Haldane Drama Behind the Curtain What it takes to put on a show


It recently occurred to us that not everyone realizes what it takes to put on a typical production at Haldane or that Haldane Drama is a self-funded club. With the exception of royalties, licensing and scripts, which the school budgets for, the club pays for all other operating expenses through box office, ad sales and concessions.

This post was created to provide a little insight into Haldane Drama and the immediate challenges we face as a result of our show cancellation.

You may have read about the Coronavirus impact on Broadway and the entertainment industry, but did you know that the impact extends to Haldane as well?

Anatomy of a show - Fiddler on the Roof

Like Broadway, the impact of the pandemic has also affected Haldane Drama. While we don't have theatre rent or a payroll to manage, we do have expenses. With the cancellation of our show, Haldane Drama now has a significant deficit that it must work through.

How much does it cost to put on a show?

Production costs for Haldane Drama usually range between $12,000 and $18,000!

How do you break that down?

ORCHESTRA - $3,000

The orchestra is the single biggest expense for a musical. Haldane Drama hires area musicians to play in the pit. Typically, they play for three tech/dress rehearsals in addition to the performances. The cost of the pit varies with the size of the orchestra. It ranges between $6,000 and $10,000. Because of the show cancellation, we were only obligated to pay for the rehearsals, which was $3,000


Costumes and accessories can be expensive. We're talking dresses, pants, suits, hats, shoes, belts, scarves, shirts, vests, corsets... you get the picture. And if it is a period piece like Romeo and Juliet or The Crucible, it can get VERY expensive.

We costume shows from a variety of sources. We have been fortunate to have both the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival and The Depot Theatre, who have loaned us items for many shows. We also rent from the Theatre Development Fund (TDF). TDF is a non-profit dedicated to assisting the theatre industry. With over 65,000 costumes, TDF supports colleges, universities, high schools and middle schools with low cost rentals. Many of their costumes are quality pieces that have been retired from Broadway shows and the Metropolitan Opera. In addition, we comb through the sites EBay and Etsy. For Fiddler, TDF only had so many of what they call a Cossack or Tolstoy shirt. The remainder were purchased from an Etsy vendor from Moscow!

Costumes often need alteration and we often have to build some of the costumes in-house.

The accessorizing of a costume is quite often more difficult and time consuming, than the basic dress or suit. There are boots and shoes, hats, scarves, corsets, cravats and ties. For Fiddler we needed black tall boots for all of the Russians (from a child’s size 6 to a men’s 14). The ladies needed lace up flat boots. All males needed a hat, whether a black Homburg or a wool cap. All females needed scarves or head coverings. We needed prayer shawls and tzitzits…

Our wonderful costumers and wardrobe personnel are never seen by the audience, but their work is essential to the success of a show

There is nothing quite as satisfying as watching a cast try on costumes for the first time. For a young actor, it can be a transformative experience in their character journey to a performance..

And when the show is over... wardrobe’s work continues. We have to dry clean and wash everything and then sort and inventory all the pieces before they are returned. Dry cleaning alone can easily run more than $1,000. Costs for Fiddler on the Roof are TBD as they are still in the school awaiting our return.


Set construction can be a large expense, too. For Fiddler on the Roof, we used reclaimed lumber that was donated or located by our volunteers. For safety, new lumber is used to create the underlying structure. All that weathered sheathing was then affixed to the set framing. After everything is ready, the painters come and give everything a “wash” to unify the look of the structures, floor and props.

There is more than lumber that goes into set construction. You have hardware - everything from hinges and doorknobs to rigging hardware and casters. And screws!

PROPS - $1,500

Props, both set and personal, often present unique challenges, For Fiddler, we needed an antique sewing machine (that needed mounting on casters), a chuppa or wedding canopy, a dairyman’s cart and the cart needed antique milk cans. We needed a well (also on casters), a ¾ size bed frame, that needed mounting on casters, antique chairs, benches, long tables, small tables, books, bottles, a violin, mugs, glasses…. a 6 foot long necklace for the dream sequence.

Joe Levy shown welding heavy duty casters onto our bed for Fiddler on the Roof so the bed can be spun around on stage.

…and oh. All those heavy duty casters are expensive, and the bed casters broke 3 or 4 times in rehearsal before we gave it a good welding.

EVERYTHING that you see an actor hold, carry, sit on, stand on was built, bought or borrowed.

MAKEUP & HAIR - $1,500

And don't forget the makeup and hair. For Fiddler it was all about facial hair. As each male Jewish character needed beards and moustaches, and as most teenaged boys can’t grow their own, they needed to be purchased. Quality facial hair is very expensive. The facial hair bill was over $1,000. That is not a typo.


Special services: Many times, in producing a show, there is a need to hire someone with a particular expertise if we do not have a volunteer. This is particularly important for safety when fights or weapons are involved. For Fiddler, we needed both a dance choreographer and a fight choreographer. (pictured - fight scene from Romeo & Juliet)

PRINTING - $1,500

Advertising- We pay for our own printing. Posters, postcards, programs.


Technology expenses for Fiddler on the Roof were relatively low, however technically heavy shows like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, can run as much as $5,000 when you add video projection mapping and LED Pixel mapping.

The Laramie Project with full stage projection
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time utilized three projectors and projection mapping software
The set for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time utilized pixel mapping technology to individually control each multi-color LED embedded in the set

The Laramie Project required a total of 30 wireless microphones. Fifteen additional microphones were rented to supplement Haldane's system.

Show automation software, rented by the day, was used to manage the cues and automate settings for the large number of microphones.

Other common expenses include consumables such as fog fluid and dry ice for stage atmospherics as well as replacement lamps and parts for our lights. Lamps alone cost upwards of $14 a piece and with almost a hundred fixtures we replace quite a few.


We rely on many volunteers, whether it's running around TDF to find the right costume, fitting or just organizing everything - even Mrs. Sniffen our H.S. Principal has been known to spend some of her days with a needle and thread!

For Fiddler, local carpenter Steve Voloto built our cart ( and repaired it the night of the final dress, when the handle broke)

These are just a few of the faces that volunteer their time and expertise.

In summary...

  • Haldane Drama is self-funded and relies heavily on ticket sales and donations
  • Due to the cancellation of our production, your financial support is now more important than ever.
  • Volunteers (students and adults) form the backbone of our behind the scenes efforts, new volunteers are welcome and very much needed. No experience necessary!
  • Please consider making a donation to watch a taping of our final dress rehearsal.


Damian W. McDonald