Building a Theatre in a Dollar Store


This isn't a question, this is just a post in case anyone was interested. My local community theatre has a problem. We don't have a theatre any more - ours burned to the ground two years ago and rebuilding is taking forever. In the intervening time, we have been renting space, but that time is up, we were supposed to be in our new theatre by now. So, this current show and the next few are mad scrambled improvisation for space and for this show, we ended up in an abandoned storefront to do Julius Caesar.

Here are the challenges we faced :
* only 4 circuits, 15 amps each available for lighting
* no built in seating, no built in stage, no level differences, tile floor
* No sound system
* Low ceilings (about 10 foot)

Our advantages :
* A back room to use as a green room, complete with a bathroom!
* We can paint the floor as the place will be gutted when we leave (though not touch the walls, they are being reused)

Our solution :
* Scale back the production quite drastically. The original spec included multiple levels of platforms. We reduced this to three riser groupings, back on the edge of the stage area
* Paint the floor black in the stage area, leave it in the audience area, clearly defining the performance space.
* Remove flourescent bulbs so we could control the lighting over the stage and in the audience
* Use worklights and floodlights to provide auxilary lighting, run by dimmer packs. Using these standard household fixtures allowed us to stay within the restraints of the electrical system
* screw flats to the base of the risers and brace them back against the wall. This gave us a back to the stage, complete with wings. We had to brace to the back walls because stage jacks would take up too much of the limited room
* laptop plus old stereo plus mounted speakers makes a dandy sound system
* front of house blocked from stage area with a long row of christmas card holders, left over from the last tenants. Free wall!
* checkout counter makes a dandy ticket booth
* curtains over the sliding doors block off light, allowing us to control the environment to the best possible.
* because the production was simplified, major prop and set construction was limited to the theatre itself. Only other construction was a standard, a stretcher and a throne, which was far simpler then the normal construction load. That meant we could concentrate on actually assembling the new theatre
* stacking chairs gave the audience a place to sit

The final result is a very workable little theatre, holding about 80 people (which is about standard for our theatre group). It will be a shame to have to go to our next improvised space, but the building is coming down soon! Just goes to show that given an empty space, theatre people can put on a good show anywhere. As a bonus, walkby traffic in the mall will help us put bums in seats.

-OG, Carpenter, KWLT - The Show Must Go On!
*grins* Cue-to-cue tonight, dress tomorrow. Opens Thursday. I'm going to try to grab some photos and will link them if I can.

We'd normally have had a cue-to-cue yesterday (the Sunday of tech weekend) but the lights and sound weren't finished in time. LOTS of wires to run. We used a metric crapload of extension cords :)

a metric crapload is slightly larger than a standard us crapload and 1/10 of a metric shitload.

OG- if i were you i woulda tried to make as much as possible portable, like a platform for the stage etc. so that in your next space, or even outside you could put on a show if need be.
LoL, sounds like lots of fun! The sad thing is that kind of improvization seems to be the normal way to go arround my school, even if we do have a facilitiy, something almost always seems to be busted nearly beyond repar! It is a fun way to put on a show, and you learn a TON about how to do everything b/c you have to work from scratch, even if it doenst produce the most perfect results for the audience, it usualy ends up as a good show!
a dollar store probably has tons of random junk that would be great for props and set building and possibly tons of cheap tools you could use too!
*grins* Well, the /mostly/ cleared it out.

We fired up all the lights tonight... and blew a circuit breaker. By blew I mean abused a circuit breaker that some idiot from the dollar store had blown permanently and taped in place with scotch tape! Didn't notice THAT. The breaker wiggled like a loose tooth.

Fortunately, we were only using three circuits worth of lights and thus were able to run one of the circuits to a different outlet on a different breaker and save the day. THAT breaker stays off - I made very clear that we were not going to tape it back it place and hope it didn't blow again. Sheesh.

All the risers and such were ours already, most of the flats were already built and those that were built for the show will, indeed, be coming with us. We'll probably keep the homemade lighting board and the lights, too, though I'd rather go back to Fresnels, etc :D

It has been fun, but I'm pretty much done with the show now - there really isn't that much backstage work on it during the performance - actors are doing their own gripping. I'll show up for the dress and the opening, just to make sure nothing else has broken :) My emergency tool kit is sitting hidden in a corner in the back room, along with the last 100m of extension cord to be used in another emergency. I wonder if there's a real catastophe whether I can run a cable into the store next door....


lol "cable next door" we had to do that with an ouside halloween haunted "path" that was held in a park behind the elementary school in town. We ran extension cords from the school and a house on the other side of the park. We probably broke every regulation on max extension cord run length.

Does somone know max distance you can safely run an extension cord? or a good rule of thumb? It was one of those events where someone asked me to set it up as an afterthought, with about 2 hours until opening, thinking that technical things set themselves up, otherwise i would have researched the max length before!
It makes me remember why everything I have is either on wheels or in trunks & footlockers. I've moved so many times I can't see straight and everthing I build is oriented for moving to the next place... and... it all can be broken down to the point where one man can move it! You never know when you're going to bne short handed. I think that any theatre show ought to assume that it's going to be in a four wall situation and be set up to be able to bring what is needed into a completely empty space. Just as you bring your sets, I think you should be prepared to bring your own power source (ie:generator capable of powering your lights, et al) I ran a show once when I lost power in the middle of the show, because it never occurred to me that the house wasn't properly grounded. It was an old bowling alley that was converted to a theatre. The battens were hanging from wooden beams, with chains, but no ground. The chains came thru a suspended ceiling and I couldn't see the rafters. I assumed everthing was copasetic there. You would think that the line ground would cover that, but there was a break in the ground and there was no where else for it to go, so it shorted. Oh yeh... it shorted because the cabling was rented and I assumed that I was renting good stuff. Big mistake! I should have checked every cable when it came in. (too little staff, not enough time) My point being that you should have good backup if you're going into an unknown space, particularly one with insufficient resources and little or no theatrical history. I have a set of 128 Deco theatre seats from 1930 that I'm hoping to convert into mobile seating (in case anyone wants to rent them) AG
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Does somone know max distance you can safely run an extension cord? or a good rule of thumb?

For what it may or may not be worth so long afterwards, down here it is 30 metres in a single phase extension. BUT, that is a single extension. It is still within regulations to join cables if you need to go longer than that... But then resistance, power loss, etc. starts to become a real issue.
Ah’ so you are on the store front theater scene now - been there done it all including with the breakers.

You will be inpressed with how much energy you have at this point by way of making magic as opposed to in future days living off what you learn now but no longer would do.

Do the safe and if it includes re-running the wire between the main and circuit with proper sized wire and proper sized breakers knock yourself out. This also is a time along with the time to learn stuff is a proper time to be reading the NEC and local building codes. Nothing becomes more important to read about than reading about what codes you are violating and how to improve while immediate. Very good time to both do your best in study, improvement and learning.

WATCH YOUR CIRCUIT BREAKERS and LOADING! Brass tacks, it takes a while to blow a circuit breaker - about 127% over loading in a normal lighting circuit. This causes heat the circuit breaker itself that could cause the circuit breaker damage if often relied upon to compensate for your lack of supervision in loading. Also watch your balanced loading in just as you at this point might be blowing one or a few breakers, you could be overloading and cooking off one leg of power to your system in un-balanced loading conditions. Study and draw out your systems loading, than design patching by way of it. Know what gauge of wire is feeding it and what amperage can be done to it short of replacement to more appropriate size for both the circuit and maximum rating of the system. Should in doing the slow overheating and blowing of a breaker become to the point that you smell burning plastic before that breaker pops, you have serious problems in the wiring to the circuit and or in a breaker melting down. Caution is of extreme necessity.

Welcome to making art in both a short throw and in very defined amperage problems with what you would like or need verses can or them black holes in the lighting. As someone that recognizes your problems so far, welcome to responsibility to both not burn down the building and not cause the loss of life as more important. This means study, balance and dalliance on your part now you have no excuse for not supervising. Such necessity in even if you are not responsible you are, life. Such study now necessary and diligence in ensuring people don’t get hurt are necessary and awakening in what you now both must study and learn.

See the problems, note them, now it’s your job to correct them. Running a cable next door isn’t the solution, you studying the problem and really learning is the solution now. Ask where appropriate to all, but at this point also crack the books and learn. Yes, you can make art still without modification. Develop a punch list with the art or limitations on it at the moment, this punch list being what is needed now, in the next three years and next five years as goals. Present and stay on topic in correcting for.

Lack of grounding as mentioned etc. not an excuse at this point you have remaining. You now are responsible and have to in keeping people from potentially dying, to know all about. Your now job and ambition and responsibility. Good time in life to learn stuff, enjoy it but learn lots. Ask lots of questions.

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