Thursday, May 31, 2012

Producing a Show

"Sunrise, Sunset"
I had a sweet lady ask me how we are able to put on Shakespeare plays and other shows, and so I wrote her the following in an e-mail. (And I thought I'd share it here with any of my other readers in case you're curious how a bunch of homeschool families can put together a great show!)

Some of our awesome Mom Volunteers (from l. to r.)
 cast photographer, set designer (with her husband, not pictured),
backstage mom, choreographer/music director, assistant director/stage manager

Honestly, I am NOT a one-woman show! I could NEVER direct the shows I do without a MASSIVE parent volunteer effort. I make it a REQUIREMENT of every student involved in the show to have their parent take on a responsibility to help with the show. And this is not just hand out programs or something. These are BIG things!

Tevye getting his mike put on by his mom (who also applied his beard)
and his aunt who did the music and sound.

Here's a list of volunteers we had for our last show, "Fiddler on the Roof":
Producer: Finds a location for the show and is the go-between for everything that has to do with the location-- rental fees, lock up, making sure everything is clean, etc.. I have been known to really work my producers hard! But their job is to make sure that everything the director needs done gets done. It is NOT an easy job!
Assistant Director: This is the director's runner and hands-on helper. I have used youth for this position, as well as parents. This year, my assistant also acted as the Stage Manager.
Stage Manager: This person makes sure all the actors are where they are supposed to be, which is really important when one is working with children and teens. (They're not always very responsible actors. Oy!) They help run rehearsals, work with actors when the director is working with others, keep things orderly and QUIET backstage. This position can also be done by a VERY responsible and mature student.
Costume Director: I usually do this in addition to directing, but I'm REALLY grateful I had someone else do it this year. She did a phenomenal job and took a HUGE load off of me. This person designs, sews (not ALL, but some), stores, transports, and cleans all the costumes for the show. They also oversee and coordinate any costume changes that need to happen backstage. They also gather, inventory, and dry clean all the costumes at the end of a show.
All the girls in the number "Matchmaker"
with their colorful, traditional Russian sarafans and headscarves.
Music Director: If it's a musical, this person is in charge of teaching all the songs for all the actors singing in the show. They also coach the actors on their vocalization. In our show this year, we had two ladies that did this job, and they were very different, but we all learned a lot from both of them. These ladies also took care of the sound for the show for us, since we used a CD accompaniment for all our musical numbers. (One comes with all MTI "Jr." versions of musicals.)
Choreographer: Our choreographer this year was also one of our music directors. She taught and rehearsed with the kids through all the songs that had dancing-- which was most of them. If it had music to it, she told the kids where to stand and what to do. If there was dialogue or other action, I blocked their positions and placement.
Prop Master/Mistress: Gathers, places, packs up, cares for, and stores all the objects the actors use in the show. Usually, my Shakespeare shows don't have many props, but "Fiddler" had a LOT of little things that were mentioned in the script, and so it ended up being a HUGE job this year! 
Set Design: This person designs, builds, paints and decorates the background and large structures for the show. For Fiddler, we didn't have ANY back or side curtains, so our set person made 8 foot high wooden frames that were covered with thin sheets of luan and painted black. We also borrowed some wooden houses on casters for the house exteriors and interior. We had to repaint them, because they had been made for a local high school's "Beauty and the Beast," and so they looked a bit too cheerful for our little Russian village.
Lliam, our "Constable" in his handlebar mustache
Makeup and Hair: We had three boys who needed beards and mustaches for the show, and we also put a handlebar mustache on our Constable. This was a much more involved process than the regular makeup normally is, though I have usually also dealt with wigs or SOMETHING else in other shows. We had two moms that helped apply these beards each night, after a professional makeup person came and showed them how to apply them correctly. (They were made of human hair and were attached with spirit gum. We bought them online through a theatre supply store.)
Graphic Design and Printing: We had one lady who took care of all the graphic design and printing of our posters, our programs, and our cast t-shirts. 
Ticket Captain: We usually have a contest with the students to try and get them to pre-sell as many tickets as possible. The ticket person comes up with prizes to give out, as they sell tickets, reminds the kids to sell, sell, sell, and they keep track of how many tickets are sold. They also handle all the money for the pre-sold tickets and take money for tickets sold at the door.
Backstage Helpers: We had at least two moms helping backstage for every performance, just to keep the kids quiet and the actors and props where they needed to be when they needed to be there.
Backstage moms in action during the show
Videographer: We had a dad filming the show at the back of the audience during each performance and then we showed the best recording at our cast party. Due to licensing restrictions, plays or musicals bought from a licensing company like MTI cannot legally be filmed and certainly cannot be distributed on YouTube or anywhere else. We have tried to do all we can to meet our licensing agreements, even though we had sad parents who didn't get a copy of the show.
With Shakespeare shows, however, since it is LONG out of the public domain, we can film whatever we want! (I also like Shakespeare because I can change whatever I want in the script without any problem. Any show done with a license cannot have ONE WORD changed!)
Photographer: This is usually a mom with some camera skills, who takes a headshot of each actor to put on display in the foyer during the show. They also come and take candid snapshots during rehearsal. They also take photos during dress rehearsals and performances for the cast. The headshot photos are included in the program for the show. The photographer also makes sure to take a picture or two of the entire cast together in full costume, and makes print copies to give to everyone after the show.
Concessions: We had two moms at each performance selling treats, snacks, and water before and after the performances, as well as during intermission. The treats and snacks were donated by the parents and students. (We made over $400 total on all our concessions.)
Other Helpers: We also had a few homeschooled kids helping with lights and props backstage. 
Our lighting guy, Mark, with our busy and amazing prop mistress, Sara with some of the actors backstage during one of the performances.

As you can see, there is NO WAY I could ever do one of these shows on my own! If I don't have parental commitment and support, I won't do it. 

I also make every student sign a contract, saying that they will attend all rehearsals and behave appropriately while at rehearsals and performances. I  make sure parents know that they should not try and keep their kids home from rehearsal as a punishment. So parents have to sign the contracts, too. I may be a stinker about this, but I have found it VITALLY necessary in order for everyone to be committed to the show, no matter what. This year, half the cast or more got sick, but the show went on!!!

Now you know how much work and how many people it takes to make a show work for everyone. And everyone is happy that it doesn't happen more than once a year, because it's such a BIG effort for one and all.

As for me, I promised my husband I'd take a break next spring, and since I'm having a baby in October, I'm going to bow out of directing in 2013. :-)



  1. Oh Rachel!!!! You ARE AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you for your post (love the photos) and thank you for the e-mail. I'm pondering about my ability to try again. We just used a little radio play script for out play,and we had many troubles with committment from cast members and parents. Anyway, I dream of having a community tradition of doing a play, a dinner, or some other inspiring activity with "A Christmas Carol" right after Thanksgiving to help with the Christmas spirit. Anyway, thank you again. I am SO glad you are doing well in your pregnancy. I think you have an AMAZING family and I appreciate everything you post.
    Oh, what is MTI?
    Thanks again,

  2. Shelly, you are so welcome! :-)

    MTI is "Music Theatre International." They're who you buy rights to musicals from. Here's their link:

    It's REALLY expensive, just FYI. The Jr. version of musicals is much cheaper, but they're really strict about the ages of the kids putting on the shows.

    Directors have to be two parts strict, and one part fun-- with kids AND parents. I DEMAND commitment. (And that sounds so funny, 'cuz I'm usually so nice! ;-D) I think I learned to be that way from the examples of the very strict mentors I had my whole life. (Choir directors, drama teachers, show directors) The ONLY way for a show to succeed is for a very high level of commitment to be given by everyone involved.

    I wish you the best! (I'll e-mail you a copy of my contract, too.)


  3. What a gift you have to be able to do that sort of thing. I'm too much of a weenie and I wouldn't be able to make everyone do what they are supposed to be doing. It would sure be fun to help though! I've always wanted to be in a musical. Sigh. I think I'd do well, but I've just never had a chance. I bet you have so much fun despite all the work!


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