Holding together our brand new theatre


Active Member
The theatre at my school was only built a few years ago but it is having a lot of problems. The main reason is when they built the building the focused mainly on making it look good. Personally I don't think they succeeded in even that. The theatre is far from practical, it's got a lime green ceiling, wood floors and the stage is light colored wood (reflects light) over concrete (terrible to dance on). There is no fly system and there are limited dimmers. In the booth the counter is about a foot lower than the window and so when you sit with you knees under the counter in a comfortable position you can''t see the stage. When you sit so you can see out the window your knees hit the edge of the counter it is hard to reach the board and it is really uncomfortable. Plus you have to look down to see the board and therefore can't see the board and the stage at the same time. To make matters worse, the audio rack is about four feet from the sound board meaning you can't reach both at the same time. We have almost no funding to improve anything and when we recently submitted a well thought out proposal the business manager told us that we should just buy our mics from radio shack.

To make matters worse we currently don't have any experienced boss, our old teacher just got into the yale lighting program and so our boss is the dance teacher and she knows nothing about tech except what we have taught her. With a year of tech at the school and working in a theatre this past summer I am the senior member of the tech crew. We are suddenly having a lot of problems with our lights and with schoolwork and now time scheduled for tech, things get really stressful. I just wish that the school would give us some money to fix things up for the long term.


Reading what you wrote above, it immediately reminded me of our theatre at school. Only 3 years old, it was pretty much doomed from the start. I also think ours was built to look good, which is why there are major design and construction faults on the technical side of it. We also have a light coloured wood stage (over concrete) which after three years of use has some huge, horrible scratches in it. We have no fly systems, our roof space is taken up by air conditioning ducts (so we couldn't even put fly systems in if we wanted), we have no wings, dodgy wiring but luckily our ceiling isn't green!

Our desk is also a lot lower than the windows, so all you can see is the top of the curtains. What we did to fix this, and it was relatively cheap, was to cut U shapes into the desk so you could move closer to the board, and hence see a lot better.

Our funding is also limited - all I can say is, try to write a list of things that need to be done, and order them in what you think needs to be done first. The problem with fixing these things, is that it is expensive. Try to find improvements that won't cost too much, and then stress to those in charge why they should be done. It would be better to side with a member of staff that has some power and is willing to listen to your concerns. I know most likely they will dismiss what you say, but keep trying! If you make enough noise someone should take notice!

Coming from someone in the same position - I know how this feels!


Well-Known Member
Problem as I has said in some other threads here, is that the designers have no clue as to how theater designs really work, they know how to build standard buildings, and have too much ego to try to get a designer involved in the process that really understands the issues. Plus sadly the people in the school districts also typically refuse to understand what they know or don't know. So schools get stuck with poor designs, cobbled together attempts at fixes etc, none of which really work but you learn to live with

We had a similar situation in my high school, although it was newly renovated rather than brand new, but we were able to gain interest with the parents associations who then funded some of our continued improvements. Also we did not start with cheap stuff, we started with safety issues, which are very improtant, but also are easy to get attention for. (only about half of the lighting instruments shipped with saftey chains, a portion of the upstage deck had a large hole in it, things like that)

It is really difficult when dealing with designers who use consultants that have been working soley with high schools, or the like, for many years. Often it is all about the numbers and the money, if the town things it looks nice, then it must be.

What Rigger?

I'm so fly....I Neverland.
Well, coming from the standpoint of a couple of decades worth of 'real world' work...I can tell you that yeah, you guys are all in a world of suck.

Education, on all but the university level, in America doesn't generally give a crap about arts in. Thus, you all get 'auditoriums', not theater's. Auditoriums are built for the general purposes of the school district, and the conventional wisdom in the district is "we need a place to herd the prisoners, uh I mean students, so that we can 'educate' them." Believe me, educating anyone about what REALLY happens on a stage is NOT on the radar. Well, with rare exception I'd say.

What to do? "Beg, borrow,steal" as the saying goes. Start calling in favors to parents, community businesses, etc...Dig into your garages, etc...Need to move that shelf? Begging forgiveness is easier than asking permission. Time to relocate the audio racks? Do it, then play dumb.

And hey, if you can do good work in a lame school environment, the future is gonna be wide open to you in rock n' roll.

Keep in mind, this all comes from a legal adult who pays his own bills- lawyers included if ever need be. If I get fired, big deal. There's always another gig somewhere. But don't go getting kicked out of school, or getting teachers fired. No matter how s#itty your venue is.
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Active Member
Same exact issues as mentioned pretty much.

I disagree with you on only a few things, "What Rigger?" but I have a feeling that is soley because of my own school situation. As far as just "doing" something while most of the time, depending on the student, it works I'd still be a bit hesitant to suggest that just because of what could potentially happen to the equipment and the student as well/or as a result. If the person knows what they're doing, often that route works. I'd never heard that "begging forgiveness is easier than asking for persmission" line before, I like that!

Also our past drama teacher "left" mostly due to a parent and student movement (for lack of a better word); however, this guy damaged lots of equipment worth tons of money (soundboard, lighting instruments...etc) and did some pretty crazy things in his one year of being there. There, I think, is always a time for everything, but I do agree it's not something you should just go out and do as it IS someone's job and chances are they have a family. Try and resolve things on the low level first, in other words.

It's rough at my school, but another thing I can say is just try and get out of there. Don't completely get out because I've heard oftentimes colleges do seem to look at continiuous high school involvement too apparently - which is one reason why I'm trying to keep some sort of part in our theatre while moving out at the same time. Then again, if you're dept is really bad then this is always something you can discuss thru at a college interview I would think...

As far as getting stuff done about your dangerous things or what not, once you start "moving out" of the HS relm (and this may vary depending on where you live) then you'll start meeting proffesional people who know tons about their field of work. Discuss this with your teacher and see if this person can come in and help out some day on a show or give you advice on things. It won't hurt, and chances are if you are nice to the person and you know them they will work for free ('least for us - just pay in pizza :) ) There are lots of ways to creatively get around teachers though.

For one, if you've been saying/suggesting for something to be changed in your theatre and your teacher/advisor keeps saying "no" for no apparent reason or thinking that you are dumb, then you have a pro come in and says the same thing then chances are you can win both ways. In the back of your advisor's head they will think "oh, maybe that kid was right!" (though they may not SAY it to you) and also, the thing may finally get done. That's one thing that bothers me about HS theatre in particular - especially if the teacher sucks. You're looked down upon from a trust standpoint, liability standpoint, and any other standpoint you can think of - even if you are the one who is right in the end.

Wow! I typed a lot... well, hope it's useful. I think many people are in the same boat though.


hey im in a similar situation. MY problem is that the teacher in charge doesn't really know anything. hes a part time history teacher who worked in a college theater for a year. running cable. I and a few others do have an idea of whats going on, either from outside experience or interest that causes us to seek knowledge. He has a bit of an inferiority complex. Basically, in order to do anything i have to jump through hoops. which sucks.

Try to get permission to paint the stage black. And, to make a makeshift dance floor, you can get a vinyl type covering. or, build a stage on top of the stage, but thats expensive. We did that.

regarding the windows, this is a big problem with my school too. Build a small platform to get the board up to window level, and then pull it to the edge towards you. Make a riser for your chair. You wont be able to have your knees under, but otherwise it'll work. Remember, you can always stand.

for the sound rack, is it possible to move one or he other? or, take any fx/stuff needed out of the rack and sit it on teh table next to the board?

we have two "theaters" in my school. One is a small converted auditorium. Its alright, but lighting is tough because there are no upstage or side overhead hang positions. except teh air conditioning and the i-beams. which is sketchy, but done anyway. Our other theater, a black box, has nice lighting, we dont even have a sound rack (the amps are in the closet with the receivers, but we dont have fx or anything). We do kinda have a window, tho. A window in a theater. and dark purple, not actual black paint.

Now, I am pretty good at coming up with solutions to our problems, until our TD is like "no" because he doesnt understand, and doesnt want to.

As for money, try the parents association.


Active Member
I second the Parents Association! Ours told us last year that if we presented why we needed what for the theatre in some sort of way that was appealing, they'd get just about anything for us. Take advantage of that sort of thing.

Also, if anything can be made into a "safety issue" then make it into one (not physically) and tell the higher ups and they'll get it fixed pronto.


Active Member
As for the counter, rip it out and build a new one suited to your needs (use old set pieces to build it if you need wood). Nine times out of ten nobody will complain. (HS booths tend to be ignored by all but the techs) Marley is a thick vinyl floor covering often used for createing a better dance surfaces on stages that dont have any flex. While pricey at first, it pays of in the long term because its durable, reusable, and also cuts down on lighting glare (its black). As for a fly system or at least something to hang lights on you could use sections of 2" pipe on boom bases all cheeseboroughed together, or use cranks stands with lightweight truss. Be creative too. Do whatever needs to be done to make things work. The only warning I have is dont do anything with rigging or electrical unless you know for certain what you are doing.

As for funding for some of this,
See if the school has a guy in charge of AV/computers. Chances are the auditorium falls under his realm. My school did and he had a very large budget, and he made all the decisions for that money. We got a lot of cable that way.

Find a local theater/production company. Talk to some of their techs and make freinds. Need to find their techs? Walk in the back/stage door of the theater 40min before a show holding a crescent wrench. Maybe even do some work helpin out (for free). Then ask them to borrow gear. I was able to borrow $20,000 worth of lighting gear for a school talent show from a theater near me, just cause I helped with a load out.


Active Member
Our student tech assistant teacher person is trying to stop that from happening while we tear down and rebuild our school. He has been talking to the architect a lot (every time I say that, I think of Matrix) and is hoping to get line arrays. (He is a major sound guy) The chances we actually do get line arrays are close to nothing, but the whole place will be better than it is now.

We have elevated our lightboard a little on a wooden frame someone made too. They also made it a little slanted. Our knees still remain uncomfortable, but it has been ok so far.

If you can't get permission for marley, or to paint the stage black, sneak in on friday night in full burgler attire, go paint happy, and let it dry over the weekend. :evil:


Well-Known Member
While line arrays are the hot thing these days, there are good alternative solutions that can work well in a typical auditorium. Line arrays are great for large venues, and especially when you are on tour and need to be able to configure the system for the various venues. TODAY you pay a high premium per box for these systems.

So just because you don't get the latest line array system does not mean that your sound has to suck



Active Member
Even though our theatre is well funded we are forced to go through the association or the board of directors to get high priced items.


Active Member
That is the way that it is at most schools. Except our theater has no budget, but somehow we got all of our sound equipment fixed, and a projector in the booth. Sometime soon, we might (keyword might) be getting new lights, if it were up to me I would multiply everything by 10 so getting 25000 vs 2500, and blaming it on communication problems. :twisted: :lol:


Active Member
Wow....now I feel really privaleged. Our high school's theatre is a little older, but thankfully still works just fine. We have around 200 circuits spread througout the house and stage, and more than enough dimmers and channels (I don't remember exactly how many.) Our stage is Masonite over plywood over old, stained hardwood over concrete, so it has a good deal of spring, plus 10 rolls of Marley dance flooring. We have a full fly system with 58 line sets, 3 permanent Electrics, and 5 Borderlights. We have a full FOH for sound and lights, although it never gets cleaned, so it's fairly dusty. At my last lighting inventory, we had 95 Source 4s in 10, 19, 26, 36, and 50 barrel sizes. 30 Source 4 PARS, 15 Source 4 PARnels, 35 Altman 6 bys, and 20 Fresnels. Our followspots consist of 2 Strong SuperTrouper III Long throw and 2 Trouperettes. The only thing that we aren't happy about is our soundsystem, which is in desperate need of an upgrade. Our TD has lots of experience, along with our Theatre Division Head. In all, I love my school's theatre and am honored to work in it. This is just our main auditorium.
We also have what we call the "Little Theatre", which holds around 350 people as opposed to teh main Auditorium's 1,667. We use this space for all of our plays, while the auditorium is used for our two musicals and literally hundreds of other concerts and different events. Finally, we have a Blackbox theatre called "Studio 200", which is a really fun place to work. All shows put on in here are directed by students, which gives them an interesting edge. Wow....I fell proud, in a few hours I'll be back in Tech Week for Ragtime, running the ETC 48/96 Express board and deciding on how to use the two MAC 700 Profiles we rented. Sweet!
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