Victoria Neumark goes shopping for professional make-up, sound systems and fog machines - all to help you stage the perfect school play
Trying on your top hat? Dusting down your tails? Putting on the style? Yes, it's show time again and time to plan out resources to maximise the effects your pupils can make on doting families and sceptical friends.
A play is not a play without make-up. It's amazing how smearing paint and grease on a face will transform not just the owner's appearance but also its ability to act - from shy member of the third year to committed elf in a few quick dabs.
Snazaroo offers a delectable series of kits at prices ranging from Pounds 2.99 to Pounds 79.88. Their colours are either water-soluble glitter cream, or irridescent powders, with FX (special effects to the non-thespian) of blood in gel or cake and sculpting wax, clown-white foundation and several manuals and posters also available.
A colour theme pack offering three water-soluble colours, a brush and a design for such standards as the school fete or assembly, as pirate, tiger or mermaid is Pounds 2.99. A giant kit to cover no less than 700 faces, with tubes of 13 individual colours, metallic and glitter colours, brushes and sponges, will set you back Pounds 79.88.
For more professional productions Grimas theatre make-up from Treasure House of Makeup offers a bewitching range available in water-soluble, cake or cream base. You can use trade mascaras (Pounds 7), powders (from Pounds 4.60) and lipsticks (from Pounds 4), or go on to glitter or pearl-tip cream (Pounds 2.90). For the more ambitious there is face-shaping wax and putty, or latex foam, and even the wilder extremes of eyebrow plastic (to block out eyebrows at Pounds 3.30), tooth enamel (Pounds 3), bald cap plastic (from Pounds 21. 40 per 500ml tin) and stubble gum (Pounds 7).
Treasure House of Makeup also offers all the make-up removers, spirit gums, crepe wools and brushes for the enthusiastic make-up artists who have to take it all off again. Grimas runs weekly two-day workshops for those who want to know how to panstick properly. All prices include VAT.
Once your budding performers have got their slap on, it's time for the orchestra to start tuning up. The music publishers Boosey Hawkes as well as arranging jazz, blues and world folk numbers for schools, sell cantatas and song books specially for school performances. Of course, you can buy such established favourites as the Messiah from them, but their Music for Schools catalogue offers cheap prices on, for example, Mr Scrooge (a version of A Christmas Carol) at Pounds 34.95 for 10. Special bulk deals are also available on instrumental scores: their Session Time ensemble pack offers 15 pieces of popular music for brass (Pounds 17.95), woodwind (Pounds 29.50) or strings (Pounds 22.95) ensembles. For actual show scores, you will need to go to Samuel French's theatre bookshop in London.
While your pupils are getting note perfect, you can get on the phone to sort out the sound and light systems. Lancelyn Theatre Supplies hires out everything a school could need, from follow spotlights (from Pounds 15 per week) to flying equipment (a range of barrels, loops, hooks and pulleys, adding up to about Pounds 10 per week).
You can hire out a whole lighting board, the intelligent lighting system Golden Scan at Pounds 180 per week, or go for separate lanterns (from Pounds 2.90 to Pounds 25 per week) with appropriate colour changers (Pounds 7. 20 upwards), bars, cables, adaptors and switches. For that little extra dash of atmosphere, you could try the dry ice fog machine (from Pounds 18) or the snow machine with realistic snow included (Pounds 30 up). Bubble machines, smoke machines, pyrotechnic and disco effects can all be had too, at a price.
More conventionally illuminated orchestra stands start at Pounds 2 a week, staging units at Pounds 7.20 and seating for 196 at Pounds 696. Microphones, amplifiers and speakers are available, either separately or as sound systems (from Pounds 24 for the simplest to Pounds 300 for a sophisticated public address system).
Ultra-violet, mirror balls and strobes (all to be avoided if anyone is prone to epilepsy) - the sky is the limit, or your budget is.
A more specialised niche is filled by Steeldeck Staging, which offers customised staging at reasonable prices (an 8ft x 2ft stage costs Pounds 177.50; a 6ft x 4ft Pounds 207.50). Steeldeck is a stackable stage or seating system which can be hired or bought from the manufacturer. Odd sizes like triangles or raised profiles can be made to order and the basic construction of steel scaffold tubing legs, fitted with plastic castors to prevent floor damage with cross bracing to ensure stability and enamel-finished plywood tops, will make Steeldeck an attractive option for schools wanting to buy their own staging. All the units can be easily disassembled and stacked if need be.
Break a leg!
* Boosey Hawkes, The Hyde, Edgware Road, London NW9 6JN.Tel: 0181 205 3861. Stand PV227
* Lancelyn Lighting, Poulton Road, Bebington, Wirral L63 9LN.Tel: 0151 334 3000. Stand C51
* Snazaroo, Unit 1a to 1d, Brunel Way, Mart Road Industrial Estate, Minehead, Somerset TA24 5BJ.Tel: 01643 707659. Stand B21
* Steeldeck Staging, Barpart House, Kings Cross Freight Depot, York Way, London N1 0UZ. Tel 0171 833 2031. Stand H18
* Treasure House of Makeup, 197 Lee Lane, Horwich, Bolton BL6 7JD. Tel: 01204 668355. Stand B27