Theatrefolk - The Drama Teacher Resource Company

Top 5 Rules for Choosing a Play for Performance

For a new Theatre teacher, choosing a play for performance can be both exciting and scary. With so many scripts to choose from, how do you make sure you pick the right one for your program? You start with knowing the logistics of your particular production.

Here are the top five tips for choosing a play for performance:

Tip #1 - Know your space

It’s important to know where your play will be performed before you choose your script. The production requirements for staging a show in a small black box space are different from the requirements of a 500-seat auditorium. Your space will dictate everything from the size of your cast to the complexity of your designs. And no matter what space you are in, if the script requires special scenic and lighting equipment that you don’t have, you will not be able to present the show as the playwright intended. Knowing the capabilities of your space will help guide you towards shows that you can successfully produce.

Tip #2 - Know your budget

Producing a show is more expensive than you think! That’s why it’s important to know your budget before you begin. From rights and royalties to building a set and printing programs, the cost of putting on a show can quickly get out of hand. And it’s even more expensive if you’re trying to stage a musical. That’s why you should know your budget BEFORE you choose your show. When you know how much money you can spend, you have a better sense of the kind of show you can afford — and the kind you can’t. Make sure you have a firm budget — in writing — before you pick your show, and then keep track of your expenses right up to opening night.

Tip #3 - Know your students

When thinking about choosing a show, there are two questions you need to address when it comes to casting: How many students are coming to auditions, and how experienced are they? In other words, will I have enough actors to cast all the roles, and can the actors successfully play these parts? If you don’t know how many students might show up for auditions, let alone how experienced they are, it’s better to choose something small and easy so that your production has a better chance at success. Once you have established your program and know the dedication and capabilities of your students, you can choose more challenging scripts going forward.

Tip #4 - Know your audience

When picking a show, you need to keep in mind who your audience is and what they will accept. Not all audiences are made the same, and what is accepted in one community might be rejected in another. Plenty of teachers have been called on the carpet (or worse!) after a parent or audience member complained that a show was “offensive.” If you don’t know how an audience might react to a show that has a controversial theme, or even a questionable scene, it’s a good idea to run the script past your administration BEFORE you commit to it and announce your season. If your admin approves, you know you can count on their support. And if they don’t approve, say “thank you” and move on to the next script.

(Need tips on how to present a play with some tough subject matter to your Admin? Check out How to Put On A Play Your Administration Doesn't Like.)

Tip #5 - Pick something you like!

No matter what script you choose, you will be spending a lot of time with it. From season planning through auditions, rehearsals, design, construction and performance, you will spend countless hours producing a show. And the only thing more grueling than staging a show is staging a show you don’t like. It takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to bring a show to the stage, and if your heart's not in it, you will burn out very quickly. So make sure you choose a show that interests you — or better yet, excites you! That excitement will be passed on to your performers, who will pass it on to your audience.

These rules will help you narrow down your search to scripts that have the best chance of success based on your circumstances. By knowing specific information about the who, what and where of your production BEFORE you choose your script, you can prevent false starts, unrealistic expectations and potential cancellations. Happy hunting!

P.S. Need some help getting started? Check out Theatrefolk's free Play Concierge Service - click the link to let us know a bit about your group or what you're looking for and we'll send a curated list of perusal play titles right to your Inbox!

Click to download a worksheet to help analyze your situation before looking for a play.
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