Showtime shoutout

Break a leg to the students at Greensburg Community High School in Greensburg, IN, as they present my play, Murderous Night at the Museum, this weekend!

Murderous Night at the Museum

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Showtime shoutout

Break a leg to the students at Crowley County Jr./Sr. High School in Ordway, CO, as they present my play, Murderous Night at the Museum, this weekend!

Murderous Night at the Museum

Showtime shoutout

Break a leg to everyone at Bishop Snyder High School in Jacksonville, FL, as they present my play, Murderous Night at the Museum, this weekend.

Murderous Night at the Museum

Showtime shoutout

Avondale Middle School in Rochester Hills, MI, will present my play, Murderous Night at the Museum, this weekend. Break a leg to all the students and staff involved!

Murderous Night at the Museum - Avondale Middle School

Murderous Night at the Museum – Avondale Middle School

Showtime shoutout

Break a leg to the students at Mattituck-Cutchogue Junior/Senior High School in Mattituck, NY, as they perform my play, Murderous Night at the Museum, November 19 and 20.

Murderous Night at the Museum

When you have more performers than roles

A new school year is here, and that means it’s time for school play directors across the country to begin casting the fall play. Take a look at this article I wrote about what you can do if you find more talent at auditions than you need. This article appeared in today’s newsletter for Pioneer Drama Service (publisher of my plays A Family Reunion to Die For and Murderous Night at the Museum). Don’t forget to subscribe to their newsletter for great articles about working with student performers.

The full text of the article is below:

Newsletter:  Creative Casting Ideas – When You Have More Performers Than Roles

By Mike Steele

September 1, 2015

You just sat through a long evening of school play auditions.  Forty-nine students came out for this year’s show.  You would be elated with the talent-filed turnout…  but the play you’re casting only has 22 roles, and you want to feature as many students as possible.  After all, a large cast translates into an excited student body and an increase in ticket sales!

But you don’t just want to flood the stage with a bunch of extras who do little more than move as a generic clump.  So what can you do?  How can you utilize as many students as possible while making each feel like a necessary part of the production?

Take a look at these ideas…

Double-Up!  Cast two students in each of the roles.  Divide the performance calendar between an “A Cast” and a “B Cast” (let actors in the smaller roles perform in both casts if you don’t have enough students to fill two complete casts).  Double casting provides double the students the opportunity to learn, shine, and experience the fun of being a part of a school show.  Be warned, though, that you’ll need to manage the rehearsal schedule carefully since you’ll be teaching each role twice.

Cast understudies.  We always see students at auditions who have great potential but aren’t quite ready for a leading role.  What a great learning experience it would be for these students to discover what it takes to handle a large role by rehearsing as a back-up performer.  Whether you decide to have only a handful of students understudy all the parts or you assign one unique understudy per character, these additional students will benefit from the opportunity to develop their skills.  You’ll be doing yourself a favor, as well.  Not only do understudies come in handy when main performers are absent from rehearsals, but you’ll be training up-and-coming talent that may become next year’s stars.  You can even add an additional understudy performance (a great idea as a matinee) to give these students the chance to showcase their hard work to family and friends.

Split one part into two or three or four.  Does the script offer a logical opportunity to divide the dialogue from one role amongst multiple performers?  Some plays have incidental characters such as “Man 1” and “Man 2” that each have a few non-specific lines which you could assign to several actors.  Some plays have settings that span several decades, so different actors could play younger and older versions of the same characters.  Some plays have non-human roles that, with some inventive direction, could be played by multiple performers.  (Can’t you imagine a caterpillar performed by a group of actors lined up to create a long body or an ogre played by several students working a large puppet?)  Pioneer Drama is extremely flexible about allowing you to alter the script to accommodate additional actors, but be careful.  Not all publishers allow you to make these, or any, changes.

Add background performers.  Is there an appropriate place in the script you can incorporate additional actors into the action onstage?  Think of the play’s various settings and whether background characters milling around could add to the atmosphere.  Maybe the play is set in a restaurant and background diners reacting to a food fight started by the main characters will add to the humor of the piece.  Maybe there’s a scene set in a park and background performers having picnics, flying kites, and relaxing on benches will help establish the setting.  Give your background performers unique characters to portray so they won’t be just a blob of extras, but rather they will be integral to establishing the mood of the show.  Get creative, but be careful that your background performers don’t distract from the main action.

Offer cut students first shot at stage crew.  Many students who audition simply want to be involved in the production in some capacity and will gladly accept a backstage position.  Offer these opportunities to students you won’t have room for in the cast, and place these students in positions that will utilize their individual strengths.  You’ll have artists who will be an asset when it comes to set painting, designing the logo for the production, and constructing props.  You’ll have highly organized students who will keep your production running smoothly as stage managers and student directors.  From technical design to moving set pieces to applying makeup to ushering, there’s a job for everyone.

Stage an additional play.  Who says this has to be the only performance opportunity for the students?  If you’re struggling to whittle down the cast for a one-act, choose a second one-act and stage a two-act event.  If the play is a full-length, produce a second play later in the school year.  If the thought of another large-scale production is too much for you to bear, host a talent show, an evening of short scenes, or an improv or sketch comedy show.  If students have an interest in one production, they will have an interest in another.

Add entertainment before the show or during intermission.  While it might not be the same as being in the main production, some students will jump at the chance to be onstage for some pre-show entertainment.  Duet scenes, TV commercial parodies, or other small comedy scenes are perfect for this type of venue.  Or maybe a group of students can perform an instrumental or vocal number in the lobby during intermission.  This will let more students be involved while giving you a chance to develop younger students’ stage presence.

These general ideas may not be right for the specific title you’re directing.  One of the perks of producing a Pioneer show is that you can talk to their customer service reps or email the author directly through the play’s page on their website.  He or she might be able to share some creative ways that past productions have dealt with your dilemma.  Maybe the playwright will suggest turning the role of an annoying little girl into two annoying twins who speak in unison.  Maybe the customer service agent will describe how other directors have utilized background performers.  Who knows what ideas will come up?

So get inventive and incorporate as many students as possible into your production.  The more students involved, the larger your audience.  Just remember, though, if you get so inventive that you want to make any changes to the script, you will need permission from the play’s publisher.

Pioneer Drama Service

Taking advantage of the dog days of summer

It’s the middle of summer, and that means it’s time to start preparing for the fall play, right…?  Check out an article I wrote about using summer downtime to wisely prep for the upcoming school year’s productions.  This article appeared in today’s newsletter for Pioneer Drama Service (publisher of my plays A Family Reunion to Die For and Murderous Night at the Museum). Be sure to subscribe to their newsletter for great articles about working with student performers.

The full text of the article is below:

Newsletter: Simplifying the Director’s Job – Taking Advantage of the Dog Days of Summer

By Mike Steele

July 28, 2015

Summer Break is in full swing across the country.  You’re loving sleeping in, taking a family vacation, and just enjoying your free time.

But don’t forget you’re directing next year’s fall show!  Why not spend a bit of your free time getting some pre-production tasks out of the way?  A little work over the summer can translate into a lot less stress during the school year.

Take a look at these summertime school play prep tips…

Choose the show.  Take some time to lounge on the beach…and kick back with a big stack of perusal scripts while you’re at it.  (Take advantage of Pioneer Drama’s Buy-Four-Get-One-More-Free discount on preview scripts to save money!)  Or download some E-views to read on your tablet on that long car trip.  Don’t wait until the school year begins to narrow down the plays that interest you.  Come September, you’ll be too busy figuring out how to seat 32 students at 28 desks to stress about the scripts you still have to comb through.  Since your teaching colleagues also have some spare reading time during these summer months, pass along copies of the scripts you enjoy to the other production staff members and get some feedback on what’s do-able.

Update your audition forms.  If you’re not using Pioneer’s forms from their Director’s Books, spend an afternoon changing the dates on all those files you saved from last year that you planned to reuse for the next show.  Type up the character breakdown, print an audition sign-up sheet, and organize the sides.  Sure, this is something you’re planning to do “one day during prep period,” but something always seems to come up, doesn’t it?  The more paperwork you get out of the way now, the less you’ll have to worry about while addressing the unforeseen headaches of a new school year.  And hey, the line for the faculty room copier is a lot shorter in the summer!

Start collecting costumes.  Summer is the perfect time to visit garage sales and outdoor flea markets.  You’ll have to wait until you’ve cast the show before you know exact clothing sizes, but you can still hunt for those one-size-fits-all pieces you’ll need.  Wigs, capes, gloves, and a bunch of other accessories don’t require exact measurements.  It’s also a good idea to spread the word about those hard-to-find pieces you’ll be looking for.  The more time you give yourself to look for the neon green astronaut costume with a sequined shawl that one of the characters requires, the better.  Don’t forget to talk to your costumer to discuss any way she or he can get a head start, as well.

Clean up last year’s mess.  Does your prop cabinet look like it was hit by a tornado?  What about the costume closet?  Were you so exhausted from last year’s production that the set is still half-deconstructed in the wings?  We all want a little break when a production ends, but somehow, our well-intentioned plans to get the backstage area organized are overshadowed by everything else that comes up before the end of the school year.  Don’t start the next show worrying about everything you forgot to straighten up from the last.  Get into the empty auditorium for a day or two and prepare the space for a new production.  Don’t be afraid to employ a little help, either.  I bet there are some students looking to volunteer service time for the drama program.  And your own kids keep claiming they’re bored, right?

Host a pre-production backyard barbecue meeting.  Invite your colleagues over for a potluck gala to get everyone on the same page so the entire staff can hit the ground running when the school year begins.  Gathering over the summer means you won’t have to compete with all the department conferences, grade-level meetings, and other academic conflicts that come up at the beginning of the school year.  Figuring out how to fundraise enough money to costume a cast of 45 is a lot less stressful when potato salad is involved.  And you’ve been looking for a reason to show off all the landscaping you’ve been doing this summer, anyway!

Begin advertising.  “What?!?” you’re thinking.  “That’s crazy!  I don’t have a cast, and I’m still begging the new woodshop teacher to sign on as set designer!” Very true.  But professional theaters advertise before securing a cast and staff, so follow their lead and generate interest in the production ASAP.  Once you’ve selected a show, get the word out there!  Spark some excitement!  Post the title and audition dates on the school’s or drama department’s Facebook page.  Announce the show on the school’s outdoor marquee.  As much as your students claim they’re not thinking about school over the summer, an exciting announcement from the drama teacher will be the topic of conversation at the next pool party.  You’ll begin to recruit auditioners, and all the summer buzz surrounding the production might even pique the interest of that new woodshop teacher.

September will be here before you know it, so take a little time to prepare for all the work that’s to come.  Better to be ahead of the game, because that fall play is going to take a lot of time and energy!  But be sure to spend a carefree day or two relaxing with an ice cold glass of iced tea, as well.  It is Summer Break, after all.

Pioneer Drama Service