As readers of this blog already know, we are HUGE advocates of musical theatre in schools. But we are also the first to admit that putting on a musical is hard work, especially for the teachers. It is the teacher who is usually expected to be the director, choreographer, stage manager, and producer; all while still being a teacher!
That is why we have asked Kimberly Patterson, the Theatre Arts Teacher and Performing Arts Chair at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida, to write this series for our Spotlight On Musicals blog.
The series outlines the process of putting on a musical from start to finish, providing helpful tips and maybe even some new ideas. Topics include:
- Applying for a license with a publisher
- Budgeting and creating calendars
- Assembling your team
- Running rehearsals with a student crew
- Working with your technical theater team
- Managing the house
…and many others. Whether you’re a seasoned producer of school theatre or you’re just starting out and have suddenly been put in charge of it all, this series will have something for you.
Thus far, we’ve posted PART 1: Selecting a Show & Securing Performance Rights, PART 2: Creating Your Documents, PART 3: Assembling Your Team, PART 4: Casting, PART 5: First Rehearsal, PART 6: Table Work, PART 7: In Rehearsal, PART 8: Production Decisions, PART 9: The Tech Team, and PART 10: Troubleshooting. Now it’s time for…
Yes, tech week can be long, exhausting, and frustrating. But it doesn’t have to be miserable! Here’s where all of the planning skills you’ve used throughout the process really come into play. There’s no way to know in advance what’s going to go wrong: a light is focused in the wrong place, the mic doesn’t work, and it takes twice as long to change the set between scenes. Pad your schedule a bit to account for these extra minutes. Assume the dinner break will run long, and know that giving notes will take three times longer than they should. Your planning might not be able to prevent these things from happening, but at least you won’t be caught off guard.
Don’t neglect a “dry tech” — the work period when the crew takes care of the major technical components without actors present. The lighting designer will be dealing with any focus changes and will be writing cues along with the lighting board operator. The sound designer will be similarly occupied. With high school actors, it’s even more important to run these rehearsals without having to worry about keeping the performers entertained during stretches of inactivity. They’ll come back into play for the “wet tech” (yes, some people do call it that). During the dry tech, your stage manager typically facilitates the day.
At this point, you’ll have to decide how you want to use your stage manager for the shows, if you haven’t already. Traditionally, stage managers are the ones who call the cues for the board operators and other running crew. This means they’ll be in the tech booth, or stationed at a stage manager’s desk backstage, if you have one. Other directors want their stage manager backstage to help with big scene changes and be a first responder in case of snafus; someone else will need to be able to keep the other transitions aligned. There’s no real right or wrong way to do it — whatever works best for your team.
They’re the kinds of things that give your show a little extra polish. First, the costume parade. Actors come out on stage in their costumes so the director and crew can make sure everything looks the way it’s supposed to. Certain colored fabrics might look lovely in natural light, but turn to muddy brown under colored stage lights. Clearly, it’s better to do this earlier in the week, to give your costume designer time to make modifications. (Same goes with any set dressing or props.) Also, don’t forget to do production photos. If you can do them during your final dress rehearsal, you’ll have pictures that are as close to performance-ready as possible, without worrying about distracting your audience during opening night. If you do a photo call once everyone is in costume, you can do posed shots of the cast, and save the “action shots” for the run-through. Don’t forget to include your musicians and your stage crew in the photos! The best part about doing this early is that it you can use them to decorate your lobby or share on social media before you open — and it gives you/your photographer time to have copies printed to give to the students on closing night.
- It’s generally known not to let actors eat in their costumes. Don’t let them eat in their mics either—neither headset nor battery pack.
- You can never have enough batteries. AA and 9-volt will be used the most, but keep a fresh supply of AAA and Cs or Ds available too. And make sure to find separate places to store new batteries and old batteries. The last thing you want is to get them confused.
- Show your crew how to use the intercom headsets early in tech week, so you’re not waiting until dress rehearsal to figure out if they can hear each other.
- High school students will drink a tremendous amount of bottled water backstage. If you buy them the small 8 oz. bottles, you’re less likely to spend the next day picking up half-empty bottles of regular size.
- Really sweaty actors need mic belts.
- Inevitably, a performer’s mic will fail on stage, usually because it was accidentally turned off or got inadvertently disconnected. Yes, parents might blame you if they can’t hear their child, even though it’s in no way your fault. The only thing you can do is smile politely and tell them the show must go on.
Part 12: Front of House
Kimberly Patterson is a two-time graduate of New York University, with an undergraduate degree in Dramatic Literature, Theater History and the Cinema, and a Masters Degree from the Gallatin School. Her program in Individualized Study focused on performance studies, dramatic writing, and technical theater, and her coursework included scenic design, puppetry, and “ritual-as-performance.” She spent more than a decade in New York City working in Off- and Off-Off Broadway theaters in almost every capacity possible. As a playwright, her plays have appeared in the New York International Fringe Festival and the New York Musical Theater Festival; her musical, Oedipus for Kids!, is published by Samuel French and has been produced around the U.S. Kimberly has extensive experience working with educational technology, and has managed online content and curriculum development for McGraw-Hill, ProQuest Education, and Curriki.org. When not working behind the scenes in Oxbridge’s auditorium, Kimberly plays Japanese taiko drums and is a performing apprentice with Fushu Daiko.