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.
Let’s start at the beginning: You’ve talked to your administration, polled your students, done some research, and you have a rough idea of what type of show you’ll present. Maybe you even have a specific title in mind.
Select Your Show
You may want to order perusal copies of the musicals you’re considering, which means the publisher will send you a libretto and vocal book for you to look at, to make sure this is really the show for you.
You’ll only receive the one book per show, and it will need to be returned — and it’s NOT for photocopying. No matter how tempting it is, if you want to do right by the writers and composers, you’ll wait until you receive your licensed materials. You can use this opportunity to take any notes that might help your casting process or inform your set and costume design.
At this point, you can also request a quote, so you can see how much it will cost you to present your show. Typically, the more performances you have, the more it will cost to license the show.
You’ll need to provide information about your school and the performance venue, including:
- How many seats your venue has, or how many it can hold
- The number of performances you will be presenting
- How much you’ll be charging for tickets
- The dates of your performances
If you’re holding a free “invited dress rehearsal” in addition to your paid shows, that counts as a performance for this purpose, because you’re performing for a public audience.
Once you’ve read through your perusal scripts, discussed the options with your administration, colleagues and/or students, and slept on your decision, you’ll finally select the perfect show for your school. Congratulations!
Secure The Rights
Your next step is to contact the publisher of the musical to secure the rights to perform it. You must apply for the license before you can begin to market your production, so it’s important to make sure this is one of your first steps. The show — the script or libretto and the score — are the intellectual property of its creators, and are protected by copyright laws.
Because time and money are valuable commodities in an educational setting, this process may feel like a lot of work—especially if you’re presenting the show at school and not charging for tickets. But if you don’t go through the proper channels, playwrights and composers lose not only a source of income, but also control over how their work is produced. It’s an important component of a healthy theater “ecosystem,” as well as our legal responsibility.
I encourage you to share the steps in the process with your students, and when you get your license, read or show an excerpt. It’s a way to demystify the business side of a performance, and shows them that they’re an important part of this system.
How To Apply?
Nowadays, you can apply for the performance rights online or by phone. If you’ve already requested a perusal script or a quote, you’ve done most of this work already (and you can keep that perusal script for rehearsals). If not, you’ll need to provide the licensor with some information. Again, that’s:
- Your contact information
- Size of your venue (number of seats)
- Number of performances
- Ticket prices
- Performance dates
The licensing company will send you an agreement (contract) and a request for payment. Most licensors allow schools to pay by purchase order, due shortly after your final performance. But individual licensor agreements will vary.
As with most things, plan ahead. It can take a few days for everything to be processed, and a few more days for shipping (if you plan very far ahead, there might be terms to the rental agreement which specify that your materials don’t become available until a certain date, so read carefully).
Finally, there is the chance that something would prevent you from getting the rights. It doesn’t happen often, but if it does, discuss it with your licensor and come up with a Plan B.
But odds are good you’ll have your materials in short order, and before you know it, it’ll be time to start rehearsals. You’ll need to get organized and prepare!
PART 2: Budgeting and creating your documents.
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.