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tech theatre teaching tools

Discussion in 'Education and Career Development' started by Stuart R, Jan 28, 2019.

  1. Stuart R

    Stuart R Member

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    Miami FL
    Okay, gang. Me again, with another challenge. :)

    The technical theatre program that I have inherited is, to my mind, about 1/10th of a “real” tech theatre program. There are no theatre classes at the school (not even acting), the design and construction of sets and costumes is done offsite by third parties, and kids aren’t allowed to use power tools or go on ladders. I am working on all of these things, but in the meantime we only use students as running crew (board ops, ASMs, dressers, etc.).

    In the past, they’ve been brought in at the last moment and told which button to push or which quick change to help with, but I want them to know more than that. To that end, we’ve added about two weeks (7 two hour sessions) to our tech crew members’ show commitment, and stuck those days of “Tech Theatre 101” at the front end of the calendar. Here is what I have on the menu:

    • Day 1: Theatre history (focusing on the evolution of theatres and stage technology)
    • Day 2: The production process, with a typical production timeline or Gantt chart by department
    • Day 3: The production staff/roles
    • Day 4: Types of modern stages, interpreting a ground plan and section, stage directions, parts of the stage
    • Day 5: Scenic design process, conventions, basic construction (flats, platforms, etc.), interpreting ground plans, sections, and models
    • Day 6: Lighting design process, functions of stage lighting, the role of light, McCandless, color, instrument types and purposes, intro to light plots, play with board
    • Day 7: Sound design process, types of audio equipment, tour of school’s sound system/inventory, play with mixing board
    And that’s as much time as I have (no room as yet for costumes, props, makeup/hair, stage management, etc.). After Day 7, we’ll get right into assigning running crew roles and getting into the actual show.

    I am sharing all of this because I am looking for help in locating materials I can use to teach these students the stuff I’ve listed above. I’ve already found lots of photos and illustration dealing with theatre history, and have put these into a PowerPoint, interspersing them with a few on-your-feet games and exercises. It was fun, but took a ton of time. Yes, there is lots of info out there on the Interwebs, and existing textbooks besides. As usual, however, the textbooks I’ve found are either too detailed (Gillette et al) or too simplistic (like for middle school). I’m simply out of time.

    If any of you can point me to any of the following, I’d be most grateful:

    • “typical” production calendar
    • Gantt chart of production process by department
    • Theatre staffing hierarchy
    • Thumbnail description of theatre production roles
    • Diagrams of modern stage types (plan and section)
    • Actual ground plan and section of a proscenium theatre, with a line schedule
    • How to read a ground plan and section
    • Stage directions
    • Schematic of a typical stage with parts labeled: all drapes, electrics, proscenium arch, wings, traps, grid, center line, plaster line, apron, pit, fly system, etc. [this has proved very hard to find – the ones online tend to either be British (different terms than we use), or ancient, or so small that they blur when blown up to a useful size]
    • How to read a ground plan and section
    • Conventions of scenic design for the stage
    • Introduction to typical set components: flats, platforms, steps, ramps, door and window flats, etc.
    • Evolution of a set design from initial sketches to final version, ideally with a model and production photos
    • Simple intro to stage lighting theory – functions of light (etc.), lighting angles with modeling, a simple McCandless lighting plot, diagram of a lighting system, actual plot with schedules, diagrams of instrument types with parts labeled and basic uses explained (I haven’t yet found one for an LED instrument!)
    • Key terms and equipment for sound reinforcement, how microphones and speakers work, schematic of a typical sound setup for theatre
    So, if you have a FAVORITE set of teaching materials for any of these and wouldn’t mind sharing (the URL or the document/file) I’d be really grateful. As an added bonus, I will make you famous by putting you in the “special thanks” section of the playbills for our upcoming performances of “Annie Jr.” – yay! I could even park everything in a shared Google folder if some of you would like to avail yourself of what I find.

    As always, thank you for your support!

    Stuart Rosenthal
  2. josh88

    josh88 Remarkably Tired. Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    ATD and Sound Head
    Ypsilanti, Michigan
    Clancy has some great posters with lots of things labeled, looks like they are pdf's these days, they used to send them out, they might still do that if you contact them.

    Also I don't know this person but just saw this the other day and haven't gone through it much to check the quality of it all but its pretty extensive.

    AND Brigham Young University has a database of most of their curriculum online, including worksheets and lessons, its college level but certainly adaptable and actually a lot of great content.
    RonHebbard likes this.
  3. Chase P.

    Chase P. Well-Known Member

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    Freelance lighting designer, production manager
    San Francisco
    There are some good books on the market, some are even aimed at the high school vs. college level.

    I personally like:
    The Perfect Stage Crew (
    The Stage Management Handbook (
    The Backstage Handbook (
    Making Stage Props: a Practical Guide (

    I no longer really need them, but I keep them (and others) on my shelf as a little lending library. Backstage Handbook has a number of reference tables and such that are always useful, even for seasoned pros.

    In your situation, I'd be curious if the students could "intern" with the designers, directors and such, since it seems like their hands are a bit tied on the actual doing of stuff. Getting to sit in on production meetings from the start could be an awesome opportunity to see how things really function.

    But yeah, I'd be working to change the no tools/no ladders thing. With some training and supervision, high school students are fully capable of doing some tech work. If the school allows them to participate in cheerleading, sports, Home Ec and shop class, backstage theater shouldn't present activities that are any more potentially hazardous or litigious.
    dolphinmother and RonHebbard like this.
  4. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Sarasota, FL
    I would try to incorporate hands-on practicum since that's what it sounds like the curriculum is light on. Get students in front of a mixer and practice mixing something and going through a sound check. Walk them through how to set up a show file on the lighting console and practice live busking events as well as programming cues for playback. Give them a chance to experiment in a low-risk setting so if they get raging feedback they won't blow out their audience's eardrums. (fun fact: a common misconception is that a sound system not working and cutting out is the worst thing that can happen during a show. Actually -- the worst thing that can happen is your sound system starts "not working" at full output spewing pink noise or 2kHz sine wave and your audience runs screaming from the room on opening night with their hands over their ears...)

    Classroom instruction is great, but I've found that hands-on is much more useful. It invites everyone to learn what's possible and how things work at the same time they are discovering what they like or don't like artistically. Mixing sound becomes much easier when you learn to listen critically instead of just punching mute buttons. Painting light on stage becomes much more thrilling when you discover how you can layer color in a scene to make something more pronounced or make it disappear in plain sight -- by the way, a lot of the artistic skills required for theatrical lighting you can really hone in by learning about stage makeup. Stage makeup is fun, low cost, and forces you to think about the level of detail required to make something visible from the 10th row, and is a fantastic way to learn about how highlights and shadows can bring a canvas to life. Many of the same skills you need for painting a set as well.

    I'm a big fan of using students to run all of the events at middle and high schools with guidance from an expert on staff or the occasional guest designer. Students should be given enough latitude that they can take ownership of their events instead of just jamming Go buttons at someone else's direction, based on cues that someone else programmed.
    RonHebbard likes this.
  5. Playajackal

    Playajackal Member

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    Bay Area, California
    Hi Stuart - just a bit of unsolicited advice: instead of starting with the history, get them doing something hands-on and experiential right away. In my experience that is more better at engaging their interest and enthusiasm at the beginning of the process. I personally like to talk about the history as part of other topics - evolution of lighting systems when we're talking about lighting, development of sound when doing audio, etc.
  6. Debra P. Holmes

    Debra P. Holmes Member

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    Fort Hays State University
    I have many books that deal with these topics that I've gathered over the years. I use Gillette (Theatrical Design and Production, an Introduction to Scenic Design, Construction, Lighting, Sound, Costume, and Makeup - ISBN 978-0-07-338222-7) in Stagecraft (at University) and it's a good place to begin.

    And some unsolicited advice, as well: Professional Standards of Behavior is a favorite topic of mine. It includes respect for the SM, props, costumes, etc. . . , "On time is late, Early is on time," Calls and responses (10 until house opens, Thank you, 10). You can likely think of others.

    Break many legs!
    RonHebbard likes this.

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