BY TOM SKELTON
PREPARING A RECITAL: The Theatre and the Checklist
A recital’s major purpose is to demonstrate student development to relatives and friends. But at the same time, the program must have enough theatrical know-how and variety to make it well-paced, interesting and colorful. The recital gives the student the opportunity to learn about professionalism and discipline. For the teacher, it is the best possible opportunity to observe the student under pressure and tension, so as to know which students should be encouraged to aim at a professional career.
If the recital is well staged, it may turn into one of the season’s major theatrical events. Besides encouraging a larger enrollment, a good recital can also do much towards introducing “live dancing” to a movie and television-trained audience.
Like any theatrical production, a good part of a recital’s success will depend on how well every detail has been planned in advance. No one should have to sew costumes on the day of the performance. Dress rehearsal is too late to discover that there is no piano in the auditorium. Simple scenic elements and props add immeasurably to the performance, but they must be planned and executed along with the choreography, and they must be available for rehearsals.
A Checklist for the Theatre
Before you start to plan your program, you must check the several available theatres to find which is most appropriate for your performance. If the theatre is equipped with good lighting equipment and draperies, you don’t want to rent duplicates. On the other hand, if the theatre has no equipment, you must be aware of this when you plan your budget.
Go to the managers of the available theatres with this check list, and then draw up a budget before you make your final decision:
1) What is the rental charge for the theatre? Some theatres include everything from stagehands to tickets; others charge separately for everything.
2) What is the hourly rate for additional rehearsal time?
3) Is the theatre available on such-and-such date?
4) Is it available the previous day or days for rehearsals? Many theatres are willing to allow your several rehearsals, or a few hours every week for several weeks. Such rehearsals would give your dancers the opportunity to really develop a sense of theatre, and would give you the chance to sit far back and watch the rehearsal with good perspective and objective.
5) does the rental include or exclude doormen, ushers, wash-room attendants, and box-office personnel?
6) If the theatre does not require the use of union stagehands, are maintenance men available to assist the production. Wash the floor, run the dimmerboard, pull the curtain, etc.? Or are you required to provide all of the help you may need? If it is a union theatre employing union stagehands, does the rental include the stagehands? If so, how many? And for how many hours? If union stagehands are required, the theatre manager should put you in touch with the business manager of the local union, and together they can explain the local rules and regulations. If you fail to get the advice of the business agent, you’re apt to discover at the final billing that an extra five minutes of rehearsal time has cost you one hour of overtime for ten stagehands. Or you may discover that one piece of scenery that you didn’t really want has required an extra crew working on a four-hour minimum, even though it took only ten minutes to put together. The rules are clearly defined and will cause you no trouble as long as you are prepared in advance.
7) Is the theatre equipped with a complete set of draperies? If so, what color? Are they in good condition? Is there a sky drop? Are these draperies included in the theatre rental? There is often a charge of from ten to one hundred dollars to use draperies already in place. If there are no draperies or if they are in an inappropriate color, where can they be rented? How much? Are extra stagehands required to “hang” them? Poke around the theatre and find out what additional draperies or drops may be available. Many times you will find leftovers from vaudeville times that will inspire a satire on an old-fashioned meller-drama. Or you might find a cast-off scarlet or gold lame drapery that can be used in a specific number as a swag or draped effect. Some theatres have platforms or prop fences or park benches that just need a coat of paint to make them the basis of an entirely original number.
8) What is the condition of the stage floor? If it is rough and splintery it may require floor-cloth. If there are holes or large cracks they must be patched. If it is highly waxed it may need sanding, or perhaps rosin will “take.” This must be tested.
9) Are the dressing rooms equipped with mirrors and adequate light for make-up? Will they be cleaned before the performance? Are there racks for hanging costumes? Are there dressing rooms near the stage that can be used for quick changes? If not, are screens available for making a temporary “quick-change room?”
10) Does the theatre have lighting equipment? Is it included in the theatre rental or must it be rented separately? Most theatres have footlights and borderlights in red, white, and blue. Occasionally a follow-spot is included in the rental price, but the operator must be paid separately. If you’re lucky, the theatre may have several spotlights mounted on the balcony rail or in the ceiling beam, and a few spotlights on the first pipe; occasionally a theatre will have booms for side-lighting from the wings. If the theatre is not equipped, where can lighting equipment be rented or borrowed locally?
11) Does the theatre have a piano? Is it located backstage or in the pit? Is there a piano light? If the piano must be moved (depending on your specific requirements) is there an extra charge? Will the piano be tuned before the performance or is tuning an additional expense for you?
12) Is sound equipment available? Tape recorder? Record turntable? Microphones for announcements? Is there an extra charge for its use, and does it require a special operator? If none are available, where can one be rented?
This questionnaire should prepare you to decide which of the available theatres is best and most feasible financially for your performance. While you are talking to the manager he may be able to recommend printers for the program, posters, and tickets or invitations.
Your next step is to plan your program so that you will know what equipment, draperies, etc., must be rented. Then comes the budget problem and a re-evaluation of the whole program to make it fit the budget. After you have planned the program you may well decide that a different theatre is better prepared to meet your specific needs.
Next month’s article will deal with lighting, scenic, and prop tricks to help you plan a program with variety and theatricality.
(to be continued)