We are speaking directly to high school theatres in this article, or more generally, theatres connected to schools and student populations, hoping to make a difference in the academic sphere. While planning a school play can be exciting and empowering, it can also be overwhelming and scattered. We encourage you to stay organized and avoid these 5 common high school theatre mistakes as you start to plan your production:
Budgeting: Too Small or Too Big
Budgets are daunting to approach and difficult to execute. When managing the budget for an educational theatre, it’s important to keep expectations positive but realistic. Don’t make promises you can’t keep – if a fog machine isn’t realistically within your budget, don’t get anyone’s hopes up. That being said, if you can afford costumes that are newer than last year’s re-purposed tutus, go the extra mile and update the small things within your reach. This will inevitably boost morale and give your team a clean production to feel proud about. (Check out this previous blog post, High School Musicals: Budgets and Numbers, about budgeting for a high school musical!)
Marketing: Are You Even Doing It?
So, you’re working on a high school theatre production, and there is a lot to plan. Have you taken time to consider a marketing strategy? Are you going to charge for your tickets or will the event be free to the public? Either way, how are you getting the message out to friends, families, and community members? These are crucial questions to answer in the early stages of your artistic development. We’ve pulled 5 Tips for Promoting High School Events and Shows, but these can be used for any level of educational theatre. The worst scenario is pouring work into a production that opens for an empty audience. Make sure you’re promoting your event: get on social media with a special hashtag; pass out fliers after school (before rehearsal); ask local businesses to put up your poster.
Material Choice: Outdated, Boring, or Racy
Choose material that is appropriate for your cast’s age range and your audience’s demographics. Stay away from pieces that are overly sexual and material that is too big to appropriately address with sensitivity, like race or religion. This doesn’t mean you have to do the “school version” of every major Broadway musical. There are plenty of stories to tell! Ask your students about the kinds of stories they are interested in telling. Avoid outdated pieces that lack a connection to what your students feel passionate about. Do your research and find scripts with characters close to the real age range of your casting pool. If you do decide on a piece with some sensitive subject matter, make sure you provide adequate time to discuss the meaning of your show’s content with your cast and crew.
Preparation: The Importance of Rehearsal Time
It’s no secret that arts programming in schools is often cast aside for various reasons. However, if you want your theatre program to succeed, the best thing you can do is allocate enough time to prepare for your performance. Give your students the best chance at success by providing safely planned time for everyone to rehearse. If you’re doing a musical, teach the choreography slowly and make sure to refresh the steps often. If you want to tackle a Shakespeare play, study the text and learn how to identify iambic pentameter. If your play is set in another country, give everyone a chance to learn the dialect before they have to be off-book. This is educational theatre – you’re not in a race against the clock to please investors. Encourage your students to ask questions and practice the material until they’re confident in what they have to present.
Student Involvement: Focus on the Education in Educational Theatre
Plain and simple. This is an educational opportunity – the students need to be front and center. While it may be exciting to direct or choreograph, make sure that the students’ voices stay involved. Be flexible with your production. Provide opportunities for students to expand their artistic experience. Involve the cast in set-building. Give someone the chance to stage manage. If you have a group of interested students who aren’t thrilled about performing, let them organize your box office. Stay focused on the educational aspect of the work and everyone will benefit.
No production, professional or educational, is perfect. There is plenty of room for error in the world of live theatre, that’s what makes it so exhilarating! Educational theatres have the rare opportunity to foster growth in the arts by simply providing students with a safe space to experiment. Plan ahead – and recognize that your original plan will probably change along the way. If your students walk away from the experience feeling a little more confident or having learned something new, you’ve done your job perfectly.
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