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  • 1.  Need suggestions for a program with a very specific set of limitations

    Posted 04-10-2024 07:56


    I teach in a community college in the Midwest. We have our own large theater, but the college rents it out constantly so we have to rehearse outside of the space until two weeks before opening.

    We are grossly underfunded and do not sell tickets. Why, you may ask? That is how the college does it. I was told it has to do with not wanting to pay higher royalties. We also limit our seating to 100. It used to be 50. We rely on a small amount from the college and donations. So you can imagine the struggles there.

    In spite of this, and thanks to some favors called in, we have very successfully done Clue and Puffs the past two years. Puffs just closed.

    The students loved doing both. Now, I have no idea what to do for them next year. We are not yet a formally established program but are more co-curricular at this point, though there are a couple of classes I teach alongside directing shows.

    It is hard to predict who is going to audition from year to year. Those likely to come back this time are much more inclined towards comedy than drama.

    So, I am seeking shows that are similar to Puffs, that are lots of fun, but that do not require a huge set because we are not allowed to build one. The minimalistic set we had for Clue was the center of a battle regarding where it could be stored. Luckily we won out with that and used it for Puffs. 

    One show I thought about is The 39 Steps. It depends on the set, though. Costumes are easier to handle. Do they allow you to cast more than just four actors?

    Please add any suggestions. I need to start looking now because we typically audition in November. Thank you.

    Angie Lai

  • 2.  RE: Need suggestions for a program with a very specific set of limitations

    Posted 04-11-2024 09:30
    I did 39 steps several years ago with a cast of 10, no problem & we just did Ken Ludwig's Baskerville with a cast of 8 instead of the 5 it originally called for. In both cases we just used furniture, ladders, a rolling door unit, etc for the sets in front of either the mid black or the scrim. Either could work well for what you're describing.

  • 3.  RE: Need suggestions for a program with a very specific set of limitations

    Posted 04-11-2024 09:40
    The 39 Steps is an excellent play to do with minimal sets, a hilarious comedy that also offers stretch roles for actors, and people do it with more than 4 actors all the time.

    --Eric Holsen
    Theatre Director
    South St. Paul Public Schools; 651-457-9430

  • 4.  RE: Need suggestions for a program with a very specific set of limitations

    Posted 04-11-2024 10:21
    39 Steps is a great choice. I did it with 18 actors, so you can do it with however many you have. The sets are minimal, on purpose - with just a few things needed. We did the train with some basic benches and a lot of choreography; the fence was two people holding a long stick, etc...That is part of the fun of the show. Baskerville by Ken Ludwig also worked that way for me - with minimal sets and fun casting where people play multiple parts. Very flexible. 

  • 5.  RE: Need suggestions for a program with a very specific set of limitations

    Posted 04-11-2024 12:07

    I highly recommend The 39 Steps! Absolutely love this show. I did it with four of my advanced actors and it was a hit with the actors and the audience alike.  While this show can be expanded for multiple actors I would use caution in exactly how you split those roles up. Part of the comedy comes from when the 'clowns' are changing character live on stage. A good example is the train scene. Not only is it a great opportunity for the actors to challenge themselves in switching characters (voice and body) every few seconds but the audience gets a kick out of watching and are quite impressed with how the actors change characters so quickly. We did it simply with the two actors spinning and putting on a different hat, changing they body language and voice with each new character. Another example would be the old couple in the hotel. It's great fun to watch the actors morph back and forth from old couple to inspectors. It leads to a great comedic effect, much more so than if it were four separate actors instead of just the two. My advice, think strategically when splitting up roles to expand the cast.

    As for the set we kept it extremely simple. We didn't have any walls at all but instead used wooden boxes (various sizes), ladders, one 4x8 window unit and one 4x8 door unit both of which were structurally sound enough to slide on and off stage as needed. We just reconfigured these items as needed for each scene, often times the actors did it themselves while transitioning from one scene to the next. It was extremely effective for us.

    A trick I discovered years ago is to put furniture sliders on the bottom of some set pieces instead of casters. This works incredibly well when you need the furniture to be stable enough for a lot of action, like running in and out of doors. This way you don't have to worry about the brakes failing or the set piece moving which sometimes happens even with a good break.  We built a big 10 x 8, very solid, somewhat heavy door for another show and it was able to be moved by a single techie on and off stage with ease. I highly recommend this option for more rambunctious shows. Furniture sliders wouldn't work well for really large set units but for smaller set pieces it's amazing. If you'd like to see some pics of our show just let me know, I'd be happy to share.

    Good luck with your show! Keep pushing to do great, professional level theater. My recommendation is to focus on fun shows and popular shows to bring in the actors and help to build an audience base. It will take some time but hopefully the program and audience will start go grow, which can give you more push with the administration to invest more into the theatre program (money, priority of space, etc.). Sometimes it takes seeing the desire for theatre in the community growing before admin is willing to invest in it, if that makes sense. I know from experience, it took me several years to get my program where it is today. Keep fighting.

    Jillian Lietzau
    Lutheran High School

  • 6.  RE: Need suggestions for a program with a very specific set of limitations

    Posted 04-12-2024 12:25

    I'm going to pipe in on this one... from the viewpoint of a set designer.

    The play is a comedy, a spoof of the original book, and written for four actors who play different roles. That tells us a lot about the author's intent. 

    A couple of posters (above) commented on keeping the set simple. Yes! Forget about flats and all those other scenery pieces that we seem to be so fond of, and focus on the story and the characters. If four actors can play a bunch of different roles, then a table or a chair, or even a crate, can also play different roles, as long as they are in context with the story.

    Several years ago I designed The Woman in Black, which takes place in an old theater where a man hires an actor to help him rehearse a ghost story he wants to tell his family and friends. Two actors played a bunch of roles and used only a few things that were on the stage because they were items that would have been on a theater stage: a trunk, a table and two chairs, and a ghost light. The trunk became a horse-drawn cart, a desk, even a bed, and it worked because everything was in context. We used an old costume trunk that had been around for umpteen years, and had casters on the bottom. The tech director suggested we put a skirt around the bottom to hide the casters, and I said no: a costume trunk would likely have casters, so let's keep them there. We did use a bit of "makeup" on them, but those casters were totally in character with the trunk. 

    That production, BTW, was creepy as all get-out with just the two actors and The Woman, who just flitted across the stage twice like a ghost (no lines) and gave me goosebumps every time. No special effects, no thunder and lightning, and no jump scares. Just the story, two wonderful actors, and The Woman (who was also wonderful) . It got rave reviews.

    So yes, keep the "set" simple, use more than four actors if you want, and focus on the story and the characters and the humor.

    Go for it! 

    George F. Ledo
    Set designer