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Topics - On_Headset

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Happy Birthday remains the most profitable song ever. Every year, it is the song that earns the highest royalty rates, sent to Warner/Chappell Music (which makes millions per year from "licensing" the song). However, as we've been pointing out for years, the song is almost certainly in the public domain. Robert Brauneis did some fantastic work a few years ago laying out why the song's copyright clearly expired many years ago, even as Warner/Chappell pretends otherwise. You can read all the background, but there are a large number of problems with the copyright, including that the sisters who "wrote" the song, appear to have written neither the music, nor the lyrics. At best, they may have written a similar song called "Good Morning to All" in 1893, with the same basic melody, but there's evidence to suggest the melody itself predated the sisters. But, more importantly, the owner of the copyright (already questionable) failed to properly renew it in 1962, which would further establish that it's in the public domain.

Stage Management: Plays & Musicals / PROPS: Balloon Management
« on: Jul 14, 2014, 03:21 am »
This is a problem a student brought to me a few weeks ago, and -- at the time -- I was genuinely at a loss.

The show (a musical, cast of 30) involves balloons. Lots and lots of balloons: eighty or ninety.

These balloons enter from all directions (black-box venue with your standard 4 "cardinal" entrances: USR, DSR, USL, DSL), and move very quickly: actors (in groups of 3-4) dash off, grab balloons, and then dash back on. No time to run to a "balloon room" or anything to that effect. The entire process should take 20 seconds or fewer, meaning balloons must appear at a rate of roughly 4 per second. (Not so bad when spread across 4 entrances, but certainly far too quick to inflate them on-demand!)

Due to staffing constraints, it will not be possible to have an ASM or "balloon wrangler" at every entrance to monitor or distribute them. Actors must be able to access the balloons unaided, so whatever system is devised cannot be too convoluted or finicky.

The balloons are fungible: an actor might need to grab 2 balloons, but it doesn't matter which 2 they grab. The balloons will be filled with air, none of that fancy helium stuff.

How would you manage these balloons? (Don't forget, we're talking about a truly incredible number of fully-inflated balloons here.)

Here's our observations and our solution (in teeny tiny wee font), but I'm curious as to how others might have solved this problem! Please share!

The main problem we identified is that the balloons needed to be stowed somewhere, or else they were blowing all over the place. We also found that a domestic trash container could only handle 6-9 balloons (depending upon how inflated they were) without forcing them in and risking blowouts. 6-9 actually isn't very many -- and means we have a dozen big cumbersome containers littering the backstage halls.

Our eventual solution was to raid the costume storage for extra-extra-extra-large laundry bags, with drawstrings instead of zippers. These could handle 12-15 balloons (by stretching to accommodate all the bulges), and were also much easier to transport than trash bins: after they were inflated, we sorted them into laundry bags and stationed them by the appropriate entrances just in time for "BALLOONS GO. BALLOONS GO. BALLOONS GO."

No torrents of balloons blowing through the halls; no trash bins getting knocked over mid-show; nothing popped or broken. Worked very well!

The Green Room / Actor fired after confronting heckler
« on: Jun 03, 2014, 10:43 pm »

Of course, if I rephrase it as "actor fired after assaulting audience member"...

The Green Room / Nice work if you can get it!
« on: Oct 05, 2013, 03:00 pm »
Today I learned that the head stagehands at Carnegie Hall earn upwards of 400k a year:

And, I mean, I get it. They've earned that revenue. That's how labour negotiations work.

But... wowzers, scoob.

The Green Room / "Not Another Dream, Ugh!"
« on: Aug 13, 2013, 01:46 pm »
Gaetan Charlbois (a biggish wheel in Canadian theatre crit) has an interesting blog post about (essentially) how dull regional theatre has become:
Now out of Atlanta, last week, this headline: "Financially strapped Theater [sic] of the Stars cancels season." It's a headline that begs a read. The company couldn't raise money for Little Mermaid and Cats after having already cancelled Anything Goes and Dream Girls. As I read those titles my tears dried fairly quickly. Am I to weep for a lost season that boils down to pandering?; that is nothing but: we-can-usually-sell-tickets-to-most-of-this-crap-so-we-can-produce-more-crap! People - even the most mainstream audience - get tired of same old same old, sometimes.

There's a lot of that in the theatre world. Companies having trouble and try to save the day with a Les Mis or a Cats or whatever hackneyed road-show that is passing through town. And BIGGER IS BETTER. Yes, well...until it's not.
It's an interesting argument, and one I find compelling.

"Why are we doing all this Broadway dreck?"
"Because people buy tickets to that dreck."

A lot of this feels like gloating, and I'm not totally comfortable with the tone--I might not have liked this season, but that's at least a few dozen people getting laid off, and that's not in any way good or deserved--but I do sympathize with the message.

The Green Room / On Reviews
« on: Apr 29, 2013, 06:33 am »
Just curious!  :D

« on: Feb 08, 2013, 04:48 pm »
In light of the fact that a large chunk of the eastern half of North Ameica is currently under about fifty bajillion metres of now, anyone have any interesting or worthwhile stories about snow cancellations? (Or times the show went up despite the weather?)

Back in university, we performed to a near-empty house on two occasions. Heavy, heavy snow, but most of the cast and crew lived on or near campus, and the faculty encouraged us to go through with it anyway as a learning opportunity. We offered comps to other students who were stranded at the university, and got a few dozen each night. Very warm and appreciative crowd, too!

An interesting article over on HuffPo.

Summary: American theatre is, at this point, largely New York-centric. Once you rise above a certain level, you have to work in New York: the only way you get to headline major commercial shows in much of the country is to either travel with a touring company or become famous as "Jane Doe, star of Broadway's Transparent Vehicle for the Best Actress Tony" and then return to the local stage. There are a few exceptional pockets, but they're small and shrinking. (Arguably just Chicago.)

And that's bad. (Or so Walters argues.)

The Green Room / News: Canadian Theatre Festivals At A Loss
« on: Oct 24, 2012, 07:28 pm »
The Canadian press are reporting that  the Stratford Shakespeare Festival will finish its 2012 season with a significant deficit. Numbers aren't yet available for the other big festival (the Niagara-on-the-Lake Shaw Festival), but they were in a similar position at the end of 2011.

Neither festival is in immediate financial jeopardy (Stratford in particular is sitting on a $56m endowment), but it worries me that nobody seems to know what they're doing.

This summer, Stratford programmed 14 plays, of which only 4 were Shakespeares. Many of the productions are complimentary (MacHomer, Christopher Plummer's A Word Or Two, etc.), but then you get to You're A Good Man Charlie Brown, and it all comes to a screeching halt.

How exactly do you market a Shakespeare festival that incorporates Charlie Brown? "Come for Cymbeline and Elektra, stay for the kiddy musical?" (The answer: you don't. The rumour mill suggests Charlie Brown sold so poorly that the balcony was closed less than a month into the six-month run. Ouch.)

These festivals increasingly feel like two seasons wrapped into one, with very little crossover. On the one hand, the Shakespeare and the English-language canon; on the other, contemporary musicals, seemingly out of the blue. (Next Season: Othello, Blithe Spirit, Merchant of Venice, and... The Who's Tommy? What, like, seriously?)

The Toronto Star reported last week that the Princess of Wales, a 2000-seat venue, will be demolished.

The theatre, which was built to host Miss Saigon, specialized in long-running shows, most notably a 4-year run of The Lion King. It also hosted the ill-fated 2006 Lord of the Rings musical.

The catch: it opened in 1993. One of the city's largest and most prestigious venues, closing down less than two decades after construction.

The venue was explicitly built to host large-scale commercial theatre, but these shows are less and less viable. The most recent production to close, Billy Elliot, only ran for 37 weeks.

Meanwhile, a few blocks east, the Mirvish organization (which owns the Princess) has announced a "second season" of small-scale and indie theatre at one of their smaller venues, including a production which is being transferred directly from one of the city's fringe festivals.

tl;dr: Toronto's only commercial producer is divesting itself from large-scale musicals and instead throwing resources at smaller, more intimate shows in smaller, more intimate venues. Things are changing!

The Green Room / Reviews
« on: Sep 26, 2012, 07:04 pm »
I've noticed a local trend of stage managers or stage management getting mentioned in reviews. It's only happened 2-3 times in the last few weeks, but considering the usual treatment of stage managers (*crickets*), that's quite a change.

Have any of you been mentioned, plugged, hat-tipped, criticized, lionized, vilified or otherwise addressed in a review? (Directly? Indirectly? Someone else getting credit for something that was totally up to you?)

Tools of the Trade / This stuff looks so promising
« on: Aug 24, 2012, 01:08 am »
Adhesive-free tape. Instead of sticky stucky stuff, one side is covered in microscopic suction cups which bind to the surface.

In other words, all the cool stuff you can do with gaff, except now it's reuseable.

Is that cool or what?

The Green Room / I like my theatre like I like my men...
« on: Jul 30, 2012, 05:34 pm »
A game I've been playing with friends.

We've all heard "I like my coffee like I like my men: black." right?

Well, how about theatre?

My contributions:

"I like my theatre like I like my men: dire and German."
"I like my theatre like I like my men: intelligent, touching, and finished by 11 PM."
"I like my theatre like I like my men: with several intermissions and an open bar."
"I like my theatre like I like my men: adequately rehearsed."
"I like my theatre like I like my men: funded by the Canada Council for the Arts."
"I like my theatre like I like my men: with an opening number by Neil Patrick Harris."
"I like my theatre like I like my men: with a strict no-cellphones policy."

The Green Room / Exercises & Warm-Ups That Don't Suck
« on: Mar 04, 2011, 05:26 pm »
I've got a summer contract, and it's a big'un: a ten-week youth intensive, with 50 students ranging in age from 15 to 25 and coming from very mixed artistic backgrounds. (Some theatre students, or even BFA graduates, some people who did high school theatre but didn't make anything of it, some singers, some dancers, some people of no particular expertise or experience...) Part of the job is going to involve team-teaching the early part of the program so that we aren't always working with gigantic groups of people. (So we might have 10 people working with the musical director on a vocal diagnostic to tease out the strong singers, 20 people working with the director on a general theatrical diagnostic, and 20 people working with myself and an assistant director on an improvisation diagnostic, then we'll swap them around. Casting will involve comparing notes.)

The bottom line is that I need some exercises, warm-ups and diagnostic activities which don't suck, and which will work with groups varying in size from 5 to 50. Do you have any you'd care to suggest?

I offer a few of my favourites in return:

HEY EVERYBODY -- silly but fast-paced improv, works best in a large group. (Certainly >20, >30 is ideal.) Very easy to quickly tease out which participants are "game" and which ones are more reluctant to jump in.

Somebody shouts "HEY, EVERYBODY! LET'S __________!"
The group replies "YEAH! LET'S _____________!", and begins acting out the proposed action. ("Hey everybody, let's disco dance!" "Hey everybody, let's ride this rollercoaster!" "Hey everybody, let's have a tea party!" "Hey everybody, let's go to the muscle beach!")

The group continues performing the action until the next person shouts "HEY EVERYBODY!", and keep going from there. The fun really kicks in when you get chains of actions going. ("Hey everybody! Let's swim!" "Hey everybody! Let's drown!" "Hey everybody! Let's swim with sharks!" "Hey everybody! Let's get eaten by crocodiles!")

Silent Samurai -- more silly improv, although with more of a point to it. A lot of fun for the hams in the group.

Players pretend that their hands are four-foot samurai swords. In slow motion and in perfect silence, they stalk around the room until their eyes meet those of another player--then they must battle! Still in slow motion and silently, they swing their swords and attack each other, thrusting and parrying until one of them finally gets stabbed, when the loser must (still in slow motion) perform a loud, gruesome death scene as they collapse to the ground. The winner begins stalking their next victim...

High School -- more character-focused, but also an observational exercise.

Ask players to pick a high school clique/archetype. (Jock, cheerleader, goth, nerd, etc.) Have them walk around the room interacting with each other--without using any words. Encourage them to "find their clique": the jocks should try and find one another, the goths should stand sullenly in a corner, etc.

High School II -- difficult to classify, actually somewhat uncomfortable. Character and improv.

Players move through open space. Gradually apply conditions to them, i.e:
- "You have a crush on someone. Pick anyone in the room and follow them around--but don't get too close, or else they'll figure it out!"
- "You have a vendetta against someone. Pick someone in the room and avoid them. Try never to see them. Whenever they approach you, turn the other way and walk off."
- "It's the first day of school! Wave and say "hi" to everyone you meet! But don't forget who your crush and enemy are..."
- etc. etc. etc. ("You're an outsider. Nobody understands you." "You won the homecoming game! Aren't you awesome?! Make sure everybody you meet knows it!")

The Green Room / Two Dopey, But Obvious, Questions
« on: Feb 04, 2011, 02:58 am »
1) I'm sure you've seen a production and wished it was yours. Care to tease out one or two especially good examples? What effects do you wish you'd been able to contribute to? Which productions do you wish you had a seat on? Which experiences would you have liked to help create?

2) And, at the opposite end, what's your dream show? Is there a show you'd jump at the opportunity to work on? One you're just itching to involve yourself with? One you desperately want to get your mitts on, just for the pleasure of saying you'd worked it?

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