Thursday, January 29, 2015

Director's Corner: Top Ten Tips for a Great Musical Theatre Rehearsal

Every director wants their rehearsals to run as smoothly as possible. However whenever you bring 50+ students together after school, with one tired teacher and try to get them all to focus on creating a production chaos ensues. Trust me I have been there. I can still remember about half way through my first major production, just sitting  in a rehearsal and thinking "this will never work" kids were running everywhere, no one was focused and we were not accomplishing anything. Something had to change. Luckily I have learned a lot since those first disastrous rehearsals. Read on to see my ten tips for a great rehearsal.

Have a plan- then over plan

If you missed last weeks post on creating a rehearsal schedule, go back and read it. Having a completed rehearsal schedule will definitely help your rehearsals. Not only does it help you plan your daily rehearsal, it also lets the kids know what to expect. There is nothing worse than kids showing up without a script to a read through or worse kids showing up in binding clothes for a dance rehearsal. Having a plan already sets you up for success (I could quote the ever popular saying "if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail" but who needs that in their life). Once you have a plan, you can also know what needs to be done. For example if you learn one dance you will know exactly which dance you need to teach next without searching through the script. This is even more valuable with blocking and singing rehearsals. Having a plan and letting everyone know the plan will definitely set you up for success.

Create a sign-in procedure

This is a simple tip but has saved me so many headaches. From the first rehearsal on have a sign-in procedure for all actors and tech. There are two reasons for this. One, it allows you to very quickly see who is here and who isn't (especially great for runthroughs and performances). Two it keeps the kids accountable. All of my students must sign a rehearsal contract. (More on that next). Part of the rehearsal contract is that if you miss too many rehearsals you can't be in the play. Students are responsible for signing into rehearsal, if they forget it could count as a strike against them. This helps teach responsibility. 

Have all student actors and tech sign rehearsal contracts

As I mentioned above a rehearsal contract is a must. This contract outlines exactly what is expected for the students in the rehearsal. I include parts about attendance, tardiness, late pick ups, grades, backstage behavior, and costume requirements. This contract has saved me many times. It gave me a way to address parents who were picking their children up two hours late. It gave me a way to talk to students who would constantly talk backstage. It also gave me easy answers when students ask if they can skip rehearsal. If you want an easy contract download from my teacherspayteachers store.

Allow the group to self manage

It is very rare that I have to raise my voice in rehearsal (at least because of discipline). My students know that I will not continue rehearsal until they focus. This can be a huge problem for them. We typically have over 1,000 audience members every night of a show. That is a lot of pressure. My students know what they risk of they don't focus. They know that I am doing all in my power to to make them look good. If they are talking, I can't make them look good. That is a huge issue for them, when things start getting out of hand all I have to do is stop talking and look at my watch. This lets them know that they are wasting time. Usually after a minute of this kids start whispering shhhh and such and they refocus themselves. While this approach takes a little more time, I like it because it keeps me from yelling, and it helps create a since of ensemble. We are all working together to succeed.

Train you tech separately

I am a huge advocate for having a student tech crew. I think that tech is one area of theatre that is hugely underrepresented as a whole. Tech is fun and gives students who aren't "stars" a chance to shine and participate. This is also where you are going to build your leadership skills. Let students take control of their area, let them have some hand in the creation of props, costumes, lights, and sound. Give the some responsibility. That being said, you need to teach them what needs to be done on each tech job. The time to teach this is not when you have 60 actors who are also demanding your attention. Your first meeting with tech should be without the actors, and if possible your first tech through should be with only tech. You can also work with them on days when your music director or choreographer is working with the actors. You want your tech to know what to do enough so that once you start runthroughs they know what to do and you don't have to worry about them. A good tech crew will make or break your show, train them well! If you need some help, my rehearsal packet also includes a tech packet to help prepare them.

Allow collaboration

Theatre is a collaborative art form. You cannot create theatre without collaboration. This collaboration comes in many forms. First trust your other teachers. I can't dance. No one wants to see me dance. Really I am that bad. My choreographer for the show is an amazing dancer, and she is even better at choreography. She creates so many things that I could never think of. I just have to give her my very general idea and she makes magic. (I can tell her I want something's flow-y and cloud like and she creates beautiful ballets). If I didn't collaborate with her, my play would not be nearly as awesome as it was. I have to trust the other adults to do what they do. I could give you so many examples of this. If there is someone on your team who has a talent, let them be responsible for that part. It allows for magic to happen and you don't have to worry as much about it getting done. Teachers can also collaborate with students. I know this sounds crazy but our students are so creative and have so many great ideas. I was once blocking a scene where Pecos Bill tamed a mountain lion and made him into a horse. When the two students exited, bill jumped piggy-back on the lion's back. It was unscripted but wonderful. We ended up keeping it in the play and the audience loved it. Allow the kids to try some of their ideas. You can always adapt or say no to them if they don't work. Students have a great ability to think outside the box. Use their creativity to your advantage and collaborate with them.

Celebrate small wins

A big production can seem overwhelming. Break the play down and celebrate the small successes. The first time students learn a dance: celebrate. The first time students go off book:  celebrate. The first  time you make it all the way through the play: celebrate a lot! These celebrations don't have to be big. Sometimes just a big cheer or a mini dance break is all you need. Just something fun to let them know you are proud of them and they are doing a great job!

I mentioned this service the other day. This is a FREE text service that allows you to text your parents while still keeping your phone number private. It is a great service for drama. You can text rehearsal changes, costume reminders, time of performances etc. Really I cannot recommend this service enough, you need to go and sign up. It really will change your life.

Create a safe space

This is very very important in any class but especially in a rehearsal setting. You are asking students to show raw emotion on stage. They will only give you their best performance, if they feel safe. Do not let kids mock each other. Nip any of that silliness in the bud. I realize that a lot of this happens behind your back where it is hard to hear, let the kids know that if they are caught being mean to one another, they will be kicked out of the show. Typically if you can catch a couple of main offenders and talk to their parents, this will usually nip it in the bud. You might also want to consider blocking sensitive scenes with as few students as possible. This is very very true for any love scenes or kissing scenes. You do not want kids trying to figure out how to kiss in front of the whole company. Make sure students feel safe and do whatever you can to encourage them to show those true emotions,

Have fun!

This is an after school production. Students are here because they want to be. They love being in shows and they like learning about theater and the love performing. Have fun, try not to stress so much about the final product that you forget how much fun the process is, enjoy the experience. You and the students will miss it when the final curtain falls. Enjoy this production and have fun with your students as you create!

These are some of my best tips for having a rehearsal. What tips did I leave off? What would you suggest directors do to have a successful rehearsal?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Brain Break: What Can It Be?

What can it be? Is one of my favorite creativity increasing brain breaks around. It works for any grade level and can be played for as long or as short as you like. This game is super easy to set up and will have the kids thinking creatively and critically in no time!

The premise of the game is simple, give the students an object and say "I know this is a ------, but what can it be?" Students then use their creative and critical thinking skills to come up with as many different ways you could use the object and demonstrating that use. I only have two rules for this game 1) must be class room appropriate 2) you can't repeat what someone else said. 

Here is how the game is played at my school. 
First everyone comes and sits in a circle (you could have them stay that their desks but I like to get them closer together for the game). 
Next bring out any random item you have. I like to start with very nondescript items (length of fabric, a stick) and move towards more specific items (toothbrush, pencil)
Then tell you students "I know this is a ------, but what can it be?" ( if this is your first time playing you night want to give a few creative examples to get the thinking flowing).
Finally have the students answer the question one at a time acting out their answer. (For example the stick could be a baseball bat- act out swinging a bat, a dog stick - play fetch, or a curling iron - act out curling hair). The round is over when either everyone in the circle has passed or you run out of time.

For me this game is all about creativity. There are no wrong answers. If they can act it out and it's class appropriate, it counts. After the first round, if students can't think of an idea I let them pass their turn, but in the first round all must compete. This also forces some kids to be very creative. If possible I try to set it up so my more creative/gifted kids get the item near the end of the round, while my quieter students get it first.  I like to have the class compete against itself to come up with the most creative answers. Our towel is the winner at 55 different uses!

This game is great because it is simple, yet very funny. It really makes the kids look at items in a different light and try new ideas. Below are several of the ways the kids came up for what a towel can be! (unfortunately I was not taking notes they day we played with a towel, so several of the answers have been forgotten).

A skirt
A dress
A head wrap
A blanket
A pillow
A shawl
A hula costume
A rope
A whip
A mask
A parachute
A backpack
Rapunzel hair
A table cloth
A picnic cloth
A ghost costume
A trap
A foot warmer
A belt
A jump rope 
A tug of war starter kit
A necklace
A bracelet
A sleeping bag
A dog toy
A way to hide from penguins (the white towel in snow)
A band-aid
An animal carrier
A sweat rag
A super hero cape
String to a really big guitar
A door mat
A dog drying device 

I hope your class likes this game! How many ways did you all come up with for using a towel?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Students as Puppeteers, How to Make 80 Rod Puppets in a Week

I teach a lot of students. I mean I have a crazy number of students (over 500). This means that when we want to do any sort of art project I have to be able to do it for an entire grade level. This means that 80 kids need to be able to create puppets in the same week. It's a little overwhelming to say the least. For my upper grades I really try to do a meaningful puppet with them, so we create rod puppets.

I love rod puppets. They are easy to make and look great. I also like to introduce Japanese Bunraku Puppetry with this unit, even though technically Bunraku puppets are much more complex then the rod puppets we make, the students get a kick out of learning about a new culture. I use this video to introduce Japanese theatre. The link on amazon is down but you can probably find it somewhere. After the students study Bunraku we are ready to make our puppets.

Materials per puppet (buying in bulk helps save money)

12 in dowel any diameter
Masking tape
Newsprint or any scrap paper
Tissue paper or construction paper (I like tissue but construction works and is cheaper)
Googly eyes
Popsicle sticks rubber bands
Craft accessories (yarn, scrap fabric, pipe cleaners, feathers, anything you want rid of)
1 square foot of fabric (ask your parents, fabric stores or friends, there is usually someone who will donate this, I haven't bought fabric for years, if you can't get anyone to donate go to good will and buy lots of sheets, you can get plenty of colors for so much cheaper than at a fabric store)

The cost for me to do an entire grade level is relatively cheap

80 dowels -$10
Sheets - $10
Scrap paper - free
Tape - free 
Popsicle sticks 1000 count - $4
Rubber bands - free
Eye 700 count - $6
Yarn assorted -$8
Other accessories - free (scavenge your room and others, people always have stuff they are throwing out.)
Total about $40 (that's about $0.50 a student so not to shabby)

Step one.

Give each student a rod, square of fabric, tape, scrap paper, and tissue paper. 
Crumple the scrap paper into a ball and tape onto top of rod. I like to make a ball with one piece of paper, then cover it with more onto the stick until it is the size I want. Tape paper to stick head. Make sure some paper is actually taped to the stick.

Step two.

Once you have a big head (haha) add tissue paper to give you puppet a face color, tape this down.

Step three.

Cut a small hole in the middle of the fabric. Pull the fabric up over the stick and tape in place underneath. Hold puppet up. You now have the basic puppet done!

Adding arms 

If I have time on the first day we add the arms, if not wait until the end of 2nd day. Add Popsicle stick to end of fabric secure with rubber band.

Final Product.

Allow kids to decorate their puppets. To save supplies I tell the kids they can choose only 4 items. Every one chooses different supplies and their puppets are always end up being as unique as they are.

I always like to have the students perform with their puppets after they make them. This year we learned about flashback and foreshadowing. Students had to write a mini scene that represented one of those vocabulary words and perform it with the puppet. This turned out great! The students always love this project and they learn a ton about theatre!

I hope you liked this project. Let me know if you try it in your class I would love to know how it turns out.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Parent Communication when you have 500 Kids.

For those of you who don't know I teach over 500. Each one of those students has a parent who desperately wants communication. It can sometimes feel like all you do is communicate with parents. If you let it, it can become very overwhelming to deal with all of the parent communication. The parents of my students are awesome and(but) very involved in their children's lives. I have found for them, the more mass communication you have the easier it is to deal with the one on one communication that also comes up. For any type of communication you do, I highly recommend you keep a record. This is not only great for your observations (it's a TKES standard in my state) it also helps when parents say they did not know about an event (being able to pull up the dates of the mass communication really helps).

Mass Communication

There are three basic forms of mass communication I use and then several secondary forms for the really important communications.

Letters home

Obviously the easiest form of mass communication is paper letters home. I keep hoping that we will soon be able to move beyond paper copies home but it is a very slow process. I have found that often the letters never make it home or they get lost in the shuffle. Parents get so many pieces of paper home that often what I send never makes it to the parents attention even if it makes it into their house. Still while this is not the most effective form of communication, when there is a dispute about what is going on parents like to see a copy "what was sent home." I recommend having one day a week when parents know that important information is coming home. That way they know that they need to pay more close attention to papers that day. For us that day is Monday. I also recommend putting any information on colored paper (the brighter the better) you want anything that will help catch parent's eye or stand out in a sea of white notebook paper. If you don't already do this I would highly recommend starting a weekly/monthly newsletter. This will be something that parents come to expect and will look to for information about what is going on in school. This is especially great Fine Arts classes who often have performances and community events coming up every month. Being able to communicate dates to parents easily is very important.

Call Out

If your school is like mine you have a way to send mass phone calls to all students. We have started a thing called Tune in Tuesdays. Every Tuesday we do a mass call out with all of this week's announcements. This is great because it lets parents know what day and time to tune in so that they can know quickly what is going on in the school. I usually just submit the same letter I sent home to be read on those days. Make sure you keep a record of any time you utilize this service since there will be no obvious record of this type of communication.

Stop whatever you are doing right now and sign up for if you are not already using this service you have no idea what you are missing. This is the best parent communication service ever! I love this app. Remind provides a fake number for parents to text to sign up to receive text messages or emails for you. This means that you get to keep your personal cell phone number safe but still have the ease to use modern communication. I have also found that parents are much more likely to read a text message or email. Remind is also great because you can attach a digital copy of the letter you sent home. This allows parents to have a copy of the letter on their phone when they need to refer to dates and such. Seriously this is quickly becoming my favorite form of communication. Please sign up and try it too. You will love it!

Labels/ Stickers

Desperate times call for desperate measures. For awhile we were having a horrible time with our mass communication. Students just were not taking the letters home, we had not discovered the wonderful yet and parents were getting tired of listening to our Tune in Tuesdays. To ensure that parents knew very important information (upcoming performance date, time, and attire) we would use shipping labels to create stickers for the students. This worked so well for our younger students. Parents could simply read the sticker stuck to the shirt to get the information they needed. The stickers were a hit or miss with the older kids. I honestly had one student ask me for information that was literally stuck to his chest one day_ He hadn't bother to read the sticker that was stuck to him. If you need to get information home quickly though labels might be the way to go. We use the Avery 2inch X 4 inch labels and can fit a ton of information in a small space. You can also customize each label to a particular student using mail merge. I will have more information on how to do this in a later post.


This is one form of communication that I wish I used more. I have this very cute website set up. It tells parents the standards I teach and a quick summary of all my lessons, there are a few cute photos. On the whole though I very rarely touch my website. I know I should use it more, I know it would be very effective but I just haven't. If you have any tips on how to use a website, I would love to hear it!


We have a small marquee outside the school to advertise events. I use this to advertise performance, awards nights, and deadlines. This is very helpful since we have a ton of parents who come out and sit in the car lane.

County website and tv channel

Once again these are usually only used to advertise dates. This is especially great for our big productions.

Google Drive

These are just a few of the ideas that I have used. I just read an article here about a teacher who uses Google Drive for parent communication. She had some wonderful ideas! I personally have only used Google Forms to conduct parent surveys and online applications (I teach at a magnet school that is open to all students in the community, not just those zoned for the area). I have loved using forms, and this article has really inspired me to try using more of Google Drive next year!

How do you communicate with the masses, is there anything on here that I left off?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Director's Corner: Rehearsal Scheduling aka How to Create an Awesome Rehearsal Schedule for your Students!

Planning out a rehearsal schedule is perhaps one of the hardest parts of preparing a play. There is no one size fits all for  planning a rehearsal schedule. A simple but detailed plan is vital to the success of the play. You want to make sure you plan on when you will rehearse every part of the play. You also want to make sure that your schedule is flexible enough to handle any craziness that might come up (we had a freak snow storm the week before our show a few years ago, we had to condense tech week into two days.) you never know what can happen with schools and after school rehearsals, you want enough flexibility to be able to handle any surprises.

There are several things to take into consideration when planning your schedule. First you want to block off any dates that are already booked for your school or any school holidays that you are unable to get into the school for. You also want to talk to your musical director and choreographer to see of they have any conflicts you need to take into consideration. Once you know the dates you can't rehearse, it is now time to figure out what days you can rehearse and what you are doing on those days.

Start with the end in mind.

Ideally I like to have two and a half weeks at minimum to run through the play from start to finish before tech week. This sometimes doesn't happen but if I have this as a goal in mind it helps set me up for the weeks before. Let's say that you have three months from the time you post the cast list to the time the curtain rises that means you have approximately 12 weeks to get your kids ready. You want to have taught the kids everything they need to know in 9 weeks so that they can review and add technical elements in the last 3 weeks.

For each of those 9 weeks I try to keep the weekly schedule about the same. Depending on your and your teams personal schedules the day of the week you choose for each section doesn't really matter. My team set up our weeks like this: 
Monday: choral rehearsals- this is for company numbers to learn the words to the song. You can typically get through 1 full song or 2-3 reprises.
Tuesday: solo/duet rehearsal- this is where you can focus on helping your soloist shine. These should be small rehearsals where you can focus on just a few students really learning the words and songs. You can typically get through 2 full songs or all reprises. 
Wednesday: blocking rehearsals- this is where you help students go over lines. You help students figure out where they will stand and how they should enter and exit the stage. This is the hardest to schedule. You could go quickly or slowly depending on your kids. I start off by dividing the scripts lines into 8 parts and saying that's what's we are going to try to get through that day. It gives us a good goal. Some days we get through that and more some days we don't get all the way through, it all evens out that way though.
Thursday: choreography. Teach the kids to dance. Most of your students will not be dancers so this will be the hardest part for many kids. Plan on learning only 1/2 to 1 song a rehearsal. Once they learn the dances, use this day to rehearse and prefect all the pieces.
Friday: DO NOT REHEARSE ON FRIDAY! It sucks to do, the kids don't want to be there, you don't want to be there. Seriously unless it is a true rehearsal emergency (freak snow storm stopped all the rehearsals) do not rehearse on this day. Your kids need a break and you do too!
Saturday: at most only rehearse one to two Saturdays a month. I like to do a four hour rehearsal  in the performance space if possible. I work mainly on choreography and blocking on these days. You do not have to do these but they are really very nice. 
Sunday: Do not rehearse on Sundays. I have found there are two many family and religous conflicts to make these rehearsals worth while. 

Once you have a basic plan, simply plug in the songs and pages for your rehearsals each week. If you have done it correctly you should have taught your material in 9 weeks. This will give you two weeks to do runthroughs and one week to add in your technical elements. 

Tips and tricks
- try to teach the lyrics of the song before you teach the choreography. Most kids don't count their music they move based on the words.
-only give out one month rehearsal schedule at a time. Also make sure parents know that the schedule is flexible and can change at any point.
-keep rehearsals as short as possible, 2 hours max after school. Kids still have homework and jobs they have to do as well.
-if possible give kids fewer rehearsals or cancel rehearsals on really tough school weeks. Kids can get burned out if you rehearse too much. You want to keep the show fresh.

- feel free to look at my rehearsal schedule for Aladdin as an example . If you would like me to create a custom schedule visit my teacherspayteachers store.

Good luck if you have any questions or need any advice leave me a comment! I am more than happy to help!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Brain Break-Splurt

Warning this game is extremely silly and can cause fits of giggles from your students. I will be honest there is not much educational value in this game. Students aren't learning great insights into improvisation or acting. This gme does help students work on their concentration skills. It helps teach kids to adjust to changing circumstances and be aware of their surroundings, but really this game is just to give the kids a break and have fun. Depending on your class you might have to referee the game. I tell them that my call is final.

Have the class form a large circle in the room. Make sure you can see everyone clearly from the center. Choose one person to be "it." This is the person who gets to spin in the center choosing the people. 

Here is how each round is played (it sounds much more difficult than it it). It spins in the circle and stops picking someone at random. The person "it" chooses must duck down. The two people standing on either side of the chosen person must look at each other. The first person to say "Splurt!" Wins (the looser must sit in their spot. (This game goes quickly so students should have the opportunity to stand again in a few seconds). The person who ducks can stand back up once Splurt is shouted. 

The game continues until you have three people left. I then choose one of the three to be the new "it" and the game starts over. A couple of notes, kids need to pay close attention to who is out in each round. Once a person is out you have to keep looking around the circle to find the next standing person. This means that two kids on opposite sides of a circle might be saying spurt to each other if everyone between them is out. 

Take a look at a couple of examples of some "monsters" playing this game for more explanation. I hope you enjoy this game. Did it work for your students? Did they have fun playing it?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Students as Sound Designers- A STEM to STEAM Lesson

If you are looking for a great STEAM activity, look no further than this lesson. This lesson is super cheap and great for teaching about sound waves in class. This is also a great lesson for students to explore how sound can impact a theatrical performance. Depending on your students' age and maturity, you can become very advanced with this lesson or keep it very very simple.

Prep: Download Audacity onto any computers you plan on using for this lesson. This is a free download that works on both Mac and PC. I would recommend you also downloading this to your computer as well so that you can demonstrate the sound effects creation as well. If your computer has a built in microphone you can use that for a free solution, or there are probably several sets of microphone headsets at your school that you can borrow for the purpose of your lesson. If you want to go a little more advanced and get a better quality sound you might want to consider purchasing a microphone from amazon. I got one similar to this for about $20.00 you can find them cheaper and more expensive if you are interested. For the purpose of the lesson the type of microphone doesn't matter, but if you are actually interested in creating your own sound effects for plays a good recording microphone is a must.

Begin by letting your students explore sound creation. Have them practice and create the most original sound they can come up with. I would record all the sounds onto your computer while the students watch. Audacity is great because it shows the sound waves recording in real time. Once students have recorded their first sounds, play back the track. Have the students make observations about the types of sounds they hear verses the sound waves displayed on the screen. This is the perfect opportunity to introduce sound vocabulary including Crest (peak of the wave) Trough (Bottom of the Wave), Amplitude (distance from the midline) and Wavelength (distance from one crest to the next).  Students should begin to recognize that amplitude affects the volume of the sound wavelength affects the length of time. Giving students apple opportunity to explore sound and sound waves will help students get a better opportunity of these science terms (it will also inspire lots of creativity and silliness and who doesn't love that!)

Once students have had some fun and have good handle on sound effect start having them work towards creating specific sound effects. I love to start off with the thunderstorm for the younger kids. They love snapping their finders and stomping their feet to create the rain and thunder. Older kids often get a kick out of creating haunted house sound effects. Let the students use different props and classroom items to explore how they affect the sound. Have them make predictions about what the wavelengths will look like for each sound effect.

For the final project give students a scene to read. Have the students analyze the scenes and create sound effects that will compliment the scenes. Students must create the sounds and record them on audacity. To emphasize the science component, students should then print off the wave length picture and label each sound effect. You might also want to have students draw and label all fo the parts of the sound wave as well.

I hope your students like this activity. Mine love using the computer to create and use sounds in presentations. How do you integrate Science and Theatre?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Students as Directors: Parts of the Stage

"Sweetie can you move downstage some.... No move downstage..... No move downstage ... No move towards the audience." Most school directors have had a conversation similar to this several times in the course of a rehearsal. Teaching our students common theatre lingo, especially stage directions can be a huge lifesaver in making your rehearsals run smoothly. Teaching parts of the stage is a lesson that must be taught, it becomes very frustrating to assume that students will just "pick it up." If you consciously teach this skill students will take learning this skill much more seriously. It will also help students transfer to different directors much easier.

I like to teach the parts of the stage in several different ways but first a word on consistency. When working in class, after school, or in rehearsal always use the correct stage directions. It can be very easy to get lazy about this. I know I am very guilty of this. When you are trying to hurry and a kid doesn't remember which way stage right it, you really just want to tell them which way to move. But I have seen a great improvement in my students vocabulary and stage use since I have made a very conscious effort to only use stage directions.

Different ways to teach stage directions. 

Start off by using masking or spike tape to mark off a stage. If you are lucky enough to have access to a stage mark off that, if not simply tape down a big rectangle on the floor. Divide the stage into your 9 sections. Start off by simply standing in each box, naming it and having the students do basic call outs. Once they seem to have a basic understanding of the parts of the stage you can start to have some fun.

Simon Says

Put some kids on stage. Depending on your area you can either put the whole class, a 1/2 class or small group. Have everyone choose their own starting place. Start off easy. "Simon says move up stage" "Simon says move stage right" Any student who does not move to the correct place in the correct time frame is out. I like to give the kids 5 seconds to get to the correct side of the stage. Counting down on your fingers works really well as a management technique. After you have done a few easy directions to get the kids use to the stage get slightly more difficult. "Simon says boys move stage right, girls move stage left" "Simon says if you are wearing pants move downstage if you are not wearing pants move upstage" however you can easily divide up the kids so they have to work harder on remembering the parts of the stage. After you have eliminated more of the kids get even more specific. "Simon says if you are wearing red move down stage left" "if you are wearing blue move upstage center." This game is a great introduction and works well with your kinesthetic learners.

Army Men (or any other small toy/figurine)

This is a great lesson for teachers that don't have the space to move around. This is also great if you like a little more control and less chaos in your class. Give each student a piece of paper and a few of the old school green army men. Have the students draw out a basic rectangle and draw stick people on one side. Then have the students label the stage according to wear the audience is. After each stage is drawn call out different stage positions and have the students place army men at the correct spot. You can even have the students practice creating stage pictures by allowing them to place several army men at once. Or you can give groups of students a large sheet of paper and have them practice placing an entire company onstage for a major musical. This game is great for your visual learners.

Stage Pictures

This is a good game for students who need some differentiation. Allow your more advanced students to be the directors to this game. Have your directors create stage pictures with different groups of students. The directors can only use stage directions to move the groups around stage. For added interest, you can add a mini lesson on levels to this game and your directors can practice using stage directions and levels to create their pictures.

Pick a direction

Give each student an index card and have students write a series of stage directions in short hand on the paper. Enter USR X DSR, Exit DSL. (enter upstage right, cross downstage right, exit downstage left). Gather all the index cards together and spot check for correctness. Then have students pick a stage direction card and act out those directions on stage. This activity is a great assessment because each card will be slightly different. Students won't be able to simply copy what someone else has done.

However you choose to teach stage directions, make sure you are consistent in using stage directions when you direct students in class and rehearsals. You should also talk to any other Fine Arts teachers at your school (especially dance and chorus teachers) and make sure that they are using stage directions in their classes as well. If everyone comes together and learns the correct theatre lingo, all of the students will benefit.

These are just a couple of ways that I have taught stage directions. What are some ideas you have for teaching stage directions in class?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Script Analysis- Dramatic Elements

Please Take Care My Dog Smells. This is the sentence I teach my kids when we begin our unit on script analysis. In my experience when a teacher says "today we are going to learn about script analysis" almost all the class shuts off. They groan and whine and complain. Lots of kids think that analyzing scripts is too hard they give up before they even try. Teaching students this silly sentence helps make script analysis easy.

Aristotle said that there are six things that make a good play. Plot, Theme, Character, Music, Dialogue, and Spectacle. Memorizing my silly sentence helps students memorize the six aspects of a good play. I have found that once they can identify the dramatic elements, they have a much easier job in analyzing the script.

I like to start and finish with plot. Most students know the basics about plot. It has a beginning middle and end. There needs to be a conflict and resolution. Most students as young as first grade are good at identifying beginning middle and end. At the beginning of the lesson this is where I start. After we cover the other dramatic elements I come back to plot and teach the plot diagram. Students learn about exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and denouement. I find that coming back to the plot diagram after you have covered the others elements allows the students more time to gain confidence in script analysis. Feel free to use my plot diagram poster that I provided. You can also download the entire packet on teacherspayteachers.
Check out my entire Plot Diagram Packet at TPT

Theme is another difficult element at first. Help the students by starting off with fairy tales and working your way to more difficult literature. Making an anchor chart of common themes also helps student gain confidence in identifying themes.

Character. This element you can go as simple or as complex as you want.  You can talk about simply identifying characters. You can talk about the difference between main and supporting characters. You can talk about dynamic and static characters. You can talk about the protagonist, antagonists, and foils. How in depth you go about characters really depends on the age and maturity of your students. My second graders have a great handle of stock characters but foils are well beyond them. Have fun with this part of your unit. In my opinion, characters are what makes theatre unique. Students of theater love studying about character, so push your students to discover all they can about characterization.

Music. According to the Greeks music encompassed sound effects, background music, and singing. Have students discuss how music enhances a play. This is also a great time to talk about how to choose background music or sound effects for a play. In my first grade theatre SLO this is a major part of the test. Students must be able to read a simple play and identify appropriate sound effects and music. 

Dialogue. This is another very easy part of the analysis to teach. Students find it easy to figure out when a character talks. I like to talk about the difference between monologue and soliloquy in this section. I also will touch on how characters talk. How they say something is just as important as what they say. Getting students to identify motivation of dialogue is very important to script analysis.

Spectacle. Spectacle rhymes with technical. Spectacle is all the other technical elements and special effects that make a play what it is. This is a great time to show several different versions of the same play and talk about how the different elements enhance or detract from the play. 

Download this FREE poster at TPT
Once students learn all the vocabulary words associated with each element, I recommend helping them create a graphic organizer. This does not have to be fancy (on some days i literally just have the students divide the paper in 1/2 one way and in 1/3 the other so that there are six boxes for the kids to work with. Have the kids watch a movie version of a Broadway play (my two favorite to show are either Peter Pan or Into the Woods depending on age).  Let the students practice identifying the different dramatic elements as they view them on the movie. I usually let the students work in groups for this activity so I can make sure they have the concept down.

If you want to take the concept even farther have the students brainstorm a play using the dramatic elements as a guide. You can then have them write the plays if you have time (I did this for my anti-bully campaign videos and it worked great!) However far you go with this lesson, know that students chunking the elements will help students no only identify the elements but also analyze scripts more effectively. And remember Please Take Care, My Dog Smells!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Director's Corner: Auditions

You have chosen your play. You are now ready to hold auditions! This is one of the most exciting, scary parts of the audition process. You want to make sure you are very clear on your expectations and requirements before you announce the audition dates. There are three major types of audition: cold read, improvisation, and monologue based. My recommendation is that you stay far away from from improvisation auditions for a school show. Parents like to feel in control and it is very hard to prepare kids for an improvisation auditions. They won't like that and will question your judgment the entire time.

I would recommend having the first round of auditions be a monologue based. This way kids can prepare for the piece at home and you can see which kids are good at memorizing lines. If you are holding an audition for a musical I would recommend having the students sing and possibly dance in their audition as well. Once you decide the on the type of auditions and your date you need to contact parents. This is where I made my first mistake in my first play. You need to remember that what you know about the audition process is very different from what your student's parents know. You need to send some sort of corespondence home letting parents and kids know what is expected. How long should their monologue be? Can they use any monologue they find or does it have to be from a play? Is it acceptable to memorize a poem instead of a monologue? These are items you will need to cover in your letter home. I like to keep a pile of monologues by my door, that way when students need a monologue for my play or any other play, they have access to acceptable monologues at all times.

If you are producing a musical I would highly recommend that you require students to prepare a song as well. This is another area where you want to be as specific as possible. This is the time to explain that pop songs are not appropriate for a musical. I would recommend that students learn either a musical song or a Disney song. (Be prepared to hear Let It Go until you are about to "let it go insane") Depending on the age of your students you might want to consider holding a dance audition too. Tell students that they will learn a short routine at the audition and then be scored on how well they perform it. This will also give you a chance to see how students function in a rehearsal setting.

On the day of auditions you want to make sure that everything is as organized as possible. I like to have three rooms: a parent room, a dance room, and a monologue room. The parent room is where students sign into the auditions and fill out their audition sheets. Feel free to use the provided audition sheets for your audition or you can download them for free at my teacherspayteachers store.This is also where parents stay while the audition is taking place. I always close my auditions to the parents. I find that this makes the students much less nervous (if there are 20 adults looking at you while you audition, the scarier the process is).

The dance room just needs to be an empty classroom or gym that has a CD player in it. If you can, get your choreographer to plan on leading this section of the audition. The other rooms needs to be for your song/monologue audition. This can just be a basic classroom with. CD player. You should try to have your musical director in this audition space with you. Depending on how many students you have auditioning (I had 194 this last play) you should plan on splitting the students into two groups one group can go to the dance audition while the other group goes to the monologue/singing audition, then switch half way through. Even if you don't have a choreographer or a musical director, I would recommend pulling in a kind teacher friend or two to help you with the auditions. This way you have someone to bounce ideas off of. You also have another opinion to help you defend your casting choices to parents (it sounds so much better to say the committee decided as opposed to I decided).

Your choreographer should know how to lead the dance audition, if they have a way to lead it let them to it that way. If you have no clue about dance (like I did at the beginning of this) here is a quick run down of how to do a dance audition. Before the day, create an 8-16 count piece based on a song from the play.  If you don't know a count is a count of four beats (1234,2234,3234,4234) as a large group teach the students the predetermined choreographer. Teach first very slowly in counts then add to music. Allow the students a little time to practice the choreography before you score them. I like to give them a few counts after the choreography to show off their own skills. This is great even if your kids don't have many skills, it's great to see what your kids will come up with.

The music and monologue portion of your audition is where the "important" decisions come in. As hard  as it is try not to precast your show before you begin. This is so hard but try to go in with no notion of who should be what person, this will free you up to make some daring choices. While you and the music director are listening to the auditions keep a copy of the character breakdown in front of you. I like to the names of any and all students I would consider for a role beside each character (you can also write a student name beside several characters if you think they would fit into several different roles) I would also recommend writing down in the comments the name of the monologue and song. This will help you remember what a certain student performed when you go back to talk after auditions (after 150 auditions it's hard to keep everyone straight). Make sure you make lots of comments for each student that you are considering so that you can cast them appropriately.

After you have heard all of the auditions it is now time to cast the play. If you are having trouble picking between two students for a role you might want to consider call backs. When I do call backs I only call back those students I'm deciding between. If I already know I'm casting Tommy as the lead I don't need to call him back. For call backs I like to do cold reads. this lets me see how each student sounds in the role I am considering them for. 

Once you are done with call backs it's time to make final casting decisions. I start by casting leads then working down to the company. Don't be scared to take some unique chances on your casting. No one wants to see the expected in every play. For casting the company, pick a cut off number for your company and stick to it. This is where your audition scoring will really come in handy. You can simply start at the highest scores and work your way down until you reach your number. Keep in mind, while casting is always very important, I have never had an experience where a student didn't rise to the occasion. Have fun with casting and try to take a chance on a kid, you never know when that kid is a "diamond in the rough"

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Brain Break- Moving Statues

#brainbreak #warmup
This is one of my favorite brain breaks for all ages. It gets kids up moving. It also makes them think about how the hold their body and present themselves onstage.  The other great thing about this game is it give focus to the students and you can play for as short or as long as you want.

This is a game I made up that is based on the game "Red Light Green Light." In this game I have the students find their own space in the room (or you could have the kids stand at their chairs). When I say so the kids move in their space any way they want to. I am pretty liberal with this, kids can sit, stand, lay down, jump whatever as long as they don't touch anyone else and they don't leave their area.

When I say "Freeze!" all the kids must Freeze in whatever position they were in. Let the students think about their pose for a few seconds. Then ask a few students who have great poses "What are you?"  The student then has to describe what type of statue they are "I'm a statue of someone break dancing" or "I'm a statue of someone shooting a boy and arrow" whatever they can think up that looks like their body.

After you have asked a few students what they are tell everyone to move again. Then freeze again pick students who have interesting poses. In the younger grades especially they like to copy each other and you don't need 12 kids all throwing a football. Highly praise the kids who give creative answers but remember all answers are correct and we want to encourage kids to make choices about their bodies and characters. This also helps build confidence about being silly and going big with their actions.

Continue around the room allowing kids to move and freeze until you have either run out of time or asked all the students what type of statues they are. If you have students constantly copying each other allow them to give two answers. "That's great, what else could you be?" This will force them to think about their body position in a new way.

This is the basic game, short sweat and easy. It helps get the kids up and moving, it encourages creativity, and it helps focus students. They really like freezing when you say freeze. Encourage kids to move in pantomime (silently) to minimize noise.

Alternative versions:

Dancing Statues: Play music while doing this game have the students move to the music then freeze when the music stops. Great preview for musical theatre where you want to teach how music affects the body. Play different types of music so and explore how the music makes you move in different ways (fast music, slow, hip hop, ballet etc).

Feelings Statues: Tell the students move like they are feeling different emotions ("move like you are frightened" "more like you are excited" "move like you are mad") then have the students freeze. Ask them to make choices of "Why are frightened?" "why are you excited?"

Speaking Statues: Play the game normally until the end. Instead of asking students "what are you?" ask them "what would you say" Students then have to respond in character. For example if they are a football player they might say "Hut Hut Hike"If they were a singer they might start singing a song, if they were a dancer they might start talking about moving into first position. This is a great way to transition students into a character state of mind and allow them to explore talking like several different characters.

Silly Statues: This is where you can really work on getting kids to be silly (great for the older kids who think they are too cool). Tell the students to move in very silly situations "move like you are in a bag of popping Popcorn" "move like you are on mars" "move like you are a penguin" When they freeze have the students tell you what their character is thinking. "Man that oil is HOT" "I can't believe there is no gravity on Mars" have fun and be as silly as possible we want students to become comfortable with getting laughed at and being silly.

These are some of the statue games I play. What games do you play that are similar? Do you have any advice for teachers using this game as a brain break? 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Arts Integration- Students as Producers

#Math #theatre #budget

One area I personally struggle with is how to integrate math into the theatre curriculum. At our school it is expected that we integrate the core subjects into our classes and that the core classes integrate fine arts into their class. English and Social Studies are natural fits for Theatre. Both subjects have strong writing standards and history standards. It is easy to integrate them. Math not so much.

I have found one math lesson that works very well: Budgeting! This lesson is also great because it opens students eyes about the real cost of a play. It helps them see why we charge for tickets or why we can't afford to fly people like Peter Pan. Several of my students are under this crazy impression that we just get things for free. They say their parents complain that they have to pay to see the show. This lesson gives the students the information they need to talk with their parents about why we charge for the play.

Side note: I always give rounded fake numbers when talking with students about money. If they know too much about your actual budget, they start to make suggestions on how you should spend it (can you pay for all of us to go see that new movie? You should buy all of us food for each performance!) Feel free to check out the worksheets I made to accompany this lesson. They really help organize the students thinking. 
Check out my teacherspayteachers page to purchase these pages for only $1.00

Step one: easy budget. In the first step you want to model how a theatre budget works. If you have recently put on a play use it for a close example. This is also a great time to talk about Royalties. Many students and parents don't realize that we have to pay for the rights to put on the play. Give the students a few examples of how the budget works.
Example one cost
Royalties - $1050
Set - $200
Costumes - $400
Props - $150
Total expenses- $1800!

Step two: ticket pricing. Now talk about how ticket pricing is our way of making back the money we spent. If we price the tickets too low we don't make any money, if we price too high, no one will come. For the first examples I like to give an easy projected audience size (500).  Then the equation (ticket price) X (audience size) = gains. Gains- expenses =profit.

Example one price
Tickets - $0
We loose almost $2000 if we don't charge anything.

Example two price
Tickets -$5.00
We make $700!

Example three prices
Tickets- $20.00
20*500= 10,000
We can make $8,200! 

Make sure you remind students though that their audience number will go down as the ticket price goes up. Have them work out their own ticket problems and come up with a suggested. Price for the show. 

Step three: budget analysis. Teach the students how to use and read a spread sheet. There is a great interactive example on this website Kidswork TV Director (This whole website is a wonderful theatre education/technology integration site-use the tv studio and theatre for more resources).

Step four: budget creation. Create a fake cost analysis sheet for a play. In groups or on their own, have the students create a projected budget for a play they would like to produce. You should have some areas that are mandatory (Royalities, costumes, lights, etc) and some that are optional (lunch for cast, flying system, etc). Give the students a projected audience size and let them create the budget and ticket price. For an added bonus have them write a justification for why they choose the things they did. You are welcome to use my worksheets for this project. You can get them for a dollar at teacherspayteachers Students as Producers worksheets

I hope this lesson helps you integrate math into your theatre class more! I also hopes it helps teach your students an important lesson about production cost. Did this lesson work for you? What other math lessons do you use in your class?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Rehearsal Centers for Drama

#Centers #Arts Integration #Theatre #rehearsals
One of the hardest part about teaching a large group of students (my classes range from 28-35) is allowing everyone to have meaningful rehearsal practice. When I first began teaching theatre I wanted to watch everyone rehearse and give meaningful feedback to each individual students. This was a great goal. But not very practical. The one student/group that was on stage got feedback and everyone else got... fidgety. It also was a huge time waster. It took me forever for me to get through all the students in rehearsal and there was a ton of down time for the students who weren't actively on stage. I had to find a new solution. I now do rehearsal centers.

Rehearsal centers are great because it allows every student to opportunity to work on different aspects of their performance independently. It also allows me to focus on one group at a time and give meaningful feedback while everyone else is engaged elsewhere.

Note:  Your room will get very loud during these centers. You need to have some sort of system in place for quickly getting everyone's attention. I use the rhythm clap but use whatever works best for you.

I like to change my centers up ever so often. I have listed many more centers than you would probably want to use in class. I like to try to keep groups at around 3-5 so I create as man centers as needed for my group size. You can always pick and choose until you find some that work for you. I recommend you choose 5 centers and have the students rotate every 8 minutes (this will work great in a 50 minute class). I have altered this to use less time or less centers and it still works great. Also tell your students to continue with the script from where they are when they rotate. If they start from the beginning every time they rotate they will never practice the ending. I recommend every student having a script that is theirs that they are allowed to write on. This teaches students the importance of purposefully marking their script.

#theatre, #Drama, #Rehearsal #ELA #centers
If you want some easy to use printouts for each of my centers check out my teacherspayteachers store. Rehearsal Centers

Characterization: (creating a character) at this center you want to focus students are learning more about their character. Students often make choices about their character without proving their reasoning. Create a worksheet asking students specific questions about their characters (or you can buy mine :) ) Make sure you ask the students about the character's age, gender, a motivation in the scene. Students need to be able to prove their answers from the text and also use their imagination (some answers you cant find in the script). Sometimes I let the students draw a picture of what they think the character would look like and wear at this station too.

Blocking: (moving around the stage) you will need an open area for this center. If possible this center should be in the same area they will perform for their final grade. In my class this is the stage center. Students should work through their script figuring out when each character should enter and exit. They should also establish where each character stands and when they move. This is a good time to make sure students are not standing in lines and not "blocking" each other from the audience.

Memorization: This is the easiest station to set up. Put several chairs in a circle and let the students practice memorizing their lines. I always have the students choose one person in the group to be the prompter. The prompter holds the script and tells actors the lines if needed. Actors must say "line" before the prompter can prompt (this eliminates a lot of tattling- "I knew my line and he said it anyways").

Timing: This station needs highlighters or yellow markers. I love this station because it forces students to slow down and read. My students have a bad habit of reading everything at the same speed. I use this to make them read the punctuation marks and stage directions. Students must read through the script marking every stage direction, period, and comma. Students then perform their script practicing pausing appropriately.

Facial Expression: I recommend going to the dollar store and buying five hand help mirrors. Its a small investment that pays off big time. Give each child a mirror and have them practice saying their lines into the mirror. Make sure they look at their eyebrows. The eyebrows add a ton of expression to a character face :)

IPad Facial Expressions: If you are lucky enough to have an IPad you can use the camera feature to have the students act out their facial expressions for the camera and play them back. This really ups the motivation and involvement but don't fret if you don't have one. The normal center works great too.

Body Movement: Ideally you will have a full length body mirror for this center. (You can usually get one at Walmart for under $10. Very useful for costumes in a theatre class). If you do not have a mirror, have students work together to critique each other on the body movement. Students should work on creating meaningful gestures and using their whole body to perform. I have my students usually concentrate on not wiggling and moving with purpose.

Vocal Work: This is a great technology center. If you have Ipods/Ipads you can use the voice recording app. If you have desktops/laptops in your room you can download Audacity and have the students use the computer mic to record their voice. You can also purchase mini USB  Microphones (a little expensive but I got mine from a donors choose project). Students can record their voice and then practice speaking clearly and with good pronunciation. Students should then listen to their recording and make sure they can understand their speech.

IPad Voice: If you use an IPad you can download either chatterbox kids or sock puppets app to add some fun to the recording process.

IPad Film Critique: Have the students record a movie of their performance then play back the performance. This center might be a longer one and you might need to let it go for two times.

Well I hope you enjoyed these centers. If you have any questions feel free to email me and I will be happy to help! Good Luck!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Arts Integration Ideas- Historical Monologues

One of the major pushes in Education right now is Arts Integration. Theatre is one of the easiest Fine Arts subjects to integrate. Throughout this blog I will talk about several ways to use theatre to enhance Common Core Curriculum. Today I want to talk about one of the first arts integration lessons I did. This lesson is my go to lesson when I need to show off my students in an Educational Setting. My students have presented this lesson in front of our Superintendent and all the principals in my county. All to often the "higher ups" in the county view theatre and other Fine Arts subjects as fluff. This assignment helped change the minds of the "higher ups" in my county. Hopefully you can use it to help change people's minds as well.

Historical Monologues

I would partner with your History or ELA teacher in doing this project. Since I only see the kids once a week for 40 minutes partnering is a must if I want the students to write anything. They just don't have time to in my class. 

Step one- have the students bring their history books to class. I then have them search through the book to find a historical person that inspires them. (I typically base this assignment around Black History Month but you could easily focus on any other topic you wanted to- presidents, women, heroes etc).

Step two- once the students have chosen their person, have them research specifics about that person. Depending on your time limits and the age of your students you can either create an outline for them to complete or simply have them write their five favorite facts .

Step three- have the students choose  their person's most exciting life event (Rosa Parks on the bus, Abe Lincoln before Gettysburg, etc) 

Step four- teach the difference between a monologue and soliloquy. Have students choose if they are going to write a monologue or soliloquy. 

Step five- allow students time to write a monologue from their historical person's point of view. Remind students that the soliloquy needs to be written in first person pov and they need to include what the person is thinking or feeling. If they are writing a monologue it still needs to be in first person but they should be talking to another person. Most of your students will probably end up writing soliloquies and that's great!

Step six- Once the monologues are written it is time to begin the rehearsal process. When students are rehearsing I like to set up rehearsal centers so that they can focus on individual aspects of their piece. I have also had students partner up to rehearse or you can simply embrace the chaos and let all the students rehearse together. If you are new to teaching or an English/Social Studies teacher who is not use to allowing rehearsals in the room keep in mind it will get noisy. I like to set up some basic rules (no talking to other groups, no wandering from your general area, etc. )You might want to keep a noise meeter in your room to warn kids if they get to loud. You could also take them to a gym/ outside area where they have more space to spread out. In my experience since the students know that they have to perform the piece they typically use the rehearsal period to their advantage with very little silliness. Make sure you tell the students before they start if their monologue has to be memorized.

Step Seven- Perform monologues for the class.  I would tell the students that they can dress the part if they want to . These performances typically turn out very well and all of the students learn things about the other famous historical figures as well.  When you have your performance day make sure you talk it up. You might even want to invite another class to come and watch the performances.

Step Eight- Grade the performances. Make sure you check out my Theatre Rubrics at the teacherspayteachers store. The rehearsal, script writing, and acting rubrics can be very useful in determining grades.
Arts Integration Social Studies ELA Theatre

Make sure you keep a copy of the student's monologues that you liked. That way you have any easy demonstration piece for an observation or showcase.  Parents and teachers love to see kids participating in cross curricular activities and this is a wonderful chance to show your teachers what the students know.

Alternative Assignments:
Living Wax Museum- This is one of our favorite assignments at my school (and the kindergartners and first graders are the performers for the older students). Follow the exact same instructions for the lesson. When you reach step six have all of the students report to the gym. Give each student a "Button" to place in front of their character (Red Circle cut out of construction paper usually works well). All the students must then freeze in an exciting pose behind their button. When someone steps on their "button" they come to life, say their monologue then go back to freezing. This is a great assignment for other classes to come participate in. This is also great for students who get stage fright because they are only performing in front of one/two people at a time.

Literary Characters- You can use this same assignment but have the students create monologues for the book characters you are reading. Bonus points if they have to use so many sentences from the book.  Great say to engage the students in the reading.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Director's Corner- How to Choose a Play

Every Thursday I am going to give tips and ideas to help teachers produce their school plays. Educational theater has a very special place in the world of community theatre. It is not without its own unique challenges and difficulties that most directors never encounter (very limited/no budget, all young actors, stage parents) When I first began directing plays I wish there had been a place I could go to get advice and tips to help me through the process. Hopefully I can be this place for someone else. If you have any questions about your play process, feel free to email me. I know how important it is to have a sounding board when trying to organize a massive production.

The first (and possibly most important) decision you must make when directing a play is what play are you going to direct. Before you decide on a title you first must consider what type of play you are interested in directing. Determining the type will help narrow your search. You also need to know your budget for the production as well as your ideal cast and audience size. All of this information will help you choose the perfect play.
Tips for choosing the right school play:

Types of plays

Showcase- A showcase is a combination of short selections taken from several sources. These are usually produced from a sampling of what is happening in class.

One Act- A one act play only has one act, meaning this is usually shorter than traditional plays. If your group is interested in entering theater competition you typically enter with either a one act play or a full length play that has been condensed to one act. The most well know one act play competitions for education theater are at the Thespian Conferences (check your local/regional chapter for more specifics).

Straight Plays- Full length plays that do not contain music. Shakespeare is the most classic example of a straight play. August Wilson, Thorton Wilder, and Tom Stoppard are also well known for their straight plays. If you have very little music expertise and this is your first play you might want to consider this as a good option.

Elementary Musicals- these are musicals designed to be produced by the whole school. Often the students sing on risers as a whole group. Between each song small select groups of students will come to the microphone and say a few words. Think back to elementary school,you were probably in one of these plays :)

Musicals- My personal favorite type of play. These are the tradition plays that come from Broadway. They have singing, dancing and acting all at the same time. These are typically your largest cast and audiences are usually bigger for these performances. These are also your biggest money makers! Keep in mind these plays are often the most expensive to produce as well.

A word on copyright

When choosing a play, it is very important go keep in mind intellectual copyright. Playwrights work very hard writing these plays. They expect to be paid for their hard work. Just like you wouldn't go into a bookstore and steal a book, you cannot produce a play without paying for the rights. Make sure you read your production rights very carefully before producing the play. There is a difference between purchasing a play to read and purchasing the production rights. Make sure you are purchasing the correct play (buying a script from Barnes and Nobel is not buying the production rights). There are serious consequences for being caught breaking intellectual copyright. Do not do it!


If you have no budget you probably want to look for either a readers theatre script or a script from the public domain. Keep in mind though that if you price your tickets correctly you can make up the cost of purchasing production rights on the back end. (These prices are estimates and do not reflect any actual titles).
Reader's Theatre typically cost the price of a book at Barnes and Nobel $20.

One Act cost are more varied and can cost anywhere between $50-$300.

Straight plays typically cost between $150-$300.

Elementary Musicals typically cost around $25-$75.

Musicals cost between $550-$2000+.

Cast Size ( the bigger the cast the bigger the audience )

Small- under 20 if you are wanting to produce a play with a very small number of actors look at producing a showcase or one act. These are typically geared for this cast size.
Medium- 20-40 students For a lot of directors this is the ideal cast size. You have the most freedom in choosing a play with this number.
Large- 40+ you probably want to look at producing a musical with this number of students. You will be able to make a large company with this number.
Whole School- if you are producing a production with a whole school you should probably look at an Elementary style musical. There are also a few regular musicals that can be adapted for a whole school. (MTI has some great kids/jr versions that use the whole school).

Questions to ask yourself

Once you have made your decisions regarding cast size, cost and type you are ready to start searching for your play. When analyzing potential plays keep in mind the following questions:
-Is the script well written?
-Does the script have literary merit?
-Does the script contain a lesson that is important or relevant to your students?
-Is the script interesting and relevant to your students?
-Will this script challenge your gifted students?
-Are there parts available for students who struggle in class?
-Is the script age appropriate?
-Do you want to direct this play? Does it excite you?

Where to find plays

Public Domain- There are some plays that are in the public domain and free to produce for public use. Most popular in the public domain is Shakespeare. There are several other playwrights who are also listed in this category but make sure you check with the publisher before producing the play.

Reader's Theater- There are several reader's theater scripts available for use in the classroom. Look for scripts that say available for free for educational use. Most of these scripts grant limited production rights. Most of these script can be used in a production for parents but ONLY if you DO NOT CHARGE for the production. I often use Reader's Theatre scripts for my showcases. This works out well since the scripts are usually only a few pages long and I never charge my parents for showcases. If you are thinking about charging for a showcase you probably cannot use the Reader's Theatre scripts.

Licensing Companies: JW Pepper and MTI are my two favorite places for purchasing musical scripts. If you are looking for a classic elementary style musical (all the kids stand on risers to sing then a few students come down and speak in a microphone) you cannot go wrong with JW Pepper. They have a ton of scripts that are very affordable. Bonus they also offer unlimited production rights- meaning once you purchase the play you can perform it as often as you want without paying more money.

MTI is my favorite place ever to purchase musicals. They are so easy to work with and provide so many supplementary materials that it makes your plays turn out amazing. I also like them because they offer Jr. And kids versions of most of these musicals. These versions come in show kits that you can keep for forever (they offer one year unlimited production rights on their show kits, after one  year you can pay a reduced price to reproduce the show again.) The show kits contain accompaniment CDs, choreography DVDs and a director's packet that will help you though the process. They also offer discounts if you are using only middle/elementary school students in your production. These guys also hold the rights to all the Disney Musicals. These are huge audience draws.  Seriously check these guys out! (I get no money for recommending these guys they are just that good)!

MIT and most other licensing companies offer perusals of their plays. This is a great way to read a play in full to make sure you like it before committing to it. Most perusals cost under $10 and are well worth the investment if you are going to pay hundreds of dollars to produce the play.

Internet - obviously you can find scripts on the internet. Be careful when purchasing/getting scripts from the internet. There is a lot of plagiarism out there. You can still get in trouble even if you "didn't know" you had to pay for the rights.  There are a ton of great scripts out there but you really need to do your research and search out the best one for your class.

Final Step- Do not Skip!

Once you have found the perfect play for you, you must do two things. First get the play approved by your administration. No matter how appropriate you think a play is there is always a chance that a parent will take issue with your play choice. You want your principal to have your back if this happens. Also make sure you have the answers to the questions above. This will help you in defending your choice. After you have approval you are now ready to purchase the rights to the play. Once there rights and materials arrive you are ready to begin the production process!