You may be shocked to see just how many shows I design, organize and build, get performance ready and then strike, all within a 5 week period. I also manage and track the progress of the other tech staff (props, puppets, masks, lighting and sound). I do pick up a saw or a drill or a paintbrush, once in a while, but I mostly organize and manage people… kids from 5th grade -9th grade along with staff and volunteer parents. This is my 7th year working as a designer/tech director for Children’s Educational Theatre (CET). Let me tell you… it’s an exhausting whirl wind!
It is quite a process. I always start with models. Check out my blog post about creating these models here.
The first show to hit the stage was Once On This Island.
I didn’t exactly “design” much for this show. The “tradition” for this show is that the students are to create the set, props, and costumes. However, the director of this show is my good friend and co-worker, Jeff. We had done this show together before a few years back. (You can read about it here). He didn’t have much of a budget and he needed class time for rehearsal. I said I would help. A couple of the cast members met me at my high school and we put legs on 2 platforms, painted them with paint I had in my cabinet (a donation, of sorts). We also painted blocks I had at Central High School for their use. Jeff pulled costumes from our selection at Central. He only made a few purchases to fit the students in this current production.
This show performed in two different venues. It was a bear to get the set into the first venue… up some huge stairs. My students struggled to get the heavy platforms up the stairs. Construction workers were working on the roof above the space. One volunteered to lift the platform with a lift they were using to lift roofing materials to the roof. The kids were very impressed.
The second venue was in the Monmouth City Main Street Park. I liked the venue. However, it was hard to hear. Jeff and I ran back to school and collected portable sound equipment and setting it up. In the end, Once on This Island mostly came from Central High School storage… and back again.
The second show to perform was The Prince and the Pauper at the Salem Art Fair in Bush Park. I loved how the design turned out. I only used 4 4×8 flats with an Old London skyline that I pulled from stock. Then, there were about 12 4×5 boards with various things painted on them. First, a group of parents helped me cut out the panels on the first 3 hour work night. I had my high school student staff screw on 1×3 supports to the back and attach handles to the back. I had a new painter/paint teacher this year. She did a great job teaching and encouraging parents and students in the art I penciled out on my front elevations. Over the course of 4 3 hour work nights, she was able to get all of the paintings transferred from my drawings and onto the large 1/4 inch cutout.
The show traveled well. It was super cut in the venue space. Best of all, the directors were very happy with the results. That is always a good thing.
Then, we had 3 small shows with our youngest students – Three, 3, III and The Adventure of Pecos Bill and Three Fables of Aesop. I only made the backdrop banners years ago, and organised props and the painting of the blocks for these little shows.
I also kept track the tech kids and sound stuff. It was so hot at strike, two days later. I was wilting! Thank goodness my daughter, Lilli, helped to carry all the stuff across the parking lot.
The next show to perform was a traveling show, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Tales (or something like that – I’m just too tired to think). This show performed in 4 different venues and had to travel in trucks to each one of them. Kids helped with the design of the show. I gave them the shape of the flats and blocks. They build the frames and cut the life sized shaped out of double ply cardboard. After taping the edges with 2 inch masking tape I told them to design what paint should look like using the illustrations in the book as inspirations. After I approved their “design” I had Katie (the paint teacher) turn them loose on the large flats. I LOVE how they turned out.
We also created “odd” shaped blocks and painted them to match the “look” of the book as well. Kids built this entire set. A parent did help cut out large prop letters and to create a step stool with boots attached. However, the majority of this show was completely student created. It was perfect… plus Dallas High School and Howard Street Middle School are both planning on doing the show now in this coming school year and so they will continued to be used. That is pretty cool.
The same day, the Library show opened, The Tempest. It was super simple and I loved how it turned out too. The director showed me things that inspired her… huge flowing curtains. I knew this would be a challenge since this set would need to transport to the library on a truck. I decided she also needed some levels, so I designed a small “rock pile” as well. I am so glad she loved what I came up with… added bonus, I can use it over and over again!
My husband helped me to create a curtain piece. We used a 4×4 and cut blocks to put conduit pipe in to create angles at the top. We also used pipe clamps and flanges. I even gave it a test drive (literally) by putting it on a float for the fourth of July parade. (read here to see how the parade went). It held together well enough driving down the road. However, it fell apart when I tried to piece it together in the gym at CET. I finally made the connection that I needed a “foot” at the bottom. We had screwed the bottom of the legs to platforms for the parade float. I didn’t have platforms for the piece in the library. I needed something lighter than that. My husband and daughter helped me to create the “foot” I needed out of 1×6 and strapping. We made the foot to match the top – a 12’x7′ triangle. I was able to create the “rock pile” using a few stock platforms. Parent volunteers legged them so that I could set them at odd angles to create the “pile” look. Students then faces the “pile” and painted on “rocks”.
Eventually, we moved everything into the library. It helped that this season I was able to buy some Par Can lighting instruments for cheap and to give the library some lights. The costumer and the puppeteer did exceptional work as well. I will be using these set pieces again for sure!
This show also had some very creative puppets. This year we had a new puppet master on staff. She did a great job creating these “goddess” puppets and an angler fish puppet head for the show. Our mask/painting teacher created the coolest “wolf” heads from black wire too! Together with the stunning costumes, this was a visually beautiful show.
The last show to open and close was Lion King Jr. I was able to save CET a ton of money on this set. The director had seen it when I did it at Central High School. (click here to read about that production). I spent just over $2000 on the set at Central High School. I only spent $400-ish fitting the set to the CET stage. It is hard to re-create a set. I blogged about that too, here. I was able to bring my specialty platforms and stairs to CET. I also brought the puff ball drop, my giant tree drops, Christmas tree lights, and all of the Styrofoam I used on the set. I also brought grasses, puppets we used, lighting equipment, specialty lighting, etc from Central High School I only needed to buy lumber for legging, paint to match the original set and for the floor, gel and replacement lamps for lighting. Within 5 3 hour work nights we, the staff and parent volunteers were able to finish this set.
I needed to change the design a little to fit the stage. Once I had structures in place, we had “play tetress” and fit my large Styrofoam pieces on the structures to re-create the set. I also taught them how to use feather dusters to create the texture on the platforms and floor. You can read more about this technique here. I had a little trouble creating good lighting. The facility doesn’t have many circuits and dimmers, nor does it have any modern lighting options. It does create a challenge. However, I was able to teach young students how to hang, focus, create instrument schedules and magic sheets, and to program light cues. I even had them create gobos for me to use in the show.
It did work. The show turned out pretty well (is it okay to say I liked my original production better?). I was impressed that I could take a set I had created before and somewhat, reproduce it.
Most people were impressed with how I was able to get the crew to move the stairs and other set pieces with speed and accuracy. They were also impressed with the flying of the sun and jungle (hard to do when you only have a 1/4 fly to work with). They were impressed with the specialty lighting. It is impressive considering the time frame (5 weeks), budget and that nearly all the crew and builders are 5th -9th grade and a few of their parents.
The final day of the program, we have one more production… a show and tell of the things students have learned in classes over the 5 weeks. We call it Fine Arts Night. Again, we are in a new venue. This year was a completely new-to-us venue. Several years ago I made banners for this production. I did not have the energy to create a new set each year. I add to these banners with balloons. It makes it festive… and easy to strike in the end.
And then, just like that, it is over and I sleep for a week!