It often amazes me how often schools do not get school productions right. They have the best intentions in mind, but the execution often fails. So where are they going wrong? It seems their ambition actually outstrips their skill level. It is often that they have seen a lot of pro shows and think that is what we want to do or achieve. This is especially true when it comes to schools staging musicals. Now not all schools get it wrong, some schools manage to pull it off and present a very professional job. It is those schools that always that try to achieve more than they are capable of that this article is directed to.
Sometimes it is better to keep things simple. This is especially true for schools that are getting into the idea of putting on a major production. If you try to emulate what big, professional productions are doing you are going to stress out. So Often a school will get the idea to stage a major production, and they want all of the bells and whistles. The thing they need to realise is that these require time and often money. And the time they need is in the actual venue, which is where they often scrimp, trying to fit too much into too little time. Rehearsal and more specifically rehearsal in the actual performance space is one of the key elements to a successful production. They sometimes need to actually understand the theatre process. Often if the staff has worked on community theatre projects etc. they have an understanding about what is happening and that it takes time to achieve great results.
Consultation is one area some could do better. Talk to the venue technicians and see what is and is not possible. Don’t just turn up and expect a miracle to happen. Special effects, lighting etc., take time to set up, and this set up time is going to be when you are in the venue. Also don’t expect the technician to do the job of 2 or more technicians. They may be skilled in all areas but they cannot possibly be able to do all at the same time. I myself have been expected to program and operate the lighting console and also do the audio for a school musical. As we all know musicals use loads of mics and often they are radio microphones. Mixing is an art that requires one person to solely concentrate on the task. The same with the lighting, it really needs one person to apply their time solely to this task.
Make sure you appoint someone that knows what they are doing as the stage manager, nothing worse than someone that cannot call cues correctly. Also this person needs to be in constant contact with the technical staff, so they should not put down the cans to perform on stage or do other tasks. This person is useful as a go-between the venue staff and the creative team.
One of the worst things is to have direction by committee, now don’t laugh, this does happen and is extremely frustrating. Always have ONE who is the director, this is to be the person that the technician will be getting the artistic ideas from. Working together as team with the venue is great but there has to be a leader.
So there are some thoughts of mine for you to think about before staging that school production. We know you want it to be brilliant, but brilliant takes time, money and patience. Sometimes it is better to do it simply, with broad brush strokes. Baby steps first.