Introduction to Making the Show Go
The following excerpt is from the book, Making the Show Go,
a work in progress
by Conrad E. Muller and Nora J. Percival.
This book is written for those hardy and courageous souls who are planning to put on a live performance. We will emphasize musical performances, but most sections are applicable to any kind of theater or public event.
What are we trying to accomplish with this book?
We hope this book will help you get organized to promote or produce concerts or other public events, perhaps to showcase your own group. We hope you will reach your goals, have fun, get publicity, and earn money.
The second section of this book has lots of technical information about stage set-up, sound, and lights to help get the show up and running.
How is the book organized?
- This book covers planning and organization, and the technical side of making a show go.
- There are separate sections for each of the major jobs required to "do" a show. See: Promoter, Sponsor.
- These job descriptions are followed by technical sections for house, stage, sound, and lights.
- This Web presentation is only excerpts from the book. The sections that are available online are linked in this section (above). I will add more content and more links as I have time.
What is the best way to get started?
Of course we recommend you read this book.
Go to other people's shows and watch what they do. You might pick up some good ideas. You might even catch some of their mistakes, so you can plan to avoid them.
Talk to anybody in the business who will take the time. I would recommend reading some first. You will make a much better impression, and learn more, if you know some of the vocabulary and the responsibilities of the people in the business.
Always remember: People just want to have fun.
The audience is on your side. If they understand the fantasy you are trying to create, they will try to help. Most audiences will overlook many problems. However, it will help to give them two things:
The audience would like to feel that they are important. That means:
- They must be treated with respect by everyone from the box office to the performers. Very few people are willing to pay money to be insulted or ignored.
- The audience needs to have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish and what their part is in the show. You can provide this by coordinating the lights, sound, stage design, and seating, to create a mood and focus attention on the performance.
The stage setting should be a frame that contains the performance, and makes it easier to see and hear the show.
- To focus attention on the performance, we and the performers use light, action, and sound. To make it easier to focus, we always try to reduce distractions. Any distraction, either on stage or off, that pulls audience's attention away from the important action, must be suppressed.
- The stage setting only needs to be an outline that the audience members can fill in with their imaginations. Elaborate sets often diminish the impact of the performers.
If you keep these rules in mind and use common sense, you should do just fine, even the first time.
The "Theatre," including musical performances, has a tradition that stretches back into the dim and disreputable past. We wrote this book for people who don't have easy access to that tradition. Aside from the book, a possible access to that tradition is your performers. If the performers are experienced professionals, they will already know what they want in stage layout, sound, and lights; and they will tell you. However, some performers may have a general idea of what they want, but they may not know or care how you achieve it.
People are our most important resource in producing a show.
In a really big show there are dozens of people involved in the technical (production) and business sides of the show. In order to explain each job in detail, we are going to write this book as if each job was being done by a separate person. We know that most of you will be doing more than one job. I (Conrad) have produced shows where I did every job except for the performance. So, sometimes you may have to wear a lot of hats at once. For example: Promoter, Sound man, Electrician (lighting).
The promoter is the person whose determination makes the show happen. Usually the promoter not only raises the money, he/she chooses the act and finds the crew. Promoters often have very strong personalities. People with strong personalities can sometimes be abrasive. This is a gentle reminder to those of you who are promoters, as I have been. For the rest of you, the promoter has overall responsibility for the whole show. Most shows are more work than seems reasonable, and there are many disappointments. It's an intimidating job, and Gentle People do not remain promoters. So please give us a break if we sometimes seem a little driven or overbearing.
The performers are the focus of everyone's attention. If the performers don't feel supported by the rest of the people involved, it is hard for them to do a good show. However, it works just as much the other way around. The rest of the crew needs to feel the support of the performers (and the promoter).
The rest of the crew do all of the dirty work: lights, sound, tickets, refreshments, etc. Most of this book is for and about them.
And don't forget the audience, without them the show would not be much fun, and it certainly wouldn't make money!
The staff's lines of communications
The Promoter has overall control by virtue of having brought everyone else together, and by holding the purse strings.
In a play, dance performance, or movie production, there is an Artistic Director who has artistic control. There has to be one person who has a vision of how the show should be performed. If there is no director, the performers usually have the artistic director's responsibilities.
Each of the production crews has a person in charge. For example: the Technical Director may have a sound crew headed by a Sound Man, a lighting crew headed by a Master Electrician, and a stage crew headed by a Stage Manager.
Each crew member should let the head of their crew try to get the overall directions. Most shows need to go up fast, and there is not much room for error, so somebody must to be in control. Once members of the production staff (crew) know what they need to do, they can coordinate with other members of other crews. However, problems between crews or crew members should always be worked out by the heads of the crews involved. This goes double for problems between crew and the Performers.
Do we need a Sound System?
Most modern bands use a "Sound System" (a Public Address System or "PA") as an important part of their act.
- Bands use a sound system to balance levels (volume) and tone of the various voices and instruments.
- A PA system can also add effects, such as echo, to voices and instruments, to create a part of the band's "sound."
- Amplified sound focuses the audience's attention on the performance, and allows the band to drown out competing noises from the crowd or the air conditioner. Also, at a dance, the sound needs to be loud enough for the dancers to "feel" the rhythm over the noise the dancers are making.
- The separate "Monitor" sound system on stage allows the performers to hear themselves clearly over the off-stage noises and the echoes from the house sound system.
If the group is "all acoustic," for example: a symphony orchestra, chamber ensemble, or even some traditional folk musicians; rent a real auditorium of an appropriate size, and you may not need a sound system at all. But be sure the hall "sounds good." You will probably still need a microphone for the announcer.
Amplified or not, it is important for the sound to be clear and natural. Most halls do not have good acoustics; the hall itself absorbs or distorts the sound. A PA system can add clarity to the sound by compensating for the hall acoustics.
Do we need Lights?
People want to see the performers, and they want to be able to see everything the performers do. That is why the seats up front are popular.
Most performances are indoors and we need lights to see the performers. You will find that even outdoor performances can use lighting.
Good lighting helps focus attention on the performers while it sets the mood and highlights the action.
You can control the color and the brightness of the stage lights to control the "mood."
Lighting the area of most interest brighter than the rest of the stage focuses attention on the important action. Then you can change the area of focus as the performance progresses.
Outdoor performances often use lights for all of these reasons, and also to fill in the shadows. Outdoors, reflectors can be used for photography and video. Reflectors using sunlight are cheap and easy to set up, but need to be adjusted frequently.
Items which need to be considered:
These are our areas of concern. All of the functions could be covered by one or two people, but all of these areas still need to be considered. I guess this is a sort of basic checklist. The planning and organization section has more details.
- A Sponsor
- An Act
- A date
- A hall
- Ticket sales
- Collect sales tax
- Liquor license
- Equipment rental
- Security planning
- Stage crew
- House crew
- Security people
- Box office
- Post bond with customs for acts or equipment crossing an international border
Why should we bother to do so much work?
For fame, money, and sex, of course!
However, doing a show is usually rewarding even without the money.
You will discover that it is a lot of work, and there are two things you can do that will help:
- Get your friends to help you and/or hire some experienced crew.
- Make lists of everything for which you are responsible. There are just too many things to keep track of. Without lists, calendars, notes, and sketches, nobody could keep control of all this information.
Who are Nora and Conrad?
- Studied at U.C. Berkeley with Henry May and George Ulnic.
- First Hand at the San Francisco Opera Costume Shop .
- Studied at Studio and Forum of Stage Design (Lester Polakov's), New York City.
- First Hand at Ray Diffen Stage Clothes, New York City.
- Lighting Designer at the Sharon Playhouse, Sharon, CT.
- Electrician and Draftsperson for Sundance Lighting, Rock and Roll concerts in LA and on the road, and TV in Los Angeles.
- Lighting Designer and Production Manager for Santa Barbara Ballet Theatre. Instructor of Music Theater Production, University of Delaware.
- Stage Manager for Martha Clarke's "Garden of Earthly Delights", New York City.
- Lighting Director and Road Manager for Paul Winter Consort for six years.
- First became seriously involved in theater in college, where he became a member of Alpha Psi Omega, the National Honorary Dramatics Society.
- Lighting for one season at Canal Fulton Summer Arena.
- Worked in radio as a DJ and Engineer.
- Worked in TV as an Engineer, and as a News Photographer, has done sound for TV production.
- Sound contractor for over 400 shows, mostly concerts. He has worked with professional promoters, merchants' groups, universities, local Arts Councils, and many non-profit organizations.
- Stage Manager or Tech Director for many shows.
- Sound Man and Stage Manager for festivals (hundreds of acts)
- Sound system designer and contractor, electronics technician.
All of Conrad Muller's work on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.