Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why the details matter

First off, my apologies, there won't be many process posts from this show. The rule of three came into effect hardcore on this show, though not in the way it usually does. This time I had a month from contract offer to opening night to put together a giant show set in an accurate, detailed home on the south side of Chicago. We did not have time, and with a picky (and famous) director, could not sacrifice quality. We did, however, have money. So I just shopped (and shopped and shopped and shopped).
Over the course of this show, while speaking to my mom, she was constantly surprised to learn how much money I was spending on little details. The characters would be speaking on I-phones, the I-phones should have protective cases. The books on the bookshelf should have titles that we would believe would be in this home, at least on the lowest few shelves where audience members would be able to read them from the front rows. All of the cabinets in the kitchen have glass fronts, which means they all need to be filled with dishes. The refrigerator needs to be full of food, including salad dressings and condiments in the door. Every time I tell my mom about details like this, especially the frustrating, difficult to find, or expensive, she sighs and asks me if anyone will really notice. "No one will leave the theatre thinking, 'it would have been a good show, except that the photographer character would never have been using that camera.'" she tells me, and I sigh, because while that is true, it's not the point.
I am well aware that if I get one or two details wrong, most people won't notice, and it won't ruin the play for the people who do notice. But, if a missing detail is obvious enough, it will take certain members of the audience out of the experience of the play for a few seconds. If you stop being lost in the play long enough to think "If she just flew in from Belgium, why are there no checked bag stickers on her suitcases, they can't have all been carry-ons" it may take you 30 seconds more to get sucked back into the story. If that moment of distraction happens during a touching moment or an important line, or the punchline of a joke, then you're missing even more. I know that the details, when they are right, don't always make the show. Often when the details are right you don't notice them at all; but I also know that when the details are wrong, you do notice. My goal is for you, as an audience member to be lost on the show, to add the details that make the world feel real without anyone noticing, to provide pieces that facilitate the action of the actors effortlessly, so that the actors are free to tell you the story that the playwright and director wanted to share.


  1. I think there is another equally important role that small details have; they allow actor to interact with the world of the play. If a newspaper on stage is not period accurate, for example, the audience most likely would never notice or care, but the actor is immediately thrown out of the world of the play, which in turn will effect there acting ability. As opposed to other technical elements like lighting or sound, the actors relationship with the props are crucial.

  2. I think I found a kindred spirit. I work worth high school productions, but our directors, as well as, myself try to make it as accurate as possible on a non-existant budget. I found your page because we are doing A Christmas Carol and I'm desperately trying to figure out Tiny Tim's brace and crutch with no money to spend. Any ideas from a pro???

    1. Hi Jenny,
      I'm glad you like the blog. For Tiny Tim's crutch you should be able to use any scrap of wood you have laying around. One longer stick for the base and one shorter piece screwed in to make a "T" at the top for him to hold under his arm. The trick to making it look right is roughing up the wood. You should be able to easily carve away square edges with a sharp knife (try a box cutter) then sand it all smooth and rub some stain or very thin brown paint onto it.
      I wrote a post on this blog about Tiny Tim's leg brace. You should be able to find it by typing "Tiny Tim" into the search bar. Basically I used two small planks of wood with a hinge between them at the knee. I used a fancier trunk hinge, but any hinge, or even a piece of strapping glued in place would work. I used two old leater belts to attach the brace to Tim's leg, but again, any straps would work as long as they look old.
      Best of luck on your production