The Drama Teacher’s Survival Guide

Let’s put on a show! Problem is, you have never put on a show before. A veteran high school drama teacher dispenses some great advice on how to shepherd your school or community towards a rousing performance. She walks you through the whole process, check-lists in hand, assuming you’ve never done it before. How long/often to schedule rehearsals, what to audition, how to cast, how to block, when to set the lighting, how to make effective costumes on the cheap, all the way to what to do about tickets. I’ve used four or five other beginner production guides but they tend to dwell on the technical aspects. Johnson’s guide tackles the whole multi-month long adventure. This unassuming but dense guide is aimed squarely at high school drama productions, but it works great for camp directors, small-town community theater, or any other newbie hoping to put on a show.

-- KK  

The Drama Teacher’s Survival Guide
Margaret F. Johnson
2007, 256 pages
$20

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Off-book rehearsals (five to six days)

Off-book literally means that the actors go through the segments without using their scripts. The key word for these rehearsals is memorization. Your actors are giving the characters life and need to begin developing relationships with other characters. They cannot do that if their heads are in their books.

You need to check that each actor has memorized both their blocking and their lines. This means that the actors do not have any scripts in their hands. These rehearsals are hard, frustrating, and extremely important. You must stick to your guns. No books allowed on-stage during this group of rehearsals or afterwards – ever, ever, ever! No “nanny” blankets for the actors! You are inflexible here.

*

drama-teacher-survival-guide1sm

*

Principles of movement

The following principles of movement have been developed through stage experience. They are not rules – acting in the theatre defies rules. The following principles of movement need to be modified at times to fit the needs of you and your actors. Usually, characters:

  • Cross toward the objective point. If grace and beauty in the scene are desired, then cross in a curved line.
  • Cross on their lines.
  • Break up their speeches while they cross behind others.
  • When crossing with another character, the speaker walks Upstage and slightly ahead of the other, turning his or her head Downstage to speak.
  • When entering with a group, the speaker enters first.

*

Food that is eaten

  • If people have to eat, then either the real food or a look-alike substitute that can be swallowed easily must be on-stage.
  • Mashed potatoes work well for ice cream or anything requiring that kind of consistency. Just tint them the color you need.
  • Angel food cake is easy to eat, can be colored and cut into shapes, and goes down easily, not causing anyone to choke.
  • Slices of bread with a half of an apricot in the middle create fake fried eggs.
  • Drinks:

  • Tea is a great substitute for alcohol or coffee. [If you are going to do a show where characters use alcohol be sure it has been cleared with your administration. Many districts have strict rules about seeing students drinking on-stage.)



Brush-On Super Glue

What’s so exciting about this Super Glue? Two things: it has never dried out in 4 years and the brush allows you to easily apply amounts smaller than a drop without needing paper towels or toothpicks to assist you with cleanup and application.

I purchased a bottle of this brush-on Super Glue 3 or 4 years ago. Since then, I’ve fixed numerous toys and other small things around the house and the bottle has never dried out, unlike traditional squeeze-style super glue dispensers. It seems that the shaft of the brush allows only the smallest amount of glue to dry at the opening and that seal is broken by simply twisting off the cap and brush.

When I need to use super glue, I usually require a very small amount. The brush makes it easy to apply extremely small amounts of glue. I’ve always found the squeeze tubes to be difficult since I’ve almost never needed a whole drop of glue. The bottle opening is also sloped inward so you can remove extra glue from the brush and it simply drains back into the bottle.

I don’t know if this glue is better than others. The cool tool is not the glue, but the bottle design. Krazy Glue makes a similar product, although I haven’t ever tried because my current bottle is still going strong.

-- Harvey Chapman  

Scotch Super Glue Liquid Brush-On
0.17 ounce bottle
$4

Available from Amazon



Tibet Almond Stick

Here’s a great “off label” use of an old product for a completely different application that a guitar player turned me on to years ago. The Zenith Tibet Almond Stick is an oil- and cleaner-impregnated plug that comes as a tightly rolled up cloth in a metal can. Its original use is to “efface 1,000 scratches from pianos—radios—furniture—etc. It’s amazing!” I use it to refresh old strings on guitars, banjo and mandolins. Just swipe the stick along the strings, then pinch each string with a rag and slide along its length. All the nasty bits of rust, dirt, and finger cheese come right off. It’s especially good at helping to remove the crud that get trapped in the coils of wound strings and restores that brilliant “new string” sound. I also like the art deco inspired litho steel tube it comes in.

By the way, it will last forever: my 40 year old stick is still going strong!

-- Bob Knetzger  

Tibet Almond Stick
$6

Available from Amazon



Create Your Own Stage Effects

I worked on the stage crew for a local community theater and the old timers there had a bottomless inventory of quick and rough tricks for most stage effects. They would immediately say, here’s how to make a clouds move across the moon. Or get the sound of light rain on a roof. Or make a character fly, safely. At no cost. This book is chock full of a zillion little rough and ready, low-cost effects for local theater. And enough inspiration to create your own.

-- KK  

Create Your Own Stage Effects
Gill Davies
1999, 160 pages
$4+, used

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Rain
Buckets of water to pour into metal containers below
or
Dried peas for rain – in a tin or rolling in a wire sieve
or
Sugar poured down a grease-proof paper chute for an alternative rain sound effect.

*

create-stage-effects1sm

To make a twinkling starry sky, attach lengths of strong black thread to the stage bar. Create a galaxy by twisting aluminium foil around these threads and then make a pleasing random effect by looping up the threads to crisscross so the stars are scattered.

*

create-stage-effects2sm

A fan rippling water and the right lighting angle will make the ripple effect reflect onto the stage.

Rain
Simulated rain effects are achieved by a disc that is largely black but with a few scratches in the black surface to let light through. This effect is best confined to a small area.

*

Fast changes with flats

Rotating flats
These are flats that are hung and so they can swivel. If they are fixed only at the top and hung from sturdy timber or onto an industrial track, as shown in the illustration, flats can be spun around very quickly indeed for a most effective fast change.

create-stage-effects3sm

*

create-stage-effects4sm




Art of the Basket

Baskets can be magnificent. There’s a thousand ways to weave strands into objects, for art or for use. This absolutely stunning catalog of traditional basketry from around the world can guide you to what is possible. All materials, all shapes — 800 amazing basket-y artifacts here! You’ll not think of baskets in the same way. What else can be woven in 3D?

-- KK  

Art of the Basket
(Paperback version called Basketry)
Bryan Sentance
2007, 216 pages
$7+, used

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

art-of-the-basket1sm

Baskets, from the Philippines, made using fibre from banana stems.

*

art-of-the-basket2sm

*

Fish creel worn at the hip by fishermen from Lombok, Indonesia.

art-of-the-basket3sm




The Basket Book

One of several books that can teach you elementary basket weaving. This one’s particular virtues are that it has very clear instructions for a large variety of baskets you might actually use (more than other guides), and that it can be had for a few dollars online, used.

Beyond the standard ” flat reed” rolls, its hard to find unusual weaving fibers — unless you make your own. This source, V. I. Reed & Cane, has a few other natural fibers. Anyone know of a better source?

-- KK  

The Basket Book
Lyn Siler
1998, 144 pages
$2+, used

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

basket-book-sm




Cuttlebug

The Cuttlebug is a non-electronic die-cutting and embossing tool for paper crafts. It’s lightweight, easy to use, and able to use embossing folders and dies from most manufacturers. I am an avid papercrafter and scrapbooker, make all my own greeting cards, and I use my ‘bug more than any other tool.

Youtube shows lots of ways to use it for various techniques, including letterpress. I’ve had mine for about 10-12 years, use it at least weekly, and am still using the same cutting plates it came with. It’s more intuitive to use, more compact when folded up than competing brands I’ve tried and works just as well. Dies and embossing folders are available in any craft store, but you can also create your own embossing designs with leaves, lace, etc. using rubber mats made by the Spellbinder and Scor-Pal companies.

untitled

Card made from Cuttlebug by Paris Estates

-- Polly Robertus  

Cuttlebug Embosser and Die Cutter
$60

Available from Amazon



Yes! Paste

For pasting paper to paper (or other materials to paper or cloth) Yes! Paste is economical and does a good job. A plastic pot of this will last most of us for years. It’s water soluble so clean-up is easy, and if, over the years, it gets thicker than you want, it can be thinned with water. Spread with a finger or brush.

I’ve used it for mounting paper items for public display, and appreciate that it doesn’t wrinkle even on large items. Glue sticks are handy, but one pot of this has as much goo as 57 glue sticks at .28 oz, and saves all the plastic waste of the sticks.

-- Lynn Nadeau  

Yes! All-Purpose Stik Flat Glue, 1-Pint
$11

Available from Amazon



Prop Builder’s Molding & Casting Handbook

Meant for prop builders in theater or film, this how-to book is the best overall guide for making molds and castings for any reason. Casting is a handy skill for any craftsperson — dollmaker, restorationist, Halloween fan, furniture maker, or handyman. This guide treats the many different modern substances you can use (about 30), educating you on what’s good for what, and taking you through the particulars for each kind of casting process. The guide assumes an ease with general shop skills and a willingness to deal with messy chemicals (and clean up!). Once you are comfortable with making molds and casts, you’ll find all kinds of creative problems can be solved with it. (Watch an episode of Mythbusters.)

-- KK  

The Prop Builder’s Molding & Casting Handbook
Thurston James
1989, 238 pages
$16

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

prop-builders1sm

The mold-making materials include plaster, two kinds of alginate, two forms of silicone rubber, latex, and hot-melt rubber.

*

prop-builders2sm

Moulage is a better molding material than plaster for this job because it is flexible. A hard plaster mold would most likely break — either when you attempted to remove the original pattern, or when you tried to release the copies (also made from a hard material).

*

prop-builders3sm

We added Plasticine, sculpting the pattern to make it look a little more like an oil lamp and a little less like a teapot. The addition of the pedestal to the finished casting will also help to convey this illusion.

*

Hot-melt glue (ethylene vinyl acetate or EVA) is a thermoplastic with qualities much like those of other hot melts: it becomes fluid when heated, and is ruggedly solid when it cools to room temperature. In fact, it has enough of the “right” characteristics to make it a useful casting material. We will demonstrate casting with hot glue as we construct a crown from scratch.

prop-builders4sm

The filigree headband of this crown was made of a standard lamp part, called “brass banding.” The finials are twenty repeated castings of EVA (hot-melt glue).

*

prop-builders5sm

When you can use an authentic item as a vacuum forming mold, the thin plastic casting will be very realistic. This mold is a pattern of real roofing tiles, caulked with plaster.




Taurus 3 Diamond Ring Saw

I own two of these saws — one at my home in upstate New York, the other at my winter home in Jamaica. A diamond ring saw enables me to cut intricate shapes in ceramic tile, and allows me to create wonderful mosaics. I’ve been using my Jamaican saw the longest, spending a good part of my winter on the endless project of tiling the entire outside of my house.

The saws are mostly sold to stained glass artisans, and using it to cut heavy tile pushes it pretty hard. The ceramic dust is quite abrasive, and wears out the bearings in the saw fairly quickly. Fortunately the replacement parts are readily available, and regular cleaning of the saw keeps it in tip-top shape.

They sell a variety of blades for the saw — my favorites for tile work are their mega-blade and the recently added speed-cut blade.

-- Tom Dimock  

Taurus 3 Diamond Ring Saw
$377

Available from Amazon