Teaching Drama

How to Help Improve Your School’s Theater Program as a Student

Today we’re featuring a guest post from Irene Gonzalez from theater4teens.com.

So if you could change one thing about your school’s Theater Program, what would it be? I shot out this question on Twitter last week and you guys came back with a flood of responses – ranging from sets to rehearsals. Then I asked what you thought of your school’s Theater Program and most of you came back to me with the same answer: you love the people and your teachers but that for ‘everything else’ – you just accept the other stuff and make it work – because at the end of the day, it’s good, pure fun to be part of such a tight-knit group.

So what if I told you that you don’t have to accept the status quo? What if I said there are ways you can make the ‘everything else’ part a whole lot better? Here are some ideas that have worked for me, or that I’ve seen work “” consider what you might try in your school.

‘I wish we did different shows.’

Yes, this response came up a lot. This has to do primarily with being able to get the rights to the shows. You can’t really change that but what you can do is self-diagnose your group as a team. Take a look at who you have in the program and type everyone in a character. This works best when everyone is nice and honest and you do it as a team. The last thing you want is someone getting hurt.

Once you have a list of types and strengths, then you can better find a show that will fit most, if not, all characters. I say get creative with this. If you can’t find a show that fits, create one. It is possible to do: given your team and one good writer, you can all come up with a show that is perfect and that everyone loves. Who says it has to be a ‘known’ show? Most the shows you do in school theater are ones that people have never heard of anyway, so what difference does it make?

Also think about putting on showcases. Everyone selects one song and one monologue and once you look at everyone’s choices, you can arrange the order so there is no instruction needed really, and it can still tell a story and show relationships. But what if you want to select favorite parts of existing shows that you actually know really well, but you can’t use those examples because of legal rights? Then I suggest that you throw in some additional scenes that you create yourselves and group numbers too. A showcase like this is an excellent way to be creative and allow everyone to play the type of character that they are best at.

“What theater program?”

This was actually the most popular response and it made me laugh but it’s sad. It’s true that some schools don’t really have a theater program due to costs and lack of interest from the students or lack of a teacher. If you don’t have a program, create one. Don’t laugh at me and say I’m crazy because it is possible. The more you and your fellow students take action, the more people will listen. Organize a meeting at your school during a lunch hour or even after school and talk to your peers. Trust me — you guys have a bigger voice at your school than you realize. Stop complaining about it and do something to change it.

“Talent instead of seniority.”

Yes, this is an ongoing problem within school-based Theater Programs; senior students do tend to have an upper edge in school shows. Casting school productions is different than normal casting because your teacher knows how you work and how you interact with others outside of class. He or she knows who they can count on to show up and put in 150%. If you are still in a younger grade and not getting noticed the way you would like, check out a past blog in our archive: “Every day is an audition.” The more you act more like the senior players in following their work ethic, the more your teacher will see that you are becoming mature and capable. Stick with it, work hard, be consistent, and you will get your chance.

Let’s face it: seniors have been there forever. Not only have they learned from that teacher for years, but this is the teacher’s way of letting them live out their final year. Ask and find out if they were ever leads when they were younger in the program. Most likely they weren’t leads back then either. It’s not really fair, if you ask me, but change can be possible. Try using what I said about finding different shows or making your own and base it on the characters that fit all the people in the program who are talented, not just seniors.

That’s a pretty good start on ways to make your school’s Theater Program a little bit better. If you run into problems or have any questions at all, please feel free to contact me via email, Twitter (@Theater4TeensNY or @Officiallyirene), Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.

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About the author

Craig Mason

1 Comment

  • I like what you said about seniority, and acting like the seniors as far as maturity, dedication and commitment. Let me tell you, it works. I am the drama adviser for our district. Our “department” consists of myself, the choir director, and anyone who joins our inaugural drama club come Monday. Sure, we tend to cast the same people in our shows, but that is because the same people come out time after time to audition. We do a play for high school students only in the fall, and a musical in the spring open to high school and middle school students.

    Let me share an e-mail I received this week:

    Hello Mrs. ***! This is ***. I would like to ask you if there is a possibility I can try out for the High school Play, Murder in the House of Horrors. I have done some research on it just to get a feel for the play and would be delighted if I could stop by on the first week of school to pick up the audition packet as well as the other High Schoolers’ Although I am only an 8th grader this year i would still LOVE to be in this play… i even kind of want to audition for an actual role instead of just an extra. If you believe i am not ready for a more “Matured” play then don’t be afraid to say no but i really will try hard and hopefully ad something to this production, thanks for your consideration!

    Am I allowing her to audition? You betcha! And she is going to receive the same consideration that the high school seniors get. I had the chance to work with her in the musical last year, and as Ms. Gonzalez said, I noticed her dedication, and her maturity then. So you see, how you act DOES make a difference. Show you are serious, be mature, and things will fall your way. Another thing that you can do is to accept or even seek out a backstage role occasionally. Its a great way to show you care about the whole theater experience, and it really helps you ON stage when you know and appreciate what goes on BACK stage.
    Oh, and by the way: JUNIORS have had leads for the last 3 Spring productions, we have had. I’m not tooting my own horn, I just jumped on board for our school district last Spring. Have faith, and have fun on stage!