Stress-free Suggestions For Staging Successful School Musicals
Staging school musicals, even for those who direct musicals for drama groups, is not for the faint-hearted. Those with young children, ongoing house-renovations or cardiac conditions may be best served looking for alternative pastimes. But, for those of us who do choose (or are chosen!) to undertake such a ‘rewarding’ venture, staging musicals for kids need not be as arduous as might at first appear.
Not a sign of ailing health, but an effective way of making the process manageable. Most plays divide neatly into two halves and are usually written in scenes. Longer scenes can be ‘chunked’ into units of action, often obvious by the arrival or departure of characters. In our school musicals, many of the scenes feature specific groups of characters, so you could rehearse these scenes in the same rehearsal rather than working chronologically through the play. A rehearsal schedule (published to parents too!) is really useful in ensuring you cover the whole play in good time.
The temptation when staging a school musical is to prioritise the set pieces, practising the songs over and over again. Clearly the songs are important, but once the tune is known, ask the children – with parents’ encouragement – to learn the words at home. If your budget permits, you could buy additional CDs for them too. This will allow you to devote more time to rehearsing the scenes, developing the characters, improving projection and clarity, and making sure the ups and down and twists and turns of the story come across.
Some scenes may require specific positions and movements for characters (“blocking”), but often they will not. Instead, focus on the purpose of each scene, how it drives forward the action, how the different characters may be affected by what is said or done. Positions on stage are far less important than ensuring the meaning comes across. As a general rule, make sure that all action takes place ‘downstage’ (nearest to the audience) unless there is a particular reason to position it elsewhere.
Projection And Clarity
The learning of lines tends to come with time (and reinforcement at home!) so don’t waste rehearsal time on it. 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!
Working with large groups
There will always be certain scenes or songs which require large numbers of people on stage. In these instances, try to use as many different levels as possible to create visual interest. Use steps and raised platforms, benches and chairs, or position some pupils amongst the audience. Everyone who watches a play sees it from a different perspective, so give each person something of interest to look at.
Large groups need to be moved on and off the stage quickly and safely. Create at least 4 entrances/exits, numbering or lettering them from early in rehearsals and keeping a note of which groups/characters enter from which entrance.
Avoiding lengthy set changes and/or blackoutsMusicals are often written with a number of different locations. This does not mean that each location necessitates a different set or backdrop. An audience will happily suspend disbelief and accept that the action is happening wherever the characters imply it is happening. This also means you can avoid too many blackouts during a production, which serve only to interrupt the flow and effectiveness of the story. Even if you do need to undertake time-consuming set changes, why not let the audience see what is going on and keep them interested.
Stress Free! Really?!
Okay, so the reality for those responsible for staging school musicals is that it will never be wholly stress free, especially when it comes on top of a hundred and one other things that still need to be done in the ‘day job’. Nevertheless, by giving the process plenty of thought and attention early on, the stress can definitely be minimised and the production can actually become … enjoyable!
Of course, it all starts with choosing the right musical in the first place. See our blog on “Choosing The Right School Musical” for further guidance.