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Round-Up: Dealing With Production Challenges

It’s never a question of “if” something will go wrong during a theatrical production…it’s completely a case of “when” something will go wrong! But when things do inevitably go wrong, will you and your students panic or persevere? Here are four common production challenges, rapid-fire style, with suggested solutions.

1. Your budget is not nearly big enough for the grand ideas in your brain (or, you’ve already over-spent your budget).
  • If your budget isn’t big enough, you’re either going to have to figure out ways to save money, or start figuring out ways to drum up more funds.
  • Contact other schools in the area to see if they have costumes, props, or set pieces they’d be willing to loan.
  • Get a local business to sponsor your production.
  • Have your students brainstorm a creative way to raise some funds for the show – a bake sale, a karaoke event, a show merchandise sale, an auction?
  • Rather than purchase new, see if there are items in your department’s props and costume stocks that could be repurposed, repainted, redecorated, or resized.
  • Think creatively – if you could have only ONE fantastic theatrical focus, what is your priority? Costumes, sets, technology? For example: Would you rather have your actors in fabulous costumes on a bare stage, or have the latest lighting instruments and gobos with actors in basic blacks?

2. Props and costumes seem to vanish, or they mysteriously get broken.
  • Remember the most important rule: If it’s not yours, don’t touch it!
  • Establish clear rules and consequences for not taking care of items. For example: If a costume piece is found on the floor, the actor must pay a fine of 50 cents or do 10 push-ups to “buy” it back.
  • Make a rule that nobody leaves after the show until the backstage is tidy and all props and costume items are neatly put away.
  • Have clearly marked areas for each actor’s costume(s) and each prop. Ensure that actors and crew members are putting each prop and costume item away carefully when they aren’t using them, not just tossing items on the props table haphazardly or leaving a trail of costume pieces all over the place. (This will ensure that everyone can leave on time, since you’ve established the above rule.)
  • Have backup prop items available, especially for fragile or consumable props.
  • Assign a costume and props head crew member to oversee the storage and care of each costume and prop item.
  • Check out this post (Backstage Blues: How to Deal with a Messy Cast) for more solutions.

3. A tech disaster arises – your lights/mics/sound equipment stop working.
  • Preemptive idea: Have a clear, step-by-step list near each item indicating the proper method of using and caring for each piece of equipment. Bonus points if you put together a troubleshooting manual or list as well.
  • Try to assess the situation as calmly as possible and figure out the reason for the failure.
  • Ensure that the cast, crew, and audience are safe. For example: If the reason for a power outage is a storm, take all necessary precautions to ensure everyone’s safety.
  • If you have technical issues during a rehearsal, look at it as a great learning experience (like a real life “What If” game). What would you and your students do to keep the show going?
  • If the technical issues occur before or during a show, remember: The show must go on.
    • If you are producing a musical, have a backup CD with karaoke tracks and a battery-operated boom box available in case the sound equipment fails. Or have the students sing a cappella.
    • Can you get backup lighting equipment or found lighting (such as flashlights, floodlights, etc.)? Can you just turn on the work lights or house lights and continue with the performance?
    • Can you move the performance to another room/venu or outside?
    • Work with your students to practice projecting their voices, even if they are using microphones (a thin, wispy voice will still sound thin and wispy when using a mic). This way, if a mic fails or the battery dies, you’ll still be able to hear them.

4. Your ticket pre-sales are terrible.
  • Get into publicity mode! How can you drum up more interest? Check out this post (10 Ways to Publicize Your Show) for some ideas.
  • Offer a ticket deal – BOGO, student rush, one-weekend-only deal, coupon code, a ticket contest…
  • Start a social media contest with your cast and crew – challenge each student to come up with a creative post on their choice of social media channel (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) to advertise your show.
  • If you notify your audience that one of your performances is close to selling out (or even has significantly fewer tickets remaining), it spurs them on to buy their tickets because they’re afraid the rest of the run will sell out too. (Such as “Only ____ seats remaining for Saturday’s matinee performance!” or “Limited availability for the April 28th performance of _______.”)
Click here for a free class group project: “The Drama Classroom & Production Troubleshooting Guide”
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