Episode 207: A Fabulous Theatre Fundraiser
Don’t you want to learn more about a fabulous theatre fundraiser idea? Of course you do. Listen to drama teacher Alyssa Pitner talk about creating a haunted house with her students. Take notes now, implement in the fall!
Welcome to the Drama Teacher Podcast brought to you by Theatrefolk – the Drama Teacher Resource Company.
I’m Lindsay Price.
Hello! I hope you’re well. Oh, I hope you’re well. I hope you’re well!
Are you okay? Maybe I’m not so okay.
Thanks for listening!
This is Episode 207. And you can find any links – there are a lot of links – any links to this episode in the show notes which are at Theatrefolk.com/episode207.
Today, we’re having a little chat about fundraising, specifically a fabulous theatre fundraising idea. Don’t you want to learn about a fabulous theatre fundraising idea that you could do? Of course!
Our guest today has that fabulous theatre fundraising idea and it’s not just an idea. She implemented it. She implements it every year and she’s going to share it with all of you. So, get your pen and paper, get your phone out to take notes, listen in and get all the info, so it’s something that you can implement this fall.
While we’re talking about the fall, if you are looking for the perfect play to produce around Halloween – yes, this all fits in with our talk today – I’m doing a little teaser. Make sure you click the show notes. We have so many great plays that delve into theatrical horror. Zombie makeup unit, anyone?
Click the show notes at Theatrefolk.com/episode207. I’m going to share more news, more titles at the end. I’ll see you on the other side.
LINDSAY: Hello! I am here talking to Alyssa Pitner.
LINDSAY: All right!
Now, tell everyone where in the world you are right now.
ALYSSA: I am in Queen Creek, Arizona, at Casteel High School.
LINDSAY: Very cool.
And the weather? Is it still warm there?
ALYSSA: Oh, yeah. It’s not even really sweater weather yet. Oh, well.
LINDSAY: Ah, too bad, too bad.
ALYSSA: I know. I don’t have to shovel snow or scrape ice off my windshield. My life’s so hard.
LINDSAY: And how long have you been a drama teacher?
ALYSSA: I’ve been a drama teacher now for three years.
LINDSAY: Oh, cool.
ALYSSA: I’m a newbie, but…
LINDSAY: You’re new. Let’s talk about that for a second.
What made you want to become a teacher and specifically a drama teacher?
ALYSSA: I wanted to be a teacher since I was a kid because I got some weird thrill when I was younger of grading my brother’s homework which I don’t get that thrill anymore as an actual teacher. But, when I was in high school, I had a theatre teacher who let me direct a one-act, and I fell in love. It was the coolest experience of my high school career, and I was like, “I want to do this forever!” and I realized I could. So, that’s what I’m doing.
LINDSAY: I talk to a lot of people who start off in that performing track and then the love of teaching overtakes. Was it always teaching for you?
ALYSSA: I love performing and I love performing in high school and I thought about pursuing it, but I wanted to be a teacher, so that’s where I stayed.
LINDSAY: That’s good. We need people who actually love teaching and want to do it. So, that’s an actual good thing.
So, you’ve been doing it for three years now. What is something that has surprised you about being a teacher?
ALYSSA: Something that surprised me? The amount of paperwork is insane, sometimes. Like, IEP paperwork if I go for that kind of stuff. And how much – as a theatre teacher, especially – how much you have to overcommunicate things like rehearsal schedules, and where you’re going to be, and what time things are over, and do you need to bring food.
It’s way more work than I ever thought my theatre teachers did. So, every time I see them now, I’m like, “God bless you! Thank you so much! You’re amazing!” That kind of stuff. I knew they did it, but I didn’t know how much we did.
LINDSAY: That’s right! Thank your teachers, folks! Thank your teachers!
Now, three years down the line, what’s the one thing that you love about teaching?
ALYSSA: I love watching my kids perform. Their final performance scenes at the end of semester and watching them go through the rehearsal process I think is probably the most rewarding thing that we do because it’s like, “You’re doing it!” especially kids that didn’t think they could do it or didn’t think they could memorize all those lines. It’s really rewarding watching them do it, and they always do pretty well. So, it’s like, “You did it! You can do this!” So, that’s exciting.
LINDSAY: It’s that whole growth thing, you know? They can actually get better at something! Who knew?
ALYSSA: Yeah, they never know that they can, but they can.
LINDSAY: We’re here today and we are talking fundraising and we’re talking about a very specific fundraising idea that you implement. I think that there is no better time of year than right before Christmas to talk about doing a haunted house. I think we’ve planned this perfectly.
ALYSSA: Timing is everything!
LINDSAY: As they say, timing is everything. But, why not? Actually, I think that any time is a good time to talk about a good fundraising idea and I just loved hearing the discussion about putting together this haunted house. I knew that I wanted to have you on and talk about it.
So, let’s start from the very beginning. Why did you decide to do a haunted house?
ALYSSA: It’s kind of a throwback, again, to my high school because my high school teacher did it in my senior year and it was really fun. It got a lot of people in and it was probably our biggest fundraiser of the year. I was like, “Why don’t we do that?” and I just kind of went for it.
How long do you take to prepare to put on your haunted house?
ALYSSA: We start preparing pretty soon after we get back from summer break – probably three to four weeks into school – not even gathering things but just brainstorming ideas and deciding who’s going to do what and that kind of stuff. But I always start pretty early.
LINDSAY: Would you say you take a month, two months to plan everything from beginning to end?
ALYSSA: Just about, yeah.
LINDSAY: See, that’s good to know.
ALYSSA: They do most of the planning.
LINDSAY: That’s good, too!
ALYSSA: It’s really great for me because, when I say they do the planning, it’s really that they do most of the planning. I just am there to approve. That’s kind of nice.
LINDSAY: We have a comment that someone is suggesting that we’re doing a haunted house now. No, we’re not doing haunted houses now. We’re just talking about doing a haunted house now.
You’re absolutely right, Anna! Doing a haunted house at Halloween, that’s exactly when you should do it. That’s the perfect time. We’re just talking about it. Alyssa did one back in October and we just have the time to talk about it now, so that’s why we’re talking about it now.
Actually, I’m doing this as a podcast, and that’s going to come out later in the next year and it’ll make much more sense. Yes, it will.
Okay. It takes about two months.
What is the structure of your haunted house? Where does it take place? How long is it? What is the structure of putting it together?
ALYSSA: We do ours in the science labs of our campus. The reason being is that there are tile floors so you can do fake blood everywhere and they each have two doors so it makes a really easy path through the haunted house because you can use both the doors and go through instead of having to turn around.
We have about ten rooms. Total time through the haunted house is around ten minutes – unless my kids rush. Pacing this year was a slight issue, but it’s usually around ten minutes.
LINDSAY: That’s pretty awesome.
Was it hard to convince the science department to let you do this?
ALYSSA: No, because my admin was pretty supportive, and their department chair was really supportive. I’m not sure that they were all super thrilled with the idea, but I work at a really supportive school which is lucky.
The one thing that we need to do better is make sure that we’re not the same page of make sure your room doesn’t have anything in it that you don’t want kids to touch or see because there’s way more of them than they are of me. So, that was something that we probably should have communicated a little better because a few things got bumped around – papers that needed to be graded and a project got bumped and fell over. We should have just communicated better that stuff needs to be put away so that they stay supportive forever. But they were pretty on-board with it when I told them we’ll clean up and we’ll make sure it’s as good as it possibly can be when we leave.
LINDSAY: That’s ten rooms plus students. When you talk about communication, what a huge communication project.
Do you have students who volunteer for this? Or is this a class that puts it together?
ALYSSA: No, it’s all volunteers. My drama club officers are the ones that plan everything and then my drama club students can participate and then I also open it up to kids in my drama and theatre arts classes. It’s really kind of like a free-for-all. If you want to participate, you sign up. We do a sign-up genius, so they can sign up for which room they want to be in. It’s fun, but it is a lot of kids, and we had over a hundred kids participate this year.
LINDSAY: Going through?
LINDSAY: Or actually in the playing of it?
LINDSAY: Holy smokes!
ALYSSA: It was nuts, yeah.
LINDSAY: Did you have a student stage manager who organizes things? Or is that your officers?
ALYSSA: Well, I had my officers. I told them they weren’t allowed to act this year. They had to be security monitoring, making sure everything was going okay. That helped.
And then, this year, what we also did was we got more parents involved because there’s three teachers on campus that help with the theatre program which is lucky for me, but there’s only three of us that are actually faculty, so we got a bunch of parents to come in and help monitor, and that was extremely helpful because then, if there were problems, it wasn’t like we needed to run and handle it because it was already being handled by another adult. So, that was nice.
But, still, a lot more kids than adults which is an issue I’d like to fix in the future.
LINDSAY: And then, how many folks went through your haunted house?
ALYSSA: We had over 500. I want to say this year it was 540 go through the haunted house which included duplicates. It’s less people, but 540-ish paid to go through.
LINDSAY: How much did you charge for a visit?
ALYSSA: $5.00. We did an adult haunted house – the big kids’ haunted house. And then, we did a little kids’ playhouse which was, like, decorating pumpkins and coloring and doing Halloween fun stuff and that was $3.00. So, that way, we could bring, because we have huge families at my school. That way, parents could bring their older kids and their younger kids and just be there all at the same time. It was nice. It was good.
LINDSAY: We’re going to let someone else do the math. You know, $5.00 a ticket, 500 people going through your haunted house. And then, let’s go on the other side. How much of a budget did you have to spend on your haunted house?
ALYSSA: We didn’t spend anything.
LINDSAY: How come? How did that work out?
ALYSSA: We did a sign-up genius for donations. I told students, if you want to participate, you need to bring at least one item and we had a whole list of things that they could bring. Some kids had blacklights at home or strobe lights at home. Some kids brought in candy or one pumpkin. They didn’t have to bring in a lot. They just needed to bring in one thing. Since I had so many kids participate, we got everything that we needed pretty quickly. That was really nice.
Last year, we spent just around $100 just because we didn’t let as many kids participate. Last year, we only spent $100. This year, we didn’t spend anything. So, that was nice.
LINDSAY: Did you make the fake blood?
ALYSSA: Yes, we had a hair and makeup crew as part of the haunted house – like, people that could participate. They were responsible. While everyone else was setting up the haunted house, they were in there making fake blood – like, huge batches of fake blood. That was their job for the first three hours of setup.
LINDSAY: What was your recipe?
ALYSSA: They’re more on top of this than I am. They did cornstarch, powdered sugar, red food dye, there was blue and green food dye in there. I don’t know. They were doing all sorts of weird stuff back there. I was like, “You guys can handle the gross stuff. I’ll stay away from that.”
LINDSAY: But, isn’t that great?
Just to break down numbers, (1) you’re not doing this alone, I think that’s pretty important. When you’re talking about effective fundraisers, (1) you’re not doing it alone; (2) you have senior students who are more than one who have to organize it – they organize it, they’re the ones who created it.
When they were creating it, was there a very well written out script? Did they do scenarios? How did they write down the whole thing?
ALYSSA: What we do is they come up with a concept for their rooms – like, insane asylum, we did a crazy clown room, a mask room. They come up with what they want their room to be. And then, they give me a list of everything they need for their room – like, what is in their vision – and then I get to tell them yes or no to those things.
One kid asked for a refrigerator this year to put a head in. I was like, “I’m really sorry. There’s no way we’re going to get a refrigerator.”
They tell me how many actors they need and what they want their actors to wear. So, I can put all that in the sign-ups because kids also brought their own costumes this year which was really, really helpful because we were in the middle of musical season and I was like, “I’m not doing costumes for this.”
They come up with the concept and they plan everything. And then, it’s not scripted at all. We have two meetings before the haunted house where they tell their actors what they want them to do and the different things they want them to say, and they kind of assign mini-roles. “Okay, you’re going to be one of the patients that’s being operated on and you’re going to be the crazy doctor.” They tell them what they want and then basically everything is improv through the whole thing.
There was a lot of screaming, but it goes very well.
LINDSAY: I think it’s the notion that there is some structure which I think is probably important to get out there that someone is creating a structure for the room and who the characters are, and I love the idea that anybody who wants to participate, because you are dealing with volunteers, you’re trying to do this as a fundraiser, that they have to bring their own costumes and that that’s sort of an element to their participation.
Also, they’re given a structure in terms of who they are, but then they’re also given some flexibility within that structure, that they can have some fun. It must be the most fun that some of these students have all year – you know, just being some creatures and getting to scare some people in a structured environment.
ALYSSA: Oh, yeah, they love it. It’s hilarious. They have more energy at the end of the night than they do at the beginning of the night and all the adults are like, “Oh, my gosh, let’s go home!” and they’re like, “Wow! That’s amazing!” So, it’s a lot of fun.
LINDSAY: That right there in a nutshell is the difference between being 15 and being 35 or 45. At the end of the day, you’re like, “I’m done! I’m done!” and they’re like, “We could go all night! Let’s go!”
ALYSSA: Yeah, they were literally running around the hallways this year and I’m like, “No, guys. It’s too much. Tone it down. You’ve got to be calm.”
LINDSAY: How many nights did you run it?
ALYSSA: We just ran it the one night, so it’s kind of like a one-and-done thing.
LINDSAY: You had 500 people through your haunted house in one night?
ALYSSA: Yeah. I really decided this year that kids that participated really needed to push it on their social media, and then I actually ran a contest in my drama classes of whichever class posted the most about it on social media won a donut party.
ALYSSA: Whatever works!
So, we’re talking about (a) you’re not doing it alone, and (b) there is a structure, and (c) that, if people are going to participate, that they’re bringing their own costumes, and (d) marketing. Get your students to do your marketing for you. Get them on social. I love the idea of an incentive. You know, donuts parties are an excellent idea to get them talking about it. It worked amazingly well. I think 500 people in one night, how long did you run it?
ALYSSA: We went from 6:30 to 9:00 at night.
LINDSAY: That’s really awesome.
I think also it’s a brilliant idea to incorporate levels. Here’s the big kids, but there are also the little kids. Have you done that before?
ALYSSA: We did it last year, too. But this year went better because, last year, we didn’t think that that many little kids would come, just because of the time of night. But we had a lot of little kids, so we didn’t have enough space for them.
This year, they had their whole own separate wing of the building to spread out. There was a lot of them which was nice because then their parents don’t have to be sardines in the room, watching them paint. They got to sit down and relax and stuff, so that was nice.
LINDSAY: That’s pretty awesome.
I think that the most amazing thing too is that you have support and that you have admin’s support and you were basically able to kind of rule the school for after hours for a day.
Why do you think it is? I know some people listening aren’t in that situation and they don’t have admin support. What advice would you give to help cultivate that?
ALYSSA: I think what helped us with getting admin support of this event was that, when we first proposed it last year, we had a very clear plan of what we wanted it to look like and we had kind of laid it out. “Here’s what’s going to happen. Here’s how we’re going to do this thing. Here’s how many kids there’s going to be. There’s going to be these many adults here.” That kind of thing. They got to ask us questions, “How gory is it going to be? Because we don’t want to make people cry. They were able to voice concerns and then we could solve those problems before they arose.
Having that open line of communication, I think was really helpful.
The other thing that kind of helped us – last year, not this year, it didn’t work out this year – I got the student council involved as well. They were able to use it as a fundraiser. I think it was kind of hard for my admin to say no to 200 students in one go. We teamed up with School Council last year, and they did a fair outside, and we did our thing inside. It was like a big schoolwide thing. I think that kind of helped, too. We raised it as a community building thing than just we’re making money even though we did make money.
LINDSAY: Buzzwords! Buzzwords, buzzwords!
Community! I think you hit on two really key points again for a successful fundraising. The plan! You know, you say haunted house, and there’s going to be fake blood and it’s all going to be improv and it’s all this and that. I’m sure it would send any admin screaming to the hills. But to have an outlined plan and the whole notion of problem-solving – to say you’re going to solve the problems and any issues that are going to come up beforehand – that I think is brilliant.
Also, if you can, collaborate with anybody else on campus – any other groups in your school, to make a collaborative effort, I think that’s another great way to get admin on your side. You know, just to make it more appealing – more appealing, that’s a good word.
As we sort of wrap up here, you’ve mentioned a couple of things.
What were the things you sort of learned from this experience this year that you would like to perhaps change and evolve next year?
ALYSSA: Definitely that I still want there to be more adults there, just because we had so many kids and there were a few problems. I would like there to be more adults there next year, and I specifically would like there to be more teachers there.
I actually talked to admin after the event and I asked them if we could make it an event where teachers sign up because our school does, like, you have to sign up for so many dances a year and that kind of thing. I asked if we could add that into the rotation. “Can teachers chaperone that?” and that would count as one of our chaperone duties for the year. So, I’m hoping that goes through next year so that I have more adults on there.
Another thing I think, again, would just be better communication with the teachers, if you’re going to use their classrooms of what exactly is going to happen because where we ran into problems this year was with teachers who weren’t there last year who hadn’t gone through the haunted house experience before. So, things being left out and that kind of stuff and then my kids touching it. If we had communicated better that the kids are going to be crawling all over your room and there’s going to be crazy things happening, then maybe those problems could have been avoided better.
Those are the two things that I want to work on for next year – more adults and better communication with teachers. Hopefully, it goes well.
And then, what was your biggest success?
ALYSSA: Again, just watching the kids pull off something that they planned, and they worked hard on. They get there at 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. and they set everything up and then they perform, and they tear it all down the same day because we do it on a Saturday.
Watching them have ownership of this process, especially kids that don’t really do the plays or the musicals, watching them create this haunted house and then be responsible for running it and making sure it’s successful and tearing it down, it was just a really fun experience because a lot of those kids don’t get to do that super often, especially my athletes. So, it’s fun to watch them do theatre in a way that made me money and also gave them ownership. It was a fun day. Their energy is fun.
LINDSAY: You know, with so many activities happening in schools everywhere, there are just so many students who can’t do it all, right? They can’t do sports and they can’t do plays and they can’t do band. They can’t be everywhere at once, even though I know so many of them try.
What a great opportunity to give those students an opportunity to play and an opportunity to perform and it’s all done. It’s in, you’re out. It’s one day, it’s one night, and it’s one thing that, again, I love the idea that it’s student-run, it’s student-developed, and student-performed. I think those are going to be the memories that they keep with it.
It’s so much better that it comes from them rather than something that you tell them they’re going to do, right? I think that’s a good thing to end on. Those are going to be your best fundraisers – the stuff that they come up with, and they develop, and you just have the framework for it.
We talk to a teacher who does coffeehouses and it’s the same principle. “Here’s the framework. We’re going to do this. You have to bring this, and you get one rehearsal, or you have to audition with your piece. You get one tech rehearsal. You’re in, and then it’s done.” It’s the same thing, you know? It’s student-derived that also helps out the department at the same time.
ALYSSA: Woohoo! Best of both worlds!
LINDSAY: What’s your one piece of advice for someone who is thinking about next year, later next year, much later next year, of trying to put something like this together? What would be your one piece of advice for a teacher?
ALYSSA: Come up with a game plan early, especially where you’re going to do it exactly, and have a plan of how people are going to get through because I think that’s the biggest planning hurdle – deciding where it’s actually going to take place and how you’re going to get guests through the haunted house because, from there, everything kind of falls into place, but you need that plan before you can really do anything else, I think.
LINDSAY: Planning is life. Planning is good. Planning is always good. Checklists!
ALYSSA: Oh, yeah.
LINDSAY: Make your checklists.
Alyssa, thank you so much for taking a couple of minutes and just sharing your experience and sharing an awesome fundraising idea! Thank you so much!
ALYSSA: Thank you for having me! It was fun!
LINDSAY: Thank you, Alyssa!
Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS!
All right! It’s time to get your horror on! (That’s very hard to say!) Horror on!
Let’s talk about horror, specifically ghosts, ghouls, monsters, headless horsemen. You can do a horror play that your students are going to love and perfect for that October production slot.
We’ve got them all. They’re in the show notes – Theatrefolk.com/episode207.
But let me tell you all about them!
We have Horror Movie 101:Failing can be deadly. A collection of Five hauntingly humourous plays. Do them individually. Do them all!
Shuddersome: Tales of Poe – that’s Edgar Allen Poe, this one is one of mine, and I’ve got to tell you, it was really hard to write, and I’m so thrilled with it. I love seeing it performed!
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – well, there’s your headless horsemen, and there’s some instructions on how to do the headless horsemen.
The Bottom of the Lake– Steven Stack knows how to write for our horror and comedy. This one has got ghost stories and urban legends.
Frankenstein Among the Deadby Laramie Dean – oh, this is new! It’s a fabulous adaptation of this monster tale with two fabulous, fabulous, fabulous roles for women.
Want something middle school appropriate with also amazing characters? Frankenstein vs the Horrendous Goo
We’ve got Ashland Falls – a spine tingling comedy thriller
More comedy and more horror, Close Encounters of the Undead Kind – three ghoulish and delightful plays
The Haunting of Chip Lake Lodge – I love this play! A determined ghost will make this prom the most bizarre night ever.
Again, you can find links to all of these plays in the show notes – Theatrefolk.com/episode207 – or just head on over to Theatrefolk.com! Please, we’d love it if you did!
So, finally, where can you find this podcast? Go to Theatrefolk.com/podcast and there you will see we are on iTunes, Android, Google Play, Stitcher, and more. That’s Theatrefolk.com/podcast.
And that’s where we’re going to end.
Take care, my friends. Take care.