Theatre Thursday

CET 2017

Before I get started I need to thank the fabulous Aaron Satyanarayana for taking pictures and sharing them.  I never have enough time for pictures of my finished products and he has saved my bacon!  Also, I borrowed a few pictures from the CET website that were taken by a parent committee.  I only seem to find time for a few picture opportunities during the construction phase.

For the past 6 summers I have been the Tech Director for CET (Children’s Educational Theatre)  It is a fast-paced, challenging, exhausting, yet satisfying 5 weeks of non-stop creativity.  This year I taught Tech Sem – a class that teaches the oldest students the production process and teaches them to create and build their own set, props, and costumes; Lighting –  a basic class in light hang, focus, board operation, and follow spot operation, and mask making – a class that explores different mediums  in creating a mask for the stage.

The rest of the tech staff taught a sound class, video editing, stage painting, intro to tech, advanced construction, props, and a new class that prepped a creative booth at the local art fair.  Kids work hard in these classes.  They gain great skills.  In fact, most of the kids have more skills than some of the parents that come to help on work nights.

It is important to me that the kids in the tech classes can look at the productions and see how they personally contributed to the success of the show.  The sound class kids learn how to set up and operate all of the sound equipment.  The students in the video classes contributed to the videos used in 2 of the productions.


The stage painting class paints sets and use the various techniques they learn.

The lighting class hangs, focuses, gels and assists in programming the lights for 1 of the productions.  They also learn to run the follow spots.

The intro to theatre kids build simple things that are then used in the youngest productions.

The advanced class is assigned one show to build.

The props class creates all of the props used in the 9 different shows we produce in the 5 week program.

The mask class created masks for the 1st year shows and for the main stage show.

The tech students work on the various production needs during the rehearsal hour of everyday.

The first show to hit the stages this year was Macbeth.  This show is unique because I don’t design it.  I only guide the students, teach them lacking skills, and keep them on task.  They do all the rest.  They did a great job in their creations from shields to swords, from backdrop painting to painting pulled tables and stools, from crowns to tunics.  They also pulled and collected all of their own costumes.  A few of them learned to sew simple things with the alterations they needed to make.

The park play needs to be completed as quickly as possible.  This show needs to easily pack into a truck and move to a local park.  Then, after each performance, it must be able to move off the stage and store in the designated area.  Because the tech needs are all staffed by kids, grades 4-8, the set needs to be light enough for a couple of the kids to carry as needed.  This does create a bit of careful thought in the design.  I start with a model.


This year the park play was an adaption of The Jungle Book. I carefully consider what platforms, steps, and acting blocks I have in stock.  (I need to create a large amount on a limited budget).  This set I was able to pull platforms, steps, and the acting blocks needed.  I only needed to create the foliage.  Because the set would be performed and stored outside, I decided to make the leaves from 1/4 inch plywood and paint.

Once we got to the park, I did have to make a few adjustments to the “look” of the show.  The park provides the stage, but it is never the same size or height. It is always a guessing game.

The Mid Summer shows are the next shows to hit the stage.  These shows are performed on an outdoor stage at the school we hold the program.  The midsummer shows are performed by 3rd and 4th grade students.  These shows are their first experience with plays and theatre production.  Normally, my tech team is not responsible for much for these production.  The focus is to teach children more about acting, projection, gestures, stage presence, etc.  However, this year my team was given extensive prop list.  The main good thing about these prop lists is that it give the intro to tech class projects that they can work on.  This year I drew up plans for a periaktoi, a tiger cage, a jackal mask, a tiger mask and and paint elevations.  Then Thomas, my staff member, taught his class how to paint of build the items.

The travel show was a simple design.  When I read The Orphan Train I realized that I thought it would lend nicely to a set that was more open to interpretation.  I was so glad when the director approved the model!

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This show packs up into trucks and moves for each performance to 4 different locations of various sizes.  The set needed to be flexible. It allowed for the director to move these rolling structures, turn them and position them to fit the different locations in the play.  It also allowed the director to move the acting blocks where they saw fit.  I drew up the construction plans and assigned this set build to the Advanced Construction class.

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Orphan Train 2017-1

The library show had many pieces.  This show packs into a truck and moves to the local library for 4 day performance schedule.  The library has little to no backstage space.  The set needs to stay on stage for most of the show with the possibility of a few pieces moving on and off stage.  This year the library show was Alice in Wonderland.  This model gave the director an idea of how she could use the pieces to help her block her show in this challenging space.  I drew up construction blueprints and paint elevations for the volunteers and students who would be working on the show.

Hannah, my talented daughter and fellow tech teacher, painted the backdrop.

My friend Ken, and a substitute teacher, created the rose bushes for the Queen’s garden.

I designed a 4 sided unit that could be a kitchen on one side, a “tree” for the cat on one side, and Humpty Dumpty’s wall on a different side.  All they needed to do was turn it ot the side they needed.

I drew up plans and the kids constructed to large mushrooms.  We used concrete form tubes and umbrellas as the base.  Then we applied paper mache before painting the mushrooms.  They were so cool that I am now storing them at school because I couldn’t bring myself to destroy them at strike.

I was able to pull benches for the court, but I had to build a large table for the Mad Hatter’s party.  I love how the party table and chairs turned out.


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The main stage is the largest and most complicated set.  Although is stays put on the stage, it it BIG!  This year the main stage production was Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  The director gives me a ton of freedom in creating a set design for this complicated show.  He only had one request –  he wanted golden tickets that lit up about the stage.  This is the second time I have designed this show.  I was able to pull supplies from my school that I had saved from the last show.  However, this show had a completely different look.


I decided to put the Bucket house and “TV” land on the auditorium floor (where the orchestra often is located).  I used corrugated tin I had used in my last design and an old window and stereo I turned into a sideboard, I found at the Habitat for Humanity Store.

“TV land” was painted like a large TV screen.  I creates slides and projected the location of the ticket winners to show the different locations.  I also created a video of Mike TeeVee for when he shrunk in the TV room in the factory.  That video was fun!  We went into the boys bathroom because it was the only white wall we could find.  It turned out to have great sound as well.  Then, as I filmed him saying his lines, a teaching assistant reached her hand into the frame and “pulled” him out of frame.  During the scene an ompa lompa then brought a Ken doll that we had given a matching costume to Wonka and his parent.  It worked well.  I was so pleased.  My first attempt at projection in set design.  I would have been even more impressive if I had access to modern equipment.  😉

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For the light up tickets that the director really wanted I cut 3×4 pieces of 1/4 plywood and drilled holes all along the outside edge.  I borrowed 100s of old fashion Christmas lights (I did need to buy the white bulbs) and u=put the lights into the holes.  We spray painted the gold and I lettered them in black.  I brought my rigging form school and hung the signs from the front valance.  I had to borrow extension cords and make a few converters to plug the tickets into the lighting system.  They worked out great!

I found a blue pring for a kitchen cart online and painted pink with some details for my props supervisor to decorate for the Wonka Candy Cart.

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I made 2 4×8 rolling gates and placed gears and W’s on it for the Wonka Gates.  All of the stuff that happened in town was set in front of the grand drape.

The pink candy boat was a little more challenging.  The stationary set didn’t allow for large moving set pieces.  I opted for a piece that I could fold up and slip through an opening in the set.  Some how I painted it purple… what was I thinking?  I then made giant lollipop paddles from 1/4 plywood and 6 foot PVC pipe.

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The center piece of the set got an “ah” and applause every performance when the curtain opened.  It was pretty impressive.  I brought a slide from school from my last Wonka set.  I borrowed a second slide from a parent.

My lead parents helped me put together a “machine” out of kegs we borrowed from a local brewery.  The machine even produced a brown liquid for the oompa loompas to work with.

I brought stained glass window flats from school, along with bubble machines with glow-in-the-dark bubbles.  We put the actors on the shoulders of teaching assistants and only used a spot light and the black lights to light the scene in the bubble room.  It got some giggles, but it worked!

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I used concrete forms to make the pipes and and dryer hose to make the hose.  I even found some odd shaped pipes at Habitat for Humanity for the “chocolate river” to come out of (the chocolate was brown silk fabric).  When Agustus Gloop fell into the river he went down the slide and slid off stage. The second slide was used by oomp loompas and for the nut sorting room.


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One of my traditions it so put the names of the people who helped work on the set into the set somewhere.  This year I wrote the names of every CET student and staff member as the text of the Wonka Contract.  Seriously, everyone contributes to the success of the productions.  They need to recognized on the set!

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Overall, it was a great production and I loved how each of the sets turned out.  The main stage is out last season show.  We strike it on Friday night and set up for Fine Arts in on Saturday.  I created large banners a few years ago for this set.  I also get balloons to finish off the look.  After Fine Arts Night (a night of showcasing the students learned skills from classes) we strike it all out and are back to black.  We have packed up tech hall and moved everything to storage for the year.

CET is a whirl wind.  By the end of the 5 weeks we are ready to pack it in.


I couldn’t manage designing 5-9 shows, a budget, buying of materials, teaching classes, manage 24 tech students and keep us all organised as to who goes where when and how, organised work parties and keep 30-40 adults busy and productive without these people!

The staff I have to work with makes my job bearable.  I love these guys!  Thank you Dani, Hannah, Thomas L, Thomas B, Jay and Josh.  Thanks to Kevin, our honorary techie, and Thad and Rebecca, who head up the parent committee. Thanks to Katie our board representative.  Thanks to the parents that came on Tuesday and Thursday nights to work parties.  Thanks to friends like Eddie B that came just because.  And a big thanks to these great tech kids.  These are creative hard working kids who accomplish amazing things!

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And with that, I wrap up CET 2017.  Until the next year!



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