SEQUINS!

Like peanut butter to jelly, like Siegfried to Roy, what would the performing arts be without sequins?

marilyn monroe

If the performing arts were a country, the flag undoubtedly would be made of gaff tape and sequins. What material would befit the banner of our happy little nation-state more? When we think about a few American performing arts icons – 1) Marilyn Monroe 2) Diana Ross 3) Liberace and 4) Elvis, we think sequin 1) red dress, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 2) 8 out of 10 costume changes 3) everything and 4) capes and jumpsuits.

This perfect plastic paillette adds shimmer, glamour, depth and a failsafe wow factor to all sorts of costumes. This spring, sequins trended in everyday wear, adorning t-shirts, shoes, belts … proletariat fashion hasn’t seen this much day-to-day glam since the ‘70s. Let’s face it. Everybody loves a sequin.

But from whence came this glittering gimcrack, this decorative doo-dad?

Leonardo_da_vinci,_Device_for_Making_Sequins

Leonardo da Vinci’s sketch, circa 1480-1482.

The sequin seems to have emerged from the world’s cultures’ collective subconscious, as examples of sparkly disks sewn to clothes and accessories appeared in King Tut’s tomb, 2500 B.C. India, and in parts of ancient Asia. The notion of attaching coins to clothes for status caught on almost everywhere, and lo and behold, Leonardo da Vinci invented a sequin-making machine that, like his airplane, only made it to the sketch phase. However, it bears repeating: da Vinci sketched a sequin-making machine. The man who gave us Mona Lisa and The Last Supper also dreamed of full-scale sequin production.

flapper 2

Metal sequins lasted until the 1920s, which meant all those flapper dresses were a heck of a lot heavier than they looked. Later that decade, the world discovered the many uses of gelatin, one of which happened to be pressing it into sheets and punching out hundreds of lightweight, easy-to-color sequins. However, gelatin dissolves and melts, a problematic fact of life for these vegan-unfriendly decorations. Another method of back-plating acetate (clear plastic) with silver emerged thanks to Kodak and the ingenuity of a New York spangle-maker named Herbert Lieberman, who later, naturally, relocated his sequin-production operation to Florida. The acetate proved too brittle – unless, as Lieberman discovered, it was coated on both sides with Mylar.

Voila! Lieberman invented modern-day sequins that could withstand a round in the washing machine. Today, we use vinyl plastic sequins which are cheaper and more durable but not as sparkly as their acetate, divine-light-channeling counterparts. The next stage in sequin evolution will hopefully be for a glorious dot of high-reflective power that biodegrades. Stay tuned.

Try Not to Fall Asleep or Succumb to the Peer Pressure of a Standing Ovation

And other helpful tips concerning theater etiquette

We’re always finding things our guests leave behind (like shoes … how do you leave only one shoe under your seat, people? Is it when you get home that you look down and say ‘oh, I’m only wearing one shoe! Well, I don’t feel like driving back.’?). A few months ago, after a high school group came to see Dear Evan Hansen, we found a small handout listing “tips and advice on how to practice good etiquette and appropriate manners when attending a live show.”

We were thrilled. As a general rule, we love for people to practice good manners at a show to maximize the enjoyment of everyone including the performers onstage. Just Google “Patti Lupone cell phone” to discover how much actors hate having people disrupt a show to video, take selfies or answer a call. As digital rudeness continues to elbow manners right out the exit door of social events these days, knowing that many people still cherish respecting others by not texting or checking the playoff scores during a live performance brings a big ol’smile to our faces.

The handout included some other great tips unrelated to cell phone use like “#4—Eat Your Dinner Before the Show, Not DURING It” (preferably at one of our Straz restaurants, plug plug); “#11—Try Not to Fall Asleep” (um, yes please) and “#12—Standing Ovations Are Overdone, Don’t Give In To Peer Pressure” (right on! If you don’t think a performance was worth your precious standing O, by all means, stay seated with your enthusiastic clapping). Obviously “Do Not Leave Your Etiquette Handout Behind” wasn’t on the list of verboten behaviors, but we’ll forgive some things as long as you’re not livestreaming yourself watching the show.

Sometimes we do have folks who are new to the performing arts and wonder what’s appropriate and what’s not. Dress code at The Straz is more or less “wear some,” so we get everything from flip flops to Jimmy Choos at any given performance. The old chestnuts remain intact: arrive early, stay through the curtain call, be aware of the folks around you and respect their experience and sight lines—and remember, everyone in the theater can hear, see, and smell what you’re doing, so let common courtesy be your guide.

Of course, as with all rules, there are exceptions. Some shows or performers want you to go crazy posting to social during their live event because it’s awesome free advertising and builds their fanbase. They’ll let you know prior to the show if it’s okay. We also introduced sensory-friendly performances for our neuro-diverse student population at the Patel Conservatory, where it’s okay to make noise, get up and move if you need to and otherwise break the traditional theater etiquette rules to accommodate our guests with sensory sensitivities. You can read more about our sensory-friendly performances in this article from Tampa Bay Parenting magazine.

With the new Straz season on the horizon, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice turning off our cell phones before the curtain and making manners trendy again. At least we can be thankful folks don’t spit on the floor or throw stones at the actors anymore.

Drink in a Little Americana

Sip, our new outdoor bar made from a 1966 Airstream Safari, mixes retro with metro.

3_PRESS RES SIP by Rob-Harris-8245

Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.

Wally Byam did not mean to start Airstream.

What he meant to do was devise a way to go camping with his wife so she wouldn’t have to sleep on the ground in a tent. She also suggested it would be more fun if she had a kitchen.

So there’s Wally, who grew up in a wooden wagon on the Oregon Trail that had a stove inside it, rigging up a Model T chassis with a tent. The mobile tent didn’t hold up in the rain, and it was super un-fun to assemble; so, Wally went back to square one, invented a teardrop-shaped permanent shelter over the chassis and outfitted it with a stove and ice chest, same as his wooden-wagon days. This Airstream prototype drew so much attention from fellow travelers, Wally decided it might make a decent business.

First, he published a DIY traveling trailer guide in Popular Mechanics, then opened a little factory called Airstream in Culver City, Calif., in 1931. The round design mitigates wind resistance. It also looks really cool, so the Airstream grew popular quickly. Other travel trailer manufacturers popped up everywhere, but when the Great Depression hit and WWII followed with a demand for aluminum for planes, every single pre-Depression trailer shop folded except Airstream. Wally contributed to the war effort by building planes. In a sense, those years provided him with an apprenticeship; when the war ended and he returned to Airstream, he applied his airplane know-how to building the best, most well-designed and longest lasting travel trailers in the country. And get this: in 2006, 70% of all Airstreams were still on the road.

Just one glance at an Airstream conjures the romance of the American Dream – it’s shiny; it’s Space-Agey; it can take you anywhere you want to go and keep you comfortable. You can be free and hip at the same time. The Airstream is like Andy Warhol meets apple pie; it’s space travel without the claustrophobic suits, an easy-access bathroom and the ability to breathe the air. Airstream means happy family vacations and the daring-to-explore courage of the Great American Road Trip. And, it just looks really cool. Did we mention that?

When the time came for The Straz to decide on opening a new outdoor bar that would both engage guests and lure in folks on the Riverwalk, a converted Airstream that sold alcohol was a no-brainer. “We had a brainstorming session regarding plans about the outdoor bar,” says Chief Operating Officer Lorrin Shepard. “And someone brought up the idea of a converted Airstream with a few drawings of what it would look like. It was a unanimous favorite.”

The committee found an original 1966 Airstream Safari, a classic “silver bullet land yacht” at 22 feet equipped with a linen closet, credenza, two twin beds, a full bed, a tub and refrigerator in addition to the full kitchen and bathroom. “It was fun going through the conversion process – what do you keep, what do you clear out so it can be a working bar. We ended up with the inside completely converted and the outside preserved. You can see the dings and small travel-wear on it,” says Shepard.

1_PRESS RES SIP by Rob-Harris-8198

Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.

Sip opened in January in time for the curtain to rise on Les Miz. However, the idea behind Sip is much more than offering a new, hip bar for Straz guests. Sip, parked on the Straz’s southern end of the Riverwalk, opens The Straz to anyone who happens to be on the Riverwalk or enjoying downtown. It’s our way of saying, “hey, stop here, have a drink, enjoy yourself, be a part of our amazing campus and maybe there’s even some free entertainment happening.” Sip is open to all with a full liquor bar, craft beers, frozen drinks, coffee drinks and water. Plus, you can get an official Riverwalk to-go cup at Sip to take your booze as you cruise. It’s as if the Airstream is begging you to keep traveling. Or stay and get comfortable. You can have it all at an Airstream bar.

“Whether folks are here for a Broadway show, one of our free outdoor community events or just strolling along the Riverwalk, Sip is a casual urban oasis with a stunning view and good vibes,” says Javier Rasmussen, the general manager of food and beverage for The Straz.

“The Airstream is a cherished American icon,” Shepard says. “Wanderlust, abode, comfort – all packaged in this cool, shining jewel of a display. That makes me happy, knowing we’re able to bring that alive for the city.”

Sip hours (weather permitting):
TUE – THU      4PM-10PM
FRI                  4PM – 12AM
SAT                 11AM – 12AM
SUN                11AM – 10PM

2_PRESS RES SIP by Rob-Harris-8182

Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.

Shock Absorbers

Under a tight schedule, it takes eight weeks to replace one stage floor. Last summer, we had only five. And two enormous stages.

Life is not fair.

But, if you have a good sense of humor, it is funny.

Running The Straz takes an enormous amount of effort on what we call the “back end,” or, the aspects of show business that take place outside of the spotlights. The back-end includes building maintenance, groundskeeping, upgrading and repairing equipment, changing the umpteen thousand lightbulbs, replacing broken concrete on the walkways and other such things. We do our best to execute the work of the back-end during moments that are least disruptive to guests. Often, we get a slight lull in the action over the summer when we are between seasons. We dive into this lull tools a-blazing to address major projects, so when you arrive for the brand-new season you’re not greeted by backhoes, cherry-pickers and gates of orange construction netting. Instead, all is sparkly, shiny and ready to envelop you in a radiant bubble of wonderment, which is exactly why we’re here for you.

Last summer, we faced one of our greatest challenges yet. Because both stages sustained an exciting amount of action last season (compounded by the countless seasons before), replacing Ferguson and Morsani stages with upgraded materials landed on the top of the to-do list for summer chores.

Both stages. Ripped up, carted away, new flooring installed with tech upgrades, repainted and ready to rock and roll by Sept. 11. Which would have been okay if construction crews and our operations department had been able to start in June like normal. But, because we had Broadway summer shows and other gigs booked, the stages didn’t empty until the end of July.

Brand new Ferguson stage floor prior to being painted.

That circumstance left our intrepid and uber-busy Director of Operations C.J. Marshall staring down the barrel of a five-week deadline to replace both main stage floors on time and on budget before the biggest season in Straz history.

Insert sense of humor here.

“The first time we replaced Ferguson [stage], we had eight weeks to do it,” C.J. said. “So, yeah. It was a very, very tight timeline.”

C.J. sat down with pen and paper, sketching out a schedule of how to make it happen. He’d need three crews working about 20 hours a day, seven days a week. Then, maybe, the stages’ paint would be dry in time for Chicago to load in and the Hillsborough County Small Business Awards Show to set up on Ferguson.

Maybe. But there was no way they could do it if they had to complete the demolition, clean-up and prep before starting to lay the wood. “The flooring company normally sends about eight people to do the job. We had 22 people on-site. Once we demo’ed the initial 10 feet, the installers started working behind the demo team, starting to lay the new floor before the rest of the floor had been completely removed.” In this building-the-bridge-as-we-cross-it manner, crew relieving crew relieving crew, they steadily raced against the deadline that tick-tick-ticked on C.J.’s calendar with all the charm of the Doomsday Clock.

As with most theoretical calculations, C.J.’s were based on a perfect world. In addition to being unfair, life is also not perfect. “There’s so much of the floor we couldn’t see – everything that was underneath the top planks. As we demolished, we uncovered sections that had to be leveled or cleaned and re-cleaned. The crew would open the floor, and I’d see the condition and think that’s another three days; that’s another four days, all the while the date pushed closer to Chicago’s load-in. Would we make it in time? We had to. Somehow.”

Florida’s humidity, especially in the summer, invites mold and mildew like its throwing a block party. C.J. and his operations crew built a tent over the entire stage to create a negative vacuum; inside, they ran several air scrubbing and air sucking machines that cleaned the air of all dangerous spores. This set-up meant that not only were the floor crews sweating it out under an ambitious and possibly laughable deadline, they were doing it in Hazmat suits and respirators.

August came and went.

September arrived, bearing down on the looming arrival of Chicago. When the director of the Hillsborough County Small Business Awards Show arrived ten days before their event to check on the progress of the Ferguson stage replacement, he saw a giant plastic tarp draped over what appeared to be a half-finished stage – read: the other half was a rectangular hole – filled by men lumbering around in Tyvek suits using power tools. In essence, a scene straight from The X-Files. C.J. assured him all would be well, and the early days of September raced by.

“During this whole project,” C.J. says, “ … there were a lot of sleepless nights. But we made it on time.”

In fact, C.J. and his crews put forth so much effort, they finished two days ahead of schedule. There was plenty of time for Roxie, Velma and the outstanding small-business people of Hillsborough County to strut across our freshly painted, very dry, immaculately installed stages.

This cross-section of the Morsani stage shows the design details of a sprung floor.

“Ahead of schedule and on budget,” says C.J. “and we were able to install sprung floors on both stages as well as run about 12 miles of cable under Morsani stage to bring it up to digital standards, to give it a data and electrical infrastructure. Shows need connectivity on stage now, and we have it.” The sprung floors mean that a flexible brace under the planks provides “give,” like mild shock absorbers, to protect dancers’ muscles and joints from abrupt impact. The connectivity allows for access to power and network jacks without having to run temporary cables from set pieces to wall outlets. “I have to give a lot of credit to Ron Stevens of Trident Surfacing, who was our project manager, and Dave Reynolds, a Straz carpenter, who was our point person and really did a great job of keeping the crews going. We also couldn’t have done this project without the hard work of our production electricians, Leslie Bindeman and Jesse Perkins. We’re super excited about the new floors.”

So what happened to C.J. when they crossed the finish line 48 hours early?

“I left town and went and sat in the woods of North Carolina with no cell phone, no internet, no nothing for a week with my wife,” he laughs. “It was wonderful.”

Extraordinary Factoids about Our New and Improved Stage Floors

• Basketball courts also have sprung floors.
• The Morsani Hall stage floor can hold 9,000 pounds per square foot, about 50-70,000 pounds total.
• Both stages are Canadian maple.
• The Morsani stage is 9,500 square feet; the Ferguson stage is 5,000 square feet. That’s 14,500 square feet replaced in five weeks.
• The new floors should last about 20 years.
• Sprung floors also contain a little layer of neoprene, the same material of a wetsuit.
• The Morsani stage gets painted about four times a year because we have so many shows. There were 70 layers of paint on the old stage when they demolished it, adding up to almost a quarter inch.