5 Things to Consider When Selecting a Play for Production

So, your school is mounting a production this year? Fantastic! Mounting a school production is a wonderful learning opportunity for students and staff alike. It’s also a big challenge.

Teachers: Before auditions are scheduled and sets start to take shape, here are five things to consider when selecting the show that your school will produce.

1) What type of show will you be doing?

Musicals are pretty much guaranteed crowd-pleasers (which means lots of ticket sales), but producing a musical has a very different set of needs than a play does. Musicals require additional staff (a musical director and choreographer, at the minimum). If your show doesn’t have backing tracks, you’ll also need musicians (paid or volunteer). Musicals also tend to be more expensive to purchase rights, royalties, and scripts/scores for, and extra rehearsals will be needed for teaching harmonies and dance numbers. Also consider your students – do they actually want to sing and dance, or would they rather focus on really juicy acting roles?

2) How many students will be participating in the production, and how many roles are available (especially male vs. female)?

Theatrical pieces are extremely varied in the number of roles available, and are generally not written with twenty equal leading roles. Are you expected to take on every kid that auditions, or will some kids not make the cut? Or, is the whole school participating and you’ll need to figure out what roles each grade level will perform? In that case, you’ll most likely need to produce a musical with an expandable ensemble.

Will you have enough boys to fill the male roles (a lack of boys is an unfortunate tendency in youth theatre)? If not, will girls play the male roles? And if so, will they play them as men or will you change those roles to female? (And will the author of the play approve of/allow that change to be made?)

3) What is your budget?

Do you have the funds to produce a big Broadway blockbuster, or are you running on a shoestring budget? (Perhaps you’re expected to produce said big Broadway blockbuster WITH that shoestring budget!) Costs to consider include purchasing the rights to the show, buying scripts, paying staff, budgeting for costumes/sets/tech/etc.), renting a venue (if necessary)…The list goes on and on.

4) What are the needs of the show and are they feasible for your performance space?

Does your school have its own specific theatre space, or do you need to rent a performance venue? Does your show have crazy costume requirements, such as 30 matching sequined dresses, or period-appropriate military uniforms? Does your show require special effects (fake blood, stage combat weapons, a fog or haze machine, etc.)? If you are producing a show like Peter Pan or Mary Poppins, will your actors actually fly? (And if so, will you need to purchase extra insurance?) Does the script call for scenes to occur in front of a curtain (assuming you have a proscenium arch), when you have only a black box theatre? If you can’t accommodate a specific need, do you have a creative solution in place?

5) Do you have to get approval of someone (the principal, school board, parent council) before acquiring the rights to the show?

You might want to challenge your students with shows like The Laramie Project, Juvie, Rent, or Spring Awakening, but will “non-theatre people” approve and/or allow your students to work on that material? Even the most seemingly innocent theatrical pieces have had complaints lodged against them for a myriad of reasons. If the show you’ve selected causes concerns, are you able to give a strong case addressing these concerns? Do you have a written document that answers questions? This may or may not be a reason to do or not to do a show – it’s just something to think about.

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer, and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. Check out her blog at www.kerryhishon.com.

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