With the end of the school year coming up soon, many schools and groups are preparing for their musical which makes it a perfect time to start thinking of ways to ensure your group's play is a major success. I've been honored to be a part of many musicals over the past nine years. I've seen great successes and great failures so we compiled a list of 5 tips to ensure your show is a success.
1. Include Other Clubs & Your Crew's Other Talents
When I was in high school, which is further back than I'd like to admit, my drama club did something incredible. The students didn't just help build the sets, paint the flats, and learn their lines - students from our club and other clubs were involved in every aspect of the show. I have great respect for my drama club director from those days because she allowed us to share our ideas and our expertise. She allowed us to shine and learn in any field of the production we had interest in. For instance, one of our cast members was a brilliant artist and actually designed the mural which was painted on the 1,500 square foot backdrop for our production of "Thoroughly Modern Millie". Two other cast members who were very talented dancers actually choreographed the entire musical instead of an adult instructor. For those wondering, she even allowed me to share my audio and lighting experience. The drama club's lighting team didn't just run the lights during the show but we sat in on the production meetings offering our opinions and helping choose which types of lights to use, where those lights would be placed, and so on. Sure, we were young so some suggestions couldn't have been accepted but in those meetings, they took the time to explain why. To this day, I'm pretty sure the adult instructors and directors didn't have any production meetings without inviting the cast and crew. Our drama club had a very simple motto, two heads are always better than one.
Another great thing you can do is involve other clubs. One of the best event pamphlets I've ever seen was for a recent school musical. As a graphic designer, I actually admired their work so much I asked the director who designed it for them. The answer was quite surprising. It was designed entirely by the year book and photography clubs of the school. The two clubs were allowed to work together for a few weeks to make a fantastic program. The members of the year book and photography clubs of the school gained the experience of working with a so-called "client" without actually having the risk of an actual client or employer paying for their time. They had deadlines to meet and got to work with actual companies whom were sponsoring the event. They had the opportunity to work with these companies to ensure their logos and their brands were being highlighted while still meeting the company's sometimes strict branding requirements.
Another way you can include other clubs in the process is by reaching out to the elementary or middle schools which feed into your high school. Have them audition for younger character roles. You can also do as my alma mater did and have the middle school drama club design the front of house and concession area. Finally, have the marching band act as a live pit band rather than performing to karaoke tracks.
2. Encourage Attendance at Other Musicals
In an age of sports programs obtaining a larger budget and arts programs being cut; theater programs have now more than ever become a close-knit community. One of the worst things a community can do is forget to support each of its members. While some students might go and watch other school musicals in the area - the director of a theater program should lead in this effort. Try compiling a list of other school or group musicals in the area. List which musical they will be performing, their auditorium address, and the dates and times of performances. Hand this list to your students during a rehearsal or production meeting. Explain to your cast and crew that not only showing their support for another school will hopefully convince the other school to do the same in return but that they can learn a lot by watching. No matter if I look back to my days learning how to sing or my days learning videography, I learned more from watching others than I did practicing day-in and day-out. While practice is important, watching how others work (even if they are at the same experience or talent level) can help your cast and crew learn new ways of doing things and improve their skills. Also try announcing to your live audience a few upcoming musicals put on by other local schools or groups. If someone is willing to pay to come see a local musical, thank them for supporting yours but encourage them to support other schools and groups just as much as they support you.
3. Get Off The Stage (in a Good Way)
Remember the stage is nothing more than a platform. It's a platform that you can use for your actors to be risen up from the audience but that doesn't mean the stage has to be used for 100% of the show. If there's a big musical number, have some of your actors go out into the audience, go up to someone and start dancing with them. If your scene calls for your characters to walk down a long and winding yellow road to find Oz in Emerald City, have your actors start walking in from the back of the audience towards the stage rather than just having them walk from stage left to stage right. Bringing your show out into the audience always engages your audience better than having the crowd watch the musical up on stage like they would sit and watch a movie on the silver screen.
4. Communication Is Key
During my high school and college years as a member of drama club crews we had no way to communicate with the director during the show. I guess my school just crossed our fingers that everything would go perfect. If you've ever been a part of any production at any level, you've likely had an encounter with something called "Murphy's Law". It states that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Even if nothing goes wrong, sometimes crew members need extra direction or need questions answered.
Rather than running around from spot to spot during a live show, the best investment an organization can make is in short-range communication devices. Over the years I've had the pleasure of working for local television stations and media groups which were able to bring in RTS intercoms which are very expensive wired or wireless headsets allowing crew to communicate with one another but there's no need to invest that much. Quality sets of two-way radios with headsets can cost anywhere from $75 to $500 depending on how many units you need. Just search for two-way radios on websites such as BHPhotoVideo.com.
5. Give Them Something To Remember
Giving your cast and crew things to remember their time in the drama club is not only a great way to grow your club over time but will help your cast and crew reminisce a little easier. I was like most drama club kids in high school. I didn't have too many "great" memories outside of the theater. Now, every morning when I look through my closet I see the T-shirts my drama club gave to me with the musical logo on the front and my role on the back along with signatures from every cast and crew member each year. Luckily, I found a career in the entertainment world so every morning I get reminded of some of the people who helped me get my start. For that one moment each morning when the world seems in a rush to get off to work, I flash back to a stage in a high school where I called home for four years.
Another great gift to give your cast is personalized posters in the style of movie posters so each cast member can hang a poster on their wall with their name headlining it. You can also hold a special school or group award night where each cast and crew member gets a special award for their terrific work during the production. (I still remember winning "Best Special Lighting Effects" during my Junior year).
While T-shirts and personalized posters are wonderful ways to help your cast remember some wonderful moments in their school years, truly the best way for them to play back those memories is to actually play them back. Sure every parent could take a camcorder to the musical and record from the balcony but they'll have to strain to hear themselves because camcorders don't have quality mics. Not to mention you'll have a dozens of cameras taking up seats and their parents can't enjoy the show because they're too busy running a camera. That's why we help your cast and crew remember every moment of the musical through our professional video services. We capture the nerves of the cast on the wings of the stage waiting for their cue. We capture every inch of the stage with multiple HD cameras from angles parents can't capture from their seat. We capture stunning audio from audience microphones and recorders tied into your live system for audio directly from your actor's microphones. This way we worry about the video and the parents can relax. The best part is, this video can even be used as a fundraiser to help you build an even bigger set or rent more costumes next year. If you would like more info, please click HERE.
We could share tips of how to improve your marketing like how to write a press release for local news coverage or how to improve your set design, acting skills, or other aspects of the show. I could share 50 tips just on how to improve safety at your event and maybe I will in a future post but today it's important to remember this: Some events such as pro concerts, corporate seminars, and others are judged on how many tickets they sell to determine how "successful" they were. When it comes to school events though - yes, you have to sell tickets but don't forget the success of a musical is judged by how much the students learned and how many great memories they made during their experience. So no matter how many tips I share, my main point is don't forget to factor in some fun too.
We hope you have enjoyed our top 5 tips for musicals and we wish you the best of luck with your group's next musical or play. Let us know which tip was your favorite or share with us one of your own in the comments below.