The ultimate guide to surviving putting on a school musical.
The school musical is a rite of passage for so many young people. It is a chance for young people to shine and take part in a unique experience. An experience that isn’t replicated elsewhere in their schools lives. It is an experience that many students will remember for the rest of their lives. I’ve been lucky enough to direct several school musicals and plays from Oliver to Fame via Much Ado About Nothing and Our Country’s Good.
For the glittering two or three days worth of performances that the audience see, there is months of planning and rehearsing. Putting on a full length play or musical is serious hard work and time consuming. It is a massive commitment from both teachers and students.
No matter how experienced you are advice on how to make the process easier, quicker and more productive is always welcome. So I’ve collated advice from teachers on twitter, alongside my own, to give you the ultimate guide to surviving putting on a musical.
Top Tip 1: Build a team around you
The scale of the project is so vast that it is impossible to do the job on your own and, to be frank, you shouldn’t try to do it on your own. In the ideal world you will have yourself as director, a musical director, a dance director, a stage manager, someone in charge of costumes, props, refreshments and so on. In the real world you’ll have yourself and a few other teachers. It is worth asking around in your school for some help. Even someone who is willing to sit in a classroom while students rehearse on their own is a great help to you.
If there isn’t any staff willing to come forward to help you then turn to the students for help. They will be willing to give it to you but won’t have the confidence to ask if you need help. Give them some jobs like opportunities to direct, or be dance and singing captains. Students can come up with some great ideas and it takes the pressure off you. Plus they get to develop their leadership and problem solving skills as well.
Top Tip 2: Pick the right musical
There is a lot of choice out there when I comes to which musical to choose and getting the choice right is crucial. There are musicals for every scenario, so shop around. Find one that suits both the type of students you have and the skills you have as teachers / directors. There is no point selecting West Side Story if only a handful of students can dance or selecting Little Shop of Horrors if you have a potential cast of 100 signed up.
Top Tip 3: Budgeting
It is important that you have a budget for your school production. It needs to be enough to cover the costs of the hire of the license for the musical, basic staging and scenery, costumes and props. There is no point proceeding if you can’t work out a deal with your school over a budget to do the musical with. It can be done on the slimmest of budgets plus the good will and charity of those around you. But if you can’t spend some money then there won’t be anything!
On a very basic level, you need to have at least £500 for costumes, props and set alongside the money you need to hire the license.
Remember though, that you will be selling tickets and so making money as well.
There is a model of funding for school productions where the school lends your department the money and you pay them back through the ticket sales.
Make sure that the profits from the ticket sales goes into the fund for next years production and doesn’t make its way in the school general pot of money!
Top Tip 4: Build on it each time.
This is my biggest tip out of them all and it is something that I look to do every time I oversee a musical. Build on it each year so that every year is better in some way than the year before.
There are some very easy and practical ways of doing this. Such as each year you buy a new light or piece of staging. Over the years, the amount of new technology mounts up and each year, we make sure we use them in some way.
Top Tip 5: Give yourself a break!
A lot of schools alternate their school musical with a year off or a play. It can be a tremendous amount of work putting a school production on. It takes an awful lot of money and resources. It’s worthwhile putting them on every other year. You can spend the off year planning for the next major production while you also put on a play
There are also many students who have not taken part in the school musical because they don’t like the singing and dancing side of it. They prefer to act. In that way, offering a play every other year is a gives them something to do as well.
Top Tip 6: Timescale
Opinion is split here and I’ll give you both sides of the coin. Many schools put on their musical as quick as they can. One school casts in June and performs in November! They argue that such a pace reduces a drop out rate.
More typical is that castings done in September with the performances taking place in the Spring. This gives the autumn term to block the performance and the spring term to refine and rehearse it.
Top Tip 7: It’s all in the planning
Once you’ve got your timescale confirmed, the only way forward is to plan as much as you can! Start planning how you want the production to look and feel. Once you’ve got the look and feel of the show you can then start to share that with your colleagues. You can plan how key moments, songs and dances should look like. You can plan how the set should look like. And you can plan how the audience will experience the production. You can plan right down to how you want each scene to look or how to say each line.
When you plan ahead you gather all the information you need to be proactive in the rehearsal process. You can tell the actors how you’d like to see things performed or you can give a strong brief to the set designer. Everyone will enjoy your planning and it will make the rehearsal process so much easier.
Top Tip 8: Rehearsal Schedules
The clear advice from everyone was to make one and stick to it! Make a rehearsal schedule that goes from day one to the last performance. Then give it to every student and teacher involved in the production on the first day. It makes sure that everyone knows their expectations.
Include in your rehearsal schedule deadlines for learning lines, costume fittings, set design / construction, band rehearsals, stage get in’s. Make sure that you are generous with your time as well. Give over enough time to block and rehearse each scene, dance and song. It is better to be in the position to cancel rehearsals because you’ve finished early than to have to add extra rehearsals.
Another good piece of advice is to rehearse the music and dance separately from the acting.
Top Tip 9: Get some distance.
Finally, and most importantly, remember that it is just a school production. No matter how attached to it you get make sure that you can distance yourself from it now and then. Remember that it will be okay, even if it feels like everything is crumbling down around you.
Make sure that you can go home and get away from it.
So, there are 9 top tips for surviving putting on a school production. If you have any other suggestions of how to survive, then please comment below.