Frank  Fine Arts Guild of the Rockies  2012

What artistic expectations do you have of the company for which you are working?

If you are a guest director, I’d survey the theatre company you are working for and ask for their mission statement.  It may express something about including all community members participating in their productions.  What does that look like exactly?  If they expect you to cast someone with a physical challenge, such as a blind person or one with hearing loss and you are directing The Miracle Worker for them, then you need to know that right up front.

Some companies leave everything to the director to decide.  That’s nice. However, sometimes the company will return to you later and request, “We need you to cast So-and-So because his father is a board member.” Have a personal opinion about such “favors” before you begin.  It will save you heaps of time and headaches, I guarantee you.  Make your wishes known as you pre-plan the show.


The Music Man   Theatre Reading Young People and Schools  2001

Casting is a bugaboo

As I mentioned, casting  has the capacity to be difficult.  Experienced directors will share with you that casting can be very random.  I cast productions using my intuition and if the essence of the character seems to be a part of the actor’s persona. If I am unfamiliar with the actor auditioning, I will attempt  during auditions to direct them in the direction I’m seeking. If  we (and I do mean “we”) can reach a common vision for the character, then I will be interested in casting them.  I don’t always have success with this method, but I am wiling to take a chance.

Unfortunately, there are directors that pre-cast their productions.  I really dislike that.  If Sue is cast that was not pre-cast like Mary, somehow Sue will find out that Mary  was selected ahead of time and that can make for hard feelings within the cast.  Play fairly.

I think it is all right to invite people to audition for my shows, but I have a disclaimer clause that I mention to them, “I can’t promise you a role, because that wouldn’t be ethical.  But I am interested in hearing you read several parts.  If I cast you, I will treat you like every other cast member as I know you would want me to do.  That’s only fair.”  That’s sort of a salesman’s assumptive close, because it implies that the invited person would want to earn the part on their own merit, OF COURSE and not cheat to win it.

TheTalent Pool

Do consider whether you have actors who can sing the roles, dancers who can play dancing roles and actors with the hutzpah to carry off a two hour show.  If not, then I’d change shows.  Sure, there are directors who say, “Well, we will make it work.”  Really?

If the theatre company you are directing for has no problem with unqualified actors portraying roles, then give it a go.  Will you be so distracted by the Duck Out Of Water person that you can not fully engage with the show?  Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way.  Once I cast a woman who was an incredible actress when she was young, but hadn’t acted in thirty years.  She was so anxious about her lines, that she drank herself out of the performing experience and I had to replace her with myself!  I should have known better.

If you are there to set the benchmark for future directors and productions, then by all means only cast the very best.  I’ve directed all skill levels, some brilliant artists and some not so great.  Frankly, I’ll tell you a secret:

If audience members are judging you by one actor’s performance, then they need to go home. 🙂

Herding cats is easier than directing.

Go to my next blog concerning set design and construction.