When selecting a show for your school to produce, you want to choose a show that is fun, appeals to your students, challenges them, and helps them grow as performers and technicians.
But choosing a show has its issues. Perhaps your students have their hearts set on a musical, but you’ve selected a play. Or maybe they wanted a big name-brand show, while you’ve selected something they’ve never heard of. While they’re excited about the prospect of doing a show and are going to participate, they’re less than thrilled (or perhaps slightly confused) about what you’ve selected. What’s a director to do?
At this point, it’s your responsibility to get your students to “buy into” the show–to agree with and accept the show. Think of it in terms of selling your show to your students. Let them know the show’s “selling features.” Demonstrate what’s in it for them.
Let’s look at five suggestions to help get students enthused about your show from the get-go.
1. Show enthusiasm
First and foremost–YOU need to lead by example and be excited about the production. If you aren’t thrilled to be working on the show, why are your students going to be? Focus on all the great things to look forward to–the juicy character work, the amazing songs and dances, the chance to learn new skills (like using theatrical effects or stage combat), the gorgeous sets and costumes, and anything unique or different about your show. For example, perhaps your school is going to be the first to produce your show in the district, or even the province or state. Maybe you’re going to enter a theatre festival with this production. Perhaps it’s going to be a show you take “on the road” to various other schools. Whatever makes this show unique, really emphasize that with your cast and crew.
Make your enthusiasm infectious! “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is an appropriate quote for this topic. Help your students care about the show by demonstrating care yourself.
2. Explain the plot (and why it’s important/relatable/challenging/etc.)
Maybe your students have never heard of the show you’ve decided to produce. This happened to me when I was directing Peter and the Starcatcher. I had seen the show on Broadway and had read the book series. Because of that (plus the fact it had won Tony Awards), I assumed everyone knew the story.
Newsflash–just because you are intimately acquainted with the material does not mean that your students are. Take some time and explain the plot thoroughly to your students. Don’t assume they will get everything from just reading the script. If there is supplementary material (production guides, videos, book or film versions, and so on), make those available to your students. Help them to understand what they’re working on. What you perceive as indifference or a lack of enthusiasm may just be them not understanding or knowing what’s going on.
3. Explain your concept
If you have a fun or different twist on your production (and really, you should!), explain it to your students right away. Let them know your ideas for the design of the show, how you’re going to approach the characters, and what is going to make this production really special. This, in turn, will make your students feel special for being a part of it.
Both explaining your concept and showing enthusiasm are simple enough to do at your first rehearsal. But I actually did this for my most recent production ahead of time–digitally. I let the cast know that on a certain date and time I’d be presenting a Facebook Live Video in our private, “cast and crew only” Facebook group. I used that time to explain my concept for the show and how excited I was to be working with them. It was utterly terrifying, but a lot of fun, and a great way to connect with my cast through social media. Lots of different social media platforms have live video capabilities–check them out!
4. Get started right away with a big group number or blocking scene
There’s no time like the present to dive right in! Get the full cast started at the first rehearsal. Consider getting them up on their feet with a big production number or a group scene that everyone’s involved in. Promoting teamwork and ensemble values helps to create a sense of community and helps ensure that everyone feels included. It gives students the chance to get to know each other right away. Plus, it’s fun! Inclusivity + community + teamwork = buy-in.
5. Issue a ticket-sale challenge
A good competition can really help students to buy into a show. Encourage your students to talk up the show early and share updates on social media. Give a prize to the student who gets the greatest number of tickets sold, or offer a pizza party to the cast and crew if they can sell out their opening night performance. Bribery? Maybe. Or perhaps it’s a clever way to get your students to take pride and ownership in their show by advertising and getting audience members right away.
What are your best tips for getting buy-in from students? Share your ideas with us!Click here for a free printable tip sheet!
Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer, and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. Explore her blog at www.kerryhishon.com.