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Suggestions in Theatre Methods for the Middle School

Guide to Middle School Production
Each phase of this process is addressed by crew. Take the time needed to be creative and plan in the "first phase" to provide clear plans for building and securing the needed materails in the second phase.


-Student Empowerment
-Student assistant director, stage managers, and house managers
-Student crew leads with real power to complete their tasks
-We have developed a series of manuals for each crew/lead. With these manuals each lead and crew has a degree of independence. They are encouraged to meet the challenges in a creative way. This is their show. It should reflect their efforts, talent and creativity. I call it: The "Deep End" Method
-Very often young adolescent crew leads feel that they alone have accepted a major responsibility. This is probably the single biggest mistake that they make when working with our theatre program. We encourage ensemble in every sense. We never want them to bear a burden alone!
-Weekly Production Meetings (Round Table Production updates)
brainstorming, cross-crew idea sharing
-Inclusion of crew leads in daily rehearsal process
-Ensemble emphasis-Everyone Plays a Part, students must understand the importance of each of the players, cast and crew. Cast or crew, who are too good to rehearse, or be understanding of the feelings of the crew and others often are removed from the show.

Director/Production Staff Duties
Make the Commitment to the show
Make the decision to do your best production ever
Get your head straight
Get a can-do attitude
See not problems but challenges for you and your students to solve together include moments to adjust student attitudes:
make sure your staff is on-board. Make them aware of your reasons for selecting the show you have and why it will be wonderful in the end.

PRE-PRODUCTION 1(Creative Analysis)

Make it clear to your students that this phase is the artist side of them. No actual building, or touching of equipment, tools, costumes, or make-up. Sitting in groups read the play together and provide them with your insights. Be sure to keep the playwright's name on their lips as their reason for making their choices. Make the entire group aware of being in the same boat, no one is alone

Creative Analysis
(gather information to clarify and define the challenges, who is available to build/what are the levels of expertise, etc. identify areas for further research)
read the script as a group (after your initial readings of course)
1. fun
2. general feelings and impressions
3. specific information/mechanical
NEXT include student input
consideration of style
consideration of theme and playwright's purpose
generaate your "director's impressions"
include visual images
prepare character thoughts as they effect the designs ready for discussion


areas where your personal experience and knowledge need support and information include student input in the form of drawings, paragraph statements or even brain storming sessions in which students are free to express every concern and idea of solving problems

Brief Overview of types of paper produced during Creative Analysis

Scenery Crew

-Read the play
-List requirements of the script
locations, physical requirements(i.e. door that have to open, trees to climb, rocks to jump on, caves to hide in)
-Research (Take the time to find pictures, catalogs, and references which make the period of time you are trying to communicate clear to you. Characteristic colors, architectural details, furniture, types of doors, moldings, wall paper motifs, and ways things are hung on walls are all significant.)
-Paragraph on your discussions of the style, mood and color choices and reasons for your selections
-Preliminary sketches
Produce a sketch showing where all the things on the set would be in relation to each other and how they will look to the audience.
-Ground Plans

Costumes Crew

-Read the play
-List all characters by name/
-Analyze each character's personality and its relationship to the costumes to be worn
-List the requirements of the script
-Research period, era, ages, costume parts, accessories
-Make sketches/include listing of costume parts on each

Make-up Crew

-Read the play
-List each character in order of appearance
-List the requirements of the script
-Character analysis related to make-up
-Make-up Morgue

Sound (Special Effects)Crew

-Read the play
-List the requirements of the script
-Specific sound effects (i.e. gun shots, birds, thunder, car doors)
These may not be listed in the script separately but included in a stage direction or line of dialogue.
-Purpose statement: What are we trying to communicate with the audience? What mood do we want them in before the beginning of the play? What type of music will do the most to generate this feeling in the audience?
-Annotated scripts
Make a script to be used during the run of the show to warn the sound technician that an effect or piece of music is coming up and when to play it.

Props Crew

-Read the play
-List the requirements of the script
When does the play take place? What is the style of the production?(See Director) What is the mood to be created?
-Purpose Statement
How do we want the audience to feel about what they see? How will the props which are selected effect this feeling?
-Research the period
Find books of furniture, paintings from about the same time with furniture in them,
-Produce sketches or pictures
Of research and of what the props for the show will look like.
-Prop list
A numbered list with columns for where we got it (borrow, buy, build), when, in what condition.

Lights Crew

-Read the play
-List the requirements of the script (i.e. blackouts, bright lights, chaser lights, specific areas to be spotlighted, light fades, cross fades etc.)
-Annotate the script where lighting changes should occur
Highlight lines which come before the lighting cue in one color and the line two lines before the lighting cue in another color to act as a warning to the lighting technician on the night of the show.
-Purpose statement
What contribution will the lighting make to the overall communication of the theme to the audience? What levels of light, colors of light, use of shadow, will help to achieve your goal?

Front of House Crew

-Read the play (take notes)
-Purpose statement
What contribution to the communication of the theme to the audience will you make with the lobby display, program, advertising, concession stand, ushers, etc.?
-Logo Samples
Include texture of printing, pictures, print style
-Concession Summary
What type of items are going to be provided? Who, in general, will provide them? What will they be sold for? How will the layout of the stand and its decoration contribute to the production?
Note: Make sure that your students understand that time is needed for ideas to germinate.
They are NOT automatic!! This time is called Incubation
the time needed for ideas to hatch
this is as much a subconscious process as it is a conscious one
start to firm up your show choices make
Preliminary Drawings/thumbnail sketches
keeping scale in mind/
make a scale elevation of your stage on your computer and run several copies
do your little sketches in the box to approximate the appropriate scale for your space add a 6 foot actor to the box and this will give you appropriate proportion again include student input with drawings and ideas

(Design Phase)

Brief Overview of types of paper to be produced during the Design Phase

Scenery Crew

-ground plan
Top view of the stage, done to scale
-front elevations
All structural units are viewed from the front and include all painted details, textures, patterns.
-rear elevations
These drawings are the above flats turned over to reveal how they are constructed, every detail of construction from screws to types of wood should be included.

Costumes Crew

-character costume sketches
On a single sheet of typing paper write the name of a single character
Draw the costume in color and texture
-costume listing
This listing is per character and lists all parts of costume and accessories

Make-up Crew

make-up charts for each character
make-up demonstration for cast members

Sound Crew

review and display samples of sound for approval
design sound effects to be constructed

Props Crew

design props to be constructed

Lights Crew

using ground plan from above
light plot
hang plot

Front of House Crew

program paste up
poster selection for approval
concession set up design
lobby display design


Each technical crew goes through similar steps. The outline below more specifically outlines the work of the scenery crew, but if you look closely you will see that this is the "hands-on phase". Equipment is touched, costumes are selected, make-up is touched, props are borrowed or built

1. Take Stock
Look at designed materials and compare needs against the materials available in storage from past productions. List usable flats, platforms, lumber, legs, etc. Note: If you have designed a wall 10' wide, of course, the wall may be constructed of 2-5' flats or any combination of flats to achieve the end result. The same process is for platforms.

2. Order materials
Make a list of the items which are not able to be constructed from stock materials. Break down these items into materials to be purchased for their construction. Sheets of plywood, numbers of 1"X10"s to be ripped for 1"x3" stock(for flats), numbers of 1"x12"s needed to be ripped for sides of platforms, etc.

3. Build basic units
These are the stock units for future productions. Standardize the bulk of the piece and construct "throw away" add-ons and contours for one time show use.

4. Contour and cover
The contour can add tremendous flexibility and creativity to your designs. It can be show specific. It is added to the outside edges of stock units to create new, show specific, scenery pieces. (example: This is the 5'x10' flat with the luhan added to the edges and cut to simulate the silhouette of a tree with branches, and trunk.)

The amateur set is obvious for its lack of dutchman. Joints between units including flats, platforms and surfaces of different materials must be covered in order to prevent (1)taking paint in different ways and (2)light and shadows making differences obvious and distracting. Painting from a flat to the added plywood contour requires dutchman to make paintable surface the same. Raw muslin takes paint differently than painted muslin. Old pre-painted muslin from drops, or disassembled flats makes wonderful dutchman material.

5. Paint

a. prime coat
b. base coat
c. lay out
d. lay in
e. detail: highlights and shadows, patterns, wall paper, wood grain
f. texture: spatter, rolled rag, sponge, wet blending, scumble


Running Crews

In our program, the crew members who have most closely become part of the ensemble and have vested the greatest amounts of time are the members who become the running crew for the production. The crew heads if they have taken their job seriously will now be ready to take on their "running crew" responsibilites. These are the costumers, the light technicians, the sound technicians, and the stage crew members. Members of their crews, who have no practical use backstage, may now become the ushers and the staff to man the various front-of-house duties during the actual run.

Technical Theatre Is Our Life!!

Striking How to Succeed with Business, 1978
Many Hands Make Light Work!
No stage yet! Just platforms set up in the gym
(strike and evaluation)

Since most of the building of our shows is done in the drama classes as part of the curriculum, the strike also takes place in class. It usually takes one morning of classes to remove the set from the stage. All hardware and screws are sorted, props are returned to their owners, costumes are cleaned and stored during the remainder of the week. Our tradition of excellence comes from the sharing of responsibility with others. Many Hands Make Light Work!

Cast Parties and Problems

Cast parties by definition are for cast members. Because this runs against our ensemble philosophy, cast parties are not held on school grounds and are arranged by the stage manager. This activity is not a school or program function. I have given guidelines that running crew, crew leads, cast and other significant student contributors be included. There is always someone who is left out. The above disclaimer is really the best we can do. With over 200 working on a show it is not possible to have a party for them all. At the end of each year the Drama Club sponsors a picnic and invites all to enjoy fre pizza and sodas as we relive the year.

Strike(stage only)
1. clear props from stage
2. pull dutchman (NOTE: caution all not to remove flat covering or dismantle stock units!)
3. start separating basic units
drop all screws to the floor
4. remove contours
5. clean basic units of hardware (door knobs, hinges, latches, screws, staples and nails)
drop all hardware to the floor
6. stack similar units
7. remove legs from platforms
8. return all items to storage
9. clear stage of large debris
10. sweep up and place all hardware, screws and bolts into a bucket to be sorted later
11. Mop stage and double check for any things out of place
12. Return all props
13. Take a day to sit down and evaluate the process and make notes for the next crew to take on the job.
Important note: Similar lists for each crew


Raoul, Bill. STOCK SCENERY CONSTRUCTION: A Handbook. New York: Broadway Press, 1990. Carter, Paul.
BACKSTAGE HANDBOOK. An Illustrated Almanac of Technical Information. New York: Broadway Press
Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1997.
Stern, Lawrence. STAGE MANAGEMENT A GUIDEBOOK OF PRACTICAL TECHNIQUES. Third Edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, Inc., 1987.
Parker, W. Oren, and R. Craig Wolf. SCENE DESIGN AND STAGE LIGHTING, 6th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1990.
Pecktal, Lynn. DESIGNING AND PAINTING FOR THE THEATRE. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975.

Young people love the use of tools!
Here a student cuts out a plywood outdoor sign.