“it’s the holiday season…”

It is that time of year again; time for us to find those boxes that have been hidden all year, brush off the dust, and start hanging up the Christmas decorations! It is also that time of year where we jump into our cars and drive around aimlessly trying to find the tackiest decorations so we can judge our neighbors and feel a little better about ourselves-it is only the holiday spirit after all! Most things are better in moderation. This is especially true for both Christmas decorations and theatre.

When decorating one’s house for Christmas, simplicity is key. When you over crowd your house with unnecessary cheap crap, you just look trashy. Pick items that highlight your house’s architecture and help exemplify the Christmas message. The same could be said about theatre technical elements. One should only use items, effects, etc, that help highlight the message. The other things are just unnecessary like that giant blowup snow globe, or the life size Santa statue.

Time for a quick digression…

Item’s on Anna Naughty (Decoration) List:

  • Anything that blows up. Stop. Just no. NO!
  • Lights that are any other color than white. We no longer live in the sixties where art deco was still ok. If you own a color TV, you do not need color Christmas lights.
  • Wooden figures. Nuff said
  • Plastic figures of the Navity scene. It makes everyone uncomfortable. This is no way respecting Jesus.
  • ALSO…if you don’t know how to wrap lights around your trees or garland, hire someone

I am fortunate enough to go to a school that understands the proper way to decorate for the holidays. The other night I was able to attend Elon University’s annual luminaire celebration. The night is filled with carols, hot chocolate, and Christmas cheer. It concluded as Elon’s campus became lit in white lights.

In doing the decorations properly- simple and classy- Elon was able to create a truly magical experience for all who attended. As the lights went up one at a time, I was in awe and even became a tad emotional. The beauty of Elon’s campus, buildings, and trees were not hidden with neon flashing lights and big Rudolph figurines, but instead highlighted to show its best features. It was just example of how technical elements, when used properly, can create a magical experience for the audience.

YAY!

 

 

NO!

 

 

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“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna”… my “Hair” experience

The past two weekends I was given the amazing opportunity to be a spot operator for Elon University’s production of “Hair”. It was an invaluable experience that I will remember forever. I learned a great deal about the technical aspects of a show. Also, through this experience I now better understand the immense amount of work that goes into a production.

The process started out with the tech watch. This was an opportunity for the crew to watch the production without the technical elements. Although the tech was missing, the production was alive. I immediately became engaged in the story, and the actors welcomed us into the “YavaPi” tribe (This is also evidence of the actors great skill-no lights, costumes, wigs, and still fully in character). This was a unique experience because a lot of times I feel there is a disconnect between the actors and the crew. In “Hair” this was not the case. The message of the show (love, community) was evident in every part of the production. It was clear even from this performance that this was more than just another college show, it was a theatrical experience with the possibility to change people.

The next day was a cue-to-cue, and the day where I got a glimpse into the tech world. Having always been on the stage during these days, my opinions of them were not always positive. I always grew weary when asked to stop the scene over and over again. But after being on headset on the cove, I understood so much was going on in those moments of pause. Numbers were being spurted out my ear constantly. With each number, a light would change. It was so interesting and impressive to hear Bill work. He was able to see the vision he wanted and then could apply it with these lighting cues. Just when it seemed to be right, the director would lean over and say, “That’s not what I envisioned.” Although it was time consuming, it was vital. It helped me understand just how hard of a job a lighting designer has, as well as crewmembers in general.  We all had to be on top of our game for that 12-hour period, totally aware and ready to make changes.

This was the day I also held my lighting instrument for the first time, and was given my first cue sheet. When I first got assigned the role of spot operator I was nervous, but I didn’t comprehend how difficult it would be. You must be constantly aware of how your instrument is working and how it is positioned. Is your iris opened at the correct size for where the actor, or object, you are spotting is on stage? Do you need to tighten/ loosen your instrument so you are able to follow the actor without it shaking? Being the high up in the cove, it was very hard to perceive where on stage my light would go. I remember my first couple of times trying to spot on that cue-to-cue day. They were awful, some as far as 10 feet away from what I was trying to spot. Although every night I got better at knowing where to spot, there were still times when I was off. In this case though, practice did help tremendously. I found myself very intent in getting it right. This was just not just a job. I was too invested in the show for it to be only that. When I missed a spot, even by just a few inches, I wanted to nail the next time. Spots that I picked up perfecting, or that my fellow spots nailed, received uncontrollable emissions of joy.  It helped that we became so familiar with the show. The other cove members and I joked often about being able to do the blocking of the show perfectly since we had seen it so many times. In all seriousness though, I knew this show in and out by the last performance. I started to not even need to look at my cue sheet (a very helpful, organized tool, especially during those first days) because I knew what was coming up. Like an actor, I had to be fully engaged and aware the whole show. I was always constantly listening to the cues Hollace read, and furthermore always conscious of what part of the show we were on.  This also taught me the importance of communication in a show. It is crucial. Telling the stage manger you are off headset, or stating a standby, is not just polite, it keeps the show going. Another thing I must state that made “Hair” unique to other productions, was that even after the 6 performances and many rehearsals, I never grew tired of the show. Each night was a different energy. Each night was another experience to change and move the audience. I mean who could get tired of hearing Kennedy belt “I believe in love” each night?

Another very interesting part, which I greatly enjoyed, was being able to watch the performance and see it change and grow each night. It was great to see how adding different elements-lights, wigs, props, costumes (lack of costumes in some scenes)- transformed the show. It helped me see how a show can progress, and helped me better understand what it putting on a production entails. With each element I was able to see the directors concept and vision a little more. Although, like I said earlier, the characters were present from the very beginning of the process, they grew vastly each night. It was also great to see how one technical element, or the way the audience reacts to something, can change to show completely. I remember when Bill first added the lights for the drugged out sequence and the actors clapped after completing it, and I remember thinking that the scene had been transformed. This was also true when the actors finally took off their clothes in the closing number of act one. The meaning was so much clearer.

I am forever grateful for the experience of “Hair”. I learned so, so much, and I fear I can’t even explain it through my words. I also became a part of tribe, something bigger than myself that I know will last forever. I love everyone in the production, and have especially a tender spot for my fellow spots who I grew close to during the production with every new venture up into the infamous cove. I remember after the first day of spot opping, calling my mom and saying to her that I was having the best time of my life, because I was a part of a production. Even though I wasn’t acting in it, I was a crucial element and I was working with everyone for the greater good. I thrive on the energy a show creates. My mind was opened to a new world of tech, that I hope keeps on being expanded over the next four years at Elon. “Let the sunshine in”!

 

 

*My spot on Nasia, in “Aquarius”

“Let the sunshine in….the cove”

An epic journey takes place every night for hair tech: the journey up to the cove. It is not a journey for the faint of heart. It takes courage, skill, and also the ability to see in complete darkness. First you must prepare. Go to the bathroom; pack your backpack full of snacks, homework, and lots of blankets and sweatshirt it bare the cold. You must make certain that you have all of the essentials, because you will not be able to get down to civilization for at least 2 hours, if not longer. Once you are fully prepared then you can embark.

Climb the first ladder. This one is up through a small window. Be ready to heave your body upwards.

Next walk a few steps. Bathe in the last glimpse of light you will see for a while.

You will then see another ladder. This one is much taller. Make sure you either have a buddy to pass the things in your hands to, or have it all on your back. You will need both of your hands. Don’t try to use one. It is awkward and scary. Also be prepared for shaking (it is only attached on one side).

Then, it’s time for the most difficult part of your excursion. Have your hands above you. There will be random low beams that will jump out of you and leave lumps on your head. Also each step you take, take with caution. There are steps…everywhere. Sometimes there is one step. Other times three. There is no order. You have to be on your game. If this sounds dangerous, that is because it is. Be ready, or else get ready for some awesome bruises. But do not fret! You are almost to your destination! After you pass the first cove there are a few more beams, and a few more stairs. Then you will see the lowest beam. Pretend you are playing an epic game of limbo. After the lowest dive you are there. Get on your headset and state “Spot 1 here”.

Now, get ready for muscle aches, blind spotting, frustration, and craziness, hundreds of cues, and some of the most fun, inspiring, and rewarding work of your life. You get to be a part of a show that has true importance. Peace, Love, Freedom, Happiness.

“Arlie, what you doin in there?”- A review of “Getting Out”

On Sunday October 9th, 2011 I was fortunate enough to attend Elon University’s production of Getting Out. Led under the direction of Fredrick J. Rubeck, the performance was quite spectacular. Not only did Rubeck and the actors help bring Marsha Norman’s gripping and heart wrenching script to life, but so did the technical aspects. From set to lighting and sound to costumes, each element brought a needed aspect to the production, and all were beautifully executed. I found myself very emotionally attached to the production. I know each of the components of the production made the performance one I will not forget.

Getting Out, by Marsha Norman, takes place in Louisville, Kentucky in 1979. The script follows the recent release of fugitive Arlene (played by Senior BFA Acting Major Stephanie Scribner). The play also includes the memories from Arlene’s past that still haunt her, a time where she was not Arlene but the troubled Arlie (played by Senior BFA Acting Major Katie Elinoff). Arlene is constantly reminded of her past, through short “memory scenes” and also through the visits of characters like Mother (Laruen Bambino, Junior Acting Major) and Carl (Clark Kinkade, Senior Musical Theater Major). Marsha Norman, like Arlene, was from Louisville. Although she originally pursued a degree in philosophy, she quickly realized that her true passion was in writing. The first play she wrote that was produced by a professional theater company was, in fact, Getting Out. The character of Arlie was strongly influenced by the disturbed youth Norman worked with in mental hospitals. Other notable credits of Norman include ‘Night, Mother, Last Dance, and Trudy Blue and lyricist for The Color Purple and The Secret Garden. For her work on ‘Night Mother, Norman received the Pulitzer Prize.

Getting Out opens on a dingy apartment. Scenic designer Kristina Loeffke did a fabulous job at representing this. Although some might say that the set was minimal, it greatly depicted the solitude of protagonist Arlene. The black box was set in “L-shape” formation. A platform mirrored this “L-shape” on the upstage curtain line. A bed on one end of the platform represented Arlie’s jail cell. On the other end were stairs down to another small platform with a table and chairs, and finally stairs to the stage floor. These distinct areas were perfect for the different “mini” scenes of Arlene’s memory. Each gave an individual space so that the audience could process that a new memory was occurring. The space between the platforms on the stage represented Arlene’s apartment. Shelves, and a sink and cabinet lined the walls. A bed stood center stage. The location was a very effective choice for it was the home to one of the most crucial scenes of the whole show: the rape scene that occurs at the end of Act 1. There was nothing fancy or intricate, only what was absolutely needed. Minimal? Perhaps. But it was extremely effective in helping drive the message of the story. Getting Out is about raw emotion. It is gritty. The set should, and in this production, did visualize this.

Another key factor in the use of the platforms (memory of jail) around the apartment (current time) was to represent that Arlene was still trapped by her past. When Arlie goes in to solitary confinement, instead of adding a new space on stage, two flats with bars were placed at the bed of the apartment. Arlene is not free of Arlie. In contrary, Arlie is all consuming. This is nicely represented through the set. Another interesting touch made by Loeffke was the painting of the floors. The floors of the apartment were painted to look like wood (so nicely painted that I assumed it was actual wood!). A thick gray boarder, most likely representing concrete, outline the wood details. This gray was then mirrored in the platforms. The audience perception was gray equals jail. So once again, this technical element help expand on the idea of Arlene being encased by her haunting past.

Some of the most important, and impressive, components of the whole production were in the lighting and sound design. Sound designer, and Elon faculty member, Michael Smith and lighting designer Matt Artigues, a senior Theatrical Design and Production Major, fronted the operation. Sounds and lighting were used the moment audience members walked through the door to set the tone for the rest of the two and half hours. Sound effects of jail cells closing, and keys rattling were played. Also announcements being read by actress Mal Marcus about “current inmates” chimed through the speakers. Lights were dark, giving the audience light only with an occasional swoop of a prisons guard’s flashlight.  The mood was set, and immediately the point of view of the production was made clear.

Because the set was minimal, sound and lighting became much more important. A sound effect was used any time Arlie’s cell door opened or closed. This helped not only establish the setting, but also clearly identified the action of the scene. The effect also sounded extremely real, and coincided with the actors’ movement perfectly, so the audience’s suspension of disbelief was obtained. Because of the quality of the sound effect, an actual door seemed foolish. Artigues picked dark lighting colors, such as a shade of dark blue, for the memory scenes. This helped set the tone of Arlene’s dark and painful, and also differentiated from the apartment that was basically “natural” light. Besides the dark lighting used to set the tone of the piece, spotlights were also extremely valuable. Because the script jumps between current time and memories, spotlights were often used as a tool for audience members. If the spotlight was on Arlie, it was clear that is where our attention should be. Especially because these memories were at times very short and Arlie traveled all across the set, the use of the spotlight became essential.

Credit must also be given to Junior Technical Design and Production Major, Andrew Ontiveros for his work as costume designer. Although each character only had one costume, Ontiveros made sure that each costume fit the character, depicted the director’s vision for the show, and helped demonstrate the theme of the play. This can best be seen through the character of Ruby, played by Senior Acting Major Sarah Clancy. Ontiveros chose to dress her in a brownish-orange dress, and an old cream knit sweater. Ruby is the one glimpse of light in the rather depressing play. She shows Arlene that there can be life after jail, and not just in prostitution. Because Ruby is Arlene’s small hint of hope, it was very smart of Ontiveros to dress her in the brightest costume. Ruby has also been through a lot, and this is why Arlene feels comfortable talking to her. The sweater was a perfect way to show Ruby as a real human who has been through many obstacles. Other important costumes were the guards. Ontiveros did an excellent job in dressing them in a way to make them unified, but also separate from the rest of the cast. They were their own distinct group, and must be in drastic contrast with Arlie, Arlene, and the other characters of the show. The costumes helped make this clear.

Lastly, credit must be given to stage manager William Pommerening (again a Senior Technical Design and Production major). I was extremely impressed by how smoothly the production ran. Cues seemed flawless. This helped me to fully engaged in the story. When the technical aspect of the show runs smoothly, it is so much easier to loose yourself in the work. You can became lost in that world and forget that you are in a small black box theater. On Sunday afternoon I was with Arlene in her small, dirty apartment in Kentucky as she ate chicken wings on her bed. I was with her in her jail cell as she read the bible for the first time. I know it is due to Pommerening’s skill and hard work, and moreover the whole tech crew, that this is possible.

As Mr. Rubeck states in the program under the director notes, this play is far more just a tale of a mistreated woman. This play explores the human condition. We all can relate to Arlene because we have all tried, in some aspect, to rid of our past and create a new self. As Rubeck says in his closing remarks, “And in the end, following the debate, following the decisions, following the choices, we are left alone with ourselves both new and old, and the challenge of reconciling the tow as we move forward with hope.” Through the incredible direction of Fred Rubeck, astonishing cast of actors, and amazing tech (set, lighting, sound, and costumes), the audience goes on a journey with Arlene. I now carry with me the lesson of Marsha Normans work: like Arlene we must face our past, but not let it dictate our future.

Websites Used:

http://americantheatrewing.org/downstagecenter/detail/marsha_norman/

http://americantheatrewing.org/biography/detail/marsha_norman

“All shall know the wonder of purple summer…”

It is hard for me to pick only one moment to capture my most memorable theatrical experience. Every show I have seen, acted in, done tech for, etc has impacted me and made me appreciate and love the theater even more, and I am not just saying that! I truly feel that I learn and grow each time I partake in the theater. I wouldn’t trade any one of my experiences for the world. I could talk in great detail about each of them, but I guess I will follow the rules and pick just one…

“Spring Awakening”

As I have mentioned in an early blog, the first professional show that I saw was Les Mis in London’s West End.  I sat in my seat and was completely overwhelmed with emotions. I knew from the moment on that I all I wanted to do with my life was to be on the stage. After this experience I listened to as many different musical soundtracks as possible, and went up to Chicago anytime a new show was touring there. I heard about “Spring Awakening” long before I actually saw it. I saw the original Broadway cast perform on the Tony Awards, and I was memorized. These were people close to my age winning Tony’s and living my dream. The next week I went out and found the soundtrack. I listened to it religiously. When I heard that the tour was coming to Chicago I was overjoyed (the tickets were actually my birthday present that year). My seat was orchestra, stage right, about 15 rows back. What was about to occur exceeded my expectations.

^(Tony performance)

“Spring Awakening” was the first show I saw where there were no “jazz hands”. It wasn’t about the huge set, fancy costumes, and large dance numbers, and yet it touched me. All the performers were so completely engaged in the performance, and every word resonated with me. The set, although simplistic compared to many Broadway styled shows, perfectly accented the performance. The use of lighting helped set the mood of each song, giving it at time a very modern, rock concert, youth revolt kind of vibe. All tech elements helped to demonstrate the message of the show: hope. The show taught me what needs to be in a production, and what we as an audience could live without. It showed me that to make a show great, every element of the performance must live to express the message of the show. It showed me the difference between just acting the part, and being completely involved in the imaginary world you create on stage. It was also great to see a show with such young and up and coming actors. Seeing the show gave me hope and a renewed passion that I carried with me as I began my audition process for universities. Another reason why “Spring Awakening” was such a memorable experience is because why looking through the program that evening I noticed that one actor went to Elon University. I had never heard of that place, and after enjoying his performance I decided to look it up and research it more. I few years and auditions later, I am now a freshman BFA acting major at Elon, and I owe it all to “Spring Awakening”.

Also, below I have included a  slideshow of pictures from my “most memorable” performances. 🙂

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“Honey, is there any fabric left at mood?”

^title courtesy of “Project Runway”… make it work!

Fabrics are an extremely important part of theater. Many times we ignorantly believe that fabric is only used for costumes. But without fabrics, such as commando cloth, muslin, scrim, cyc, velour, etc, the theater would be unrecognizable. Although all of the fabrics serve a very important purpose, I decided to focus my research on one in particular: the scrim.

Scrim is a lightweight fabric made from cotton that is finely woven. The fabric is used to make a thin screen that is often used in the theater for special effects, especially with lighting. Lights from the FOH are used on the scrim to light the entire scrim and everything behind it. Charleshstewart.com gives some examples of how a scrim can be used:

  • “A scrim will appear entirely opaque if everything behind it is unlit and the scrim itself is grazed by light from the sides or from above.”
  • “A scrim will appear transparent if a scene behind it is lit, but there is no light on the scrim.”
  • “A dreamy or foggy look can be achieved by lighting a scene entirely behind a scrim.”
  • “If a gobo is aimed at a scrim, the image will appear on the scrim, but also any objects behind the scrim will be lit by the pattern as well.”
  • “Layering two scrims, or even by placing a mirror behind a scrim and lighting it…often cause audience disorientation.”
^^^examples of how lighting is used with scrims

There are different kinds of scrims. The most commonly used is the sharkstooth scrim. The sharkstooth is a close-knit weave. This differs from the bobbinette scrim, which has wider openings between the thread. The openings are more like circles, where in the sharkstooth they are small rectangles. A bobbinette scrim offers “greater transparency” then the sharkstooth.

    <—-sharkstooth          <—-bobbinette

Scrims are most commonly white, so that you can paint them, but can be made in other colors including black, blue, and grey.

In this youtube clip, set designer Viki Smith talks about the use of a scrim, and how she is using the scrim in an upcoming production of “Inana”

Websites I used:

http://charleshstewart.com/cat.htm

http://www.limelightproductions.com/tips/fabric_glossary_tips.html

“the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people”

It greatly saddened me to learn of some recent events of intolerance and ignorance on Elon’s campus. I have always believed that a campus should be a place where students feel completely safe and free to be themselves. A campus is a place for learning and growth, not hate. I grew up in a home, and for the most part, a community where these acts were unacceptable. I thought that since we grew up in a time after the civil rights movement, ignorant remarks like these would no longer occur. Maybe I too was being ignorant. But I do know that this is a time for our community to address the problem, and grow. For although these events were truly awful, it is a great opportunity for us to look at our own values and question what we truly believe in.  For as James Joyce once said, “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.”

Business Journal states that values are “Important and enduring beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a culture about what is good or desirable and what is not. Values exert major influence on the behavior of an individual and serve as broad guidlines in all situations.” I agree with this definition. Values are the most important identifiers in a culture, a moreover, a person. I think it is extremely important for one not only to know what their values are, but also to stand up for them. I am not good at many things in life, but I do know that I will ALWAYS stand up for what I believe, and support what I value.

Some of the most important values to me include: kindness, philanthropy, optimism, learning, independence and freedom, humility, happiness, honor, grace, courage, compassion, commitment, drive, balance, ambition, and respect.

(To look up a list of values to get your own go to http://www.stevepavlina.com/articles/list-of-values.htm)

This is not to say that these are my only values, or that they are fixed. As I grow and develop as a person some things will become more important to me (maybe family when I am a mother), and others less.

Through each of our unique value sets at Elon, we can help to make Elon a better community. This will only work if we uphold our values to the highest degree. Everyone in our community must truly value and support and defend the honor code, which states:

“Every member of Elon University has the right to live and learn in an atmosphere of trust and support. Responsibility for maintaining these values in our community rests with each individual member. Values that promote this atmosphere include: HONESTY: Be truthful in your academic work and in your relationships. INTEGRITY: Be trustworthy, fair and ethical. RESPONSIBILITY: Be accountable for your actions and your learning. RESPECT: Be civil. Value the dignity of each person. Honor the physical and intellectual property of others.”

This means that if you hear one of your best friends use a racial slur, to not sit back and watch it happen, but stand in the face of intolerance and say “not on our campus.”

**note: the title of my blog post is a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A song that I think is prudent to our situation now.

President Lambert’s and Dr. Jackson’s remarks on the recent events: