What Theatre Magic Means to Me

In her latest Square One column, Ashley H. White of Imprint Theatreworks ponders the idea of the magic of theatre. 

published Friday, October 25, 2019

Photo: Evan Michael Woods
Ashley H. White is Artistic Director of Imprint Theatreworks


Dallas — Anyone know how to make a blood-spraying axe?

That’s what I’ve been working on this week. An axe with a very focused and controllable blood spray effect. Oh, and the blood has to land in a very specific spot and be washed out every night. It’s been a fun and messy experience of trial and error. Every now and then, I’ll step away from the gadget, and I’ll think to myself how strange and magical this theatre thing is.

In this business of show, we get to enjoy all types of tricks and moments of “theatre magic.” At IMPRINT, we’ve had great fun experimenting with it — from the bloody axes of Lizzie Borden to 20-minute scenes in pure blackout, à la our spring production of Ghost Quartet, one of my favorite and most challenging scenes to stage of my directing career so far.

What is “theatre magic,” though? To some, it’s a well-executed trick. Something that no one can either expect or anticipate, something that makes people suspend their disbelief even further beyond by seeing something so unexpected it can only be explained as magic.

Photo: Evan Michael Woods
The cast of Lizzie, presented by Imprint Theatreworks

While working on this blood-spraying axe, though, I began to think of other types of theatre magic that we have been fortunate to create over the past two years of IMPRINT. Whether that was presenting a classic play on a set with no color, forced perspective, and only straight lines (our inaugural Glengarry Glen Ross), having our scenic designer custom make a stencil in the shape of a uterus for the punk rock wallpaper print in our production of The Revolutionists, rewiring old electronic equipment to simulate a Victorian-era vibrator in In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play, to many, many more, we are constantly coming up with crazy concepts and figuring out how to make theatre magic.

Maybe, then, theatre magic is simply the element of surprise. The moment you take someone out of their seats and into a different plane, one where everyone is living the same story, even if only for a moment. Maybe it’s when the audience is completely taken away.

But then, I thought of more moments of magic. The moments when things felt they may not come together. When things went wrong or we had to quickly respond or react to avoid things going wrong. 

Since launching this company, the engineering challenges have come much more often and some are quite hard to overcome. Additionally, the learning curve of jumping from director and designers to producers, as I and the entire IMPRINT team have done, can be fairly steep at times.

What do you do when the entire building blacks out during a storm the night before your opening? Or when you’re asked to strike and vacate the space the day before tech rehearsal, which happened during that same fateful show. This summer, we lost our primary rehearsal space due to circumstances beyond our control. Where did we go? What about when your outdoor space completely floods four hours before showtime? 

Maybe theatre magic is those times when you think on your feet, bend, adapt, and do whatever you can to make the show happen. The determination and sheer force of will that must be present at all times to make a production come together is fascinating, and could be exhausting, if you didn’t have the right team alongside you.

Maybe it’s all of these things. 

It’s been two years of intense learning experiences for all of us. Yes, two years. Which is crazy. I’ve personally learned many things. We all have.  We’ve learned new tricks and new trades. We’ve learned how to create art on a penny (sometimes on less), how to turn on a dime, and how to stretch a dollar. We’ve learned how to respond, react, and adapt to challenges and circumstances, and because we are incredibly lucky, through most of it, we’ve had fun.

Maybe the magic is finding a group of people just crazy enough to go on this journey with you, banding together with them, and saying, “let’s go.”

Maybe the magic is… theatre. It’s surreal and strange, this business of storytelling. And man, is it fun. 

As for that axe? Well, it’s pretty damn magical. You’ll have to come see Lizzie to see it in action.


» Imprint Theatreworks' production of Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Tim Maner, and Alan Stevens Hewitt's musical Lizzie runs Oct. 31-Nov. 16 at the Bath House Cultural Center, Dallas. More info here. White directs, and Rebecca Lowrey is the musical director.

» Square One now runs on the fourth Friday of the month.



(if a month is not listed, there wasn't a column)



  • January: The Importance of Team
  • February: Lessons Learned
  • March: Curtain Up
  • April: About the Company Manager
  • May: Another Closing, Another Show
  • June: Finding Clarity in Chaos
  • July: Theatre Directing Life Hacks
  • October: Finding Comfort through Creativity
  • November: Season One and Done


 Thanks For Reading

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What Theatre Magic Means to Me
In her latest Square One column, Ashley H. White of Imprint Theatreworks ponders the idea of the magic of theatre. 
by Ashley H. White

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