Help make Aladdin special
April 13, 2010 4:54 PM   Subscribe

Metamusical: Please help Aladdin musical become super awesome.

Hi there,

We're putting on a Junior High performance of Aladdin and I thought I'd ask Metafilter if they have some simple ideas to give it that extra something special. Almost all the preparation is done and we're looking to add the icing on the cake.

Here are some sample ideas:

– using black light during "A whole new world" to make the stars on stage shine differently
– having a special ticket under a seat for something special
– having Aladdin and Jasmine run through the crowd once

On a separate note, if there are any OBVIOUS potential gaffes to avoid with school musical production, please list them as well. Cheers!
posted by fantasticninety to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: On a separate note, if there are any OBVIOUS potential gaffes to avoid with school musical production

This is my rank of amateur production sins, in order from "pretty tacky" to "you should be condemned for this. no seriously, I hate you"

1. Having actors start out incognito in the audience, only to rise up in song or humorous quip. It's a minor annoyance for me.
2. Making the pit musicians or conductor interact with the characters in any way - it's awkward for everyone involved, and you know they're not really into it.
3. "Improv"
4. Audience participation. This I hate.

Basically, the fourth wall is really fucking precious to me, and I resent any performer who breaks it. This is, of course, just my opinion.
posted by Think_Long at 6:33 PM on April 13, 2010

Best answer: Lighting designer here - you haven't mentioned what your lighting situation is like, but if its like most middle schools I've met, your stage lighting is sparse to nonexistent.

If you have a bit of a budget, there are some fairly cheap options of things to rent that could really make the show pop for the audience and kids - a few front-of-house trees with ellipsoidals and portable dimmers (like this one) rigged to a simple lighting console can let you do a lot for a little.

Ellipsoidals will let you project some gobos onto your background or your performers. There's a ton of patterns (manufacturer catalogs here, here, here.) You might be able to find some Aladdin-specific ones as well.

If you're in the middle of nowhere, a rental house might be hard to come by. You can search the ESTA Directory for dealers in your state/region.

Blacklights are neat options as well - there exists invisible UV paint that will only pop up under blacklight (buy it here.) Be aware, some blacklights you'll get require a warm-up time to get their arcs going (like streetlights.) Definitely test before your show. (the simple 40w tube versions don't do this, but they're pretty low power.)

Fog machines can be had cheaply as well, and you can make a fog chiller out of a foam cooler that will give you awesome low-lying fog.

Feel free to memail me with any questions.
posted by Wulfhere at 7:17 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding low-lying fog. It's a fantastic effect that's pretty easy to produce.

We used some incredibly dangerous-looking water warming tanks and dry ice to produce the effect back in HS. Once I got to do some "legitimate" theatre work, I learned that there are machines that do this safely that you can rent. Also, chilling the output of a regular fog machine çan do the trick like Wulfhere mentioned.

Avoid a "regular" fog machine, as it'll just produce an uneven haze, and will possibly set off your fire alarm (ie. worst case scenario in a theatre).

UV Paint is also cool, but make sure your UV lights are bright enough to make it work. Don't overdo the effect. Don't do anything half-assed.

Good lighting is a worthwhile investment. If you can't afford ellipsoidals, fresnels can do the job too (but cast a much wider, less-focused beam).

Don't run your lights at 100% all of the time unless you absolutely have to -- introduce some variation. Use gels in the lights, particularly if you're going to be dimming them -- incandescent lights turn quite "yellow" when dimmed. "No Color Blue" gels (Rosco #60) look quite blue when you hold them up, but produce a light that almost everybody would describe as "white" when placed in front of a light. Read up on the nuances on color temperature if you want to take the time to do this well.

Very few productions require the use of a spotlight. Use it sparingly, if at all.

Microphones are nice, but not necessary in a small venue. Teach your actors to project their voices.

All of that 4th-wall stuff above is good advice. Take it to heart.
posted by schmod at 9:23 PM on April 13, 2010

Best answer: I'm a volunteer techie in a comunity theatre so a I see a lot of amateur shows.
A few obvious "technical" things I frequently see done wrong:
  1. Performers in costume shouldn't wander about in public areas before the show chatting to their friends / mum.
  2. The stage manager must check the cast and crew are ready, the audience are in, the houselights are down etc. before opening the curtains/starting the show. This happens so often with inexperienced crews and it looks really scrappy. More than once I've been in the loo when a show I'm lighting has started.
  3. Mark positions on the stage with tape if someone has to be in a particular place for a lighting cue. Cast have to understand that it is their responsibity to stand in the light or their big solo is going to look silly.
  4. Plan scene changes. Everybody should know what their role is otherwise it looks messy, takes a long time and things get missed.
  5. Have some way of summoning cast from the dressing rooms so they don't have to stand around in the wings getting in the way and making lots of noise.
  6. Plan your curtain calls or everyone will be tripping over each other and looking confused when the curtain opens again after the show.
Inexperienced directors tend to forget about the technical stuff and expect it to just happen, but good tech can really drive a show forward. Make sure you have a proper tech rehearsal to get all this stuff sorted out.
posted by Jim H at 3:52 AM on April 14, 2010

Response by poster: It may seem silly to make all four answers "best answers", but there really are some great kernels of wisdom in each of them. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer. Thank you.
posted by fantasticninety at 5:26 PM on April 16, 2010

Response by poster: Just as an endnote to this, the advice here was really good. Specifically:

– the kids did not break the 4th wall, and did not speak with parents beforehand
– lighting was simple, but varied (4 or 5 main choices)
– we used blacklight for one scene in conjunction with glow in the dark chalk (it looked beautiful)
– the fog machine suggested above worked perfectly
– we practised the scene transitions about 50 times with the stage crew the last few days and it made an enormous difference

Basically, this is an excellent thread for anyone who's putting on amateur production. The sound guy we hired said we were one of the best shows he'd ever done (I don't think he was looking for a tip) and that our final rehearsals were way ahead of what he's used to.

Thanks so much.
posted by fantasticninety at 7:02 AM on May 22, 2010

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