Theater Beyond the Actors

From Londonhua WIKI

Theater Beyond the Actors

by Lauren Conroy
Justine Roy
Katharine Conroy

Theater Beyond the Actors
Milestone Image
The Play That Goes Wrong Duchess Theater


This milestone looks at the elements that add to the success of a show, which includes scenic, props, lighting, sound, costumes, and poster & promotion. We explored what these elements were like in early theatrical performances in comparison to modern day performances. Some of our research came from attending several current plays in the West End as well as backstage tours of the National Theater, The Globe Theater, and the Royal Shakespeare Company. This information was implemented into our deliverable through our own technical design of the play, The Play That Goes Wrong, which we attended on May 9th.


As a group, we had been very involved in theater at WPI. Two of our members were involved in a combination of acting, lighting, and scenic for the Showcase in D-Term. We had all taken various drama classes including, Theater Workshop and Introduction to Drama: Theatre on the Page and on the Stage and had been taught a lot about important dramas and what it takes to put on a show. We were excited to implement what we knew and what we would learn into our deliverable.

In order for any show to succeed, there must be a dedicated, creative, hardworking production team. This team has the capability of creating a show that can move the audience to laughter, tears or both. Every aspect of the production is important and the show would suffer if a portion was neglected. As a group, we discovered how much time and effort it takes to create a cohesive, successful play. Each department in the production team has to communicate with each other to assure that everything is consistent and does not clash with another department's design. Our main objective was to create a solid design for each department of the production team, specifically scenic, props, lighting, sound, costumes, and promotion. Based on our research, we were able to determine how to create our concepts using specific makeup, props, construction material and lighting fixtures. Our final designs embody all that we have learned through reading and watching "The Play that Goes Wrong" at the West End.



Theater is one of the oldest art forms that expresses thoughts and ideas through visual entertainment and performative elements. It stretches back to the time of the Romans and ancient Greeks with traditions continuing into modern day. Performances at theaters can leave audiences crying, laughing, beguiled and awe-inspired, but it takes teams of area specialized people to make sure these productions are successful. Technical groups such as scenic, props, lighting, sound, costumes, and poster & promotion aid in the creation of setting the perfect atmosphere for actors and actresses to deliver their lines and move audiences. These groups are the unsung heroes of what makes theater so spectacular.

The goal for this milestone is to create our own technical designs for The Play that Goes Wrong utilizing the information we learned from the background and by seeing the show. Each of us put our own spin on the scenic, props, lighting, sound, costumes, and promotion of the play. For each section, we have some type of physical diagram or photograph displaying what we would have done if we were put in charge of each technical department of the show. The results and a statement of why we chose to design our set, props, lighting, sound, costumes, or promotional item the way we did are placed in the deliverable section.

Section 1: Background

When people go to watch a show, they may think of the amazing acting and/or singing that is taking place. They ooh and aah at the magnificent story told by these actors and actresses, but little do they think of the unsung heroes behind the scenes who work tirelessly to make the characters look and perform the way they do on stage. There is much more to a show than just the actors. Behind the actors, there is a huge line of support crew contributing to every aspect of the show beyond the performers who, without them, the show would not be able to go on. These people belong to the groups of scenic, props, lighting, sound, costumes, and promotional aid. Below is an in-depth analysis of these technical groups that make shows come alive.


The set is affected by a number of factors including theater style, the plot, the setting, the tone, the budget and the designer's imagination.

History & Techniques

Going all the way back to the ancient Greeks, their set was just a backdrop. It was designed to provide context for the show and give a place for the actors to hide offstage. In their later years, the backdrop developed to have doors for the actors to enter and exit. The Romans adopted the Greek style and not much changed for the Renaissance and Commedia Del'Arte eras. (Carver, 2009, p 4-11) Between the 16th and 19th centuries, set designs continued to develop. During this time, the wing and drop style came into being. Wings refer to the extension of the backdrop downstage on either side. These were also called legs. Above the stage, a border was added to round out the set. These changes had the added benefit of hiding the inner workings of the theater. Another popular style to emerge was the use of Periaktoi. Periaktoi were three-sided columns that would be arranged side by side. The backdrop would be divided into columns and put on one side of each Periaktoi. The Periaktoi could then be turned, sometimes with the use of a pulley system, to reveal a given backdrop. Flying effects also developed. A platform that was attached to a vertical track could be raised and lowered with pulleys. In an effort to disguise the system, a two-dimensional cloud would mask the platform. Trolley systems for moving set pieces also developed. The pieces would be attached to tracks under the stage that would be pulled along their path using ropes and a crank. This is also the time that the iconic trap door came into being. The door in the floor would open and actors could enter or exit via ladders or primitive elevator systems. The 18th century brought technology advances that enabled quicker transitions and a desire for more realism. This desire for a more realistic experience led to the box set. The box set typically is comprised of three walls, a ceiling, and a scenic ground row. Previous stages were made at an incline to aid in visibility and acoustics with the back of the stage at a higher elevation than the front. This was done away with in order to make the set appear more natural. The box set also led to the convention of the fourth wall. This division between the performance and the audience was furthered by masking the stage from the audience before the show with a curtain. While flying was phased out of style because it was unrealistic, casters (the wheels seen on shopping carts) became the primary means for moving scenery. The revolving stage also grew in popularity as it enabled quick scene changes. The set would be constructed on a platform, built as part of the stage, that could spin. The platform with the scenery would then spin to reveal new sets. (Carver, 2009, 194-196) All of this technology is the basis for current scenic design. While technology has advanced greatly since those time, many of the concepts are still used today. [1]

Design Considerations

As I said previously, there are many factors that go into the set design. Clearly, there are many options available to scenic designers and they must choose those that best achieve their creative image within their constraints. Depending on the venue and the show, the budget can vary greatly. Broadway and West End shows have massive budgets that allow for costly effects. These shows can showcase expensive effects such as pyrotechnics and trap doors. On the other hand, the local theater will have a much smaller budget and will have to keep the set simpler or get quite creative with the resources they have. Another important factor is the style of theater. Most people are accustomed to the proscenium theater where all of the action takes place behind the proscenium arch. With a proscenium stage, the designer only needs to worry about the audience on one side of the stage and what can be seen at different angles to the stage. However, thrust stages that have the audience on three sides, arena stages with the audience on all sides and black box theaters that can have the audience theoretically anywhere require more careful consideration. It is easy to block the view for parts of the audience due to large scenic pieces. While a couch may be a useful place to sit, this could result in blocking the view for those situated behind or to the side of it if it is not carefully considered. Spectators' view should never be compromised unless for very good reason as every person is paying to see the show and should have a good experience. In addition, limited backstage space as a result of the style of the stage could limit set changes. (Carver, 2009, p 14-19) Naturally, the tone, setting, and plot of the show all contribute to the designer's vision for the set. The set must reflect the environment the show takes place in, be a functional space for the actors to work in and contribute to the feel of the show.[2]


While there is no mandatory process for set design, it typically includes many sketches and models of the design. This is important so the set designer can effectively communicate their vision for the set with the director and other departments to create a cohesive image. Early stages of design might be represented through sketches then renderings. As the design develops, a scale model of the set on the stage will be created. This allows for people to get a good idea of the space there is to work with. Audience views, lighting and functionality can be tested. Once the design is finalized, technical drawings will be sent out to the fabrication shops for it to be constructed. (Carver, 2009, p 197-205) When designing the set, not only are there the previously mentioned techniques and considerations for the designer to keep in mind, there are also artistic considerations. The first thing a designer might do is research the setting of the show. For example, if the show is set in the past, then the designer will want to capture the architecture of the time. Once they develop an idea of what the set should convey and the elements that it should contain, the designer must decide how to put it all together. In part, this may come from how an actor is supposed to move through the space. If the set is a house that the character walks through then it might be necessary that the kitchen and living room are located next to each other. However, much will be left to the designer's discretion. One rule of thumb is the rule of thirds. Imagine that the scene is divided into a three by three grid. Positioning focal points along the two imaginary horizontal and vertical lines creates an image that is supposed to be more visually appealing. It is typical for a person to just focus on the center of what they see. By creating the other focal points, it draws the viewer's attention to more of the scene and makes the image more interesting. Set design calls on many more features seen in art. Line style, color, texture, line weight, shape, pattern, scale, and shades should all be taken into account. Cool colors create a sad or mellow tone whereas warm colors are happier and more energetic. Straight lines can be harsh while curved lines are typically soothing. Bright colors indicate a happy mode while dark colors can be upsetting and mysterious. (Carver, 2009, p 33-73) Therefore, set design is a process of considering a variety of elements and determining the best way to combine them to achieve the desired effect. There is no one correct design. [7]


Designing the set is still only just the beginning. Once the technical drawings are handed over, the set still needs to be created and there are a variety of ways to achieve this. Sometimes the drawings will specify details such as materials. Often times it is the decision of those making the set. Most of the time the set is not made of what the audience would expect. Large marble and brick structures could be painted wood. Stone or metal statues could be carved from foam. In the world of theater, nothing is as it seems. This is where the artistic skill of those creating the set comes in. A common set piece is the flat. A flat is essentially a painted piece of plywood or some other composite board. When painted correctly, the flat could appear to be much more than it is. Scenic artists have developed techniques for convincingly painting the appearance of different surfaces onto flats, backdrops and other scenic pieces. Marble is created by painting several layers of paint, according to certain complimentary color schemes, and swirling the paints. Brick is also achieved by layering paint. Often times clay or other mediums can be used to add texture beyond what painting can provide. This part of the process has endless possibilities. If an artist has a vision, they are sure to find some creative method of fulfilling it. (Carver, 2009, p 205-244) [8]

Current Examples

National Theater's Olivier Theater is set up for advanced scenic techniques and designs. The fly is 30 meters high and automated enabling quick and smooth set transitions. It has enough power to lift a double decker bus enabling them to store large scenic elements. The most notable technology they have is the drum under the stage. The drum spins enabling a rotating stage. In addition, it is split into two halves with each half being a stage lift. In the past, these lifts have been used to reveal the cross section of a ship in a production of "Treasure Island". The recent production of "Twelfth Night" made good use of the technology available. The set featured a revolving stage. There was a wedge that could rotate and split apart into different slices that would reveal the various sets. The revolving motion was also used to indicate motion and travel. For example, as the actors drove off stage at the end of the first scene, the stage also spun giving the cars more distance to travel as well as transforming the set. In addition, there were two trap doors used to reveal a hot tub and a fountain. A revolving stage was also used in the performances of "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" at the Palace Theater. The effect was not as dramatic as in "Twelfth Night" where the entire set rotated. Instead, the revolving stage was used to create motion. Specific scenic elements were able to wobble back and forth or spin. For example, Hogwarts' moving stairs were able to spin to mimic their movement. Sometimes the stage would rotate to counter the movement of a character enabling them to walk further than they actually had. Other times characters would be moved without them walking. The set itself was simplistic in comparison to the spinning set seen at the National Theater. There was a backdrop and flats along each of the wings. These flats were on some sort of carriage system that enabled them to be slid side to side. This came in handy when the stage had to be transformed into the Forbidden Forrest. The flats were able to be slid into the stage space to create the trees. The set of "Don Juan in Soho" at the Wyndham's Theater was also notable. While much of it was created through the use of furniture and projections, the set underwent a radical change at the end of the show. The entire stage space was transformed when the sides of the stage swung outward. This created a wider image. The ceiling then tilted down towards the back of the stage which heightened the effect of the widening of the stage while focusing attention towards the back of the stage where actors were. The Royal Opera House also has a unique system for managing their set. They have a wagon system designed by Rolls Royce. When sets are delivered to the theater, they are stored in a conveyor system. When they are needed, the stage and set are placed on wagons that can slide into a spot on the permanent stage and be lowered hydraulically into place. This enables them to completely switch between the sets for two different shows in just twenty minutes. Furthermore, the Royal Opera House makes the entirety of their sets off-site in Thurrock. In contrast, National Theater makes roughly 60-80% of their sets. Their set building process takes place over just six to eight weeks. Parts will be constructed from scratch or bought and modified if it proves more economic and efficient. One trick they use when creating intricate or heavy set pieces is to use foam. For example, decorative molding that would take a long time to carve out was created by making a mold and filling it with expanding foam. The foam was then painted gold and appeared as if it was authentic. Unfortunately, despite all the work that goes into these sets, they cannot be reused due to the copyright on them. After the run of a production, they are put in storage until they are eventually recycled.


Props, simply put, are pieces of property of the theater company that enhances the set and story. It comes as no surprise that "prop" is just the shortening of property. Props range from elaborate falling chandeliers to plain coffee cups. It is an umbrella term for anything that is portable on stage and does not fall into any other category. Ironically, food and drink consumed on stage fall under the category of a prop. They are used to enhance the plot and characters or the show. Props have been used since the beginning of theater, most notably in Greek and Roman use of masks (Bieber, 1961, p.) [9] However, there is not a lot of history on props as they are often less memorable than a costume or wig, despite that many times they are the height of the tension or excitement in a show. Andrew Sofer demonstrates this best with the use of a prop gun as the medium of drama for a show’s plot. He uses the example of Henrik Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” to show the double meaning between killing time and how Hedda must kill herself to end time (Sofer, 2003 p. 167- 203). [10] He does an in-depth analysis of the symbolism of gun usage in different shows to kill not only one’s self but also all that it represented. One can see that props have a special place on a show’s stage and are necessary to communicate ideas important to the plot.

[11] [12] [13]


The Early History of Lighting in Theaters

The theaters of the ancient Greeks were always open and performances always took place during the day. They based the start time of the show on the position of the sun in the sky. That way, if darkness was needed, they would have the night sky. In Shakespeare’s time, theaters were moved indoors, so the candles were needed for lighting. The first type of candles used was called footlights because they were located near the actors’ feet. Traditionally, these lights were located on the downstage edge and apron of the stage. Eventually, just putting candles at the edge of the stage would no longer suffice as more control over lighting was desired. It was then discovered that putting a reflective surface behind the candle, between the audience and the actor, would intensify the light. To change the color of the lights, colored liquid would be placed between the footlight and actors. Gas became popular in the late 1700’s and the early 1800’s when it began to be pumped into buildings for lighting. This lead to the invention of the limelight. This device is created by directing a gas flame at a cylinder of calcium oxide. This invention was first used in London at the Covent Garden Theater. In the 1850’s, Joseph Swan, an English physicist, and chemist began working on a light bulb using carbonized paper filament in an evacuated glass bulb. This lightbulb had a low resistance and was not ideal for use in theater. Thomas Edison improved on Swan's design and created a high resistance lamp in a very high vacuum which could burn for hundreds of hours. The fluorescent lamp was created a little after the development of original light bulb. This is a gas-discharge lamp using electricity to excite mercury vapor. The excited mercury vapor produces a short-wave ultraviolet light that causes a phosphor to fluoresce, producing a visible light. Halogen lights are incandescent lights that use a tungsten filament sealed into a compact, transparent, quartz envelope. The envelope is filled with an inert gas and a small amount of halogen, which increases the life of the bulb. (Carver 270-279)

Conventional Fixtures

Conventional fixtures are non-moving lights usually hung off of a truss and batons. They are flown in and out to focus the lights on the stage so that performers and items can be spotlighted.
All conventional fixtures have a lens, yoke, lamp housing, power cable, accessory holder, and a pipe clamp. At the front of each fixture is the accessory holder for gel frames and directly behind that is the lens holder. There are different types of lenses such as VSNP (very narrow spot), NSP (narrow spot), MFL (Medium Flood), and WFL (Wide Flood), which do as their names suggest. In the middle of a fixture is the yoke. This is used to angle the fixture to focus the light. At the end of the fixture are the lamp housing and the power cable. The housing allows you to change the lamp when it goes out. The cable allows you to connect the fixture to power. Some can even come with LED lamps. (Carver 280)

Beam Projector

Description Beam Projector Effect (WIKI Commons)

This fixture has an open face and produces a narrow beam of light by using two reflectors. The primary reflector is located in the back of the fixture and is a flat parabolic reflector. In the front of the lamp is the secondary reflector which is spherical and reflects the light from the lamp. Towards the back is the parabolic reflector. The parabolic reflector collects the light from the lamp into intense parallel beams of light. (Carver 280)


Description Scoop Fixture (WIKI Commons)

These fixtures are open-faced units that have no lens. The housing for the light itself is ellipsoidal in shape and the inside of a scoop is painted white to reflect the light forward. There are few possibilities when focusing these lights because they can only pan or tilt. Some may joke that one may cook their act if they solely use these lights to light the stage. Scoops come in several sizes from 10 inches to 18 inches. (Carver 280-281)


Description Fresnel Fixture (WIKI Commons)

These lights are versatile because they can be used as a stage wash or to focus on a single character. Fresnel lights are soft-edged and have spherical reflectors in the back with sliders attached to the bottom to allow for easy focus. By adjusting the slider forward and backward the relationship of the reflector and the lamp to the lens is changed. Fresnels come in a wide range of sizes from 3 inches to 24 inches and are arguably one of the most used conventional fixtures. (Carver 281)

Source 4

Description Source 4 Fixture (WIKI Commons)

The original name for this fixture is the ellipsoidal reflector spotlight or ERS. Many people also refer to it as a leko light, while some others call it a Source 4 because the is the most popular fixture from the ETC company. The Source 4 has an ellipsoid reflector and two lenses. This means the user can change the focus of the beam by changing the distance between the two lenses. Depending on the focus, the user can get a harder edge or softer edge. It is the most flexible and most used fixture in the industry. They also have rotational or stationary shutter barrels. By pushing the shutter into the fixture, the user can mask a portion of the light that comes through the fixture. The rotational shutter barrels allow users to shutter abnormal light angles. Exchangeable lens tubes that come in: 5°, 10°, 14°, 19°, 26°, 36°, 50°, 70°, and 90° can also be purchased. (Carver 281)


Description PAR Fixture (WIKI Commons)

PAR is actually the name of the lamp that is in the fixture. It stands for parabolic aluminized reflector. The lamp and the reflector are sealed together with a lens which is then inserted into the back of a tube, or “can”, to help shape the beam of the light. Note: Some people call these fixtures PAR CAN. This fixture and the Source 4s are the two fixtures that use different lenses such as the VSNP, NSP, MFL, and WFL. Most PAR beams have an oval shape that can rotate to change the direction of each beam’s axis. Some of the newer versions allow you to separate the lamp from the lens, making them very similar to scoops. (Carver 281-282)

Strip Lights

Description Strip Light (WIKI Commons)

These are large, bulky lights that usually remain in one place for multiple shows. They can have lights of multiple colors or just white lights. They are hung using C-clamps. Strip lights are used for general stage washes or to provide back lighting so the actors can see. (Carver 284)

Intelligent Fixtures

Intelligent fixtures are moving fixtures. They can also be hung off of a truss and batons or they can sit on stages and other flat surfaces. Their placement is important because they have a limited range of motion. Unlike conventional fixtures, intelligent fixtures require programming. They are addressed to the directory and is able to understand the user. They are more difficult to program than conventional lighting because they have more than one attribute per fixture that must be controlled. For concerts, these fixtures usually need a skilled live operator who knows what the performer is doing onstage and the cues for lighting changes. The most popular brand for these types of fixtures is Martin and the most popular fixtures are their MAC Auras, MAC 2000 profile/wash movie light and Seladore Desires. (Carver 285)


In order to raise and lower dimmable fixtures, users use control boxes called dimmers. Dimmer racks have patch bays where fixtures can be associated with a letter and a number to keep track of and control each light individually. A user may run DMX, digital multiplex, to run the lights off of a lighting console.
Consoles take the patched lights and allow users to be able to control the lights as cues from shows. This process is tedious but adds so much depth. Imagine Defying Gravity without that beam of light that suddenly shows on Elphaba. The scene would have less impact without it. Cues are usually named after what scene and act they are in. Usually, a board operator is told when to play the cue by the stage manager via ClearComm. (Carver 288-289)


GOBOs are different patterns that are cut out in metal and placed in a Source 4 using a GOBO holder. Shadows are cast by the GOBO to achieve the desired effect. Gels change the color of a light fixture without having to change the lamp bulb. They can be diffused with white and darkened with another color. A top hat helps reduce flare and cut out some excess light. Barn doors are placed in front of soft edge fixtures such as fresnels or PARs to block parts of light beams that spill into the border (Carver 289 291).


The Ancient Greeks

The Ancient Greeks are one of the first civilizations to create and build theaters for performances. Many theaters today use concepts and designs that were contrived by this group of people. The design of these theaters was quite simple, in fact, they were designed based on a circle. The diameter of a theater was often 80 feet in length, which is two times the size of most theaters today. In order for the sound of the actors to reach every one of the 12,000 people in the theater, the construction of the building had to be to specifically engineered for sound to travel up the stadium seating.[14] The first documented discussion of concerns about stadium acoustics versus view was brought about by the Roman Vitruvius in the first century BC. He presented the idea that a theater with acoustic dissonance, circumstance or resonance would be unsuitable for audiences and therefore actors. He proposed that careful attention must be made to the selection of the theater site and the type of performances that would occur there, whether they are acting or singing. It was Vitruvius who sparked the development of acoustics of Greek theaters, which spanned over two centuries.

Sound Ray Paths
Description Figure 1 Auditorium Acoustics And Architectural Design by Michael Barron

After an extensive trial-and-error process, the Greeks created a theater design that optimized the sound quality and volume for all members of the audience. Sound propagation in a Greek theater was essential to increase the volume. Every member of the audience would receive direct sound based on three reflections of sound; the reflection from the front of the horizontal orchestra, the reflection from the front chorus on the rear half of the orchestra, and the reflection for the actors on the raised stage.

Figure 1 illustrates the previously described reflection sequence. The reflection from the orchestra carries speech 40% further than without the modification. Greek theaters have the distinct feature of a steep seating rake, around 20 to 34 degrees. Although this is not confirmed, there is no doubt that the higher angles of incidence to the audience seating have a profound effect on the sound quality for the audience. Though these modifications aided in the increased volume of the actors, there had to be silence from the surrounding area of the theater and the audience for unassisted speech to be audible. This is why many theaters were located in urban locations.[15]

Mask Filter
Description Figure 2 The sound effect of ancient Greek theatrical masks by Fotios Kontomichos, Charalampos Papadakos, Eleftheria Georganti, John N. Mourjopoulos and Thanos Vovolis

The most notable theater for its location is the isolated site of Epidaurus, which accommodated around 14,000 people and dates from around 350 BC. In the second century, this theater was considered the most perfect of all the Greek theaters. Seats at this theater reached distances of 70 meters from the front of the stage. How could sound reach the entire audience? The two factors that amplified the sound were masks and the theater design. With a distance that far, the actors used masks to act as a microphone to spread the sound of the actor's voice further. The masks, themselves, were constructed from hardened liquid stone and varied in design aspects such as whether they had open ears or an open mouth. Modern engineers have replicated these masks by creating mannequins that resembled the mask form and produced the type of sound that had come from these actors. The measurements they took produced a set of hθi(n) of discrete time impulse responses measured for different angle intervals with the mask on the mannequin. From there, the group was able to determine the corresponding magnetite frequency responses. The final results indicated that mask has the properties of an angle-dependent acoustic filter and the acoustic radiation of the actor's voice was significantly enhanced for the off-axis scenarios.
Figure 2 is based on the measurements from the manikin and shows the polar patterns for the mask filter and the mask radiation for octave bands centered at 0.25,1,2,4 and 8 kHz. The acoustics of the theater of Epidaurus were flawlessly tuned for each performance. Any sound produced in the orchestra was reflected and scattered around the theater of the hard limestone surfaces and ultimately reached the audience's ears. The reflected energy reached the listeners with a very small delay of 40 milliseconds. At all positions of the theater the most significant frequencies of the male speech, with a pitch ranging from 125-140 Hz, first vocal harmonics, at 250-420 Hz, and formants, from 300 HZ to 3 KHz, were amplified while keeping the richness and color of each voice. Any sounds that were outside of those ranges were filtered out to avoid the early beginnings of feedback. In order to see the effects of theater's specific design and the use of the mask working together, engineers denoted hTIRθjrj(n) as the discrete-time impulse response of the "theater-filter" and measured it for azimuth angles θj and distances of rj. This combined impulse response, CIR, was then denoted at hCIRθijrj(n) The resulting formula is able to calculate the acoustic results in terms of gain. [16]

Plane Measurement and Coordinates for Theater Source and Receiver Positions and Masks
Schematic diagram

21st Century Sound Systems

Description Sound System Diagram (WIKI Commons)

Since the time of the Greeks, technology has evolved and become more advanced. The invention of electricity has played a key role in increasing the volume and quality of the actor's vocals. Acoustics refers to the sound quality of a room in reference to the overall audio quality without any sound amplification devices such as microphones and speakers. When creating a theater, the ambient noise that is surrounding the building or room when there is no planned audio must be considered. The Greeks dealt with this by having their theaters located in the middle of nowhere, but in today’s times, that would be utterly useless and unfeasible. Who would want to go to a play or musical in the Sahara Desert? That is why today many theaters pad their walls and make sure the stage is covered by a sound-absorbing curtain, which also doubles as an object to hide the cast until ready. Modern actors may not have learned the proper way to project their voice so that the audience in the back can hear. Modern-day sound systems have let actors and actresses become more lenient with projecting their voices because, with the adjustment of a gain knob and the increase of a slider, their volume is magically louder. Along with the actors and actresses on stage, there are orchestra reinforcements to add to the mood of a performance. However, there is a delicate balance between the actors and actresses and the orchestra because louder does not mean better. It is important to know the difference between amplification and reinforcement or the show could go horribly wrong. Amplifying denotes that the volume of an actor, actress or instrumentalist is increasing. Reinforcement is all about moving sound to create the perfect environment which requires a subtle touch. Amplification is noticeable whereas reinforcement shouldn’t be. Today's sound engineer must also account for the sound of background noise created newer technologies such as HVAC systems
(Carver 364)

PA Systems or Sound Systems

For a basic sound system, there are three main areas: input, output, and processing. Inputs are quite simple. They are the microphones that are connected via wires or wirelessly to a mixing console. The mixing console takes those inputs and can make pre-amplification changes on the microphone level signals to line levels. The signal then goes through equalization. Different filters can be applied to each microphone. This is helpful for equalizing different voices such as a female voice versus a male voice. Low pass filters are used on male voices so that any noise that comes through the microphone outside of the specified frequency is negated. Similarly, a high pass filter is used for female vocals. Level control is then used to process the signal and send it to the output. The output of a console is an amplifier, most commonly a speaker. The speaker converts the signal that is received into sound waves that people can hear and hopefully enjoy. Sound equipment has many variations. Inputs can include microphones (wireless, lavier, wired, wireless mic packs), contact pickups, magnetic pickups, laser pickups and optical pickups. Signal processors can include reverberation, delays, and amplifiers. Outputs can be loudspeakers (subwoofers, woofers, midrange, and tweeters) and headphones. The most important part is choosing the right equipment for the right show and location as well as speaker placement. For example, subs and heavy bass would not typically be used for a ballet. (Carver 366-367)


Description Different Types of Mics (WIKI Commons)

The most basic function of a microphone is to pick up the sound and convert that acoustic sound to electrical energy. There are two main groups of microphones, dynamics, and condensers. Dynamic microphones are versatile, reliable, durable and, most importantly, affordable. The SM57 and SM58 are able to handle anything that life throws at it. The SM58 is used widely as a microphone for vocalists and is most notably identified by its ball grille. The SM57 is more for instrumentalists and can have a windscreen for heavy wind or breathing. Both the SM58 and SM57 are very similar in design and range and can be used interchangeably. Condenser microphones are more likely to be seen in theaters because they have an extremely versatile range. These microphones are quite special because they need 48-volt phantom power. On most mixers, the sound person must switch on phantom power to the assigned microphone. There are various styles of microphones because a handheld mic may not appeal to everyone. A lav or lavalier mic is very small and can be placed on a person’s shirt or in a person’s wig/hairline. Contact pickups are similar to microphones and are attached to instruments to pick up the sound through its vibrations. Pressure-response microphones are also used for instruments. They are mounted on a flat surface with an attached plate that increases gain.
Impedance of a microphone refers to the amount of resistance a microphone has to an audio signal. The lower the impedance, the less issues a microphone may have when using a longer cable and dealing with noise interference. Typically a lower impedance means a better-quality microphone, therefore a perfect choice for theater.
Gain deals with the amplification of a microphone through a sound system. If set up properly, meaning the system, microphones, and speakers, gain can be maximized. Handheld microphones have more latitude when it comes to gain versus its wireless counterpart. However, as the technology has gotten better, lavalier microphones have gotten smaller and better, but at a very high financial cost. Lav mics can be seen almost everywhere such as in theaters and on television news shows. The loop is sized for the person’s ear and a piece of tape is placed on their cheekbone and behind their ear. The pack is the hidden in the shirt making sure the person has enough neck room to not pull the mic off.
Area micing is a technique used for large bands or choirs. An array of floor microphones is placed on the ground and the board operator increases or decreases the gain as needed. For this, it is better to use an odd number of microphones which will provide the most options of which microphones to use at any given time. (Carver 364-368)

Mixing Consoles

Description Digital Mixing Console (WIKI Commons)

All consoles work on the same concept. They take inputs, process the signal via equalizing, delays and reverberation, and transfer the audio to outputs. Each console is different with a given number of inputs and outputs as well as limits to the types of adjustments one may make to the audio signal. There are two types of consoles, analog and digital. Analog boards come in a range of sizes. Examples include the Mackie 1402VLZ4 14-Channel Compact Mixer and the GL4000. The drawback of these boards is that there are no equalizers, delays, or special effects, which are available on digital boards. Digital boards are the newest in sound engineering technology and are continually being developed. Digital consoles can be more flexible. Some digital boards have mobile device applications that allow a person to control the board from the stage instead of from front of house making equalizing easier and faster. (Carver 370)

Speakers and Headsets

There are four types of speakers: tweeters, midrange, woofers, and subwoofers. Tweeters are meant for producing sound in the high-frequency range. Midrange speakers are designed to reproduce sound at midrange frequencies. Woofers are for low frequencies and subwoofers are to produce sounds at very low frequencies. Subwoofers are usually the speakers that make the floor shake at a dance party. Line arrays are groups of speakers that are hung vertically or horizontally. They have a very narrow spread of sound per speaker. Wedges or monitors are used by most musicians and vocalists so they can hear themselves throughout the performance. Selected sounds are mixed through the soundboards and then output through each wedge. Positioning the speakers is key because some speakers only have 90-degree dispersion. [17]The best positioning for these speakers is in pairs facing the corners of the space diagonal to them.
Headsets are used for stage managers and other run crew to know what is going on. They allow communication between the groups. Different groups can be on different channels like handheld radios. Clear-com is the most popular and is easily setup using XLR to the control box. It comes in wired and wireless versions. (Carver 371-377) [18]


History and Method

Costumes are very important in transforming an actor into the character they are playing. Costumes are also used to set the scene of the play. For example, Victorian Era costumes will make the show appear to be set in the Victorian Era. Costumes have been used since the ancient Greeks and Romans. Greek theater was a sacred place and often sacrifices were made on the altar in the center of the stage before the show. A show would take place once a year on a day of celebration of the god worshiped in the temple. According to the Greek culture, the god would be present the whole day of the show and the performance was considered a sacred duty which was paid for by the wealthy. In order to act in the play, the actors had to be totally pure for they were channeling their character. Actors would use a staff and wear a wreath to convey this. The actors would wear red ornamental cloaks and stone masks that belonged to the treasure or the sanctuary, these were early props (Stricker, 1955) (Bieber, 1971)[19]. [20] Not only did the actors have to be in a state of purity, only the clean and pure public could attend this performance. They too would wear decorative cloaks and wreaths to celebrate the sacred day. Costumes were very important to conveying the story due to the fact that it would reveal the gender and social status of the character. Costumes in the Roman theater overlapped quite a bit int that a cloak’s color denoted the status and sex or the character. They also wore masks. During the Elizabethan Era, clothing played a significant part to one's status in society. There were many laws dictating what a person could wear, so many plays had their actors wear clothes of the vernacular for the character. Therefore, the actors of queens and kings wore costumes that reflected that status and those of less important roles wore their own clothing. For plays that took place during the Roman and ancient Greek eras, actors wore togas over their normal clothes. Since costumes were very expensive, many companies reused old costumes (Costumes and Cosmetics, 2013, p. 1) . [21]

Broadway Theater
Milestone Image
BruceEmmerling. (2016). Broadway photograph. Licensed under Creative Commons Zero on [22]

Today costumes are designed by costume designers, who work closely with the director to make the director’s vision come to fruition. They often need to do a lot of research into who the character is and what time period he or she comes from. This research creates an authenticity to the character. A character wearing a crop top and a pair of short shorts would not be taken for women of status in the Victorian Era. The costume creates the character and that costume is iconic. Who would Glinda from "Wicked" be without her extravagant happy dresses? The costumes are more than just the clothing the actors are wearing. They include the shoes and accessories that are paired with the outfit. Costumes are meant to be used as an extension of the actor, which means that if two characters are polar opposites, their outfits will be totally different. It adds to the depth of the character. The costume designer then creates sketches of their proposed idea to share with the director. These costumes are then either approved or sent back with critiques. After the costume designs are approved, there is a lot of work to be done (Nusim, 2017) (Landis, 2014). [23][24]


Different Fabrics
Milestone Image
Engin_Akyurt . (2016). Fabrics photograph. Licensed under Creative Commons Zero on [25]

Costumes come in many different shapes, sizes, and fabrics. This is one of the first things a designer has to think about when designing a costume. The material can affect the character’s movement, the actor’s comfort, the time period, and so much more. Fabric choice comes with much consideration and it is very difficult to choose with so many different fabric choices. One of the first fabrics of choice is wool. It is a fabric known for its warmth and itchiness, which is made from a variety of sheep furs. Even though many find wool to be itchy, wool comes in a variety of different types and not all of them are itchy. The fabric is very spongy and an insulator, but the reason many like wool is its ability to absorb up to 30 percent of its weight in water and not feel wet. Along with its water holding ability, wool is also dirt, tear, and flame resistant. This fabric may be worn by a character who is a sheep farmer in Ireland. Another natural and widely used fabric is cotton. It is a light, cool, and soft material that is used often. Cotton comes from the cotton plant and is stronger wet than dry. It can withstand high temperatures and is more breathable than wool. Silk is another fabric used in theater. It is a natural fiber that is spun by silkworms and is considered a fabric of wealth and success. Silk absorbs moisture in the summer and is warm in the winter, which makes it perfect to wear on stage. Due to its ability to retain moisture, silk is easily dyed and shapes well to a person’s body. Linen, not to be confused with cotton, is another widely used fabric. It is produced from the fiber of the flax stalk and is two to three times stronger than cotton. Linen has a unique luster that comes from its inherent nature and is easily dyed. Other fabrics that are synthetic and likewise also cheaper include polyester, rayon, acetate, and nylon. They have many of the same characteristics of natural fabrics, but they are less natural and prone to wrinkle, stain, and shrinkage (Caver, 2012, p. 306- 309).[26]

Tools, Accessories, and Sewing

Once the fabric of the costume is chosen, the fabric(s) has to be put together by sewing or other methods. In order for the fabric to be transformed into a costume, the seamstress must be familiar with the tools necessary to create a costume. Tools such as measuring tapes and patterns assist the costume designers to accurately take the measurements of the actor or actress. Once the measurements for the garment are determined, the designer will start working with either a pre-existing pattern or creating a pattern from scratch. A pattern is a template on which a garment can be cut from to form the specific shape desired. They are often made of paper and traced onto the fabric. To create new patterns, patterns may be combined or a sloper tool can be used. Sloper tools provide generic shapes that can be modified to form a new pattern. After a pattern is created, it is pinned to the fabric and then cut by sewing scissors. These scissors can cut fabrics fast with their adjustability and are therefore more expensive than arts and craft scissors. The next step of the process is sewing the pieces together, which can be done with different types of thread that have as great a range as fabrics do. The chosen thread needs to have similar properties to the fabric. To make the costumes unique and complete, accessories such as belts, buttons, and zippers are added. They can change a one-dimensional costume into one fit for a king or queen, but these accessories must be kept organized in order for them to be found in a timely fashion. Some other important tools are seam rippers, which can cut a seam when a stitch needs to be undone without damaging the fabric, and tailor’s chalk, which is used make marks on fabric. (Caver, 2012, p. 309- 317). Finally, after all of these steps have been completed, the fabric can be sewn together to create the costume. Most costumes are sewn by sewing machines, with intricate details sewn by hand. Some of the stitches sewn are quite easy, however many are difficult and require much skill. One commonly used stitch is the overlocking stitch. It is used to combine two edges of the fabric to create a hem on the inside that appears seamless when flipped inside out. The overlocking stitch is considered to be very versatile with it being used for everything from decoration to reinforcement to the construction of a fabric. Once the costumes are completely sewn they are then fit to the actor or actress to ensure a total fit. Interestingly, more complex costumes are initially made of muslin, a very inexpensive fabric, and are fitted to the actor so that the exact measurements can be used during the construction of the real costume. The creation of a costume is a multifaceted process that takes a design from paper to real life. It is difficult, but costumes are essential to a show for they aid the viewer in imagining and fitting the actors or actresses into the roles they play (Caver, 2012, p. 323- 334) [27].


Costumes have come a long way from dresses, togas, and suits. As culture has invited new and exciting shows to the theater, costumes have had to change with the culture. Today’s theater productions have definitely proven to be a challenge for costume designers. There is now a myriad of shows of different time periods, themes, and ethnicities, which can be seen by the 2017 Tony nominees and shows that are currently popular. A prime example would be the Tony-winning "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812", which is an excerpt from Leo Tolstoy’s "War and Peace" about the affair of Natasha with Anatole and Pierre’s existential search for meaning [28]. Natasha is a charismatic young Russian woman of status engaged to marry her beloved fiancé Andrey, but while he is away at war she is sent to live with a godmother where she is seduced by an unknowingly married man. Natasha’s costume is white for innocence and is fitting of women of status in Russian during the early 1900’s. All of the costumes are a mixture of timepieces with modern clothing. This can add the idea that "War and Peace" is not just a very long novel with little to do with society today. Natasha’s story is a timeless tale of love, lies, and scandal, so the costumes must accent the characteristics of the characters and make them believable. Another Tony Award-winning show that has a completely different costume design is "The Lion King". "The Lion King" is a very different show about finding one's identity and is loosely based on Hamlet. This is a very difficult show to design for because the characters are animals. It is very hard to mimic the movement of an animal, so the designers worked to make costumes move with the movement of the actors and dancers. They utilized both masks and puppetry to create the movement of many of the animals. Timon and Pumbaa are life-size puppets that are connected to the actors. These shows show the great range of costumes that exist today in theater and the different styles and techniques used.

Current Practices

Tours of the National Theater, Royal Opera House, and Royal Shakespeare Company gave insight into how costumes are currently dealt with. The trend is that the costumes department is divided into sub-departments. These subdepartments take care of creating the costumes, caring for the costumes during their show's run and managing them after the show has finished. During a production, the costumes must be cleaned after performances to keep them in good condition for the actors. This is especially important when a costume is dirtied during the performance. If the character gets a blood stain during the show, it cannot be there at the start of the next performance. In addition, any damage such as a tear in a costume must be repaired. After a show, the costumes are typically labeled with the name of the show they were from, the actor who wore it and the character they played. These costumes are organized and stored in the theater company's costume shop. The costumes can be rented by theater companies, film companies such as the BBC and sometimes the public for use. This enables more money to be earned back from the costs of the show. The Royal Shakespeare Company occasionally has auctions that are open to the public where the costumes are sold off for under £75.

Hair and Makeup

History and Design

Makeup was not used in Greek and Roman theater due to the fact that the masks that they wore were designed to portray the emotions and character traits the characters had. (ref) It was not until the time of Queen Elizabeth that makeup was frequently used. The makeup of the actors was very important due to the fact that not only did it create the character, it also disguised their identity as a man. The actors were painted with white face makeup that sometimes consisted of a mixture of vinegar and white lead, “ceruse”, which was highly poisonous. The white was important because it represented the faces of the rich and royal due to the fact that they did not have to go outside to work. The standard for beauty was a pale white complexion, bright red cheeks and lips, kohl lined eyes, and a blond wig. This would usually be put on a young boy when he was transformed into the character of a beautiful young woman. To make characters shimmer, like characters in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, crushed pearls and silver would be applied to their makeup (Costumes and Cosmetics, 2013, p. 2) [29]. Modern stage makeup did not really appear until the 1920’s and 1930’s and was started by Max Factor. Max Factor was the person who coined the term makeup and his son was credited with many innovations in makeup. They started the lip gloss, cake makeup, pan-stick makeup, the original cover-up makeup, and the first waterproof makeup (Carver, 2012, p. 339) [30]. Today stage makeup is created by many companies and comes in a variety of different shapes and sizes. They are used in a myriad of different techniques to achieve looks that portray different time periods, people and in some cases animals. The makeup signifies the character’s health, age, and liveliness and also adds to his or her illusion. Together the costume designer and hair and makeup designer work together to flush out and create a cohesive look for the character they are creating. With enough makeup, one can create themselves into a person they are not. An actor can be given an older, younger, sicker, healthier, prettier, plainer, or clearer look. People tend to go heavier on makeup when doing stage makeup than everyday makeup due to the fact that stage lights wash out a normal skin color making it much lighter (almost sheet white). This makes it hard for viewers at a distance to see the fine details of the makeup. To have an effective makeup design, the makeup must project the character to the audience (Gillette, 1999, p. 432-434) [31]
When designing makeup, one must keep in mind that they are changing the actor into the character. They have to do a great deal of research to get the character right because it is easy to spot what character is out of place. It was said by Richard Corson that the “makeup suggests genetics, environment, health, disfigurements, fashion, age and personality” (Gillette, 1999, p. 432) of the character. Therefore, it is important to accurately represent the character through their makeup. Makeup can also indicate if a person has been exposed to the elements based on the skin’s color and texture. One can also see if the character has deformities, both accidentally and genetically, which add to the personality of the character quite a bit. A rule of thumb for eccentric makeup is that if the character is eccentric then make it eccentric, if not then stick to the time period. When creating characters of different ages, younger skin tends to have better color with a firmer feel and older skin has a looser feel with less color and more wrinkles. The personality of a character is also portrayed in the makeup with a happier person having smile lines and a grumpier person having a perpetual frown. These are all good things to keep in mind when doing the makeup design and aid in achieving the look that is trying to be accomplished (Gillette, 1999, p. 432-434).

Facial shapes

Facial shapes have great importance when doing makeup due to the fact that faces are always balanced. Therefore, the makeup must be balanced with the face as well. Faces come in in six different classes of shapes, which are pear, oval, heart, long, round, and square. Depending on one’s facial shape, makeup should be applied differently to highlight its features. Oval faces are considered to be perfectly symmetrical due to the fact that it is wide at the cheekbones and slopes down to a more pointed chin. The heart shaped face is much more different due to the fact that the top of the face is more rounded and then it has a more pointed or triangle shaped chin. It is also known as a triangle face shape. A pear-shaped face is much like a pear. It has a smaller forehead with a gradually larger face down to a wide chin. The square facial shape is the most common face shape. It has more of an oblong shape until the chin, where it’s more like a tilted right angle. A round face shape is very similar to an upside down pear shape face, but the chin is more rounded. The last face shape is the long face shape which is like an elongated oval face shape with higher cheekbones. The face shapes of the actors are necessary for a makeup designer to know when designing a character's makeup as it determines what parts of the face gets highlighted or shadowed. It‘s also important to know other faces when changing a person’s face shape to fit a character (Carver, 2012, p. 340). [32].
caption = Various Face Shapes (Carver, 2012, p.340 FIG.13.1)
Various Face Shapes (Carver, 2012, p.340 FIG.13.1)


Makeup tools are very important to creating a character’s look due to the fact that they are what is used to transform the actor's face into the character's face. Makeup artists utilize brushes of different sizes, shapes, thicknesses, and styles. They all have a purpose and a designer will have many. Flat brushes are very good for blending colors together due to the fact it gives you a great amount of control when adding and removing pigment. An angle brush is really important for doing eye shadows and precise lines near or around the eye. Dome brushes are really good for blending and applying concealer under a person’s eyes whereas round brushes are good for eyeshadow and brows. There are detail brushes and powder brushes which add small details and blend well. Foundation brushes are used to apply and smooth foundation, which covers the majority of the face. The last brush to be covered is the contour brush. This brush is used to highlight and shadow the face so the person looks like they have higher cheek bones. It is also used to reconstruct the face to the right face shape. It is apparent that there are many brushes with different purposes and different artists have different uses for any given brush. They are all correct though! People have different uses for different brushes. Brushes are not the only tool that makeup artists use. Artists use spatulas to apply scar wax and thicker products, which is mixed with a plastic palette. A powder puff is usually used to apply powder or blot. Different types of sponges are used to blend and apply crème makeup. As a rule of thumb, the more porous the sponge the more texture is going to be applied to the skin. These are just some of the tools makeup artists use and there is much more to explore. (Carver, 2012, p. 341- 343) [33].

Types of Makeup

Cake Makeup

This is the most commonly used type of makeup and it comes in both dry and moist compacts of pigment. They come in a variety of colors and shades matching every skin color. Cake makeup additionally comes in a variety of highlights and shadows to contour the actor’s face. To apply this makeup, artists moisten a makeup sponge or brush and then wipe it across the cake. It is then applied to the face. However, if the sponge is not wet enough the makeup won’t apply. If the sponge is too wet, the makeup will be too opaque. An actor should have a clean face when this is being applied. Usually, the highlights and shadow are applied over the foundation, but to get a more muted effect it can be placed under the foundation. Cake makeup does not need setting powder to prevent the makeup from smudging and sweating off (Gillette, 1999, p. 436-437).

Crème Makeup

Crème makeup is a non-greasy makeup that is often applied with a sponge, brush, or fingers. Unlike cake makeup, crème makeup does not require a damp tool. It can be used with cake makeup, but it does require setting powder. For easier usage, this makeup comes in sticks and crayons (Gillette, 1999, p. 437-438).

Liquid Makeup

This makeup is not usually used for the face, but for the body. The use of a name brand theater makeup is not necessary because store bought types work just as well. One drawback of this makeup is that it dries more quickly than other makeups, which makes it difficult to blend when more than one color is used (Gillette, 1999, p. 439).

Dry Makeup

Dry makeup is classified as makeup that is dry when applied. This makeup is not usually used as a standalone makeup. It is usually used in conjunction with greasepaint and cake makeup. A common dry makeup is face powder, which is used to set a face. Though, if in a pinch, it can be used as a quick foundation. Any excess is dusted off with a fluffy brush (Gillette, 1999, p. 439).


Greasepaint was the first form of makeup before good quality crème and cake makeups were created. It was originally the most commonly used face makeup. It is quite translucent and available in a multitude of colors. It is applied with the fingertips and stippled to create a multidimensional layered effect, however, each layer needs to be set with setting powder. It clogs the pores and makes the person sweat even more than normal when under the bright lights of a stage (Gillette, 1999, p. 439).

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Application technique

Highlights and shadowing

To create a multidimensional look, makeup artists take advantage of shadowing and highlights. They are used to make a person look older, younger, sicker, or healthier. Contrasting colors, such as brown and bright ivory, are used to draw attention to one part of the face while reducing attention on another part. One can create harsh angles by making harsh lines and smooth harsh lines by blending lighter colors (Gillette, 1999, p. 440-441).


Stippling is the act of dabbing or patting makeup rather than stroking it on the face. It is often done using a brush or sponge and it roughens the texture of the skin. The appearance of larger pores are produced by a larger pored sponge and can also be used to create the look of acne. To create a more natural look two or more colors are stippled together. If a shadow or highlight is too heavy it can be stippled with a base to create a natural look (Gillette, 1999, p. 442).

Power of Makeup
Milestone Image
Thanks to Natalie Bloniarz

Special Makeup

Sometimes an actor does not have the same exact features of the character they are playing. When this is the case, products such as nose putty, derma wax, latex, and prosthetics are used to modify the actor's features and achieve the character's appearance. Not everyone has a crooked nose or a facial scar so makeup artists must get creative when a character does have an irregular feature. Nose putty is used to give a different shape to the actor’s nose, chin, or other inflexible facial feature. The putty is shaped onto the face of the actor and is glued onto the skin with spirit gum to create more security. It is then painted with makeup to match the skin tone and stippled to give texture. Derma wax is similar to nose putty but is does not adhere as well so spirit gum is absolutely necessary for adhesion to the face. It is more easily molded and adding cotton adds to its structure. It is painted similarly to nose putty. Latex is one of the more used special effects because it can be used to make bald caps, eyebrow masks, and wrinkles. However, the drawbacks of latex include that it is difficult to remove and, if applied to hair, the hair must be shaved off and people can be allergic to latex. Latex does create a nice smooth layer that can be built up with makeup though. When creating these parts are too much, prosthetic noses, chins, and others pre-made features can be purchased. They are sometimes needed to complete the look (Gillette, 1999, p. 443-50).


Hair styling finishes off a character's appearance. Often use wigs are used to achieve the character's hair, but sometimes the actor’s actual hair is styled too. The hair style must match the style and length of the time period to create a believable and authentic character. The hair can be dyed, curled or braided to match the time period. If the character is a flapper from the 1920’s then she would have a bobbed hairstyle and a man of the same time would have a slicked back middle part. It takes a lot of research and time to create the perfect look for the character’s hair.

Poster & Promotion

Theater advertising is an often neglected area of study but critical to putting on a show. After all, there is no show without an audience to see it. The promotional methods were influenced by the technology of the time. During the Middle Ages, the most effective advertising was word of mouth. The performers and town criers would announce performances to the town. Additionally, the sound of drums and trumpets were used to indicate a performance. Descriptions of the show were also written out, given to people and attached to posts in the town. This led to the name poster. At the time of early theater in London, printers started to be given licenses to print playbills or posters for shows. These were handed out to people. In addition, there would be a drum procession through town and a flag raised at the theater to indicate a show. Just before a performance, a trumpet would sound three times. As printing technologies improved over time, so did the posters. Actors also started to expect their names to appear on these posters. Circuses led a new development for these posters. They introduced using illustrations as it was a natural way to promote with all the animals present. Introducing images to posters created new appeal and draw for those who were illiterate. The next advancement was the introduction of color to the illustrations. The posters became an art form. They started creating larger advertisements created by printing the design across many pages and posting them all up together in the proper configuration, like a puzzle. Posters grew so important that stock posters were developed for popular shows. The quality of the posters improved as the technology did but experienced little improvement during the World Wars. The Pop Art movement brought life back to the posters. Advertisers started bringing in television stars to create more draw. Posters would feature iconic images that could also be used for marketing. While posters are not as important as they once were, they are still a key part of advertising for performances. [34] Walking around London, posters for the current shows are hung everywhere. They line the underground stations. The West End also serves as its own advertising. Walking through the area, the buildings are plastered with billboards and posters displaying what is showing. There is also a free guide that is distributed called the Official London Theatre Guide which began in 1922. It contains information on all of the upcoming shows as well as theater and tourist information. E-marketing is also important. Online advertisements can create a draw. Subscribers may receive notification emails about shows and offers as well as an e-newsletter. After all this time though, word of mouth still remains powerful. The hype created for shows such as "Wicked", "The Lion King", and especially "Hamilton" right now, draw in audiences and create high demand for shows.

Section 2: Our interpretation of The Play that Goes Wrong

The Play that Goes Wrong is a hilarious play that follows a production group attempting to put on a play called Murder at Haversham Manor, a 1920's murder mystery. However, Cornley Polytechnic Drama, the group putting on the murder mystery, has had a difficult time with prior shows, so the expectations are set pretty low for the play they are producing now. Due to the fact that this a play inside of a play the stage tech are seen scrambling to fix things and become part of the actors. The stage tech also interacts with the audience the whole time giving the feeling that you are watching the Murder at Haversham Manor and all of the mess ups that an unprofessional and accident prone theater may face. For our deliverable, we explored the scenic, lighting, sound, costume, makeup, and promotional aspects that went into the performance we saw on "The Play That Goes Wrong" and created our own interpretations of how to put on the show in regards to each department. These interpretations are largely based on what we saw at the performance, what worked and what we felt could be improved as well as the research we did in our background.


Stage Right- sm- JR.JPG

Designing the set for "The Play That Goes Wrong" is a unique process because it is a play within a play. As the designer for "A Play That Goes Wrong" the overall set design must be considered. However, the show is a performance of an amateur theater company attempting to perform a show. Therefore, to establish the set on the visual level, the designer must act as the designer for that company. The set must be designed to look like it was designed for the murder mystery show. Furthermore, it must reflect the styles and resources of the amateur theater group. Therefore, the set would appear to be low budget and not a refined, high quality. For this part of the design, I am basing the set on the board game Clue as it is a classic example of a murder mystery that many people can recognize. Once the basic visual design of the set is established based on the murder mystery play, design considerations for "The Play That Goes Wrong" must be looked at. This includes all of the special effects that are used to make it look like the murder mystery play is going terribly wrong. The most important tool we will be using is electromagnets. Throughout the show, the set literally falls apart. Wall hangings fall down, the second story floor collapses and the walls themselves fall down. We plan to achieve these effects through the use of electromagnets that can be turned on and off. When, for example, a wall decoration should be hanging, the magnet will be turned on. When it is time for the decoration to fall, the magnet can simply be turned off. This enables simple, on-demand control of the set failures. From a booth, the magnets can be switched on and off and perhaps even integrated into the cue system. When the second story floor collapses, the fall is controlled by mechanics behind the set. The platform is supported by cantilevered beams. Backstage, these beams are held up in a system that lets them pivot and lock into place in several positions. The beams begin the show horizontal. When the floor first fails, the position can be released, and drop in a controlled manner through the use of a motor, into the next position it can lock into. This can be repeated as the platform continues to fall. In addition, the show makes use of a bit of pyrotechnics when the garbage bin catches fire. This would be the responsibility of specialists as fire is a safety hazard.
Actually designing the set in Solidworks proved to be a good lesson in the difficulties of set design. In the model, it becomes very apparent how tricky it is to make sure every seat has a good view of the set. The proscenium arch itself quickly blocks out the view of the audience as they start to move off to either side. This requires the set to be further forward on the stage to improve visibility. Secondly, designing the side walls of the room quickly turned into an issue. In order to improve visibility, I turned the left wall out towards the audience. Instead of a 90 degree with the back wall, it is at an 118-degree angle. However, I realized the same could not be done with the other wall. This is because the floor of the second level has to be able to swing down but, if it is made with an angle greater than 90 degrees, it will not have clearance on the side. In addition, the same problem of visibility would occur that I sought to eliminate on the other side. That is also ignoring the fact that having one side turned out but not the other would create a very oddly shaped room. It is at this point that I revisited the original set. My set had already been based on it a bit, as the story line and set were closely related meaning that the set couldn't be changed too much and still have the lines and action work. The set pieces had to be able to fail certain ways in order to fit with the story. When I looked at the set again I realized how the designer played with perspective. The back wall was actually split into sections that enabled them to bend it so each side wall could be angled out without the back wall seeming warped. Therefore, set design is not nearly as simple as creating an image in your head of the scene and putting it on the stage. In the rendering of my simplified set, some of my ideas for modification to the original set can be seen. First of all, while the rendering does not contain all the details, the concept is still for the set to be less elegant than the original set. This fits with the theme that the theater company within the show is low budget and amateur. Secondly, the furniture and color scheme were inspired by the board game Clue. In particular, the couch was designed after couches seen on the board game in the lounge and study. The wall color was also based on the game and the light color is meant to keep the area appearing open and large as light colors make spaces seem larger.


The props are very important to the show due to the fact that they add to the humor of the play within the play. The play itself is called The Play That Goes Wrong and that's what is shown to the audience. The missteps and malfunctions of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama group that go horribly wayward are captured. Below are some of the important props that make the show a comedic success.

Milestone Image
Blindphoto. (2017). Collie photograph. Licensed under Creative Commons Zero on [35]

Picture of the Collie

It may seem like an odd prop, but this picture is very important to some of the humor of the play. During the show, characters are interviewed by Inspector Carter to determine who killed Charles Haversham. When Cecil Haversham, the brother of the late Charles Haversham, is interviewed by Inspector Carter, the inspector looks at the picture above the broken mantel and asks if the picture of the dog is a portrait of the father. It is obvious that the wrong picture was put up during the set decoration and it shows how the production company producing the show is not at all organized. The conversation progresses and the detective asks if the recently departed Charles was the spitting image of his father, again depicted by the picture of the dog. I choose a picture of a silly looking dog to add to the funniness of the situation and allow the audience to try to picture the actor as a dopey looking dog. If I could get a picture made, I would have the dog holding a whiskey glass and playing cards. The prop has a magnet on it which keeps it attached to the wall and when the door gets shut at the end of the act all of the stuff hanging on the walls falls off by the disengagement of the magnets. This adds to the dysfunction of the show and makes everyone laugh.

"white spirit"
Milestone Image
Yummymoon. (2014). Bottle photograph. Licensed under Creative Commons Zero on [36]royalty free image

White Spirit and Whiskey bottles

Fake alcohol is often used in theater to liven the mood and add to the plot. As said earlier, props can be something that is edible or drinkable on stage, so the “liquor” does count under the umbrella term of props. During the show, after Charles Haversham’s death, the characters decide to grab some of Charles’s whiskey to calm down. The lines say that the first bottle grabbed is empty but the actor grabs the full bottle so he pours it out. Then when the character grabs the bottle that is supposed to be full it is the empty bottle previously looked for. It is obvious that when the two bottles were placed they were switched or the actor got the bottles from the wrong places. Either way, the scene shows the cast and the production company’s incompetence. The murder mystery inside of the show is just so bad it’s funny. The next problem is that there is no liquor for the cast to drink during the following scene. Instead, the stage manager hands out a few glasses with a bottle of unknown “white spirit” that looks like some cleaning detergent. When the actors are forced to take a drink they all spit it out because of it, of course, tastes terrible. For these props, I will have two generic whiskey bottles, one full of a brownish liquid and one empty. For the “white spirit” handed to the actors as an alternative, I will have a glass bottle with a do not drink sign on it to make sure that the audience understands the mistake and why the actors are spitting the liquid out.

vintage couch
Milestone Image
ArtsyBee. (2017). Vintage Couch photograph. Licensed under Creative Commons Zero on [37]


The couch is another classic piece of furniture used on the stage. The show takes place during an engagement party on a cold December night during the 1920’s. Therefore, the couch is in the style of that time period. The couch is at the center of the stage and it the center of the drama due to the fact that is where Charles Haversham’s body is found. There is nothing really special about the couch other than having collapsing legs. For the set, I would have a couch that looks like it’s from that time period and has it placed in the center of the stage to attract attention to it.

Milestone Image
Prawny. (2016). Stretcher photograph. Licensed under Creative Commons Zero on [38]


A stretcher is another weird prop to find on stage, but props are meant to have attention drawn to them. During the show, the stretcher is used to lift away the dead body, but this stretcher is from the 1920’s. It is basically two long horizontal poles with canvas that is sewn with holes to put the poles through. The funny part of the show is that, when the actors are trying to pick up the body, the two poles rip from the canvas leaving the body and the rest of the canvas under the body. The “dead” body Charles then grabs the poles with his arms and legs to be carried off the stage. It is really funny due to that fact that no matter what the actors do, nothing goes right. To create the stretcher, I would take two seven foot wooden poles and sew the canvas to fit around the poles with enough room to cradle a body inside. I would then have the base Velcroed so that it would imitate ripping when the body is lifted.



The lighting design for The Play that Goes Wrong is used to add to the comic timing and the absurdity of the play. As previously stated, the show is performed by an amateur theater company who has had several attempts at performing shows such as "Cats" and "James and the Peach" with each show resulting in failure. They are determined to make this show called, Murder at Haversham Manor a success. The wash for this play remains constant throughout the entire play and there are some attempts to make the lightning fancier with spotlights and flashes of red for dramatic effect. The stage is a stage on a stage, which sounds confusing. The diagram above displays what the stage looks like with the lights and their position on the batons and side mounting infrastructure. The scene of the play does not change and takes place in a living room and study on a cold winter's night as well as behind the set.

Starting with the lights that are between the fake backstage and backstage, our plan is to use PAR 64 strip lights with ROSCO 81 Urban Blue with Diffuser. The Urban Blue color is a great color to imitate a very cold, brittle scene. There is a diffuser to dampen the coolness and imitate an amateur lighting designer's attempt at making the set cool. These lights will be shining straight downward creating the cool winter scene. For the wash, backwash and side wash, we will use the Source 4 PARNel WFL, the Source 4 PAR MFL and Chauvet LED PAR 64 fixtures. The WFL is to light the wide stage, but because they are to have a wide dispersion of light, the color will be lacking in color intensity. The MFL is also to light the stage; it will have a greater color intensity, but will only have a throw distance of the front of the stage. There will be ROSCO 02 Bastard Amber and ROSCO 4830 CC 30 Pink gels in the fixtures since these colors are excellent on every skin tone and create a happy, warm tone. We have several fixtures meant for spotlighting actors; the Q500NSP (PAR 56 NSP) and ETC 405 (5-degree Source Four). The ETC fixture is meant to spot someone centered on the stage and the QS500NSP is meant to spot someone who is on the left and right middle of the stage. These lights do not have gels because white light is sufficient to spotlight any character. The last two fixtures are the MAC TW1. These are dynamic fixtures meaning that they have a certain degree of rotation in the x and y-axis. They are able to track moving people and can display a CMY spectrum of colors. These will be used for the few scenes of attempted fancy lighting. The angles of the lights that are listed in the table below are only approximate; there is a high chance, that when the master electrician is hanging and focusing the lights, the angles will change.

There are only a few scenes with "fancy lighting", so the rest is leaving the wash up on the set. These scenes include the opening of the play and during a scene in the beginning where the dead body is found. However, an actor doesn't make his cue and the effect is repeated two or three times as the entire cast repeats that there has been a murder. In the opening of the play, there is a spotlight where the "director" of the play is supposed to stand in to present his play, but he is only half in the light because he did not step forward enough to be in the light. We plan to use the ETC 405 fixture to shine a spot on the stage and have it focused so that we miss the actor. Our plan for the actor who is supposed to be dead on a couch is to use one of the MAC TW1 to shine a spot on him while he is still getting into his place. Lastly, when the cast says "murder", we plan to use both of the MAC TW1s to flash red on the group of actors on the center of the stage.

Lighting Details

Name Angle Colour
Chauvet LED PAR 64 135 ROSCO 02 Bastard Amber
Chauvet LED PAR 64 225 ROSCO 02 Bastard Amber
Q500NSP (PAR 56 NSP) 135 No Need
Q500NSP (PAR 56 NSP) 135 No Need
ETC 405 (5 degree Source Four) 0 None
Par 64 Strip (WFL) 0 ROSCO 81 Urban Blue with Diffuser
Par 64 Strip (WFL) 0 ROSCO 81 Urban Blue with Diffuser
Par 64 Strip (WFL) 0 ROSCO 81 Urban Blue with Diffuser
Par 64 Strip (WFL) 0 ROSCO 81 Urban Blue with Diffuser
Par 64 Strip (WFL) 0 ROSCO 81 Urban Blue with Diffuser
Source Four PARNel WFL 90 ROSCO 02 Bastard Amber
Source Four PARNel WFL 270 ROSCO 02 Bastard Amber
Source Four PARNel WFL 30 ROSCO 02 Bastard Amber
Source Four PARNel WFL 15 ROSCO 02 Bastard Amber
Source Four PARNel WFL 0 ROSCO 02 Bastard Amber
Source Four PARNel WFL 345 ROSCO 02 Bastard Amber
Source Four PARNel WFL 335 ROSCO 02 Bastard Amber
Source Four PARNel MFL 15 ROSCO 4830 CC 30 Pink
Source Four PARNel MFL 0 ROSCO 4830 CC 30 Pink
Source Four PARNel MFL 0 ROSCO 4830 CC 30 Pink
Source Four PARNel MFL 350 ROSCO 4830 CC 30 Pink
Martin Mac TW1 20 No Need
Martin Mac TW1 340 No Need




The sound design for The Play that Goes Wrong is not very complex and was purposefully done this way. The cast is made up of only 8 members who have only spoken parts. There is one cast member, who acts as the sound board operator and director, who seems to wear a Clear-Com looking headset that does end up projecting through the speakers. Characters will each have a microphone pack that will be projected out through 4 speakers that are hung on vertical struts. These speakers will have 90 degree dispersion, with 45 degrees of dispersion on each side of the axis. Two of the speakers will be located at the front orchestra section mounted at 45 degree angles from where they are mounted. This will project the sound to the first level of the theater. The other two smaller speakers will be mounted on the wall at the front of the second level and will be lined up against the wall. The diagram above shows the design.
In the show there are multiple sound effects that go off throughout the show. In the table below, the act, scene, name and file is presented. These are the sounds we would pick if we were to produce the show. We are using YouTube videos that were converted into MP3 files. The references section has the links to the videos.

Act Name Listen
1 Creaking Door The media player is loading...


1 Door Slam The media player is loading...


1 Dramatic Music The media player is loading...


1 Flame Lighting The media player is loading...


1 Body Hitting the Ground The media player is loading...


1 Telephone Ringing The media player is loading...


1 Drawing Sword The media player is loading...


1 Sword Clashing The media player is loading...


1 Gun Shot The media player is loading...


1 Crash The media player is loading...


1 Dramatic Music Repeat
1 Dramatic Music Repeat
1 Girls on Film by Duran Duran The media player is loading...


2 Dramatic House Music The media player is loading...


2 Paper Scattering The media player is loading...


2 Clock Chiming The media player is loading...


2 Knocking on Wooden Door The media player is loading...


2 Telephone Ring Repeat
2 Doorbell Rings The media player is loading...


2 Vase Shattering The media player is loading...


2 Rio by Duran Duran The media player is loading...


2 House Music The media player is loading...


Costumes and Hair and Makeup

Costumes, hair and makeup are being based on 4 main characters in The Play That Goes Wrong. The characters have hair, makeup, and costumes based on their attributes and the situations that they are in.

Milestone Image
Thanks to Natalie Bloniarz


Annie is the company's stage manager who makes sure that the actors go on stage at the right time and that the whole backstage is taken care of. She can often be found around the stage trying to keep the show from falling apart. During the beginning of the show she can be seen fixing the broken set and she seems to be pretty well versed in the nuances of the stage and how to fix the stage. Her first costume would be her wearing a nondescript worn t-shirt and a pair of also worn jeans or overalls with a tool belt. This will give her the jack of all trades look. She would have little to no makeup on so as not draw any attention to her. Her hair would pulled up into either a ponytail or pigtails. Her second look (seen in the picture to the right) would be for when she has to take over the role of Florence Colleymoore due to an accidental head injury to the actress. They throw her on stage in the ill-fitting red flapper dress of Ms. Colleymoore, a slightly askew flapper wig right over top of her own hair with the ponytail or pigtails sticking out, and a hasty makeup job. The makeup is absolutely terrible and totally rushed. To achieve this look I first applied a base skin tone foundation and then added some contour on the cheeks to give them more definition. I put a darker concealer under the eye to give the impression of dark circles, which is the opposite of what is typically desired. The eyebrows were filled unevenly and eccentrically to show the haste in the makeup. The lips are smudged and overdone along with blush that covers too much of the cheek. Overall the look should scream overdone, rushed, and terrible, as seen in this picture.

Milestone Image
Thanks to Benjamin Secino


Trevor is the company's lighting and sound operator who makes sure the lighting and sound cues go on during the right part of the script. He is a bit absent minded during the show and can be seen running around fixing things or missing his cues. During the show, he accidentally calls over his com to the audience his notes, which are noting the error on stage to the stage manager, so that the audience notices it even more. One can see him missing sound and lighting cues while he is looking at his phone. Trevor also loses his Duran Duran CD, which he plays as a sound cue by accident and the CD is found in the final scene instead of an important ticket. His demeanor shouts “I don’t care” and tiredness. For his costume, I would have him wear all black, which is the usual technical crew member's outfit. I would leave the actor's natural hair since it adds nothing to the show. His makeup would emphasize under eye bags and would be as natural as possible while highlighting all of the person’s facial flaws. I would have him either grow some stubble or draw it own. To achieve this look I would start with a base foundation of his skin color, stipple highlight, and contour in order to shape his face a little. To create the illusion of wrinkles I would take two different colors, dark and light, and have him wrinkle his forehead. In the crevasses, I would put the darker color and on the top put the lighter color. I would then use a makeup sponge to blend the colors to make the look more natural. To create the stubble on a clean shaven face I would start with a darker foundation around his jawline and then speckle black dots in that area. Then I would blend until I got the desired look. Trevor’s final look would be one of not caring and gross exhaustion.

Inspector Carter
Milestone Image
Thanks to Benjamin Secino

Inspector Carter (Chris)

Chris is the actor who plays Inspector Carter during the show. Inspector Carter is an esteemed detective called to investigate the death of the healthy, wealthy, and soon to be married Charles Haversham. This show takes place during the 1920’s, so I decided that he should have the look of a 1920’s gentleman. For his costume, I will be taking inspiration from Sherlock Holmes and the quintessential gentleman of the 1920’s. So I would have him wear a pair of trousers, black leather shoes, white shirt, tie, and a long trench coat. This will give him the look of authority during a play that is quite literally falling apart at the seams. Inspector Carter’s hair, if possible, would be slicked back and combed with a part to one side. For the makeup, I would start out with a skin tone foundation and then highlight and contour his face to give him higher cheek bones to make him more proper looking. This would be smudged and blended with a makeup sponge. I would put some dark concealer inside his smile lines to make him look older and wiser. He would also have a small mustache, which could be modeled from Gomez Addams’ mustache. It would be drawn on by hand and then smudged with a brush. He needs to look prim and proper to add contrast to the lack of professionalism during the show.

Florence Colleymoore
Milestone Image
Thanks to Natalie Bloniarz

Florence Colleymoore (Sandra)

Sandra is the leading lady of the Murder at Haversham Manor and plays Florence Colleymoore , the soon to be married fiancé of the late Charles Haversham. Her style is of a 1920’s flapper girl who is very seductive and suggestive. She would have a red dress with a modest neckline and that comes down to the mid-calf. It should look kind of cheap looking and be paired with a short kitten heel and skin tone tights. Underneath the dress, she should wear spandex shorts due to the fact she gets knocked out by a door during the middle of the first act and gets carried off through a stage window in the most ungraceful way. The spandex will ensure that the audience does not see more than they paid for. Her second outfit will be when she comes on stage in the spandex and a bra trying to take back the roll from Annie the stage manager. It will be clear that they stripped Sandra of her dress and wig to give to Annie. The makeup for Sandra would start with a skin tone foundation blended with concealer under the eyes. Next, I would stipple highlight and shadow into the face’s peaks and valleys to give the face a more multidimensional look. It should be blended so it does not look splotchy. The eyebrows should be drawn on at a medium darkness, accompanied by a pale eyeshadow. Eye makeup would be finished off with mascara and black eyeliner. I would lightly brush blush onto the apples of the cheeks and finish the whole look off with red lipstick. She will also be wearing a dark haired wig that has a blunt and short flapper hairstyle. Her appearance is important to the play due to the fact that she is one of the only female actors in the Murder at Haversham Manor. She needs to stand out, but also look natural next to the rest of the cast.

Poster & Promotion

TPTGS Poster.jpg

For promotion, I designed a poster that can be distributed through a variety of modes such as being hung up in the tube stations, hung around the West End, featured on online theater booking sites and social media. The design was meant to be simplistic and bold so it would catch people's attention and be easy to read quickly. I achieved this through high contrast colors and limiting the complexity of the poster. There are no small details or an abundance of colors to distract the eye from the message. The text is minimal, large, and easy to read. A small line of text can be added underneath the title to indicate the date without detracting from the title. That text would be white and in a basic font. The different elements of the poster are also based on themes of the show. To emphasize the theatrical aspects the font is similar to the one associated with Broadway, the page is framed by a theater marquee, and stage lighting casts a spotlight on the text. To emphasize the chaos of the show lights on the marquee are broken, half of the word "wrong" is falling down, one of the spotlights is broken and the other one is shining a bit too far right also casting more focus on the falling letters.


A theater production is so much more than just the actors. Without the production team, there would be no show. The acting is only just the surface of what goes into a show. When putting on a show, all aspects of the production must be closely considered. The set must allow maximum visibility to the entire audience, be a functional space and contribute to setting the tone of the show. Lighting must highlight both the set and actors and establish tone. The sound system must give every audience member clear, audible sound. Costumes and makeup should give a visual representation of the characters while maintaining functionality for the actors. Finally, the promotional team must ensure that there is an audience to see the show. "The Play That Goes Wrong" simultaneously demonstrates what to do and what not to do. The fictional theater group in the show creates an unstable, unsafe set, misplaces props and misses an actor with their spotlight among other mistakes. However, the show as a whole features many aspects done right by the real-life theater company. The sound system, while simple, is effective and special effects are carried out in a safe manner. They manage to have the second floor of the set collapse in a safe manner. The set design, through subtly creating an angle in the rear wall, allows for good visibility of the entire set.
Future research may compare other productions of "The Play That Goes Wrong". Long-term research includes how theater practices and technology evolve from where they are today.

Attribution of Work

We all participated equally in the writing, research, and effort that was put into this large project. As a group, we went to see The Play that Goes Wrong and bought the play script to help mold the show into our own.

Katharine Conroy

In the background and deliverable, I wrote the sections on props, hair and makeup, and costumes.

Lauren Conroy

I wrote the abstract, introduction, lighting background, sound background, and lighting deliverable.

Justine Roy

I wrote the scenic background, promotions background, modern costuming practices, scenic deliverable, promotions deliverable, and conclusion.


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