acting, community theatre, directing experiences, youth theatre

Ten Audition Secrets From a Director

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m readying for the upcoming auditions for my next directing project, Beauty and the Beast with a wonderful company Theatre Lawrence. Previously, I blogged a list of secrets to a good audition. So, I brought this one out of the moth balls for you!

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 audition

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. 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’t announce 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.

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 http://www.theatrelawrence.com/index.html

Contact me at dhcbaldwin@gmail.com or DeborrahBaldwin.net

directing experiences, Musical Theatre, Uncategorized

I Had a Premonition About the Musical Auditions–A True Story

 

church-basement-ladies

I wasn’t going to audition.  I wanted to observe.

You see, I had a premonition about the musical auditions. I shouldn’t have listened to my brain and just gone with my gut. 

No, really. I only wanted to observe.  We’ve lived in this community for six months. We have volunteered  at this community theatre several times, but I didn’t think I knew the inner workings of the company quite yet.  Why would that matter, you ask?  Oh, but it does….

The technical staff is great–professional, welcoming and very hard working.

The front of house staff does a nice job with the public. The ushers are eager to help you find your seats,  gently pushing their intermission refreshments on you and extending appreciation for your support of the production.

Everyone has their heads in the right place.

So far, so good….

Because every other aspect was receiving a good rating from me, I was at ease when I entered the room for auditions for Church Basement Ladies. I was so relaxed I was easily talked into auditioning for the show.

I wasn’t prepared.  I hadn’t even read the script!  (Usually, I skim a script before I audition at the very least.)

I didn’t have a song to sing.  I mean, I hadn’t auditioned for a musical in over thirteen years!

On this particular Monday night, there weren’t many people auditioning which is not uncommon the first night.  I offered to read to “help out”, but not sincerely committed to the whole audition thing. The welcoming, smiling director asked me to return the second night and sing, etc.

Okay, I guess I will…..

Tuesday night I returned. I was a little more prepared.  I found a song from Pippin that would work, but I still hadn’t seen the script. Shoot, I didn’t even have the song memorized.  I had to use notecards.  Tacky, I know but–

I WASN’T GOING TO AUDITION.  I JUST WANTED TO OBSERVE.

Lately, I’ve been on the opposite side of the auditioning table.  I direct.  I have directed more shows in thirteen years of not auditioning than most people direct in their entire career.  I think I’ve directed over forty productions in that span of time.

Wednesday night were call backs.

They went about like any set of callbacks–first we sang from the show. However we sang in six part harmony nearly off the bat! Yikes. Then we danced a little with a sweet choreographer who understands adult women that need to be able to dance or at least look like we know what we are doing. Then we read from the show.

Now, you would think I could just breeze in and read it cold, right? I’m a trained actress. I mean, I work in theatre for a living and have done so for over thirty-eight years.

What’s my take away?

Some of the gals were REALLY prepared for their singing and reading auditions.  It was obvious they had:

  1.  Either auditioned for this director before or had been cast by him in previous shows (a little gossip was that some people only audition for him and no one else’s shows and he always casts them and no one new or different–but that’s a common piece of gossip one hears in many community theaters.) The gals were very calm and confident.
  2. Read the script multiple times
  3. Portrayed the roles before because their readings were so spot on
  4. Listened to the music 24/7 and that’s why they were able to sing cold several different parts with very little effort
  5. Originated the roles and whisked into town just to have a little fun being in the show again
  6. Done all the above

church-basement-ladies

Not me.  Remember: I. wasn’t. going. to. audition.

It’s not my kind of show–it’s light faire.  If I’m going to perform, I want to give up my  valuable retirement time to something that will help me grow and enrich my life. It might be someone else’s “perfect show in which to re-enter the stage”.

For me, this wasn’t the show for me.  I instinctively knew it as I read and sang.

I sang poorly. It was probably the worst audition I’ve done in years.  Maybe in my life.  I’m a much better singer than what I shared that evening.

I read poorly.  Usually, I can produce a cold reading equal to some people’s best work after numerous rehearsals.  Not this one.

I don’t know what my problem was. I read too quickly and sputtered around.

I wasn’t cast.

I wasn’t surprised by the casting.  It looked to be the reasons 1,2,3,4 and 6 which I mentioned above. And that’s okay, you know?  But I’m merely guessing here–not fake news, (ahem) but an educated, experienced assessment on my part.

It will be a great show!  These gals were all ready demonstrating the characters at their auditions.  That makes it so easy for a director.  I’ve enjoyed that kind of casting myself.

I’m okay with that.  I’m going to help the property mistress make lafse and lutefisk.  At this point in my life, that will be more fun.

The next show is Noises Off.  I’ll keep you posted if I audition.  I’ll prepare for them, that’s for sure.

At present, I’m adapting  Bumbling Bea into a play. It’s coming together quite well.

It’s like butter.  It’s fun and challenging.

That’s where my head is at right now and I knew it. My own Bumbling Bea took over during all the audition frolic.

  I’m in charge again.

church-basement-ladies

 

 

Arts

Art Quotes We Love,  #1

Art is Not What You See
Contact me at dhcbaldwin@gmail.com or DeborahBaldwin.net

arts education, drama education, Uncategorized, youth theatre

How to Make Your Drama Class More Successful–Lessons Learned from 38 Years of Teaching Drama-Elementary

This is part one of two. Click here for post two and three:

https://dramamommaspeaks.com/2016/12/09/how-to-make-your-drama-class-more-successful-part-two/

https://dramamommaspeaks.com/2016/12/12/how-to-make-your-drama-class-more-successful-lessons-learned-from-38-years-of-teaching-part-three/

Novice drama teachers ask me what is my secret to success in the classroom. How do I make my drama classes so successful? Heck, I don’t know really.  I’m intense, have high expectations of all my students, energetic and enthusiastic about the subject matter.

I’m guessing those are innate descriptors of me, but not of everyone who teaches drama.  (Although I am acquainted with many drama teachers who are quite a lot like me.) But I have taught drama for thirty-eight years with students of all ages from all walks of life. Generally, I retain them, too.  How?  Smoke and mirrors folks, smoke and mirrors.

The first part of these series of blog posts are about teaching drama to elementary students.  If you want to remember the reason that you loved the theatre so much, teach a creative dramatics class.  In the words of a second grader, “I love drama class.  It’s awesome!” That pretty much sums up an elementary kid.

Here is a list of lessons I have learned from teaching drama for 38 years. I can’t believe it’s been that long.  Really?

img_0359These cast members of Aladdin, Kids who were hanging out during rehearsals.  I found that coloring pages worked wonderfully this last summer during camp.

Here is a bit of advice for a Creative Dramatics class (grades second through fifth)

  • Think of each class in 15 minute increments. If your class is about sixty minutes in length, you’ll need about three to four activities per class. This includes a warm up exercise at the beginning and cool down at the end.

  • Be flexible with your time allotments.  Sometimes the students will wear out quickly or want to play the game longer or practice their performance a little more. Or you have too many students absent from class that day and you are unable to move ahead on the lesson or rehearsal. This one is tough to learn.  Just because you have planned for three days on some unit of study doesn’t mean you are going to get them. 

  • At first, the students will wear out very quickly–want to get drinks, go to the bathroom, etc. if you are studying creative movement in particular. Over time, say several days, they will be able to go longer stretches of time. Usually, we take a bathroom/water break half way through class.

  • If students exhibits signs of wearing out too quickly, help them to temper their energy. Give them permission to slow down or rest for a second, but we stay on our feet so that this doesn’t become a crutch.

  • Use drama games, read aloud age appropriate books about theatre as filler or warm ups or cool downs at the end of class. Vary the exercises–do some that are for sitting down, a few physical execises and/or working in teams or individually.

  • It is my opinion, improvisation is something that young students do not fully understand.  Better to play games where they must think quickly or practice using one’s imagination than to jump head long into improvisation.  They could study how to create a story with a beginning, middle and end.  Your Language Arts teachers will thank you.  🙂

aristocats-kids

  • Avoid doing all the movement exercises with them, but allow them to discover the movements themselves. If you do all the movements for and with them, they stop creating and just imitate you instead. I believe in the “Suzuki Method of Acting” (my own title)–I model for them a few times and afterward encourage them through side coaching.

  • Steer clear of costumes for class performances. I know this seems like a mistake, but think of it this way: if one student brings a fantastic costume from home and the other students forget or their parent was unable to find one or is unable to purchase one, it makes for problems.  Collect costume pieces yourself and use those instead.  Or ask for donations for a “costumes box”.  It will fill up quickly!

  •  The use of props can become a crutch for a beginning student. However, if a    wooden spoon can be used as a wand and then in another scene it is used as a sword, that’s a better choice.  By substituting one object for another, the students begin to think creatively.

  • The students love creating masks. I can recommend ones that work well.  (write me at dhcbaldwin@gmail.com or Deborah@DeborahBaldwin.net)

  • Have plenty of extra scripts, pencils and hi-lighters for the students to use. They lose their originals a lot.

  • If your students have never performed a script, you’ll need to teach them the fine art of hi-lighting their lines. Also, you’ll need to show them how to write blocking down in their script and the importance of notating.

  • Practice bowing!  There are several styles you can use, but take a bit of time and teach them how to bow.

  •  Practice applauding for one another. This isn’t that “everyone gets a trophy” philosophy, though. We practice applauding to show support for one another not the quality of the performance.  For some students, merely standing in front of their peers is frightening to them.

  • Practice stage etiquette, especially those manners we practice during rehearsals.  I stress teaching them to say, “thank you” when I give them a note.  Also, learning to stay quiet while others are rehearsing is tantamount with me.

 

  • Refrain from planning performances on shortened school days.  Some students have a difficult time with changes in the routine and will act up on those days.  Avoid parent/teacher conference days, school holiday performance or end of the year performance days for your class plays, too.

honk-jr

  • Lastly, have fun!  Above all, youngsters who are just beginning to act should enjoy themselves. This doesn’t mean you have to have chaos or unbridled silliness. On the contrary, having boundaries helps all involved. If the students are having a great time with you, they are learning.  Laughter encourages sustained learning and we laugh a lot in my classes. I find the more fun I have teaching my students, the happier we all are.  Don’t you?

I am certain there are more tidbits of advice I could extoll, but these come to mind first.

Read part two of this post.  It’s all about middle and high school drama class.

Contact me at dhcbaldwin@gmail.com  or Deborah@DeborahBaldwin.net

I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

community theatre, directing experiences, Producing plays and musicals, Production Questions, youth theatre

Critical Steps in Producing a Play or Musical: Costumes

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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?

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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.

Contact me at dhcbaldwin@gmail.com or Bumblingbea.com

I’d love to hear from you!

Purchase my book, Bumbling Bea on Amazon.com at https://www.amazon.com/Bumbling-Bea-Deborah-Baldwin/dp/1500390356/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

directing experiences, Fine Arts Guild of the Rockies, Producing plays and musicals, Production Questions, Stephens College, Uncategorized

Critical Steps in Choosing a Play or Musical: Stage Properties

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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.

 

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 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…

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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.

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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 RubiesCostumes.com.   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.

Contact me at dhcbaldwin@gmail.com  or Bumblingbea.com

Musical Theatre, Presser Performing Arts Center, Producing plays and musicals, Production Questions, Uncategorized

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

Contact me at dhcbaldwin@gmail.com  or Bumblingbea.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musical Theatre

Advice Concerning Double Casting in Youth Theatre

This is a subject near and dear to my heart. If you are looking for advice about double casting, its success and pitfalls, you have come to the right blog!

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Willy Wonka, Jr. (Mr. Wonka with two Oompah Loompahs before they had their green wigs cut short!)

I have gobs of experience on this subject having directed mostly successful musicals and plays with adults and children for over thirty years. Trust me when I say, you too can double cast a production and come out of the experience as a sane human being. I really think that double casting youth theater productions is the way to go. So here’s some advice:

1. You should alert those auditioning that you are considering double casting. That doesn’t mean you are required to double cast, however. You are merely thinking about it. Actors don’t like to be surprised. They spend so much time thinking about the outcome of their audition, it is only polite to warn them. Some people won’t be involved in your production if they don’t know in advance that you are double casting.

2. After you have double cast the show, I strongly suggest you label the casts. This year, I am double casting three roles in Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. (Chava, Hodel and Tzeitel). In one of the schools in which I teach, we have so many talented young women, my co-teacher and I thought it was the best way to go this year. We have labeled them cast “A” and “B”–not the most creative labeling we could come up with, but you get the idea. Frankly, I enjoy labeling the cast with some word from the title of the musical such as “Guys” and “Dolls” or “Alice” and “White Rabbit”, etc. You get the idea.

3. Double casting keeps the egos out of the way, in my opinion. If you divide the strength of the cast between both casts, you are more likely to have a terrific outcome. I have seen many a talented student who lacks confidence who feels bolstered by the students around him with more experience and so forth. Sometimes that’s all the one who is a little more unsure needs–the other students’ confidence rubs off on him. Plus, when one of the double cast actors are absent from rehearsal, you have another person to fill in for them.

4. I don’t worry whether the two actors are the same size when it comes to costuming them. I think that’s costume designer’s problem and no one should be denied a part because she isn’t the same size as another person cast in the role. Some of us just can’t help that we are short or very tall. 🙂

5. Usually, I have the double cast actors observe each other’s rehearsals. Even if I have to review blocking solely for the second cast, that’s my choice. When I stage a musical number, the actors learn the parts at the same time, side by side. The same thing goes for vocal rehearsals. If all goes well, the two actors can rehearse with each other, checking their blocking, going over lines, etc.

Sometimes rehearsals get tricky what with two casts, two sets of notes, two sets of problem solving but I promise you it’s worth it. Several times in my career, I have been double cast myself! And look–I’m here to share my experiences with you.

Uncategorized

Tips and Tricks of a Drama Teacher– Drama Tools, That Is

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The Gloops from “Willy Wonka, Jr.”

This is a continuation of my last blog.  Most of us have some form of a work nightmare. You know, you dream that you are at work and everything is crazy. Mine are different! I dream that I am acting in a play and I have learned the wrong lines for the play, I am dressed in the wrong costume and everyone is judging me. I guess my subconscious thinks we need to worry. Whatever.

This year, I am teaching at a fourth school in a different school system.  Along with the usual aspects of creating a new program (or one that was limping around), I have memorized new passwords for a grading system, become acquainted with the school’s policies, checked out my classroom, met everyone and planned beginning lessons.  If you are like I am, one of the best parts of a school year is ordering materials for the class.  I have listed many of my most successful materials.

Postcards–These are tremendous little things.  They come in black and white and color; they are inexpensive and sturdy.  I use them to teach storytelling, tableau, movement, characterization, etc.  When ever a student misses school and takes a trip, I ask them to mail a postcard to me.

Nanofictionary–This card game is such fun and upper elementary and middle school students enjoy it.  It’s part of my storytelling unit. You can find it through Amazon.com

Plastic ball–I use an inexpensive medium sized ball in many exercises or games.  One great exercise is “This is not a ball.” The students take turns coming up with other objects that the ball reminds them of.

CD player–Music plays in my classroom nearly every day.  I love music of all kinds and collect movie soundtracks.  Also, I try to keep abreast of the most popular music of the year.  If it’s appropriate, we create dances and movement pieces to it.

Body Sox–These babies are tremendous!  I learned about them in my graduate classes and I’ve used them for about twenty years now.  If you want to teach the various parts of movement (definite/indefinite, press/float, light/heavy), I’d suggest purchasing some body sox.  They are expensive, but perhaps over time, you could purchase several.  Shy students really like them because they can try out certain movements without the other students observing them. Again, you can find these through Amazon.com.

Paper Masks–Obviously, there are many ways to use masks other than just to make them. Usually, we create them for our class plays. I suggest the ones from S&SWorldwide.com

Hopefully, the actor nightmare dreams are over for awhile. I hope these materials help you. I’d love to hear how you have used them, too!

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Bumbling Bea, drama education, middle grades, Uncategorized

Beginning Blogger–Okay, I give in…

I’ve been thinking of creating a blog for a couple of months. Primarily I thought I needed a blog because I have written a novel for middle school students and publicity is everything, right?

Right.  So, I gave in and created this blog.

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That’s me giving announcements prior to a show.

You see, I have been a drama teacher and director for thirty-five years.  35!! Holy mackarel, that’s a long time. In that time, I have also directed around two hundred plays or musicals with adults and children alike. Today, I realized that what I do is important. I love theater just as much or more than thirty-six years ago. Today I was a speaker at a career day for eighth grade girls. My book just happens to be about an eighth grade girl–what is the chance of that?

Anyway…when the girls began to visit the various women’s tables, I became a little nervous. Okay, I was really nervous.  I thought, “What do I have to tell them about my career? Is it a career? Why is it important for me to share about it?” The first girl who visited my table was a friend’s daughter.  Whew, that made it a simple interview.  Sarah wants to be an actress or a model or on some days–both. She’s pretty, fairly tall and smart.

Sarah doesn’t need me.

I thought, “Sarah doesn’t need me.  She’s all ready crazy about theater.” I relaxed a bit after her first of three hugs during the thirty minute session.  Then other girls arrived at my table.  They weren’t as put together as Sarah. Although pretty enough, they appeared scared and unconfident throwing their very long and very straightened hair over their shoulders.

“Do you like theater?” I said. “Do you want to be an actress?”  One girl told me she had taken LOTS of acting classes in Denver at a theater I had never heard of before.  Maybe she was exagerrating or had only wanted to take classes there and pulled its name out of the blue. Regardless, my gut told me she hadn’t even stepped on a stage.

Then two more girls arrived to join her.  One cutie shared that she was told by their mom, “You are so dramatic you ought to be an actress.” This statement in her book meant she was going to be one.  Mom said so, right?

Over time, I relaxed as did the girls.  I must have spoken to about forty would-be young artists, hopefully. A couple of them said odd things but that’s understandable at the age of about fourteen. We girls say strange things around this time in our life.  Words just jump out of our mouths before we realize what we have said–kinda’ like my main character in my book, Meanie Bea’…

One girl, with half of her head shaved and scary thick black eye liner, studied me for a long time. Finally, she said, “My brother’s friend is a professional actor in New York.  He plays female roles.” I said wondering, “You mean, he’s a female impersonator?” “No.” She said, “He’s gay. He likes to play roles for women. You know, because he’s gay.”

My job is to broaden people’s minds.

It was then that I realized what my job is and has always been–to broaden people’s minds about  theater arts. My job is not to teach or direct, but to create conversation about theater with people.  It doesn’t really matter what we talk about. We just need to chat about theater with someone, because in doing so, it keeps it necessary. And because it’s necessary, it’s important.  That’s my job and I’m sticking with it.  Next time, I’ll explain to you about Meanie Bea’.