Backdrops and Drapery

The Electric Grid backdrop from Charles H. Stewart Backdrops. Backdrops create the perfect setting – and they can also set the perfect mood

A good backdrop is an impressive way to set a scene. Its large size and impressive detailing can do wonders to transport a show to any exotic location. But then there are the times when you want a backdrop to be a little less specific. Sometimes a backdrop uses its size and color to set a mood, not a place. Here’s some wisdom from eight backdrops houses to help you out when you want an impressionistic backdrop. 

Read more: Good Impressions

Backdrops and Drapery

A frozen winter landscape backdrop with border and legs accessories from Grosh Backdrops and Drapery. Finding the right masking and soft goods solution for your theatre

The proper use and selection of masking curtains can solve a surprisingly large range of theatrical problems. There’s an art to theatrical camouflage, though—if you don’t know how to maximize the selection, as well as properly hang your masking, more attention will ultimately be drawn to the element you’re trying to conceal. Here’s valuable insider knowledge from best and most trusted pros in the business about how to mask any space effectively and cost-efficiently. 

Read more: Hide in Plain Sight


This moving platform in Arabian Nights used pneumatic casters and brakes for more dynamic motion and more solid braking. Integrating machinery into your sets

Automated scenery is everywhere, from the shifting elevators in Billy Elliottto the moving boxing ring of Rocky on Broadway—and with the cost of automation equipment and machinery components continuing to drop, leveraging the possibilities of mechanical power and computer control to drive new visual effects (and rethink old ones) is becoming even more common. Automated elements can change the way we tackle many parts of the visual world on stage—from large to small.

Read more: Gaining a Mechanical Advantage


Roy hanging the Samsung booth at 2015 CESFrom Disney to Broadway to Rock ‘n’ Roll, a reflection on a 50-plus year career

Even if you’ve never heard of Roy Bickel, you certainly know his work. As one of the pioneers of the modern live event business, he was a founder of the “Disney Riggers” group in the 1960s, worked some of Broadway’s most successful shows, and was in the air when arena rock exploded. Perhaps most importantly, he’s a subject matter expert of ETCP dedicated to promoting rigging safety. “I’ve been in this business for over 50 years and I hope to be in it another 20!” he says.

Read more: Roy Bickel, Pioneer of Rigging


Lindsey Bliven, David Elder and the company of Walnut Street Theatre’s production of Disney’s Mary Poppins.How America’s oldest continuously-operating theatre uses their resources to stay relevant

It’s fun, yet a little weird, to get all this new technology in a building that is so old and has so much history,” says production manager Joel Markus. “I like to tell designers that we have the latest and greatest—and if we don’t have it, we’ll rent it for them.”

But increasingly, they have it.

Read more: Keeping It New

Gear Review

The Twist-Lock 3-Phase Circuit Tester from HubbellWe take the Twist-Lock 3-Phase Circuit Tester from Hubbell out on the road

Testing power outlets and cables can be a part of everyone’s job on a stage crew. By now we all carry a cheap Edison plug tester for checking that there is a hot, neutral, and ground all wired correctly, usually with a few adaptors to check the other various power cable ends that we use with various gear. I have four sets of adaptors in my workbox. But to add an easier option for checking the 5-wire power that we often use on shows, Hubbell has come out with their Twist-Lock 3-Phase Circuit Tester.

Read more: New Twist on Testing

Gear Review

The DPA d:screet 4071 omnidirectional microphoneDPA’s d:screet 4071 is another great addition to their microphone toolkit

This time around, DPA Microphones sent me their d:screet 4071 omnidirectional miniature microphone to run through its paces. The 4071 is an update to DPA’s 4061 model, a workhorse praised for its sound quality that gets a lot of use on higher-end theatrical productions. The 4071 has a couple of updates designed specifically to boost sound quality for speech and singing vocals even further. They’ve included an acoustical low-cut into the capsule to help eliminate frequencies below 100Hz. They also included a boost in the vocal presence frequency range to compensate for the loss of those frequencies that occurs when mics are placed on the body. 

Read more: Free the Voice

Answer Box

The backdrop for Mary Poppings in color mode. Old theatre tricks give Mary Poppins’ “Jolly Holiday” a big splash of color

Even though the stage version of Mary Poppins uses statues (instead of animated penguins) to bring a dreary London park into vibrant, colorful life in the song “Jolly Holiday,” I had no doubt that I needed to start that scene with a monochromatic look and then bring it magically into full color for a production of the musical at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. I eventually came to the conclusion that a translucent drop would be the best way to accomplish this—only done in reverse. The drop would have the black lining on the front face and all of the color on the back. This would allow me to start the scene in a black and white world, then instantly have that world filled in with vivid colors. 

Read more: Pops (of Color) for Poppins

Sound Design

A detail from James Barry’s “King Lear Weeping over the Dead Body of Cordelia”A guide to unpacking the work of the sound design

This is the second half of a pair of articles that attempts to provide a few tools that the reader can use to gain insight into the creative value and evaluation methods of sound design. In the first piece [March issue – ed.] I examined “the storm on the heath,” an important sound cue sequence from Shakespeare’s King Lear, along with its dramaturgical significance and historic production possibilities. In this piece I will examine the questions that will help theatregoers develop their tools for discussing and evaluating sound design. 

Read more: Storm on the Heath, part 2

Sound Design

Fiona O’Shaughnessy, Dan Donohue and Paul Vincent O’Connor, with boombox in the back. Richard Woodbury got frozen yet stayed flexible for his sound design on The Night Alive

Composer and sound designer Richard Woodbury balances the needs of a show with his needs as an artist as he remains in service to each production he undertakes. Working recently on Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles—his second time immersed within the show including its previous run at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago in late 2014—he judiciously used original music during scene transitions and environmental sounds at various moments to enhance the story’s moody atmosphere without diluting it. 

Read more: Where The Sound Takes Him

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