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The Best Cast Gifts Ever!

by Chris Polo


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Yes, it all comes to an end sometime. After all the weeks of rehearsal, the stress of tech week, and the highs and lows of performance, the closing of a show often brings mixed feelings: the utter delight of finally being able to get some rest, regret (or relief) about never playing that role again, and the realization, happy or sad, that there will always be other shows, but there will never be another like this one. Many companies exchange gifts after the final curtain, which serves several purposes: in addition to thanking those who have worked so long and so hard, it helps to put closure on the experience, and the gift itself will serve as a reminder of both the show and the people you worked with long after the applause has died away.

The best gifts for cast, crew and director don’t have to be the most expensive; they simply show that you have put some thought into them. This is admittedly difficult when every minute that you don’t spend at the theater is devoted to things like tackling the Mount Everest of dirty clothes in your laundry room or getting reacquainted with your kids. But a personal gift that is true to both the show and the person who receives it is likely to be a cherished possession.


Ready-Made Gifts That Mean A Lot

There are two roads to take when deciding on what to do about a gift: you can buy it, or you can make it. Brainstorming about a gift among cast and crew always helps. It’s also nice if you can enlist the help of whoever designs your programs - they can give you the show logo in various sizes as well as deliver some professional-looking printing.

Think of tie-ins with the show: does the setting suggest an item, or is a special prop used? A perfect cast gift for a show set in a hotel room would be brass keychains engraved with the name of the fictional hotel. One of my husband’s favorite gifts is a 1930’s-style radio from the cast of Dancing at Lughnasa; one of my favorites is a pretty little clock from the cast of Light Up The Sky (which is about the production of a play called The Time Is Now). Both of these carry little brass plaques engraved with our names, the name of the show, the name of the theater and the month and date of the run. In addition to being wonderful reminders of a shared experience, gifts like these are special for another reason: they are actually useful. We start our mornings listening to the news on the radio, which is displayed on a shelf in our kitchen, and the clock keeps time in the family room.

A purchased gift can be made more special by having it personalized, and an easy way to do this (although not necessarily inexpensive) is by having it engraved. Check your local mall for a jeweller or gift shop that does engraving, or look under “Trophies” in the phone book. Many of the trophy outlets carry a large selection of wooden wall plaques and other items in various sizes, or they can simply turn out small brass plaques that you can affix to something else with adhesive (like on our clock and radio). Wall plaques are popular cast gifts, as attested to by the fact that most actors who have been involved with community theater for any length of time have a wallful of them, along with a mantleful of those Oscar-type statuettes. Their very popularity, however, has a drawback -- once you’ve accumulated several of these, the thrill sort of wears off.

Shameless plug: The Community Theatre Green Room Store has a full line of original gifts just for community theater actors, directors and crew. A couple of other great community theater CafePress affiliates are MusicalTheaterAuditions.com and BG's Quips and Quotes.


Do-It-Yourself Gifts

Making a gift may take more time, but it is usually both less expensive and more meaningful than purchasing one. And you already have a leg up on making a gift, because you’re working with a group of creative, artistic people! When making a gift you shouldn’t worry about whether it’s artistic enough; it really is the thought that counts, and the more thought you put into it, the more meaningful it will be. Following are some terrific ideas for gifts to make yourself.

“Secret Photos”

Have somebody come in to take photos on dress rehearsal night, or whenever you usually schedule a photographer to take pictures in full costume, or simply take them yourself. Before the rehearsal starts, get individual candids of everybody in the cast and crew, and of the director and AD. Let them all think you’re taking them for your own photo album. Get pictures of the production, too. Get your pictures developed and buy inexpensive frames (from someplace like Walmart or the dollar store). Mount the pictures either individually or in a collage. For a collage, place your photos around a copy of the program cover; for individual photos, make labels with the name and dates of the show (either by hand or on a computer) and glue them near the bottom of the photo.

Drama Mask Shadow Box

Another way to give photos as a gift is the drama mask shadow box. Buy a large unfinished shadow box (as deep as you can get it) from a hobby shop or crafts store, and one or two (depending on the size of your shadow box) clear face masks (like the kind little kids wear at Halloween -- they can usually be found at costume shops). Paint the shadow box frame any color you like. Cover the inside back wall of the shadow box with paper (gift wrap, construction paper, whatever) and either add a label with the name of the show or use the logo (from the program cover or specially made for the gift). Leave space for the mask and the photos so you don’t get too much overlap when you lay the mask down. Cut down the mask on all sides so that it fits inside the box (you’ll have to trim off quite a bit) and try it in the box for size. Sort through your photos of the show and cut out the sections you want to display in the box. They’re going to go under the mask, so you’re not going to need a whole lot (this works best for a show that doesn’t contain a “cast of thousands”). Arrange them to your satisfaction and glue them down, making sure you’re not going to have bits of photos sticking out from under the mask. Glue down the mask (hot glue at a few strategic points works best), put the box back together and you’re done. For a large box, you could use two masks; paint the edges of the mouth of one of the masks so it looks like it’s frowning. (Thanks to Teri Thompson for this one.)

Script Collage

Photocopy or scan pages of the script, choosing the sections with each character’s most memorable lines (you can enlarge them if you like). Choose several for each character - you’ll make a different collage for each person featuring only their lines, or lines that represent a situation they played a part in. For an even nicer look, use a nice parchment-type paper for your copies or printouts (available at office supply stores and other places -- Staples carries some nice-looking inexpensive stuff). Cut out the sections you want to use or tear them out (I prefer this), making sure not to rip up the words you want to keep, and arrange them around the show logo, a program cover, or photos. For the crew, cut out stage directions, particularly parts that pertain to their cues. For a musical, photocopy sections of the score.

Leftovers Collage

Accent a photo, program cover or show logo with paper goods, bits of costumes or other small items from the show. For an actress who wore a feather boa, I added some stray feathers to her photo montage (they were always coming off anyway, so they weren’t hard to find). For an actress who carried a rose in one show, I used some rose petals. If a character uses a note in some way, duplicate it or ask the crew to save you any discards that are replaced during the run of the show (if it was blank on stage, go ahead and write out what it supposedly said). If you have leftover material from the curtains or slipcovers you made, place a bit of it in the frame (if you have a lot, use it as a background). Make up real items that were referred to but never seen on stage. For Lend Me A Tenor, I made up a fake drunk and disorderly citation on my computer and wrote out the note Maria leaves, and put them both in the montage for the actor playing Tito.

Show Doll Autograph Pillow

This is similar to those stuffed animals you used for collecting autographs from your friends in grade school, and requires some sewing ability. Sew up a small softbodied rag doll that represents some character in the show with a distinctive costume. The doll doesn’t have to be fancy; you can embroider the features, or you can simply draw them on with a felt-tip pen. Sew a miniature facsimile of a costume worn in the show (it doesn’t have to be exact - using the same material helps, though). Make a pillow big enough to attach the doll to; the material for the pillow should be smooth and sturdy enough to withstand being written on with a felt tip. Attach the doll to the pillow and have the entire cast sign the pillow. A variation on this involves putting the doll on a base and making another doll that represents something else associated with the show that has a large enough flat surface to accommodate the signatures. I have one of these for Wrong Turn at Lungfish that has a doll representing the main character (dressed in a bathrobe with his initials embroidered on the breast, as was worn in the show) propped up next to a stuffed fish that the cast has autographed. (Thanks to Linda Roop)

Original Art for the Non-Artistic

Contact a local high school and talk to the art teacher about commissioning a painting-- he or she might have a talented student who’d be willing to earn a little money by doing it for you, and would probably be thrilled at actually being paid for their work. Or the art teacher might even be willing to take it on. Give the artist a list with the names of the characters in the show and a prop associated with each name. Have the artist do a painting that incorporates all the props, with the name of the character next to each item. Make sure the artist includes the name of the show and “Directed By Name.” (Thanks to Tommye Staley)

Etch a Sketch

Buy a shallow shadow box or a deep picture frame, one where there’s some space between the glass and where the picture will go. Take the piece of glass from the frame to someone who can do etching on glass, and have the name of the show and the month and date of the run etched on the glass. It really looks good when the lettering is etched backwards on the back side the glass; the glass is placed in the frame with the etching on the inside, not the outside, so that the lettering reads properly. Thicker lettering is more legible than thin or flowery lettering. Put a photo, collage, or whatever in the frame and replace the glass. (Thanks to Paul Janiga)


Mirror Image

In a similar vein, a mirror in an unusual frame can be etched with the name of the show, etc. I hate to admit it, but we actually have a wooden toilet seat hanging on the wall of our family room that has a mirror set in under the lid, etched with the name of the show it commemorates, the infamous Bathroom Humor. My husband is inordinately proud of this one.

Computers are a very handy thing when it comes to making gifts, since the final product looks very professional. The following can be done by hand, but look best done on the computer:

The Actor’s Dictionary

Make up your own “Actor’s Dictionary,” with a different definition for each actor and crew member. This is simply choosing words that you want to define, and making up a funny (or serious -- it works both ways) definition that pertains to the person who’s receiving the gift. Follow the dictionary format. My husband, a fine director in his own right, had to wear a very uncomfortable cummerbund for a show I directed once. I chose to define the words “Class Act” for his gift. His definition read:

“CLASS ACT (Klas akt’) (n.): One who will put up with long hours, hot lights, tuxedos, criticism, last-minute changes and indecision on the part of the management and still keep his mouth shut, even though he knows he could do it better. See also: CUMMERBUNDS AND OTHER ENCUMBRANCES; POWERHOUSE PERFORMANCES; MAKING IT IN THE THEATER Subsection 3: Sleeping with the Director without Compromising Your Principles.”

This was followed by one of his lines in the show:

“I was pushed over the edge half an hour ago” -- Peter Sloan (the name of his character)

Do a different one for each member of the cast and crew. Put a notation at the bottom of each saying the definition is from the “Actor’s (any funny or description adjective that stands out in the show) Dictionary,” published by (Name of the Show) Enterprises, by special arrangement with (your theater group), the month and year of the production as if it were the publication date, and “Exclusively for (name of the actor or crew member).” Format nicely, print out on a pretty paper on a laser or inkjet printer, and frame.

The Director’s Brain

Have you ever seen those “Inside a dog’s brain” drawings? It’s a cartoon of a cutaway view of the inside of a dog’s head, with various sections of the brain labeled with things like “Eating,” “Sleeping,” “Bark Reflex,” “Sniffing Gland,” etc. Make one for your director. Use a human head profile and draw in your own sections. Label it with how your director REALLY thinks - like Yell Reflex, Pacing Gland, Urge to Kill, Theater Is My Life, etc.

News of the Day

Works well as a director’s gift from a large cast; requires use of a computer both for typesetting and laying out the page, or someone willing to type up the articles and do cut and paste, and the services of a quick-copy shop that can do oversized copies.

Have each cast member write a silly newspaper article in which their character is prominently featured. Crew can contribute,too, using their real names or nicknames (like Bob “The Lighting God” Smith). Type up all the articles and lay them out like a newspaper. Create a funny masthead that incorporates the name of the show. Pictures are great: scan them in if you’re doing it on the computer, and just paste them in if you’re working on a full-sized cut-and-paste layout.

If you’re doing the whole thing on the computer, you have a couple of alternatives for layout:

1) do your layout at one quarter the size of an actual newspaper (our newspaper here is 14” wide by 32” long, so the page size in my layout program, PageMaker, would be 3.5”x8”. And yes, it’s set in 3-point type, which means a zoom feature and a pretty good printer are important.) Print it out on letter-sized paper at at least 600 dpi and have it blown up 400% at a quick copy shop. Trim the excess paper or have the copy shop do it for you.

2) Do your layout at half size or full size, print it out in sections, cut and paste the sections together, and have them copied at a quick-copy shop. A half-size layout would need to be blown up 200%. Trim the excess paper.

Purchase poster frames and give your director and AD framed copies of the newspaper-size copies. Make enough extra half-size copies so the cast and crew can all have one, too (these would be printed on 11”x17” paper, which is cheaper than the over-sized 14”x32”).

Variation on this theme: Make it a magazine instead, using letter-sized paper. Make sure the number of pages in your magazine is a multiple of 4: 4, 8 or 16 pages works fine; 6, 9 or 14 pages means you’ll have an empty page or two. Have the copy shop print them up on 11”x17” paper, two pages to a side, copied front and back. For an 8-page layout, pages one and 8 would be printed side-by-side, with 1 on the right and 8 on the left; 2 and 7 would be next, laid out with 2 on the left and 7 on the right, etc. Get the copy shop staff to help you with the layout if you don’t want to tape the pages together yourself; use post-it notes to label each sheet as “Page 1,” “Page 2,” etc., and simply tell them you want it in a booklet format. Fold the finished copies together and staple in the middle. With this format, you can do funny ads, too.

Give ‘Em the Business

Make up funny business cards for each cast and crew member using some hook from the show or from their backstage job for the name of the business, along with a tag line for the business, followed by the actor or crew member’s real name and their job title. For example, for the actress playing Cookie in Neil Simon’s Rumors, the card could represent the business “Cookie’s Cookies,” with the tag line “We cook all day and all night so you don’t have to,” followed by “(Actress’s Name), Head Chef and Paramedic” down in the lower right-hand corner. Let your imagination go wild on this one, and take a look at some real business cards to see how they’re done. Print them out on your laser or inkjet printer on plain card stock and cut them apart, or on blank pre-perforated sheets of business cards (available at many office supply stores or by mail-order from Paper Direct). These can be handed out as is, for a simple gag gift, or incorporated into a framed collage.

Community Theater Green Room

Gift Cards

Opening Night Cards

Tell your favorite actors and crew members to break a leg with these full-color greeting cards designed specially for community theater! Package of six.

Bedroom Farce Thank-You Cards

Our wacky definition of "bedroom farce" on the front, "May the farce be with you always. Thank you." inside. Perfect for opening night or the final cast party. Package of six.

Do It For Applause Cards

Full-color greeting cards are blank, so there's plenty of room inside for personal messages from the entire cast. Package of six.

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