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Teaching Technical Elements of Theater

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

How does teaching technical elements of theater promote students' ability to define and support character, environment, mood, action, and theme? What about in altering space to create suitable environments for dramatic play and performance? Let's find out.

Emily's Little Black Box

Emily is the director of a little black box theater in a building that's over a hundred years old. She holds student enrichment programs and produces plays for the community as part of a partnership with the school district. She also trains other community members in technical aspects of theater, providing information, training and supplies for props, scenery, costumes, sound and lighting.

Emily has been cultivating relationships with professionals and businesses in the community who can contribute their resources and expertise to her community theater program. Because of all Emily's hard work and technical know-how, her community has a vibrant theater program.

Let's take a peak at what she shares with her students about the technical elements of theater.

Properties

Props are the things in a theater production that bring a performance to life by provide objects for characters to interact with. For example, a play about Sherlock Holmes wouldn't be the same without a magnifying glass and a pipe.

Emily's theater has several props from the most common plays that they perform frequently. Occasionally new props are needed, and for this it helps to look to local thrift stores. In order to avoid frustration, it is important to keep props organized and cataloged for easy access later and to avoid needing to purchase things you may already have around.

Scenery

The scenery in the play alters the space to create the environment, or setting for a play. Emily has basic construction skills, several tools, and specific clothes to wear just for painting. She has developed a partnership with the high school's woodshop class to assist with some of the bigger projects. She has several common scenes that she can use or recreate for lots of different purposes.

For example, the painted kitchen background comes in handy so that all they need is a table and chairs to be used for any kind of kitchen scene. Anytime there is a chance to salvage surplus construction materials from a building site or demolition, Emily is there filling up a truck.

Costumes

One of the best ways to support character development is in costuming. For example, in our Sherlock Holmes production, surely we would need a deerstalker hat. Emily has an extensive sewing skills as well an understanding of fashion trends over the centuries. She also has a close relationship with the local thrift stores to be able to get materials that she can use for costumes.

Sometimes modern clothing is appropriate or can be modified into the costume needed. The closet in Emily's little black box is organized by play and then by size depending on the actors filling the roles. She has tailoring skills that she teaches to theater participants so that the costuming department can help her get everyone fitted.

This image of a play set in the old west illustrates how costumes, props, and scenery can establish setting
image of old west set

Sound

Making sure the production is a multi-sensory experience means providing for adequate sound systems. Knowledge of sound production can include working with mixing boards, speakers and microphones, digitized editing programs, or even orchestral equipment.

Sound can also help create a specific mood or emotional environment through music, sound effects and volume. Technical requirements differ for a play with a band or orchestra versus one with a musical playlist or with no music at all. An understanding of the acoustics within a space as well as knowledge about the specific equipment for sound design is important for maximizing the effect of sound on a theater production.

This Turkish amphitheater illustrates how sound was amplified before technology
image of Turkish amphitheater

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