Drama on a budget – performing a play in a greenhouse

 

Why? You might ask, would anyone in their right mind perform a play in a green house? The reason is simple, I don’t have access to an auditorium, but we do have a greenhouse, 100 feet long and 22 feet wide, and in the middle of February it is just sitting empty. At least we would be out of everyone’s way, much better than the play we performed in our garage!

Live theater is full of ad lib, and just making things work. So when you want to do a play, and have a cast that also wants to do a play, you make it work. Funds always seem to be a problem, because I never charge admission. Drama on a budget isn’t so easy. But we did our best and the results were spectacular. I was so proud of my cast!

A stage out of concrete forms?

One of the most important things for a good play, in my opinion is visibility. If the audience can’t see than what are they even there for? I knew we needed a stage, and money being tight, I’d hoped to use some old house beams with plywood as a stage deck. My husband, however has wonderful ingenuity, he decided to use his 10 foot concrete forms as the deck and two ft. by four ft. forms to hold up the stage. It was a miracle! With the help of his construction crew in less than 30 minutes we had a stage two feet high with 20 ft, by 10 ft of surface area! The coolest thing was, because it was February, and frozen solid outside they would definitely not be needed the concrete forms any time soon!

Sound

For our sound system we cranked up our good ol’ Bluetooth Ion speaker. It’s amazing how much sound one speaker can put out! I hooked my mp3 player up to it and could control the sound where ever I went. We kept the speaker back stage so it wouldn’t blast out the audience. For the performances I asked someone to do the music for me, we controlled it from an Ipod touch. It worked great. Until everyone got a little carried away with the singing and dancing in the chorus back stage on final performance someone accidentally pushed the Bluetooth disconnect. I went into panic mode for a little bit, and then we got it to reconnect. What matters is they where having fun!

Curtains

Because we were in a greenhouse we had a ready-made curtain bar. We painted our backdrop on heavy tarp we got used from a sign company. But the front curtain proved to be a little more tricky. Just days before performance my ingenious husband came through again. I sewed heavy upholstery fabric together and he built me a roll up curtain! It was made with a metal bar through the bottom hem and rope that rolled on the pipe. You had to be careful because if you let it drop to fast you got a nasty rope burn but went up and down and that was all I needed.

Dust and dumpster diggingdumpster

It’s one thing to get kids to stand up, sit down, sing, and hold still when they are supposed to, but you just can’t compete with dirt. They will choose the dirt every time! My cast consisted of 25 children ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade, with more little kids than big kids. Those kids went crazy when they saw the dirt floor! As we finished the first practice, I knew I had to do something different. The dust was so bad we could hardly sing.

I came home from practice covered from head to toe in dust, hoarse, and I must say, a little discouraged. Something had to be done. I began calling carpet stores, trying to find if they had any remnants I could get for cheap. One store said we could search through their carpet dumpster were they threw old carpet they’d tore out. So we went dumpster digging. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds, carpet was the only thing in the dumpster. Two truck loads of carpet later and we set down carpet over the entire green house floor! Oh, was it nice to be rid of that dirt.

Hot, or cold?

The concept of doing a play in a greenhouse at first sounds very weird, and impossible. However, it was not the problems I would have thought that proved to be the hardest. When the sun was shinning it was hot, so hot you were sweating, and it was the middle of February! But when it was cloudy, it was cold, so cold that often you could see your own breath. As we finished the first few hot practices I took my little troupe of kids outside and we pulled a tarp over the sunny half of the green house. We weighed it down with ropes tied to bricks, talk about learning to work together! That worked amazing for the first few days, then the wind came up, our tarp became one giant kite flapping around. It was so loud in the greenhouse that we got very good practice making our lines loud. Finally, it blew so hard it actually pulled one of the bricks on top of the greenhouse. To fix that problem we hung tarps on the inside panels were the sun shone brightest.

Pray for a little sunshine!

As practice moved along we were blessed with mostly sunny days, and with our tarps in place it was quite comfortable. Even though it would be below freezing outside, it was perfect in the greenhouse. However, whenever a storm came through and it clouded over it would get very cold! We had a big heater we could turn on, but it was so noisy it was distracting. I really didn’t want that big noisy heater going during our performances. I put on the invitations to bring coats just in case it got cloudy and cold. As performance week approached, a huge storm blew in. I had decided the show must go on, we would bundle up, crank up the heater and give it our best shot. Just in time for performance the sun peeked out from behind the clouds just long enough for our play. The kids did great and everyone was happy.

It doesn’t have to be expensive

I guess the reason I’m telling you this is that I want other directors to know that you don’t need to have a lot of money to produce a play. There are corners you can cut and corners you can’t, it all depends on what you are trying to do. Drama and live theater are so good for children, helping them with self-esteem and other life skills. These children won’t stay children for long, so when you got to do a play you just got to do it, even if it’s in a greenhouse, garage or unfinished basement. It’s what you call drama on a budget.

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Drama on a budget – performing a play in a greenhouse

  1. Putting on a play seems daunting, especially with children. I like the idea of have a good budget. I could not see putting on a play in a garage! but….this does lead to many possibilities. Is there a person you can hire to do this aspect of the play for you? Finding the right place on the right budget?

    1. It is daunting, but very rewarding. Because everything I do is out of pocket, I look at it as my investment into our community, I generally find local people to help me with building the stage and such. High school kids are quite handy and very good help when it comes to building. But my sister and I built our own light bar out of gallon cans and light fixtures! That is what I hope to do, help people involved with community theater find ways to improvise and still put on a good production. Thanks a ton for the comment. You’ve given me a few ideas for new posts!

  2. I really like you showing teachers that it is possible to put on a play pretty much anywhere. Sure it would be awesome to have a gorgeous auditorium, but if that is not in the picture, anywhere is better than nowhere, because that would mean you decided not to do a play because you didn’t have the “perfect” place. And that is sad, because look at the lost time of creating something memorable! After all, there is only so much time and then windows of opportunity close.

    1. I agree that it’s not worth sacrificing the memories just because we don’t have a big auditorium. Ultimately I do plays for the kids, to give them the experience and memories. It’s either do it now or never, because they grow up way to fast.
      Also by choosing other places to do a play it can really cut down on the cost of renting a venue.

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