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5 Tips for Teamwork: Collaborating with Your Musical Director & Choreographer

Producing a musical is a big job – the cast sizes are generally bigger, the costs to produce the show are usually higher, and of course the artistic staff team is bigger. In addition to the director, a musical director and choreographer are necessary to get the job done.

When directing a play, the teacher in charge has full responsibility for the overall outcome of the show; when doing a musical, the responsibilities are shared, but cooperation and collaboration are absolutely essential. A shared vision, clear communication, and unshakeable teamwork are the ingredients for creating a successful and memorable production. Here are five tips to help you on your way.

1. Be clear about your expectations.

Before you even begin the process of auditions, casting, and rehearsing, sit down with your team and discuss your expectations for the show you are creating together. There are lots of questions that should be discussed in advance. Do you expect the full team to attend every rehearsal, or will some rehearsals be run by only one team member? (For example, does the musical director need to attend a blocking rehearsal? I personally prefer to have at least two team members present at every rehearsal.) Will you have the musical director teach vocals in one room while the director blocks a scene in another room? Who has final say in any casting disputes? Do the musical director and choreographer have the authority to make changes in their rehearsals, or do all changes have to be approved by the director? What is the overall concept/vision for the show? Are rehearsals casual or strict? What is the daily routine? What is the best way to communicate with each other outside of rehearsals – email, text, phone?

Laying out your expectations in advance will help to maintain a smooth rehearsal process, and will give you the opportunity to discover any common ground or disagreements in advance. This will help you present a unified front to your students as well!

2. Set your schedules in advance.

Create a calendar with your team in advance, and record any known conflicts right away. This will help you to figure out your daily rehearsal plans and use your time most effectively. There never seems to be enough time to get everything done, but with smart planning, you and your team can get a lot done in the time you have available. Plan ahead for certain rehearsals where you can separate to “divide and conquer.” But also make note of scenes/songs/moments where you should “tag team” and work together in rehearsal.

You will need to allot more time to rehearsing singing and dancing than you probably want to, but that time will be necessary. (Remember that the students will need to learn their vocals, then their choreography, and then when you put the two together for the first few times, either the singing or the dancing proficiency will mysteriously vanish.) Be prepared to sacrifice some of your blocking time, but know that everything will come together in the end.

3. Let your team members do their jobs.

Theatre is a collaborative medium – while you as director have your overall vision, you hired your musical director and choreographer for their skills and talents. Back off and let your team members do their jobs. Don’t micromanage your team. Otherwise, what is the point of them being there? While you should definitely know and communicate your wishes for a certain look to a dance or a particular mood you want in a song, let your musical director and choreographer know that before the rehearsal, and then let them lead. Lend your support, but don’t smother them.

4. Be aware of their strengths and weaknesses.

Your musical director might be really great at teaching the students harmonies in a clear and concise way, but has a tendency to go over their allotted rehearsal time. Or perhaps your choreographer creates gorgeous dances, but the taller girls complain that they are always in the back row of the choreography.

In your initial meeting, bring up this topic and share your own strengths and weaknesses as a director. For example, you might be great at pulling strong performances out of your students, but you are also impatient if a student forgets their lines. Or perhaps you get your blocking done really quickly but then forget to go back and revisit the scene again before your first stumble-through. Share your own strengths and weaknesses, and ask for your team’s help with improving your skills. In turn, help them with theirs. Create an atmosphere of trust and open communication. This will help your students feel that they can trust and communicate with the team.

5. Support each other.

While creating a theatrical production is fun and fulfilling, it can also be very stressful. Be there for your teammates and support them as best you can. Listen to each other, communicate with each other, and back each other up. Be prepared to compromise. Remember your common goal: You are all working together to create the best show and best rehearsal experience for your students.

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