Episode 127: Small Budgets: Doing so Much with so Little
For many drama teachers the dwindling production budget is an ongoing struggle. How do you put up a full production with limited funds? Beth Goodwin has the double whammy she works in a small school with a small budget. And yet her visuals are consistently stunning. Listen in to find out how she does it!
Welcome to TFP – The Theatrefolk Podcast – the place to be for Drama teachers, Drama students, and theatre educators everywhere.
I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk.
Hello! I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.
Welcome to Episode 127.
You can find any links for this episode in the show notes at theatrefolk.com/episode127.
So, today, Beth Goodwin is who we’re going to talk to and she is a guidance secretary with a love of theatre. She’s been putting on plays for 16 years at her school and we’ve been lucky enough that she’s done a lot of ours, and I say “lucky” because her production pictures are stunning. I’m going to include a couple in the show notes. They are filled with color. They are filled with vision. The pictures make the plays come to life and I can only imagine what it’s like to be there in person.
After seeing the latest pictures, I wanted to talk to Beth, and that’s when I learned that what she does is she is in a small school and she has a small budget and I was doubly amazed by what I saw. I know this is something that a lot of you who are listening can relate to – small school, small budget. Even if you are in a big school, you might have a very tiny budget. How do you create visuals on a budget?
So, let’s hear what Beth has to say about that.
LINDSAY: All right! Hello everyone! I am thrilled to be talking to Beth Goodwin today. Hello, Beth!
LINDSAY: How are you?
BETH: I’m fine.
LINDSAY: Good, good, good. Tell everyone where in the world you are.
BETH: Well, we are in Corinth, Maine. This is Central High School and we’re a little northeast of Bangor.
LINDSAY: So, are you a Stephen King fan or not?
BETH: Hmm. I won’t say anything.
LINDSAY: You’ll defer? You’ll defer?
BETH: Yeah, horror stuff is not my cup of tea.
LINDSAY: Now, you have been doing plays for a long time at your school.
BETH: Yeah, since 2000.
LINDSAY: I was looking back; you’ve been a long-time customer of ours. That’s how we know who you are.
LINDSAY: We’re stalking you. No, no, no, of course not. Where we have really been blown away is with the pictures that you have sent us from your shows because they’re so colorful and visual. And so, we’re going to talk about, first of all, how you do that and, one thing you shared with me is that you come from a pretty small school.
LINDSAY: What’s your size?
BETH: It’s about 370, I think.
LINDSAY: In total?
LINDSAY: Okay, and how many kids do you usually get involved in your productions?
BETH: Well, for Drama Club itself, I have about 60 kids.
LINDSAY: That’s awesome.
BETH: Yeah. Usually, for plays, I try and do larger casts because I want, you know, as many kids involved as can be. So, it’s usually anywhere from 20 to 30.
LINDSAY: That’s really cool. And then, also, that you have a small school and you also work with a pretty small budget or a small budget.
LINDSAY: So, that’s something I know a lot of people that are listening are going to be interested in. So, now, you’re not a Drama teacher?
BETH: Not a teacher, no. Just the director.
LINDSAY: Well, not “just.”
BETH: I’m guidance secretary.
LINDSAY: And so, how did you get involved with running the Drama Club?
BETH: Well, back in 2000, I was asked if I’d like to do a one-act play and I said, “Sure.”
LINDSAY: Why did they ask you?
BETH: Ah, I don’t know. Maybe I’m a character? I don’t know. I’m not sure why, but he did and it took off from there. And then, a year later, we got a new principal and he said, “I’d really like to start a Drama Club. Would you be interested in doing that?” and I said, “Sure.” So, it took a couple of years to get everything in place for that and that started in 2003. So, we’re quite young.
LINDSAY: But on-going, like, I think that’s pretty awesome. And now, what made you say yes?
BETH: Because, if I had another life, that would be what I’d want to do – acting or costume design, interior design, things like that.
LINDSAY: Did you do Drama in high school?
BETH: I did.
LINDSAY: Did that leave a mark in some way, do you think?
BETH: Oh, yes, I loved it – absolutely loved it. You know, then you graduate from high school, life happens, kids, and you are a secretary. And then, you’re just fortunate enough one day for somebody to say, “Hey! Do you want to do a play?”
LINDSAY: That’s pretty awesome. Okay. So, what was it that was so remarkable do you think about your high school experience? Because this is something that, you know, we say it all the time here about how important it is that students get a theatrical experience in high school and, obviously, it’s something that left a mark on you. So, what do you think it was for you? Was it a teacher or a play?
BETH: Yeah, there was one teacher – well, she came, like, my sophomore year in high school – and she really amped up the program and started doing plays and she did a lot of absurdist plays which I really love. It just allowed me to be creative which, until then, I didn’t know I had. I wasn’t in band. I couldn’t read music. You know, I did some sports. But, when that happened and I tried out for my first play, I was, like, “This is what I’m supposed to be doing,” you know? And so, the next three years in high school, I was involved in any play she did. So, yeah.
LINDSAY: It’s lovely though, isn’t it? Like, it’s lovely to find an outlet like that.
BETH: Well, you feel like you fit in all of a sudden. You know, that’s what clicked with me. I was like, “Oh, my gosh, this is great!” Because I’ve always been a character and, you know, but, yeah, that did it.
LINDSAY: Do you see kids in your Drama Club who you know remind you of you? Who need that outlet? Who are finding a place to belong?
BETH: Definitely, probably 95 percent of them.
LINDSAY: Do you have a Drama program at your school?
BETH: Yes. Well, we have the club. There are no classes.
LINDSAY: Yes, that’s what I meant. I just think, first of all, how wonderful that somebody stood up and said, “We need to have a Drama Club here,” and you get so many kids out to it and that you’re offering such a wonderful opportunity.
BETH: Yeah, it’s kind of funny because I have, like, 60 kids – maybe three-quarters of them want to be in the plays, the other quarter just want to come to Drama Club meetings and do the creative activities because we don’t have a lot of time when Drama Club meets so I give them, like, challenges, you know? “Do a skit with this and it has to have that,” and different things like that, and that’s what they love doing, and being creative. Thinking outside the box is what I try and pull out of them and it’s fun. I make it as fun as I can. I don’t know how many Drama lessons they’re actually getting but it’s fun.
LINDSAY: Well, you’re giving them some communication. You’re giving them a place to be.
LINDSAY: There’s nothing wrong with that, I don’t think.
BETH: Oh, no, no, and I like to laugh and they make me laugh.
LINDSAY: Okay. Actually, that whole notion of thinking outside the box, how does that serve you when you have to take these plays and produce them with not a lot of budget?
BETH: I think it helps our productions because I have a very vivid imagination – always have – so it’s like a challenge for me to figure out, “Okay, if we’re going to do this play,” like we just did Alice and our stage curtains are black and I’m so sick of them but it’s like, “Okay, other than getting new stage curtains…” I say stage, it’s a hole in the wall in the gym and there’s no light system, there’s no sound system, and there’s no wings. I mean, when you go out the side, you’re going right into the girls’ and boys’ bathroom.
LINDSAY: So, it’s basically you are ground zero.
BETH: Oh, yeah.
LINDSAY: You are ground zero.
LINDSAY: You have a hole in your gym. There are no lights. There are no sound. There are no wings.
LINDSAY: Okay. So, we’re working from ground zero.
BETH: Ground zero.
LINDSAY: So, how do you deal with it?
BETH: Yeah. Well, like with this play, I was tired of the black curtains because I always have somebody from, you know, the Newspaper Club or the yearbook come and take pictures so the kids can see what they look like, and the black curtains, because I don’t like doing sets because the stage is so small anyway that it just eats up too much room. I would rather have my actors be the characters and do the play through themselves. Don’t rely on a set.
LINDSAY: I think that’s an excellent piece of advice because, so many times, you get into your head is, “Oh, well, this is what makes a play. What makes a play is a big set. What makes a play is XYZ.” I like that notion of, “You know what, forget the set.”
BETH: Well, that’s the thing. I would love to be able to have a set. I would love to have a theatre and all that good stuff. But we don’t so I am realistic enough that I’m going to work around this and make it look the way I think it should look and have the most impact with the kids. Like I was saying, with Alice, I hate the black curtains. I went through a prom book and found red polyvinyl for $50.00, hooked it up over the black curtains and then we had red curtains. It was awesome.
LINDSAY: It’s very stunning. I’m going to make sure that there are pictures in the show notes so that people can actually go and look at this because it is amazing. You wouldn’t even think about it. It’s like, “Oh, these are the black curtains I have, I have to live with it.”
LINDSAY: It’s amazing how much that red pops and, now that you say that it’s vinyl, I can see it.
BETH: It’s shiny. So, if you’re a crow, you’d love it.
LINDSAY: Yes, shiny things! I love my shiny things!
BETH: That was awesome. That was a lot of fun figuring that out. I mean, just going from, “Okay, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” and then, “Oh, I know what I’m going to do!”
LINDSAY: Because what are all the prom fabrics? You could take chiffon. You know, you could take…
BETH: I mean, they have taffeta, they have shiny sparkly stuff, they have tulle, you know, and it’s really not that expensive, and I have enough of the red that probably I could cover them again because I got, like, 100 feet or something like that. It was crazy.
LINDSAY: I was just going to ask you. I’m going to ask you math. Do you know off the top of your head what the size of your curtains were originally?
BETH: Oh, see, the two legs are 12 by 10 and then the back is 12 by 30. So, yeah, so I only used about half of it.
LINDSAY: Cool. So, for 50 feet for $50.00, if you think about it, if you were going to use a “take this money and put it towards a great drop” as opposed to set pieces, it’s kind of the same thing, isn’t it? Your curtain is kind of your set.
BETH: Right, yeah.
LINDSAY: Was there a reason you chose red? Or was it just because that was the shiny thing that you saw?
BETH: Because the characters were so colorful in the play, I wanted color but nobody was red, really – except the Queen of Hearts but she was kind of golden red – and I just thought it would pop. It’s like I wanted like a shock. “Wow! Look at that red!” especially since everybody that comes to see our plays is used to seeing the black curtains.
BETH: You know, just kind of like, “Hey! That’s different. That’s great!”
LINDSAY: Cool. So, now let’s talk about how do you costume on a budget? What are some of the things, what are some of the tricks that you use? Because, again, it looks like there’s a lot of costume pieces that were made.
LINDSAY: So, how do you deal with that?
BETH: I sew a lot. I start very early. I try and get the ones I know, what I know that I want them to look like. Sometimes, it takes me a little longer for other ones like the pigeon. He had a t-shirt and I sewed ribbons on it, just flowing, so when he ran, he’d kind of flow.
BETH: And, like, Alice, we actually had two girls play Alice and we swapped them off. I don’t know if you noticed that through the picture sequences.
LINDSAY: You mean, during the play? Or did one play one one night and one the other night?
BETH: No, during the play.
LINDSAY: That is freakin’ awesome. Sorry.
BETH: That’s okay! Yeah, she just had such a big part that I thought, you know, I had two really good actresses and I thought, “I want to swap them off,” so we did. We did it when, you know, they had to go off-stage.
BETH: And the other one would come on and the hair was exactly alike and I made two of the same costume, the whole bit, and I knew I was going to do that from the beginning. I knew who the girls were; I knew I could make those so I made those, like, day one. And then, some of the other things like the caterpillar – that kind of had to come to me.
LINDSAY: Yeah? So, talk about that. The caterpillar – how do you take something that, you know, has a lot of moving parts to it? If you’re going to do the caterpillar correctly, it’s got a body and multiple arms. And so, what was your thought process?
BETH: Well, using multiple people, because I knew I wanted it to be, you know, life-size. And then, I was thinking, “Okay, how am I going to make the little humpy things in the sections?” and, yeah, I have a lot of technical terms here.
LINDSAY: “Thingy” always works for me. I’m big on “thingy.”
BETH: Thingy, yeah; humpy things yeah. So, then I thought of hula-hoops. Okay, we’ll throw them through the material and have the kids standing under the material and, you know, they were instructed to walk a certain way so it looked kind of caterpillar-ish and it turned out really cute.
LINDSAY: In terms of costuming on a budget, how do you deal with that?
BETH: Have you ever heard of Jo’Ann’s fabrics?
LINDSAY: I certainly have.
BETH: Well, their red tag sale clearance fabric, I wait until that’s 50 percent off.
LINDSAY: Are you buying fabric, like, all the time? Do you find that you just get in the habit of going into the store, looking for that so that you always have a bunch on hand?
BETH: No, not so much there. Yard sales, I do. I yard sale in the summer time and, if I see, like, a huge piece of material that I know, you know, someday I’m going to use it and it’s, like, $5.00, I’m going to pick it up and just stick it up in the prop room and I eventually will use it. So, you know, that’s how do mostly. Sometimes, I’ll get things on eBay. You can find material really cheap.
LINDSAY: Yeah? I’ve never done that. So, like, really?
BETH: Oh, yeah. Well, that’s where I get my caterpillar. I think I bought six yards for, like, $10.00 and it was free shipping so, yeah.
LINDSAY: Okay. You’ve heard it here first, guys – eBay for fabric and it gets delivered, like, right to your door. I think that’s great.
LINDSAY: You know, for those people who maybe are out in the middle of nowhere who don’t have access to a fabric store, I think that’s a great tip. So, eBay, yard sales. So, when you’re thinking about your costume, do you have an “Okay, this is my vision, this is the perfect thing that I would like,” and then you just sort of go, “Well, this is not exactly what I would like but it’s way cheap so I’ll get that”? Oh, what’s happening back there?
BETH: No. Every once in a while, yeah, I might go a little bit different – except for some characters, I usually have a pretty good vision of what it is I want and then I just have to figure out how to do it because, like I said, I tend to love absurdist plays and things like that that make us have to think. You know, how are we going to do this? How are we going to make this seem like this? I love that.
LINDSAY: How do you work out that process? Do you write things down? Do you do a picture board? Do you just leave it in your head? How do you work it out?
BETH: Yeah, no, it’s in my head because I don’t want to do that to people.
LINDSAY: You don’t want to subject them to whatever’s going on.
BETH: Yeah, my jumbled brain. No, but usually, when I read a play, you know, it’s the kids first and the characters and the challenges of making certain things seem certain ways and how could we do that without having to spend a lot of money or how can we simulate that. Like, we did the Cat Hair play – four years ago, five years ago – and I had 24 cat hairs.
BETH: So, I didn’t know. Okay. That’s a lot of people to costume. What am I going to do? And we had t-shirts that we buy for the festival that we go to so I got long-sleeved ones and they turned them inside out, made hoods, makeup, and they all had black pants and stuff like that. So, they were 24 cat hairs for the price of a t-shirt and some makeup.
LINDSAY: So, all those t-shirts. Again, this is The Absolutely Insidious and Utterly Terrifying Truth about Cat Hair play by Bradley Walton. These are my favorite pictures because they are so, again, so colorful and I just love that. So, the shirts that all these kids are wearing are actually show shirts that are inside-out.
LINDSAY: Fantastic! I love… well, just multi-use, right?
LINDSAY: If you’re on a budget, there’s another tip – multi-use.
BETH: And that’s the thing. So, I mean, I spent a little more on the t-shirts than I normally would because they’re part of the costume and it worked out great. You know, we just had to cut the tags off the back and you’re not close enough to see the seams and I think we did get an award for costuming for that one – yeah, we did.
LINDSAY: Okay. So, here’s another thing to sort of think about, too. This is all about thinking outside the box which I think that’s the keyword when you’ve got a small budget – to think outside the box. So, these characters in Cat Hair are simulating cat hair. Obviously, it is not normal because it’s walking, talking cat hair. What made you decide to go with primary colors to costume them?
BETH: I guess because I like bright colors. I don’t know what else to say. You know, when I was thinking, at first, I was thinking cat colors and I was thinking, “Okay, multicolored cats,” you know? And even that, when I was looking at t-shirts and browns and tans and this and that, it just wasn’t doing it, you know? And then, I’m looking at something one day and I went, “Ah! Why can’t they be like Seuss colors? Why can’t they?”
BETH: So, the material I made the cat’s costumes out of, I made sure had all those bright colors in them – just a little detail there, just because I’m like that. And it just hit me. That was one of those “just hit me” things because I didn’t intend to start out like that; it just happened and I went, “That’s it,” and then the rest of the play just took on a life of its own.
LINDSAY: Well, it’s sort of a “why not?” kind of thing, right?
BETH: Yeah. I mean, it’s cat hairs. Who’s going to say, “Gee, why did you do that?”
LINDSAY: Well, they’re already walking and talking. Why can’t they be bright blue or bright pink?
BETH: Right. I mean, they’re evil, but that’s okay.
LINDSAY: It is. It is okay. I think so, too. Okay. So, how do you think being in a small school is a benefit when you’re trying to think outside the box with a budget?
BETH: Well, because I do think it forces you to look at things differently – you know, to get what you want, what your vision is in your head for that play. So, I don’t want this to sound the wrong way – rely so much on the bells and whistles. Like I said, I’d love to have the bells and whistles. So, it is kind of the whole Drama Club has taken that path. The actors have to be strong. The characters have to be strong. I drill it into their head, you know? If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, the audience isn’t going to believe it. So, I think we do so well at festival because of that – because they don’t rely on all of the other stuff. It’s them and I try and make it as fun for them as possible because then, you know, they’re more apt to really get into it which is what I want.
LINDSAY: Well, it’s funny, you know. I’ve seen many a play that looks beautiful, it has all those bells and whistles, and it’s an empty shell because they haven’t spent any time on character development and they haven’t spent any time on relationships.
BETH: Right. And it’s hard for kids to stay in character. So, you know, there’s a whole bunch of things that I tend to focus on more than, you know, I’ll get them the fun costumes and, you know, give me some ideas if you have anything that you think of. Let’s try it. And that’s what’s great about it – that give and take. Once we get going and the kids know what I’m looking for and they’re into the play and I love that part.
LINDSAY: Then you’re actually creating a theatrical experience.
LINDSAY: Because it’s about them and that notion of play.
LINDSAY: I say this all the time… it’s called a play and it should have some play.
BETH: I always do comedies because I want it to be fun, you know. Dramas are just too dramatic.
LINDSAY: That drama and that drama.
BETH: I mean, I love to go see them and I love a good drama. But to perform it? No, it’s just I’d rather go the other route with them.
LINDSAY: Yeah. I was going to ask you if you ever went down that other road with this vision, this amazing vision that you’ve got to see what would happen in a drama, but you’ve got to go with what your gut likes too, I think.
BETH: Well, having said that, we did a dramedy one year at festival and we didn’t do so well.
LINDSAY: Stop that then. We don’t need that!
BETH: It was a combination of things, but anyway… This year, we’re doing a dramedy but it’s more comedy than it is drama. There is drama and there is kind of a lesson, but it’s funny throughout so I said, “Okay. Well, we need to try it.” But there was enough lightheartedness about it that I said, “Okay, we’ll try it.”
LINDSAY: Well, why not? There’s no harm in trying, right?
BETH: No, and it’s a really cute play.
LINDSAY: Okay. So, as we wrap up here, if you had some advice for teachers who are looking at their budget and they don’t know where to start with a play, what would you say?
BETH: Well, the internet is great because a lot of times I’ll just type in something and just see what it brings up on Images and just get pictures of different things. If I’m looking for something, I’ll type that in and say, “Oh, look at that, that’s kind of cool. You know, if we were doing this, we could use that.” Just be open. Think outside the box, definitely. Pinterest is awesome.
LINDSAY: Yeah, I know a lot of teachers who use that.
LINDSAY: It’s a good resource.
BETH: Right. I mean, I don’t know if I’ve even tried anything on there, but the ideas are awesome. You’ve just got to keep your eye open and use people that want to help – that’s always great – and just learn. We do a lot of reduce, re-use, and recycle.
LINDSAY: Why not, you know?
LINDSAY: Do you use mostly cubes as your set pieces?
BETH: A lot of times, yeah. Like the pieces we used in Alice, those came from another play that we painted and moved them around in the play. They’ve been in probably four or five plays – that’s handy, very handy. But I also like plays that, if it is a vignette play, taking the pieces and moving them around and incorporating it into the play, this whole scene change. That’s kind of neat because, you know, there’s no stop. There’s no stop, change the scene, do the next scene. It’s a flow which is nice.
LINDSAY: That’s music to my ears because my biggest pet peeve – particularly in vignette plays – is, “Here is the end of the scene. Now we go to blackout. Now we change.”
BETH: Oh, yeah.
LINDSAY: It’s like, “No, no, no, we’ve got to flow!”
BETH: I did that once – way, way back. I learn something every year which is good and we did that. We blacked out and we got dinged by the judges. They said, “You know, just don’t do that.” It was like, “Okay!” So, what else are you going to do? All right, we’ll make it part of the play. And we actually, two years ago, we got an award for that for scene changes so you can’t complain.
LINDSAY: Can’t complain and I just think that’s great, Beth. You know, you just keep growing and you keep learning. It doesn’t seem to matter actually – the size of the school or the size of the budget – because you’re making theatre.
BETH: Yes, and it’s fun. And, if they’re having fun and learning something, that’s great. And, you know, I stay in contact with a lot of the kids who have graduated. They will come back or I’m friends with them on Facebook, you know. It’s just kind of neat to see what they’re doing, you know. It’s just brought a lot of fun and joy into people’s lives and that’s great.
LINDSAY: I can’t complain about that, for sure.
LINDSAY: Okay. Thank you so much for talking to me!
BETH: Well, thank you! I appreciate it!
LINDSAY: Thank you, Beth!
Okay. Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.
It’s a play feature! It’s a play feature! It’s time to feature a play!
We’ve got a new play! New play! New play!
So, this is from Steven Stack. We have a number of his plays – The Bottom of the Lake, Ashland Falls – and this one is The Dread Playwright ¬– err – Pirate Sadie and the title kind of tells you everything you need to know. It’s got pirates and it’s got pirates you write plays. Come on! Who hasn’t heard of the deadliest pirate on the high seas? Sadie who is quick with a blade – be it sword of ballpoint pen! Well, you know, well, you probably haven’t heard of Sadie, the deadliest pirate on the high seas because she’s a horrible pirate and her playwriting skills, well, we’re not going to get into that.
Okay. So, the best thing about this play is that there are parts for girls and there are pirate parts for girls and nothing is made of it. It’s not that “Oh, you’re a good pirate for a girl.”
Blacklegs is the second-deadliest pirate on the high seas and she’s just a good pirate, right? The characters are pirates and they just happen to be girls and that means this play has so many fun juicy roles that girls never get to play and I think, for that reason alone, go to the website – theatrefolk.com – read the sample pages for the The Dread Playwright ¬– err – Pirate Sadie by Steven Stack.
You can also find the link in the show notes at theatrefolk.com/episode127.
This play is funny. This play is swash-buckling. How often do we get to do that? This play is easy to stage. That’s another thing I think you really want to know. This is not going to be out of anyone’s budget and it’s just so much fun.
Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every second Tuesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk and you can find us on the Stitcher app. You can also subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you’ve got to do is search for the word “Theatrefolk.”
And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.