Top Tips From Niki Davies On Staging A Nativity Musical
With her new nativity musical, Follow The Star, now available, much-loved writer and composer Niki Davies provides some handy guidance on all things nativity.
Choose Your Nativity Musical Wisely
For children under 7, it is better to choose a shorter nativity and do it well, than a longer one and find it too difficult. Something around 20 to 30 minutes is perfect, with simple songs which can be learned quickly and easily, and a script where the lines are generally only a sentence or two in length.
If you are looking for a whole primary school nativity, not just for the younger ones, then have a look at The Amazing Advent Calendar.
Divide The Narration To Fit Your Cast
The narration can be split down into small sections/one liners to bring in parts for more children. This will also give each child less to learn. Or, with fewer children, a competent reader could read the narration to the audience.
With children as young as three to seven, I would avoid the auditioning process. If you would like to have one or two singer soloists, listen out in singing time for children who are good clear singers. Maybe invite children to sing a verse of a song on their own, but only as part of a fun lesson. This will give you a good idea of who is confident enough to do a solo. Most of the children are able to remember and speak one or two simple lines of script and we are not expecting them to be professional West End performers.
Cast By Class
When selecting the cast, if several classes of children are involved, you could divide the roles between classes so rehearsals can take place in smaller groups to start with. Save the bigger rehearsals involving the entire cast for later when the parts have been learned.
Get Home Involved
It’s a good idea to give the children their lines to take home and learn with the help of their parents. Parents will also expect to help with costumes and some may even have time to come in to help with scenery or props. Just give them plenty of notice.
The sooner you get going on this, the less stressful it will be for all involved. Take a look at why It is Not Too Early To Buy The School Nativity.
Talk It Through
Talk to the children about the play so they have a good understanding of the story and what is going to happen. Then they can make sense of it all when they begin rehearsals and have a sense of the whole story rather than just their bit. After all, a nativity musical is a wonderful learning opportunity.
Everyone Makes Mistakes
Don’t expect perfection from the children, or from yourself for that matter. It really isn’t an issue if on the night they make some mistakes. The most important thing about performing and taking part in a nativity musical is that the children and the audience enjoy themselves and have a great time. The Nativity is often a family occasion where parents, grandparents and guardians come to support the children. If your play can create a magical Christmas atmosphere you will have done well.
Use The CD
I would recommend using the CD for the performance as well as when learning the songs. This means you can have your hands free and you can move about and direct the children. The sounds used on the CD backing tracks will also help to create the atmosphere of the Nativity, though do have a spare CD player available just in case of technical issues. If you decide to use the piano parts instead, then perhaps involve some of the children with percussion.
Don’t try to do it all on your own. It really is far more fun with others and the sooner you get them involved, the more invested they will be. Enlist help from the other teachers, from parents, and maybe even from younger pupils.
Creating A Backdrop
Whilst some schools may be lucky enough to have talented artists among the teachers or parents who are willing to spend time producing more involved scenery, it’s also fine to keep the scenery very simple. Just an ink blue backdrop covered in shiny stars that the children could have made themselves can look very effective. Using only one backdrop throughout will also mean that no stage hands will be needed for scenery shifting.
Staging and Setting
There are lots of ways of staging a play and it will depend on the numbers of children you have, the type of stage area etc. I always used to keep things very simple with a main choir towards the back of the stage, the action happening in front of the choir and the narrators positioned at the very front of the stage to each side. Everyone can be involved in singing the songs.
Read more about Niki’s work with children and her writing process in Niki Davies Launches Brand New Nativity.
Last But Definitely Not Least
Before a performance begins, don’t forget to ask the audience to switch off their mobile phones! There’s always one who forgets and it is bound to be theirs which goes off at just the wrong moment.