Shoestring Budget? Creating Sets and Costumes on a Dime

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January 7, 2009
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What are the best solutions for building a show's sets and costumes on a limited budget? Do most teachers find that borrowing costumes from other schools or theatre companies helps? What about using MTIShows Community Rentals? What do you find to be the most cost-effective solution?
7 answers

June 30, 2009
Cheap sets? We built rolling wooden frames that were exactly as wide as a roll of heavy duty natural (no glaze) butcher paper: 3' wide, 8' tall, and 1.5' thick. Invest in a staple gun and some great little wheels and learn to paint in 3-D (or don't and say it's a "concept"). For each show, we would roll out a fresh sheet of butcher paper, paint it on the ground, then staple it to the wooden frame. Because you're only dealing with scaffolding, the frames are incredibly light weight. My elementary students could move them with no problem. Because they're 1.5' thick, they don't tip over. Best yet? They move, they spin, they're two-sided... and they're CHEAP! Once you build them, you have them. You can even build them so they lay flat when you're finished. You can make little latches to connect them together or just stand them side-by-side. Need a door? Pull them apart! Worried about slippage? Get wheels with little foot-pedal locks. We built a few of them 3' thick and added a shelf to the front to hold props. This created a kind of stair-step effect. Kids can even walk through them (carefully) if you have no backstage area. At the end of the production, you can toss or recycle the old paper part of the set (or put it away for safe-keeping). Your only expense for your next show is more of your school's (hopefully free) butcher paper and some tempera paint! Go to my page (Hannah Kohl) and look at my photo album for "Productions in Mexico" - you'll see examples of our rolling frame sets being used in multiple productions: as a flower shop in Gardenia!, as wallpaper in The Sound of Music, and as a castle... or (by repainting the windows) a nunnery. Best wishes! Hannah

June 28, 2009
See if there are any businesses or churches or such in the area that will sponsor your show costumes or a part of the costumes. A couple of years ago, we did a musical, from a different publisher ;) ;) and the local Catholic church sponsored all of our nuns. They provided the habits, and even purchased wooden crosses for 12 nuns (of course, it helps that the priest is a real theatre fan {he also tutored all of them in the Latin that they had to sing}). Then last year when we did "Fiddler on the Roof", we were able to approach a Jewish synagogue, and they shared with us some of their prayer shawls, and a lot of their expertise. It also has really helped to build community involvement.

May 22, 2009
Shoot out an email to you faculty. They never know what you need unless you ask. We have gotten TONS of donations from teachers and friends of teachers just by asking. Also put out requests for "special items" (we needed a 1950s stove once) on Craig's List. If people see that it is for a school and you are willing to come get it, they will probably give it to you. Also, offer to write a donation receipt. Hope this helps!!

February 15, 2009
Costumes: Hotels donate old sheets to us (hotels are always dying to get rid of their old sheets) and then parents dye them different colors and sew them into costumes.

February 5, 2009
Costume suggestion: Have all of the kids dress in all black, then accessorize and use things like vests, shawls, and scarves. We recently did this with our Aladdin production and it went very well and looked very nice. This also allows cast members to change costumes quickly if double cast. Many costume accessories can be found at local thrift stores. Also, check with local community theatres that are "cleaning house" and take anything they might be getting rid of. Willy Wonka Set suggestion: Check out Wally Meier's book "How to Build your Mini-Revolve System." I plan to use this for our production of Alice in WOnderland Jr.

January 22, 2009
Any suggestions for simple sets for Willy Wonka Jr?

January 12, 2009
i am helping to costume shows at a high school in my area, and my goal for them has been to give them things that are more "stock" costumes, simple things that can become a multitude of costumes when paired with certain items, or styled a certain way. it stretches their budget, and if they hold on to them and take care of them properly they can be used over and over again, in a multitude of ways. and eventualy they won't need to get stock items, and we can get them more specific things, or use the budget to make them some really awesome stuff. one of the cool things i do, is i bring in some of the pieces we will be using and have the kid's try them on, and then the teacher and i discuss, and we see what else we can add to the costume to make it even better. Once the kids have seen the costume, we also encourage them to bring in things they feel will add to the costume and be show appropriate. this has worked out really well in the last three shows that we have done. this also gets the kids involved. if your school has a fashion class in it, talk to the teacher and see if maybe the kids can make aprons or bonnets or something simple for your production. often times the teachers and students are more then willing to get involved. parents are also a great resource.