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 will outline the process of putting on a musical from start to finish, providing helpful tips and maybe even some new ideas. Topics will 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.
In PART 1, we covered selecting a show, reading perusal scripts, and securing the performance rights. PART 2 covered creating your documents: budget, schedule, and calendar. PART 3 helped you assemble your team. Now it’s time for…
Before we get to the first rehearsal, a few words about auditions and casting:
Decide as soon as possible if you have a limited number of spots or whether you will find a role for everyone who tries out (“no cut” policy). Know what you’re looking for, and stick to it. If you’re considering having understudies, it’s a good idea to make sure that everyone in the casting room is aware of this. That way, they can make a note of their top choices to discuss later. Review the script (again, the perusal copy can be a big help here) prior to auditions, and make decisions about whether you’ll double cast, or if there are roles that don’t specify a gender. Note that you’re not changing a “Joe” to a “Joanne,” but if the role calls for a doctor or police officer, it shouldn’t matter whether the role is played by a male or female student. Be sensitive to diversity in your school population; Dorothy Gale in your production of THE WIZARD OF OZ doesn’t necessarily need to look like Judy Garland in the film adaptation.
Schedule your auditions ahead of time — knowing that they usually run long and/or there are some no-shows. Select a place for kids to wait for their turn that won’t disturb the audition room; if you have an audition application or questionnaire, they can fill it out while they wait. If you’re very generous, you could offer them some background information on the show (though they should be doing that research themselves!). Students usually prefer to have closed auditions, meaning that there’s no one else watching them except for the director (and other adult team members). You’ll want to provide an accompanist if possible, as well as a sound system with an auxiliary (aux) cable for those who are auditioning with pre-recorded musical tracks. It will be helpful and keep things running smoothly if you have stage manager or student volunteer managing “traffic flow” — letting the auditioners know who’s next and introducing each auditioner to those in the room.
No matter how specific you try to be in audition notices, students might not be fully prepared with a monologue or a 16-bar cut of a song. Some kids have never auditioned before, and could be terrified! If nothing else, everyone knows “Happy Birthday” — but don’t let them sing it a cappella. You’ll need to know if they can match pitch. If you’re going to use audition sides (excerpts from the script, usually 1-2 pages long, prepared for each main character), plan in advance who will be reading with the student and keep your piles organized (you might even want to bring a stage manager in to help you with this task… for some reason, it’s the one thing that always seems to get away from me). Give the student a few minutes to look over the scene, and feel free to ask if there are any words that need to be defined or pronunciations that should be clarified; some kids are too intimidated to ask. The reader typically stays seated and doesn’t “act” with the auditioner, so as to not influence the reading.
Invariably, there will be disappointed students when the cast list comes out. You might get tears, you might get anger… and you might get kids who drop out of the production altogether. If that happens, for as much of a headache as it is, it can be a relief to know early on that the person wouldn’t have made a great team player. Hopefully, you won’t get emails or phone calls from a parent asking why his/her talented child didn’t get a particular role. If it happens, be polite but firm: “We had a lot of very difficult decisions to make, and our goal is to put on the best production possible and provide a learning experience for all students.” Keep in mind that the parent only wants what’s best for the student, and ensure them that you do too: putting someone in a role he or she’s not right for isn’t best for anyone.
Part 5: The First Rehearsal
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.