Tech getting started

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Reprinted from Crazed Imaginations #74

In Just Seven Days…

By Richard Davidson

Part One – In The Beginning… and after…

There are many different casts with just as many different style of performing their shows. Each one does their show in the particular ways and means that they see fit to use. There is, however, two things that nearly all casts will have to worry about – props and lighting. Without any props, the performers will be thrown up on a bare stage to try and put on the show. And, without any additional lighting, the audience won’t be able to see them at all.

Which leads me to the point of this column – To help casts of all shapes and sizes to improve their shows with the additions of props and lighting. Many of the things brought up here in the upcoming months might be seen as “low tech” to some, but, for many casts out there, “low tech” is all that they can either afford or can handle building for themselves.

So, to begin with…

While it would be nice to have all of the props and lighting equipment that you can get for your show, there are a couple things that we all must ask ourselves before we start hammering or rewiring. This way, you’ll be ready for anything that could and or probably will happen down the road. To start with, make sure that you find out about…

1) Storage Space – It won’t do you any good to have a lot of props and lights if you don’t have anywhere to put them. Talk to the Theatre Manager and see what space in available for the cast to store things on site.

2) Stage Space – Depending on the theatre, you could have a large stage space or you could have barely enough space to fit the entire cast on it at the same time. Before you start building things, figure out what you have the space on stage for.

3) Electrical Space – Be sure to talk to your theatre about their power situation and take a look around your theatre for all of the available power sockets. It would not be good if you built a spotlight just to have it not work due to a power problem.

Once you’ve done all of these things and are ready to start building, you’ll need to plan out what it is that you want to build. Even if it’s a simple pencil sketch done on a cocktail napkin, actually drawing out what it is you want to build will help you to visualize what it is that you’re going to make and how you’re going to put it all together.

The “thinking process” before you actually build your props and lights can help you in many ways. Depending on your storage space, you might need to build all of your props with the idea that they will need to be easily broken down or folded up to make use of the limited space that you have available. Also, by fiddling around with the props before you build, you might find a new or different way to build something that is better than the way that you originally thought.

We’re going to skip ahead for a moment to the point that you have all of your lovely new things and are using them for your shows. While it’s all well and good to have them, you’re also going to need to take care of them on a regular basis. So, here’s a short list of things that I would advise (but aren’t totally mandatory) for you to have…

1) A Tool Kit – If you’re going to build the props and lights, then you’re going to need a good set of tools to make sure that they don’t fall apart on you. You don’t need to go out and buy enough tools for one of those do-it-yourself television shows to work on your props. A good basic set, usually found at most hardware stores cheaply, will probably be more than enough. You also might want to invest in a rechargeable electric screwdriver. If you’re going to be using a lot of screws to hold your props together, it’ll make it easier to screw them in and out if everything is motorized.

2) Extra Decoration – For many props, like the horse and weight bench, the need for extensive decoration comes into play. These props have special bows, coverings, and other things that can be and probably will be very easy to rip and tear over a period of time. Having a couple extra bows, a spare roll of clear cellophane, and some red tape stored in the theatre would probably help to make it easier on you to perform any last minute fixes or touch-ups close to show time.

3) Lighting Needs – You might wind up building your spotlights out of a coffee can and a flashlight or you could get a nice big professional light with multi-colored gels and an adjustable tripod. Either way, you are going to need to be sure to have supplies for the upkeep of your lighting equipment. Whether it’s extra batteries, spare extension cords, or hinge cleaner spray, it would be good to have these on stand-by at the theatre, just in case of emergency. [Ed. Note: don’t forget to keep extra lightbulbs on hand! And a flashlight so you can find them when the light burns out.]

So, now that we’ve gotten all of that out of the way, what are we going to build? Over the next couple of months, this column will hopefully help all of you that are out there and make it easier for you to make the prop or the light that you’ve always wanted. I can’t guarantee that it’ll be an easy thing to do, but if you put in a little planning and thinking before you work, it might not be as hard as it looks.