How To Put On A School Musical – The Ultimate Guide
From picking the most suitable school production to roping in as many members of the school community you can to help make it actually happen, this is your ultimate guide to putting on a school musical as seamlessly as possible. Get ready to raise the roof!
1. Choosing A Musical
The first step to putting on a crowd-pleasing school musical is to actually choose the right one. There are certainly plenty of popular musicals for schools out there to choose from, which should make your decision easy, right? If only! What if you choose one that’s too ambitious, too long and too challenging? You set the children – and yourself – up to fail. Too short, too few parts, too many long lines, and the outcome will be much the same. However, if a musical is inclusive, providing plenty of named parts and lots for the whole cast to do, it gives everyone a wonderful sense of involvement and ownership. Which, let’s face it, makes rehearsals more productive and a lot less stressful (*sings joyfully*).
So, when thinking about which musical to choose, start by answering these questions about your particular requirements:
- How long do you want it to be?
- What is the size of your cast?
- How many songs would be ideal?
- How much time do you have to rehearse?
- What is your budget?
- What are your/your school’s technical facilities and know-how?
- What is your performance space?
- How much support from others in the school will you receive or hope to receive?
- Do you wish to have an interval?
Having answered these questions, you can then weigh up the shows you are looking at vis a vis these requirements. The following questions may help:
- How much will it cost for the resources you require? What about licence costs?
- What is the running time?
- How many named parts are there?
- Is there an overview of the show? Is it thematically relevant and accessible for your particular performers?
- Do the script/dialogue samples seem appropriate and accessible?
- Can you listen to clips of the songs? Do you love them? Will the children?
- Does the staging look manageable, the props makeable and the costumes relatively simple?
- Does it have backing tracks/score/band parts?
- Does the show look feasible given your budget, resources, time-frame and know-how?
And, saving the most important question for last, does the story really grab you? Not just in a “nice” way but in a “I really need to show this to the world” way! The play really needs to matter and have something worthwhile to say, both to your cast and to your audience. It is surprising how immersed a cast can become in the story they are trying to tell. The more they warm to it and believe in it, the harder they will work to bring it to life.
Need some examples? Allow us to help you out by directing you to our brilliant selection of upbeat, crowd-pleasing musicals for primary school and secondary school which really embody the above philosophy. You can hear song clips and read script samples at your leisure with every single one.
2. Fun Auditions
When putting on a school musical, auditioning for it can be a really exciting process. After all it’s the first time the children will learn about the story they’ll be acting out, meet the characters they’ll be playing and hear the songs they’ll be singing.
Here are a few ideas for making the audition process as smooth and enjoyable as possible:
- Hand out a copy of the musical’s synopsis ahead of auditions, perhaps alongside the scene summaries and the character profiles.
- Use relatively short excerpts from scenes to keep things moving; a few lines from each person within a scene is often all you need to hear to gauge suitability.
- Allow children to sing a couple of lines ‘a-capella’ from any song they know well. Teaching them a song from the musical really isn’t necessary at this stage.
- If you want to generate some excitement, play the children snippets of the songs from the show.
- Try to have two rooms available to use, with plenty of other staff on hand to help out. Including to make tea!
- In casting a musical, it is nigh-on impossible to ensure that everyone gets to audition for the part they will end up playing. Tell children about this before things get going!
If you’re a bit rusty on the auditioning process, each of our books contains a wealth of information to make the whole process run smoothly, including suggested scenes for auditioning different characters. Click on this video link to see what's inside our books.
3. Careful Casting
When it comes to casting roles, we’re sure you’ve noticed that children aren't fools; they know there can only be one Matilda, one Peter Pan, one Tinkerbell, one Doctor Dolittle and so on. However, this doesn’t mean that children not cast as main roles should instantly become anonymous, characterless members of the ensemble, to be positioned somewhere near the back of the stage whenever a song kicks in. There are, in fact, many ways of helping all children, not just the leads, to feel fully involved throughout the process. Make sure everyone has a named part. This will make children feel better about the part they have been given. If it hasn’t already been done in the script, come up with the names yourself and have some fun with it: Biceps Jim makes a great pirate, Macchiato a great cat, and Constable Stool a great police officer. You see? Putting on a school musical can be fun for the teachers too!
And speaking of casting, did you know that you can edit our scripts to fit your cast? Just add the editable script to your basket, allowing you to make any edits that you need to the script. Request the complementary abridged version to give you a shorter option in case you’re pushed for time. Include the digital downloads so that all the music is on your computer or phone, to go with the book and CD that comes as standard. Then, when the book comes through and you start to think about who should play which character, take a look at our “Characters By Lines” pages, giving you a short description on each character and the number of lines that each has. The character profiles are also great ways to get the children investing in their parts and making the characters their own.
Finally, don’t forget how fun it can be for children to design posters, make tickets, create props, help backstage, help front of house when putting on a school musical. Some children simply don’t enjoy performing, but can gain immeasurably by being given meaningful opportunities in other areas.
4. Organisation, Organisation, Organisation
All those who have ever produced or directed a school musical will know this feeling; you are about to begin the whole process once again, and this time you are determined to make it a brilliant, stress-free, life-enhancing and in no way draining experience for each and every person involved, particularly you.
Then you get under way and within days, perhaps even hours, you remember the size of the challenge ahead of you. Yup, putting on a school musical is not for the faint hearted and this is our cue to remind you to be...organised. That’s right, it’s all about organisation, organisation, organisation. And yes, we are going to say it one more time for good measure: organisation! Not just well organised. Super-human organised. No matter how organised you are already (hey, you’re a teacher, we know you are!), this is your chance to double it for a rip-roaring musical success! Organisation is the one thing that will keep you feeling in control no matter what, and it will make the whole process much more enjoyable.
Create A Production Schedule
So, how to put on a school musical with your newfound super-human organisational skills? Create a good production schedule first. This is a document, usually in table/calendar format arranged chronologically, which contains all of the practical elements you are going to need to consider. Often it helps to work backwards from the last thing you will have to do (e.g. striking the set, returning the costumes or sending out the DVD/photographs) to the first thing you will have to do (e.g. designing an audition poster or writing about the play to parents). Other key considerations for musicals for schools will include a technical rehearsal, dress rehearsals, room bookings, stage design and construction, costuming date, ticketing process, programme design and printing, and dozens of others.
Create A Rehearsal Schedule
So, oh organised one, now that you’ve got your production schedule – and you’re half way (ish) to that well deserved liquid reward at the final after-show party (or, more likely, when you get home after the after-show party!) - it’s time to create a rehearsal schedule. This should be the definitive guide to how you and your cast are going to get through the play. A read through is sometimes a good option at the beginning of the process, interspersed with listening to the songs. This will give the cast a good idea of how the whole show fits together and the overall feel of it. However, you may feel that reading through the synopsis alongside the songs will suffice, especially if time is short. Most school musicals, ours included, are already divided up into ‘acts’ and ‘scenes’ and some provide you with very clear information about which characters appear in which scene – ours certainly do! Then it is just a case of providing this information clearly to all of the cast and their parents as well as other relevant staff. And of course it’s important to have a mechanism in place to issue regular reminders of the schedule. Once you know who is playing which part, you could even produce a register for each and every rehearsal.
Equally, you may be in the enviable position of being given time to rehearse during the school day with all of the pupils. In which case, plan which scenes to do carefully to ensure you don’t have lots of bored and agitated students sitting around in the hall whilst you work on a scene for two or three actors.
5. Prepare Your ‘Bible’
At the very beginning of the rehearsal process, start by placing a nice, clean, fresh, well-spaced, single-sided copy of the script into a big folder marked clearly with your name and perhaps even your phone number. Have it with you at every rehearsal, adding notes about direction, blocking, things to work on, lines that have been removed or added, where different people enter and exit etc. This will be your ‘bible’ and provide you with great reassurance when the children seem to forget everything from rehearsal to rehearsal. You’ll know by now that The School Musicals Company will always issue you with an editable WORD version of the script upon request for you to adapt and use as necessary. Because we know how much work is involved in putting on a school musical and this makes life just that little bit sweeter.
And speaking of rehearsals, we say just let the scenes flow. When you’re directing one, it can be very tempting to seek perfection each and every time. The reality is that this just doesn’t happen, especially with children. Somebody will always come in late, somebody will always forget their line and somebody will always say their line at completely the wrong time (note to self: try not to regret teaching career choice...). The important thing here is to keep the scene going, get to the end, then evaluate together. This also keeps the rest of the cast from getting bored and breaking off into conversation.
In the name of keeping things flowing, try not to waste rehearsal time on the learning of lines – the children can do this on their own time! Where school musicals actually tend to suffer is in the projection and clarity of what is being said or sung. To remedy this, build vocal warm ups, breathing exercises and scales into each rehearsal. Introduce the idea of children looking up and visualising their voice hitting the back wall of the hall. You could even direct things from as far away as possible in the space. Certainly avoid sitting on a chair in the front row!
When practising the songs, move quickly from one song to another, rather than asking children to sing the same song over and over again until it is perfect. Better to keep them all interested and enthusiastic by tackling a new one, then returning to the original a little later in rehearsal. And remember, tuneful is good, volume is vital.
In terms of learning the songs, it will make your life a lot easier if you can provide demos of the songs for the children to practise at home. This will help with melodies, harmonies, and learning of lyrics. Some children may pick things up quickly, but others may take a lot (lot) longer, so having the chance to rehearse in their own time will level the playing field a little.
All shows by The School Musicals Company can be purchased with the digital downloads, making it very easy to share these with parents and other teachers. Within rehearsals, call and response is still the best way to approach learning a song, but spend time too looking through the structure of the song (does it have a chorus, verses, bridge, mid-section, ending), the words and the meaning/intention of the song.
And don’t forget those ever important (but often forgotten about) scene transitions when putting on a school musical. Spend some rehearsal time working on ensuring the transition from one scene to the next is as smooth and as quick as possible. This ‘dead time’ can be quite intrusive to the story and distracting for the audience, often leading to the removal of smart phones from pockets!
7. Behind The Scenes
As you know, putting on a school musical isn’t just about what’s happening on stage – there’s also a whole world of work going on backstage and beyond. The more meaningful support that you can have around you during this process, the more likely the whole enterprise will be enjoyable and successful. Plan early which tasks can and should be outsourced, who and how many people you will need back-stage or front-of-house, who will take full responsibility for the technical demands of the show, who will help to market it, undertake administration etc. Trust you say? Yes, you’ll be needing that in the bucket load. It is always worth meeting with the head teacher before things proceed too to outline how best the production can be served by the school community so that every single person involved in it can feel proud of the end result.
Remember, people know how difficult it is to direct and produce a school musical. Rally the troops, get the other staff involved, don’t go it alone. School musicals have the power to bring together the entire school community, not just those directly involved. Whole schemes of work can be devised around the show, whole topics and themes embraced, and almost every subject or department within a school can find itself lending a hand in one way or another. Then there are the parents, who always somehow manage to make time to cobble together the costume, not to mention help with lines, taxi to and from rehearsals, and put up with the endless singing and humming around the house. There really is nothing like a school musical for bringing out the best in people!
8. Performance Pointers
We know that as the brilliant and inspiring teacher you are, your perfectionism can sometimes get the better of you when putting on a school musical. However it’s worth reminding yourself every now and again that audiences tend to forget – and certainly forgive – when lines are missed, when characters are late arriving on stage or when props are noticeably absent. What audiences tend to remember is the energy and enthusiasm of the performers, the gusto with which songs are sung and characters played. So, in the words of Queen Elsa, “let it go....let it go.....”.
Switching up how the performance looks is important too and luckily it’s very easy to ensure that someone doesn’t end up in the same position every time they take to the stage. Divide the ensemble into groups - number or letter them - split the stage into the same number of areas and rotate for all the songs. If you have some particularly tall children, try sitting them at the front of the stage, or on steps or platforms at the side, rather than putting them at the back each time.
SO ... WHY DO WE DO IT AGAIN?
Let’s not beat around the bush: directing and producing a school musical is like trying to cook Christmas Lunch for 20 in a kitchen designed for four. It’s a mammoth undertaking which can test even the most positive and organised of teachers. So why do schools do it?
The simple answer is that there is nothing like it for bringing pupils together in a shared experience. Sports days can be exciting, concerts rewarding and residential trips great fun, but only putting on a school musical provides many children with an abundance of life-enhancing opportunities to be experienced all together. And The School Musicals Company is here to help make that experience one to remember.
Now that you know how to put on a school musical like a pro, you can explore our range of award-winning musicals to find the perfect show for your school. Browse musicals for primary school, KS2 and secondary school students, and get in touch if you have any queries. Plus, don’t forget to keep up with our blog for even more school musical tips.