Dance to the Musical

Many productions that are done on television are made for a specific audience. Seldom does one of those productions spawn a cult like phenomenon.



 In the past year Disney Channel created a new made for TV movie. A story that partially is reminiscent of the old movie “ Grease” and a bit like the formula stories Disney often tells. But this story of a Basketball Jock that falls for the smart girl and ends up singing in the High School Musical. The local production of Disney’s High School Musical was performed by a cast of area students, as part of a production mounted by South Bend Civic Theatre last month. I was hired to design and build the set for this production. I create sets for School Television Studio’s (www.Philmagic.com) and agreed to build this because my children were so into this movie that I wanted to do it for them. This month I am going to explain the process of converting a television movie into a stage production.


To start with the stage was 26’ by 20’ (see photo) it has a curved stage extension that had to stay in. This play takes place in several locations over the course of the play; The Gym, Cafeteria, Classrooms, A Roof Top Garden, Hallways, etc. So I had to figure out how to make the stage area the most versatile with the most possibilities. I created a sense of the movie by putting a platform across the rear of the stage across the entire back. Then I designed a two six foot wide moveable staircases. These cases helped to create the different locations. They could be moved off stage for the Cafeteria scene, move together for the Gym Scene. Then to help to create the sense of the importance of basketball to the show I put up two trusses on each side of the stage with basketball backboards creating a functional basketball court for use in the Basketball players singing and dance numbers.


There were several props that needed to be made. The theatre staff assisted with the building of the props and the painting of the design. For the painting we chose to use a scheme similar to that in a high school using the fictional high school East High’s school colors of red and white, on the supports for the stairs and the platforms. The floor was painted to look like a gym floor with the East High Wildcat logo on the center of the floor (photos attached).


About a week before the show was to open I discovered that the person who had agreed to design the lighting for the show would not be able to do it.


I have had many years of experience with lighting both for Theatre and Television, so as the Technical Director for the production I agreed to do that as well. So I agreed to also design the lighting for the show in addition to the set design and construction. This allowed me to use the same techniques that are used in film and video production as well as theatre. First we had to light the stage with a general wash, using a light blue and a light pink gel color. Once the wash was complete then I broke the areas up into specific special areas and lit them as well. Then I added some color scrollers on backlight facing toward the audience to give separation to the actors and act as mood setting effects. A color scroller is a DMX controlled changing color gel roll that allows each color to be specifically addressed and cued into the show. This allows for several different looks and colors from the same fixture. I programmed these 7 lights into 3 separate control channels, this allows me to change 2 sets of three lights and one separate lights. Once this is finished I added the 4 color scrollers into the bottom of the silver truss pointing up the truss, these were cued 2 together for each side of the stage.  Once all the areas were cued in to the board, I programmed the lighting board to the basic cues. Then the director and a few cast members did a cue to cue where I adjusted the lighting to match the look the director wanted for the show. Once the cues were set and they start to run in the Technical Rehearsal with the full cast and musicians. As the show goes along we adjust and make changes. As the dress rehearsals went along, I kept adding special effects lighting and a hazer. The hazer is similar to a fog machine but creates an airborne particulate that hangs in the air and shows the beams of the lighting instruments. I put two Martin Scanner lights in each corner of the back pipe and programmed them to rotate thru some Gobo (patterns) and colors as well as sweep out into the audience. There are also some other ellipsoidal instruments that put Gobo’s on the back Cyclorama (the large plain curtain across the back wall of the stage. And the final item I added to the show brought the sense of a typical Disney road show, confetti and streamers. At the end of the show the moving lights sweep the audience and at the last beat of the music 2 confetti cannons shoot off confetti to the stage. (Contact if you are interested in renting or purchasing confetti or streamer cannons.)  The cast does their bows and then they sing the reprise the lights start flashing, the cast goes into the audience and brings kids up on stage and in the isles and dance to the finale at the last beat of the music streamers shoot from the light booth out into the audience.
 This was a fun experienced, seeing the face of all the kids and adults that saw the show and the overwhelming response to the show made the long hours and work worthwhile. My kids had a birthday party the following week and I was able to get the tables from the cafeteria scene and the streamers for them.

TV Studio Sets

In addition to designing, building and lighting projects for theatrical productions, I also use my years of experience with television sets and theatrical set construction to build custom designed TV studio sets for schools. I take the space provided, discuss the needs and looks you are interested in, settle on a budget and design something that can come in on time and under budget. These sets are custom built in our shop just for your location. Philmagic Designs & Productions can create a professional set that reflects the style of a larger scale network or affiliate news set. We also can design and install lighting, cameras, prompters as well as the set. Check out or website at www.philmagic.com for samples of our work. Let us create the “WOW” factor at your school.