Thursday, August 15, 2013

High School Tech Portfolios

While looking for another email, I recently stumbled across a conversation I had with a friend who is a high school drama teacher. He had two students who were looking to present tech portfolios for colleges and wanted to know if I had any tips. After re-reading the conversation, I decided that it might be worth sharing more widely.
Some of this I learned by creating my own portfolio during college, some of it I learned while working in the theatre recruitment office as a work study position. Please feel free to pass this along to any high school tech student you know, and please feel free to comment below or email me directly if you have any questions. 

Adam: hey - do you have any quick and dirty tips for a portfolio presentation for college?
 me: what kind?
  set?Stage management?
 Adam: Lizzie wants to SM, Zoe wants to do Lights
2:20 PM those are the only tech folks this go around
 me: They want to see progress as much as finished product
2:21 PM so if you have research images, sketches etc, include as many as you can with the pictures from the production.
  For Lizzie (SM), she should divide her paperwork into two books
2:22 PM one is a rehearsal book that contains blocking notes and anything else she used in rehearsal
  the other is a show binder that contains the script neatly marked for calling the show
2:23 PM The show binder should be so neatly and cleanly marked that any other stage manager could pick it up and call the show without having to ask any questions.
  The more samples of clean, easy to understand paperwork Lizzie can provide (that she created) the better. Contact sheets, schedules, rehearsal reports for example.
2:25 PM For both of them, it is more what you have to say about what is in the portfolio than what is physically included, so practice talking about it.
  What were your challenges on this show and how did you overcome them?
  What did you learn from working in this way?Remember, all high schools do not work in the same way. You should not assume that if you tell a college rep that you were the lighting designer, or the SM or the props master that they know what that means. You need to tell them what that meant at your high school. What exactly were your responsibilities in that position. 
2:26 PM Also from a asthetic standpoint...the pages should be easy to look at, not too cluttered (this is mostly for designers) 3-5 images per page depending on the size of the pages.
2:27 PM No cutesy creative fonts, just clear and easy to read.The photos should be straight on the page with a simple clean border around each photo (no overlapping photos or tipped artsy angles). Resist the temptation to turn this into a scrap book.
2:28 PM Make sure you can easily read the name of the show, author, director and perhaps the names of the costume and set designers (whose work will also be pictured in the lighting design photos)
  keep your shows on either two or four pages, never one or three
2:29 PM In other words, I want to open to a page and have everything I see belong to the same show.
2:37 PM Also, shows do not need to be in chronological order
2:38 PM take your three most impressive pieces and put #1 first, #2 in the middle of your portfolio and #3 at the end. Fill in with your other shows in between.
2:39 PM Those top three don't need to be the ones with the prettiest pictures, they may just be the things that are most unique, that set you apart
2:40 PM Anything that might be different than what the college reps have been looking at all day.  
Adam: does Lizzie (SM) want to include any pictures in her portfolio?
2:50 PM me: If she does, not many
2:51 PM They can give her something to talk about "getting all the cast organized for these vignettes and in and out and up and down the ladders and the stairs was one of my big challenges and this is how I did it"
2:52 PM "As you can see by the costumes, I had a lot of work coordinating X with the designer and the wardrobe crew"
  Her pictures should be limited, a small portfolio of pictures (could be binder sized) to go with her beautiful books of paperwork
 Adam: Should Zoe include old lighting plots that were created on Word before she knew what she was doing?
 me: yes she should, put them later in the book.
2:54 PM They will be interesting to the college reps because they show a desire to learn and, when shown with the better, later ones, an ability to self teach and improvise when she doesn't have all the skills yet. When she shows them she should present them in that light
  "this is where I was three years ago, I knew what I needed before I had been taught how specifically to do it, and this is the way I found to get things done"Remember that you are in high school and the colleges don't need you to know everything coming in. They want someone who is excited to learn and able to be taught. They want someone who is passionate about theatre, driven, ambitious, and willing to work hard. They want someone who is collaborative, and cooperative, responsible and respectful. Emphasis those qualities, regardless of the quality of the photos you are able to show, and you will have success. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013


It was important to me, that the three letters we needed in Twelfth Night at Oak Park Festival be distinguishable from each other. 
The first, a fake love letter, was printed on this cloud and rainbow paper I had leftover from another project. 
The paper was not wild, but just unique and silly enough to make it distinctive (and recognizable the next time it appeared). The text was printed on the plain back side so that the interesting side was more visible to the audience while the actor was reading it.

I decided the second letter would be written on a cocktail napkin. As opposed to tearing napkins and writing that same note over and over I printed out the copies of the note on thin printer paper, 
 Then I cut them out and used modge podge to attach them to the napkins. 
They were still floppy like napkins, but sturdy enough to hold up while being a bit abused during a humid outdoor performance. 
The third letter was printed on a sheets of yellow legal tablet paper. 
Did you know that you can carefully tear a sheet off of one of these pads along the top perforations, and feed it directly through a printer?
You can!
The girl at the print shop at Office Max was super surprised
And if you use a handwriting font (I usually download them from, it looks authentically handwritten even very close up. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Quick-Rig Drapes

The beginning of Invasion at Silk Road Rising is supposed to look like an Arabian Nights Arab cliche. We're talking draped colorful fabric, palm trees, and maybe lush fringed cushions. We also needed everything to disappear quickly as the illusion is shattered. For palm trees and cushions that is easy. For draped fabric that needs to be re-rigged by the run crew each night before the show, and torn down during the show by "angry" actors, it was a bit of a puzzle. 
Our awesome and easy solution was this,
That picture, if you can't tell, is a standard wooden clothespin, pressed onto a sticky Command Strip
In case you somehow have never used these, they're amazing. I use the hooks all the time to add places backstage for actors to hang a prop or costume quickly. And they work exactly as advertised, pull down on the strip to stretch and remove and it leaves no residue. Be sure to check the label when you buy. Different strips are rated for different weights

The clothespins easily clip onto the ends of the fabric and hold them in place, but the hold is loose enough, that a slight tug down releases the fabric from the clothespins and allows it to be quickly removed and dragged offstage. 
We have had problems with some of the clothespins twisting and breaking (because the pins were cheaply made) but the rig is so easy to take down and redo, the best solution was just to give the run crew plenty of spare pins and command strips. If one breaks our ASM is easily able to replace it while rigging the fabric up the next night. 
As a side note, this beautiful fabric is actually Indian sari fabric, purchased at an Indian fabric store in the Devon neighborhood in Chicago. The woman at the store was incredibly helpful, but the pricing can be confusing. The sari fabrics are on rolls mostly, but the pricing is by sari. Each sari is roughly 6 yards long. The more you know...