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.
Take as much time as you can spare to get organized before your production begins, even before you hold auditions, because once all the work starts, you might find yourself holding on for dear life!
Documents: Hi-Tech or Old School?
First, determine if you work better on paper or digitally, and start there. I like to use a combination of both: I create a binder for quick access, and I store the original documents (created on the computer) in a digital folder that I can share with other members of my production team. When I get papers from others, I scan them and keep a copy in there, too.
There are some great free tools out there that can help keep files at your fingertips while making them sharable, such as:
If your school maintains a web portal or content management system, that could be a good repository, too. But make sure it lets you share with people outside of your system if needed.
Types of Docs
You’ll probably find that you have two different types of documents that you use regularly: administrative and production. In addition to the license agreement, I make sure I always have access to my budget, and I make sure to keep it up-to-date. Because we’ve been producing musicals for a few years, I’ve found a spreadsheet format that works for me, so typically only have to make minor edits from year to year.
My budget covers the usual suspects:
- Set design and construction
- Sound equipment rental (microphones, speakers)
- Printing of programs and/or posters
- Personnel (i.e., a rehearsal pianist or audio engineer)
But I’ve also made sure to factor in costs for miscellaneous items that seem to add up:
- Hair and makeup supplies—including wigs
- Extra batteries
- Snacks or bottled water to keep backstage
- Office supplies
Don’t forget to factor in the cost of a video license, if applicable (and cost of videographer, if you go with a professional).
What else do you think your production needs, and how much will it cost?
- Printing – Are you printing posters and programs in house, or sending them to a printer?
- Costumes – If your school has a large stock of costumes and set pieces, you might not need to spend much in this area.
- Set/Props – Storage space is non-existent? Consider renting items or borrowing pieces from other schools or local theaters.
- Music – Your musical’s licensor may have additional resources (full scores, performance tracks, rehearsal tracks) for a small fee that can make a major difference in the quality of your show. You can rent them at the same time you apply for the rights, or add them on later.
- Tickets – Are you printing tickets and/or using an online service?
Keep track of all of your receipts! If you attach them to an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper, you can make copies or scan it as back up.
After the budget, my biggest category of documentation is devoted to scheduling. Audition schedules, rehearsal schedules by month and by week (and sometimes by day), marketing calendars… I have them all and find that they’re constantly changing.
If it works for you, try a shared online calendar to keep track of all of the dates; many applications let you create different information streams, so you can separate what’s happening on stage from what’s happening backstage. I use a calendar template for Word and enter my dates, then print some copies and send it as a PDF to my cast and crew (the PDF keeps them from accidentally making a change in their version). I keep track of important due dates on my marketing calendar, especially when there are production or shipping windows I need to account for.
Backing up from the dates of my performance, I figure out as early as I can when the programs need to go to print, when tickets need to go on sale, and when our various PR releases need to happen… this can be as simple as when students should start hanging posters, or as advanced as when to send press releases to the local media.
A few helpful tips: make sure to include call times for all dress rehearsals and performances, and factor in any differences between actors, crew members, or musicians. Don’t forget about what to schedule after the show is over. You’ll need to strike the set, return any rental materials (including your scripts and scores), clean up, and then throw a cast party!
Clearly you won’t know all of this information so far in advance, and everything (including sometimes the actual date of your performance) is subject to change. But if you’re able to get started on top of the game, you’ll be better able to adapt when the time comes.
Part 3: Assembling Your Team
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.