Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What is Project Management

I have been reading Changing the Way We Manage Change bu Ronald R. Sims, and it is is interesting because the author refers to many things that I have not previously related together. He talks alot of high involvement organizations, which I think we often strive to be in theatre, but don't always accomplish. He also talks about Peter Senge's work on creating learning organizations, again something that are important within theatre's but not always fully successful. But the premise of the book is about change. And its about looking at change differently as changing an organization isn't very easy, yet I think most of us can see areas where the places we work could make improvements.

I thought it was interesting that the author looks at project management skills as a basic responsibility of a change agent. He defines project management in a way that I haven't done before, but in which I like:
Above all else, project management is a way of thinking; a process of keeping desired results in focus. Project management involves planning and identifying objectives and activities that produce a desired result. It also includes organizing people to get the job done and directing them by keeping them focused on achieving the results. Project management requires change agents to measure the project team's progress and give them feedback to keep the project moving ahead, constantly monitoring progress toward, and deviation from, the project's goals. This monitoring activity allows change agents to make decisions that redirect the project and provide corrective action to narrow the discrepancy between stakeholder expectations and actual performance.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Boxwood Hedges & Plants

Finding reaslistic greenery (usually specific plants) is always fun, and sources are always helpful. Looking for boxwood, I was suprised to see that Amazon sells in by the roll. A few months back I needed a very specific piece of laminate, which I also purchased off of Amazon because our local suppliers could not procur it. I remmeber propping in the 90's and how muh sites like ebay helped back then in the process of finding a needle in the haystack.

Also check out:
Geranium Street
Amazon Foliages
Silk Flowers Factory

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fiber Optic Star Drops

I am working on a bid that includes a star drop and I came across this page published by The Fiber Optic Store and written by Dan Norman. It’s an in-depth tutorial with pictures on how he created a star effect. Definitely worth a look if you are considering building one.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Vinyl Wall Coverings

We are just wrapping up the build of a desk where the front panel is a lightbox covered with a vinyl film from Astek.

Once applied to the acyrlic, and installed with lighting, I think it will look nice, though I imagine that diffusions will need to be added.

This company is a new resource to us, and one worth remembering for the future.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tech Shop

Tech Shop is a workshop (only available in 7 locations) that allows a large group of people access to a variety of tools. They have cnc machines, milling machines, lathes, even laser cutters, and 3-d printers. The idea is that you buy a membership for access, and you can use these tools (and elarn how to use them) as a low cost alternative to purchasing fabrication services for prototypes. I think this is a really great idea - many people don't have access to shops - so from building something simple for themselves or developing new ideas is very difficult. Even with a pretty decent home shop, the average person is fairly limited with teh equipment they can own. And theatres fall into this as well - maybe we have access to a cnc router, but what about printing, 3-d printing, laser cutting, water jet cutting and so forth - each of these machines are large purchases and need a good deal of maintenance. While I know that a theatre couldn't take over the whole facility - I could see a special project goingthrough this service. I really think that this type of technology access and collaboration is something that is needed for the future.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Arcitecture and the Lost Art of Drawing

The New York Times ran an article called Architecture and the Lost Art of Drawing. out of that article I particularlly liked the following:
For decades I have argued that architectural drawing can be divided into three types, which I call the “referential sketch,” the “preparatory study” and the “definitive drawing.” The definitive drawing, the final and most developed of the three, is almost universally produced on the computer nowadays, and that is appropriate. But what about the other two? What is their value in the creative process? What can they teach us?

The referential sketch serves as a visual diary, a record of an architect’s discovery. It can be as simple as a shorthand notation of a design concept or can describe details of a larger composition. It might not even be a drawing that relates to a building or any time in history. It’s not likely to represent “reality,” but rather to capture an idea.

These sketches are thus inherently fragmentary and selective. When I draw something, I remember it. The drawing is a reminder of the idea that caused me to record it in the first place. That visceral connection, that thought process, cannot be replicated by a computer.

The second type of drawing, the preparatory study, is typically part of a progression of drawings that elaborate a design. Like the referential sketch, it may not reflect a linear process. (I find computer-aided design much more linear.) I personally like to draw on translucent yellow tracing paper, which allows me to layer one drawing on top of another, building on what I’ve drawn before and, again, creating a personal, emotional connection with the work.

I have never really thought about the three different types of drawing before - but it is true that when I first start to look at how something goes together, there is often a series of napkin sketches that puts some preliminary ideas onto paper. I also commonly see people sketch on one drawing about opposing views of construction - or elaborating on others sketches - and I think that these steps are important in the technical design process.

I think that with computers it is occassionally too easy to make something work on paper that really isn't practical to do in real life.

Finally, I thought this was interesting:
As I work with my computer-savvy students and staff today, I notice that something is lost when they draw only on the computer. It is analogous to hearing the words of a novel read aloud, when reading them on paper allows us to daydream a little, to make associations beyond the literal sentences on the page. Similarly, drawing by hand stimulates the imagination and allows us to speculate about ideas, a good sign that we’re truly alive.

It is true that upon reading, I occassionaly (or even often) pause and reflect - or skim a statment over again. Either to make the idea more firm in my mind or to think about the implications. While this is certainly true when reading educataional or informative information, it is also true in fiction. Sometimes its interesting to pause and think about what is next, or what might relate to the story outside of the book. And, while I like to listen to audio books - for convienence, it is harder to replicate that - you have to think more about actually stopping the process to reflect.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hot Set

SyFy has a new series out called Hot Set. I caught the first episode, and thought that it was interesting. I have always thought that the similarities and differences between theatre, tv & film were interesting. The froth packs (AB foam) is something that we use & is a good technique for scenery. I also liked the low tech way of making the set breathe – though I think that had this been planned from the beginning it would have been more successful. I also think the show represents some truths in film – building and set up happens quickly, yet at the same time the ideas are ever changing and evolving. I was a little surprised by how much spray paint was used, but I guess it makes sense – and I have certainly used it to get a job done quickly – and it is useful for toning. I also thought that the bit about how to age things that you have borrowed was interesting – definitely some tricks there to learn. Also, I have to say, it’s a bit convenient to be able to go and buy prop rocks, and some of the strange props that they were able to find – I am sure that these people have worked in the area and have developed these contacts – but finding those options where many theatres are located isn’t really possible, even as much as the internet has revolutionized the ability to find props and accessories. Check it out & see what ideas you can pick up & let me know your thoughts.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Plastic Cleaner Scratch Remover

Novus Polish is the plastic cleaner / scratch remover of choice around here. It won't remove deep scratches and it takes some elbow grease, but it can refursh acyrlic that has taken some general abuse from normal wear and tear. They have three levels, the first is mostly a cleaner, and the level 3 product is for surfaces that have more wear. We keep it around to clean up projects we are working on, and for acyrlic desk and lectern surfaces.

I have also heard that the product works good on scratched dvd's and cd's - though honestly, my trick there is to use toothpaste!

And for those you want to try out the product, you can try a set of the 3 levels out in a kit sold by Amazon for about $15.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I was digging through some samples in my office and came across a couple of pieces of Stage Lam. It is a black product, made for staging. You can buy it standard sheet sizes from 1/8" thick to 1 1/2" thick. It is fairly scratch resistance, and you can lightly sand scratches out (the material is black all the way through the material.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Quake Putty

A couple years ago I posted about Museum Putty - a product like Mortite, that was being advertised for specific use in Museums. Then last April, I posted a pic of a vase being secured. Theatrically not unusually - but I thought it was unique because it was in a hotel in Costa Rico. Today, while searching for something completely different - I stumbled upon Quake Hold. Seems to be pretty strong.

I guess it’s also a little interesting to me that we now see it for use for walls (poster tac) & I have seen people using it in their homes to secure small knick knacks to display shelves. The evolution of the idea from an esoteric theatrical trick to something marketed as an official product with specific uses is a reminder about all of the simple things we know in theatre, yet take for granted.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Theatre Terminology

New York Stagehand offers a post about stagehand terminology. It hasn't been updated for a while but has some interesting terms. Further, the initial post is fairly comprehensive - including terms that I haven't heard before.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Boss MFG

Boss MFG is a company that we have recently bought some products from. They have a wide variety of tools & they have been nice to use, but they also have a large supply of bits and drivers, including tamper proof drivers.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Accounting Software & Cloud Storage

Browsing the other night I saw a couple of site that could be of interest.
Wave accounting is a free online accounting tool for small businesses. It seemed like it would be a good option for freelance work. It also integrates personal accounting into the features – something that would be even more helpful for freelance work. I do very little freelancing & use Mint for personal finance – but this tool would be something I would look for if I needed to do more invoicing or tracking for business reasons.

Also, I think I have mentioned that I have been using drop box and like it for sharing files between devices and with other people. Sugar Sync also offers that service and has a 5 free GB account (Drop box starts lower but allows you to earn more space). And of course there are a few others too: Google Drive, iCloud (though really just for apple devices) Box, Carbonite and Mozy, and Miscrosoft’s Skydrive.


Trees…. There are probably as many different ways to fabricate them as there are people fabricating them… Many years ago for a theatre production we took a piece of steel, bent it and covered with plywood and fabric, then muslin & glue to create birch trees. The edges of the muslin “peeled” off in a very realist looking way – but we were only recreating trunks of the trees. Otherwise, I have seen muslin, foam, chicken wire, cnc cut and nested, foam coat, sculptorcoat, supper 88, hardcoat and polygem all used to create trees – and virtually any other sculptural shape. Plus, I have seen many “recipes” for bark usually containing some mixture of glue or binder with sawdust or shavings. One of these days, perhaps we will all get together and try all of the materials at once and be able to compare the products to each other. Until that happens, I wanted to bookmark a few additional resources about trees and sculpting material on Poly Gem’s resource pages.
How To build a tree is their first offering, followed by a page of tips. They refer to using a press mold which EHow has an article on.

In terms of buying out fake bark, take a look at:
Flex Bark
Quality Silks (also for branches and foliage)
Commercial Silk (also for leaves)
Retail Display and Props
Earth Flora
Faux Stone Sheets also sells Flex Bark, a seemingly popular brand of fake tree bark.
Van Dykes Taxidermy offers pieces more suited for props. There are also other taxidermy supply sources that sell similarly sized small pieces of fake bark.

There is also several patents that are online regarding fabricating trees and making tree bark:
Peter J. Fritsch et al
from 1939.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

File Transfering Services

Last week, under the gun to get out of the office, I was faced with an issue that routinely comes up at my office; how to send someone a large file. This seems like a fairly simple issue, yet is an ongoing problem. My work email is limited to 10MB (basically nothing in today’s data world). Online accounts may go up to 20 MG if you use your personal mail, but my file was about half a gig. We have an FTP site, which doesn’t well, and I have dealt with other companies trying to send info that also have unreliable ftp sites. In a world where we stream video, where music sharing is so easy it is illegal, while is sending a work file so complicated? So while the work crunch has ended, I thought it may be time to look up a few options to have on hand next time something comes up. free trial, large sizes. Personal use is 5 gigs free, you can keep docs online. Has solutions for business and enterprise, but I didn’t see prices listed. was the place I was about to go when I found a solution elsewhere. Seems like you can send 50MB for free and you have 2 GB of storage. They also have pro, proplus, workstream and a pay as you go option. has a variety of sized plans available starting at 5 GB sent per month, with 25GB storage with 1 user. It starts at about 10 bucks per month. www.sendthisfile has a free option for 2GB transfers, but does not include storage. It has 5 additional plans, going up to $600 a month for unlimited users, unlimited file sizes, business customization and many more options. has a free plan with 300 MD file sizes, and includes ads. They have two other options, but neither alow business customization the way that some of the above does. I have also been using Dropbox - it has been nice to be able to easily transfer files from one device to another without using a thumb drive - and the files also go to my phone and IPod. It has an option to share a folder / file as well. It starts with 2 gigs free, but you can gain memory space in a variety of ways or purchase a plan with more storage. Obviously this is a partial list – but one that would make my next file much easier to send. The bigger issue really is that in the age of technology, file sharing is a pretty typical work function & one that should be addressed, easily, by the technology employed within your job. I don’t work in a company that has a tight IT policy, but there are many business that do, and sidestepping their IT policy to use an outside service might not go over very well.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Collaborative Technology Links

I am wrapping up the course I am taking in collaboration technologies and have gathered some more links to share. The course was interesting. Less about specific technologies that I expected, but much broader than I expected. I do wish that we would ahve used more of the different types of software available, yet understand that as technology changes so quickly that in the long run, that may be a limited view. I was surprised by some of the topics in teh class - for instance the last week included generational differences in technolgy use. So to the links: Hippo Center has a PM blog that has some interesting posts. I stumbled upon it looking for software evaluation criteria, but read other posts on the site as well. This is a Wiki comparison of project management software. There is really alot out there so determining what your needs are and narrowing down your options to just a couple that can be tested is an inportant step to choosing technology. Once you move out of the realm of email and Google Docs, you start being out of the comfort range of some - and into a wide range of options that can be tricky to navagate. While this wikiisn't comprehnsive, it is a good palce to start. Bright Hub is a bit random - the blog covers a huge amount of different types of articles. However it does cover project management topics and a variety of other topics that kept me occupied for a while.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Enkerboll Designs

While looking for some architectural moldings I can across Enkerboll Designs today. They have a large variety of moldings, rosettes, onlays, finials, and other moldings. It is a good reference.

We also source moldings from Moulding and Millwork. They have a variety of catalogs that you can download on the site.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Virtual Team Links

This quarter I have been taking a class on using technology for leading teams. While in theatre most of the team tends to be in the same location - there is always a part of the team, the designer, or director prior to the rehearsal period that is not usually local. Thus the blending between an in house team and a virtual "show" team is an interesting topic to me. It has been interesting so far, and I am sure it will be the fodder for a series of blog posts. However, since there is a lot of information that I am locating out there on the internet, I thought I might do a list of links for further reading for now. Work 3.0 is the class blog. Since participation is a requirement it is fairly active. Leading Virtually has alot of information. The particular link I noted was about virtual worlds and building commitment. I never really got into second life - mostly because I thought I might like it too much. It seems like from what I have been reading that it isn't "as cool" as it used to be, but it does seem like an interesting concept. Regardless, many of the points they discuss are easily transferable to other virtual communication and teamwork. is more of a project management resource, but does have some information on the subject. The specific blog linked to is actually about the Mann Gulch Incident, something not exactly related to virtual teams, but roles within a team & something that merits further exploration in its own right. Collaborative Strategies is a commercial site, but they do have some interesting information out there & a blog list of their own. Of course there are also lists of collaboration tools and technologies - from Basecamp to Podio to Google docs and much more out there as well. Its a large topic with a lot of different points of view. From an IT standpoint, or an outsource view point, this type of collaboration has been happening for year. For other, even though we may be meeting by phone and trading email for years, we aren't really using all of the technological options out there very effectively. Finally when you start looking at how all of this affects the team, group dynamics, trust and leadership, there is much more information out there.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


When I first started in theatre in high school, playing theatre games was a common past time. Some of those games had a pretty clear intent, others were fun, but the intent was more ambiguous. Once in the technical side of theatre it seems like only actors get the fun of doing any theatre games or team building activities. I never quite agreed with that. While doing some research on team building activities I came across one called egg drop. In this activity a team has a couple hours to design and build a container that will allow them to drop an egg from 8' and not break. It made me think that a good technical team would surely have some great ideas on how to accomplish this.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I was introduced to mortite rope caulk many (many) years ago for securing props to the set. What is surprising to me about the above photos is that I took them in a hotel - in Costa Rica.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

40 Hour Work Week

I was reading Bring Back the 40 Hour Work Week today, and thought it offered many good points that we should occassionally take the time to consider in theatre.

I have often felt that theatre doesn't value production employee's time. I work in a union shop and here it is accepted that it is better to just buy the needed materials than try to "save money" by recycling, reclaiming, or otherwise spending time on saving materials - the cost of labor is higher than the cost of materials so it isn't worth the cost. It is wasteful, but it is economical. In many theatre's I have worked it, time is free - even when overtime is paid, and it isn't just saleries - it comes from another budget, and few people actually estimate the labor needs for a show - just the show budgets. Since labor costs aren't considered, things are done to save production budgets at the cost of the people doing the work. Sometimes it's as subtle as dilluting products which shouldn't be dilluted to actually taking apart scenery and reusing scrap wood.

If a theatre actually has enough people in production to work normal weeks, accomplish what they need to in the show and recycle / save materials - that's great. But in my experience 40 hour weeks in theatre arn't always common, and it isn't also just loadin / strikes or tech week that mandate extra hours. And it isn't just scrimping on materials that eats up time - last minute changes, bad work processes, general inefficiencies as well as building shows that are ambitious in scope all contribute to the problem. Theatre is a double whammy - most people in the business are very dedicated and passionate (a common factor in many non-profits all of which are often lumped into one large catagory that assumes they underpay / over work their employees) and often young and willing to put in the hours. As they older they might get a more reasonable schedule - but sometimes it actually worse (a TD puts in more hours than a carpenter), or they get out of the industry. Plus, in theatre jobs, an employee may be hundreds of miles away from friends and family - totally invested in the current theatre. Not only working long hours beside their coworkers- but then hanging out with them afterwards. They may not have kids or a family life to occupy their time & are likely not to have an active home life that needs tending. And of course, if you have a problem with the hours or work, there are plenty of young replacements waiting to take your job.

I thought the article was particluarly interesting for tracing the history of how we got to where we aer today and the article is definately worth a read.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Laminate Options

One of the products that I currently use now, that I didn't use in theatre very often is laminate. There are literally hundreds or even thousands of textures, colors, and patterns available in laminate & it is just as easy to put on laminate as it is to do a good paint finish. Obviously the important difference is that you need to be careful with your seams as they can't be hidden.

I also use laminate for covering up the grain on wacky wood - using a cheaper matte laminate provides a nice paint surface that is free of blemishes. It is also good for when you need to get rid of edge grain. While it isn't every job that requires such attention, it is a good option when applicable.
For laminate options my fall back choices are usually the most common; Wilson Art, Formica and Chemetal.

However, I just got in samples from Inter Source and they have some nice options & a very complete collection of wood grain options. Also, they offer 2x8 sections of stamped ceilings - something I have used several times over the years in theatre. Also, this company sells Valchromat a through-colored MDF.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Freelance Work

I came across an interesting site called elance. Basically its a website that connects freelancers with people who need work done. From marketing, logo design, to drafting, the site has a wide varity of users. My understanding is that you create a profile, and bid on jobs - and just like the "real" world - landing the first is the hardest. But once you get an "elance" reputation, you can build up a good bit of business.
There are definately CAD jobs that I could see bidding on, and designers could probably get into some graphic work fairly easily. It looks like a nice option for additional income on a part time basis that isn't on the shady side.