Putting on the school musical is a daunting task, even for experienced theatre teachers. If you find that you have been given the task of directing the school musical do not try to do it alone. Beg, plead, cajole or blackmail others to be involved in it with you. Form a committee which besides making it easier for you will make you feel less alone in decision-making.
Rope others in
Ideally, the committee should consist of: the director, the musical director, set designers, overseer for any set construction, costume person and advertising whiz.
Have an initial meeting with this committee to sort out responsibilities and work out a time frame. Give yourself between two to three months from start to production.
Selecting a musical
Consider the students you have to work with and the talent (or otherwise) they may have. Don’t choose people who have other commitments that will prevent them from attending rehearsals – no matter how good they are. You must ask for one hundred per cent commitment and enthusiasm.
Don’t pick a musical solely because you like it. Make sure it can be done, and well done, by your students. Rather stage a good production of ‘The Boy Friend’ than a mediocre production of ‘The Sound of Music’. Most reputable musical and play specialists will send out material on perusal at no cost except for postage. Try to read the material whilst envisioning your students in the roles.
A great problem for theatre production is the lack of males. Generally speaking, five or six girls to each male will turn up for auditions. hence, select material that will give girls something worthwhile to do instead of just lumping them in the Chorus. Read the play rather than just a cast list to find out the quality and length of role for each character.
Make sure the musical director has the music for any show you are considering. Any decision regarding the choice of musical should be a joint one. When you find something suitable, run it by the committee. If it is generally acceptable, arrange for the purchase of scripts, scores and other related items.
It is not a good idea to read the whole play at auditions, rather select scenes that will give an indication of the students ability and flexibility. Try each student in different roles. If you know your students well, you will probably have certain people in mind for the lead roles but open auditions must be held. Be open minded. If the people you had in mind for roles are as good as you thought they would be, they will shine through; if not, they were perhaps not as good as you thought. Sometimes, classroom ratbags are wonderful on stage ….. particularly in comic roles.
The audition process may take several sessions. These should be held at the same time as the music auditions so that the two directors can confer. Don’t put a good actor in a singing role if he sings like a dugong and conversely don’t use a singer who is a wooden as an actor.
When you have cast your musical, give out a rehearsal/performance schedule before starting rehearsals. Send these home to parents with a note asking for their co-operation in ensuring that their child will attend each rehearsal. It is advisable to ask parents to sign an agreement that they are willing for their child’s involvement.
Split up the rehearsal schedule so that only those required need attend specific rehearsals. Don’t have people sitting around for an hour or so waiting to do their lines. It is time-wasting for them and they can be disruptive.
Use the lunchbreaks effectively. Often a song and/or dance routine can be learnt in this time. It is a good time also to rehearse romantic scenes which young actors are reluctant to rehearse in front of their peers until they feel comfortable with the scene.
It is a good idea to call the Chorus first and work on the music. Always make the Chorus feel important and make rehearsals fun for them by giving them plenty to do. There is nothing as boring as being in a Chorus which is required to walk on, sing a backing for a song and then walk off again. If it is possible, bring a specialist in to work with them …. perhaps a choreographer to make them feel important. Constantly stress that a good musical rests on the shoulders of a good Chorus.
Endeavour to stick closely to your rehearsal schedule. If you have called a rehearsal for Act Two, Scene Three, then do it. Establish very early in rehearsal that these sessions are for work. A disruptive force in rehearsals can set the production back considerably. Self-discipline should be expected early and does not lesson the enjoyment.
Make sure that the rehearsal schedule is marked ‘books down’ at least two weeks before the show. This is when the exciting developments begin.
Introduce your stage manager to the cast well before performances and let them know that he/she is in complete charge of whatever happens on the set or backstage after the performance season begins.
With the rehearsal schedules, give out also forms which are to filled out with name of character/s and measurements. These are to be passed on to your costume department as soon as rehearsal begin. Ask parents for help, particularly with Chorus costumes. They are more inclined to help if you send material home that is already cut out ready for sewing. Ideally, the costumes are ready a week or so before performance to allow for additions or alterations. If the costumes for you musical are different from contemporary clothes give out bits and pieces of costume early so the cast get used to wearing something a little more exotic. This apples particularly to period dramas or musicals with themes such as space or clowning.
Sets and props
Sets are probably the last item to be made. Art people often like to see a show in certain colours and this may influence the colours of the costumes. Make sure that the cast know the positioning of each set and give them an improvised stage set so they are used to it.
It is important that actors get used to using any hand-props that are to used in the show. If they have to be constructed, improvise so that their usage is part of the rehearsal procedure. If you are using mikes, try to organise their set up early in rehearsals as actors have to familiarise themselves with their positioning and usage. If there are none available for earlier rehearsals, again improvise.
Start the advertising campaign three weeks before the show. Flood the area with posters. If possible, try for a spot on local radio. High School students may like to do some street theatre (under supervision) where they can hand out leaflets. Many shopping centres are happy for schools to showcase some of the music/singing/dancing from their show. constantly remind other students from the school of the forthcoming production. Offer a prize to the student in the show who sells the most tickets.
Always endeavour to have a preview afternoon which is, in fact, another dress rehearsal; this time with an audience. Primary schools are usually very happy to see a High School production, another Primary School and Pre-schools love to see the Primary School’s offering. You may consider inviting senior citizens to the preview …. but don’t be surprised if they talk louder than the actors!
Try to have a break between dress rehearsal and performance so that the actors, and you, have a chance to relax. If you are starting performances on a Thursday, have your dress rehearsal Monday or Tuesday.
The director needs to there for the cast on each night. You need to be there to boost up the energy level prior to each performance. The second night is traditionally flatter than opening night, so you will have to ‘rev up’ the cast for that night.
Ask the Stage Manager to put in a report detailing any problems encountered and any suggestions regarding the smooth running of any future shows.
No matter how amiable you are feeling towards the cast, never, never, never, attend a cast party held at the home of a student!!! What you may see there you may be accused of condoning.
Have a thank-you meeting for the cast and all others involved including front-of-house and back-stage workers. This can be a special lunch.
Have an informal meeting with the committee to discuss the production. Consider all the positive aspects and any problems that can be avoided next time.
Have a short break, then start looking for a suitable show for next year. Putting on the school musical is a bit like child-birth, you forget the pain and find yourself doing it all over again at a later date!
Alex, this is great advice – we’re sure than many a production team will find the years of production experience you have kindly shared here invaluable – thank you!
Very good description of the way to carry out a Musical preparation. Of course every situation is different, but as I was reading this article I felt that many things have occurred to me myself . I’m 57 and have been putting up shows for many years, schools, amateurs and professional casts. I’m a musician so with the aim of saving I’ve been directing actors & conducting the orchestra. As a recommendation, if you have a good actors director it is advisable to divide this role.
Actors director & musical director should work together with the choreographer. As you said Score, script, TRACKS should be at the very start. If you have helpers like 2nd actor’s director assistant, or even a vocal coach it’s also advisable. Scenery, costumes, lightning and sound people are also very important for the proyector. They should be responsible workers and should meet with direction group as often as possible.
Stage manager/s, backstage, Mic Changers, helpers should come in order of necessities. It is also recommended to carry out PRE GENERAL Rehearsals with piano accomp or small group of musicians before having the whole group of musicians. Ideal for HighSchool productions 14 Weeks divided in one day (Fridays after school) for the whole Cast; one day for Mains acting; one day for Singing roles (solos, duets, trios, etc). Four PRE GENERAL REHEARSALS, THREE/FOUR DRESS REHEARSALS (dress Reh 1 for Act One, dress Reh 2 for Act Two, dress Reh 3 for a Run Through and dress Reh 4 for audience/guests rehearsal. The best option is THREE PERFORMANCES or FOUR if possible. Best regards,