70 Extras Wanted, No Experience Necessary

by Suzi Steffen
in Feature
Kate Hurster (right) as Elsie with her guitar, separated by audience members from the man she loves, played by Jeremy Peter Johnson.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival made things more interesting for the audience—and their stage crew—when they tried promenade seating

In the middle of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Yeomen of the Guard, assistant stage manager Molly Norris might see a child with a cup of apple juice and a dad with a cup of wine climb up to ride two rocking horses on the set. But she doesn’t freak out. Yes, actors will need the horses in 10 or 15 minutes. She might make a quick call to her onstage crew or walk over there herself, avoiding the other audience members on the deck. Soon, the child and parent have safely moved on—elsewhere on the set itself, where 70 audience members are watching, ducking instruments, moving from bench to floor and back again, grabbing drinks from the onstage bar and clapping along to songs as the actors perform the stripped down, updated, Country & Western-style Yeomen.


by Thomas S. Freeman
Mark Short

A central location and on-target designs have made Kenmark Scenic Backdrops a success 

Mark Short, president of Kenmark Scenic Backdrops, may be in charge of a backdrop company—but he started out as a musician. His family always shared a love of theatre, so he and his brother (a choreographer) started producing corporate theatre and building sets for those events to make ends meet. Eventually he focused more on scenic design and backdrops, and that day job became his life’s work. Now Kenmark Scenic Backdrops is one of the nation’s largest backdrop rental houses, with studios in Kansas City and Denver creating drops for the classics as well as new titles (like a new Addams Family set), creating a booming clientele base. 

Commanding the Scenery

by Jacob Coakley
An eZ-Go workstation for programming automation set up at front of house.

While machines move more scenery than ever, companies compete to make it even easier

Scenic design is the physical representation of the emotional world of a show, where the vision becomes reality. But making several hundreds (if not thousands) of pounds of scenery move like a vision is not a simple task. We reached out to leaders in the field of automation and asked them how they make automation easier—and safer—for everyone.

Corporeal Intangibility

by Erin Kehr
A moment from The Nether at the Alley Theatre, with the custom-made acrylic gramophone.

Custom acrylic furniture represents a virtual world in Alley Theatre’s production of The Nether

In playwright Jennifer Haley’s cerebral futuristic crime drama, The Nether, the material and ethereal world collide. Scenic designer Kevin Rigdon needed to find a way to represent to an audience this world—described as a perfect Victorian-era simulacrum—but which only exists online. This was further complicated by the fact that the play also features scenes that take place in the real world. Rigdon decided acrylic furniture was the answer. “The choice of transparent furniture was rooted in the idea that the Hideaway exists in the 'Nether,' a virtual reality realm, not a physical reality,” says Rigdon. “The transparent furnishings become a ghost (virtual) of what we expect to find in the offline world.”

Dog Days of Summer

by Jacob Coakley
SD Editor Jacob Coakley

The Vegas heat has made a scramble of my brain

Folks, it finally happened. I’ve snapped in the heat. I looked at the weather today and thought to myself “Oh, it’s only 107 degrees—that’s not so bad.” 

It is bad. 107 is objectively too hot. Even if it is cooler than the past few days. And even though air conditioning is great, the dog days of summer are piling up on me, making concentration hard and research even harder. All I want is to dip my feet in the pool and cool off—and to hell with the actors in Metamorphoses yelling at me to get off the stage. 

History Found and Made

by Michael S. Eddy
The company of Shuffle along perform “I’m Just Wild About Harry

Designing Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

There are wonderful moments in theatre where you actually can see both the craft and the art of the designers; when all the talents of the entire creative team really come together beautifully. When you think, ‘yes, these people were all in the same production meeting, having the same conversation, and really shared a vision of this moment.’ One such moment was when Javert jumped from the bridge in Les Miserables’ original Broadway staging. The lighting, the scenic elements, and the costumes created an incredible sense of the character falling that took the audience’s breath away. It is now a moment often duplicated, but there was an unmistakable mastery of design and nuances to the original that was truly the artistic collaboration of Lighting Designer David Hersey, Set Designer John Napier, and Costume Designer Andreane Neofitou captured in that ideal moment. The recent Broadway run of the Tony-nominated musical Shuffle Along has a similar moment when Lighting Designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, Scenic Designer Santo Loquasto, and Costume Designer Ann Roth create a train trip across Pennsylvania. And much like the Les Mis team, they do so with stagecraft simplicity that belies their deep understanding of their individual design disciplines and where they intersect creatively.

In the Paint

by Lisa Mulcahy
Scenic artist Sean Saari creates an abstract watery floor using Sculptural Arts Coating paints for a production of Wake Walking at the Greensboro College Parlor Theatre.

Expert advice for giving your stage floor a face lift that will look great and last

Painting a stage floor to match your scenic design probably seems like a no-brainer—until you actually attempt it. Why? Changing your surface color actually requires some key knowledge to get the job right. For example, did you know that using latex paint—even only on part of your job—can change the acoustics in your venue? Depending upon the depth of your stage, the color you pick can shrink the look of your backdrops and set pieces. And if you don’t know the right way to apply floor paint to a stage, hello, streaks and scratches. We asked the top pros in the business for their sage advice on how to accomplish the task like a veteran, from choosing the right paint and equipment to application tricks to maintenance and more. 


by Darin Kuehler
in Feature
For a production of The Whipping Man at the Omaha Community Playhouse, Darrin Kuehler made LED “lanterns” that were dimmed using RC4 Wireless dimmers.

Incorporating LEDs into your props is easier than you think

Being a properties master comes with a variety of challenges. LEDs are just one of the newest ways to address these challenges, but learning about their construction, how to control them, and the requirements to power them is a necessary step to make sure that the answer is not more complicated than the question. Once you have some basic knowledge, you will be able to not only solve your prop problems but to insert a little magic into your work as well.

Perspectives on "Dance Production: Design & Technology"

by Natalie Robin
The new book from Jeromy Hopgood, Dance Production: Design & Technology

Our reviewer takes a look at -- and wishes for more from -- Dance Production

Dance Production: Design & Technology is the latest book from Jeromy Hopgood, professor of Entertainment Design and Technology at Eastern Michigan University. It is presented as an introductory text for theatre and dance students studying both performance and production. Hopgood sets out to integrate theater education techniques in collaboration and developing common artistic vocabularies into a dance context.

Take Your Production to the Next Level Affordably

by Jacob Coakley
Dancers on the Gateway Set Rentals Show Boat set.

Rentals and low-cost effects can brighten the show

So you’re planning a production of Show Boat as your fall musical, and you know you’ve got a cast of top-quality lead singers to make the Jerome Kern score come alive and delight your audiences. The fact is, however, that you don’t have a scene shop that can build you a riverboat and gangplank. Even painted drops are a chancy endeavor at best. The answer is simpler than you might imagine. Rental and set construction companies are ready to help you take your production to the next level, while eliminating the issues of building, painting, and storing drops and set pieces for your school or theatre organization. And backdrop rental companies make new drops every year, keeping their inventory fresh and up-to-date. The companies listed here are ready to provide materials to make your next production come alive.