My brother (and often co-writer), Matt Steele, stars in the feature film DIVOS!, available today on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube Movies & Shows, Google Play, FandangoNOW, Xbox, Vudu, and practically any other On Demand service that allows you to rent or buy movies!


I saw the premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, and this film is absolutely hysterical! Check it out, especially if you love school plays!

Mean Girls meets High School Musical in this hilarious backstage farce!

Ricky Redmond is a legendary teen actor – legendary, at least, in his own mind (and his mother’s, of course). After several show-stopping performances as an underclassman in the St. James School’s musicals, he knows he’s a shoo-in for the lead role his senior year. But when baseball MVP Josh Kelly shows up at auditions, the never humble Ricky finally meets his match.

Mustering up some team spirit, Ricky takes Josh under his wing to teach the rookie actor the ins and outs of being a teenage divo. He soon realizes, though, that Josh’s star quality is more dangerous than he originally anticipated. The claws come out when Josh attempts to sabotage not only Ricky’s performance in the school play, but his entire future as a professional actor.

DIVOS! is a fabulous romp full of misfits, mayhem and musical theatre that proves…

When it comes to the school play, the boys bring the drama!

It’s time for the Broadway community to start respecting Vanessa Hudgens

On the morning of January 31, 2016, Vanessa Hudgens arrived on the set of FOX’s Grease: Live! ready to star as Rizzo in a live telecast of the classic musical comedy. She was at work rehearsing when media outlets began announcing that her father had passed away the prior evening after a several-month battle with stage 4 cancer.

That night, Ms. Hudgens performed for a television audience of 12.2 million viewers, and it’s safe to say her rendition of There Are Worse Things I Could Do was a highlight of the event.

Flashback to September 2014, when producers announced Ms. Hudgens would star in an upcoming Broadway revival of the musical Gigi. Broadway fans quickly took to social media, denouncing Ms. Hudgens’ anticipated performance with comments that ranged from, “Could we please find talented people instead of these temporary ex teenage Disney types?” to, “That whore.” As this was to be Ms. Hudgens’ Broadway debut, these remarks were coming from people who had never even seen what she could do onstage.

Gigi opened to mixed reviews, and despite some critics complimenting Ms. Hudgens’ “rousing performance,” Broadway fans were still on social media writing things like, “I’m looking forward to this. And by looking forward to this I mean watching all the people give her s*** about her performance.”

The message from Broadway fans was clear: this teeny bopper hack was not welcome on the Great White Way. But why? Because her breakout role happened to be in a Disney Channel TV movie? Because she was a young Hollywood celeb with a non-Broadway fanbase? What valid reason did the Broadway community have to be so brutal to an actress who was displaying nothing but enthusiasm for her upcoming Broadway debut?

Gigi closed on Broadway less than three months after opening as a result of low ticket sales. Members of the Broadway community who were gleefully tearing Ms. Hudgens apart weren’t even attending the show to witness the performance first-hand.

Before Gigi, I admittedly knew little of Ms. Hudgens’ work outside of the High School Musical franchise (in which I thought she was delightful), but I was impressed by both her onstage energy and her eagerness to embrace a community that was so forcefully pushing her away.

I met Ms. Hudgens after a performance of Gigi. The stage door was one of the most crowded I have ever seen with hordes of young girls eager to meet their idol. Ms. Hudgens greeted every fan. She signed every autograph. She posed for every picture. Not wanting to be trampled by a tween (or her mother), I waited until the crowd had dispersed to ask for a photo. Ms. Hudgens was walking towards her car when I approached, and even though she’d been signing autographs in the cold long after the other performers had gone home, she turned to me with a warm smile and posed for a selfie.

I’m told Ms. Hudgens had the same smile while rehearsing for Grease: Live! despite her father’s terminal illness. (My brother was in the ensemble of the telecast and noted that most cast members did not even know Ms. Hudgens’ father was sick until he passed away.) This young actress was dealing with an incredibly sad circumstance while displaying a constant professionalism on the job.

So I say to my fellow Broadway fans, here we have an actress who has been criticized and mocked by a community that knew nothing of her skillset other than what she displayed in her Disney Channel past. She was not greeted like a professional during her Broadway run.

But the day after her father passed away, Vanessa Hudgens showed up to work with a “the show must go on” attitude. She did what most Broadway stars don’t do if they have a slight cold.

The next time half a dozen understudy slips fall out of your Playbill, think of Vanessa Hudgens. She doesn’t have to be your favorite performer, but she deserves respect.

With Vanessa Hudgens after a performance of Gigi

With Vanessa Hudgens after a performance of Gigi

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

That time I got locked inside Broadway’s Majestic Theatre

Here’s a fun little story I never got around to posting about when it happened back at the end of January…

The Phantom of the Opera was set to celebrate its 27th anniversary on Broadway on January 26, with a big celebration after the show for the cast, crew, and staff, but with the impending Winter Storm Juno, all Broadway performances were canceled for the evening.  Well, the blizzard (which was supposed to be the worst NJ and NYC had ever seen in this lifetime) fooled everyone and dropped only a few inches of snow on the city.  Regardless, Phantom’s anniversary performance had been canceled.

A friend of mine runs the social networking accounts for Phantom, and he needed to photograph the (postponed) anniversary party after the show that Saturday evening.  Since he’d now have to work on a weekend, his company arranged for him to receive two comp tickets to the performance rather than just show up at curtain call.

And that’s how I ended up sitting right under the glorious chandelier that falls onto the stage.

I had seen the show twice before from the nosebleeds of the balcony on high school field trips, but the seats we had for this anniversary performance were center orchestra, and the show is a lot more fun when you can actually see the stage without binoculars.

After the performance, we were ushered backstage where my friend photographed Norm Lewis and the other performers in costume.  Then, everyone got out of costume and makeup, and dozens of pizzas were stacked onto tables stretching across the stage for a big party.  There were speeches and toasts, and I ate a few slices of pizza (or maybe more than a few).  At one point, I was chatting with a girl I thought must be someone’s daughter only to learn that she was the actress who plays Christine during the matinee performances…and then I cried in the corner because I realized I’m older than the star of the show.

Onstage at the Majestic Theatre

Onstage at the Majestic Theatre in front of the infamous chandelier. (No, I didn’t airbrush the photo; that’s how youthful I look under stage lights.)

When the party was over, my friend and I exited the theatre by walking off the stage and through the house while the rest of the partygoers (cast, crew, and staff) exited through the stage door.  We walked from the lobby into the foyer, and realized that the doors leading to the street were dead-bolted shut, as it was now several hours after the performance had  ended.  When we turned around to go back into the theatre, we found that the doors leading to the lobby had locked behind us.

We were trapped in the foyer of the Majestic Theatre.

We waited.  And waited.  And several minutes went by.

I thought surely we must be on camera and some security guard would come find us and set us free.  But we continued to wait.  And wait.  And wait.

Literally, moments before we were about to call the police, a security guard for the theatre came strolling down the sidewalk.  He looked just as surprised to see us trapped in the foyer as we felt to be trapped.

And with a turn of his key, we were set free.

I bought a soft pretzel (I guess the pizza didn’t fill me up) and headed home.

What a fun night.

Happy anniversary, Phantom!

Encouraging young performers to audition again and again

An article I wrote was published on Wednesday in the newsletter for Pioneer Drama Service (publisher of my plays A Family Reunion to Die For and Murderous Night at the Museum). This article is about encouraging young performers to continue auditioning, even if they have faced rejection in the past. Be sure to subscribe to Pioneer Drama Service’s newsletter for great articles about working with student performers.

The full text of the article is below:

Newsletter: Working with Young Actors – Encouraging Young Performers to Audition Again and Again

By Mike Steele

January 21, 2015

After a long weekend of auditions for a community theatre play I’m directing, I sat with the rest of the production staff staring at a scattering of young performers’ headshots for my least favorite part of the casting process:  choosing which auditioners we’d offer roles to and which would receive the dreaded, “No, thank you.”  We saw dozens of performers we’d be happy to feature, but with nearly 80 children vying for 12 roles, we had no choice but to disappoint the majority of the talent.

So often in my experiences as a school play and community theatre director, I hear young performers chatting about previous rejections.  They say things like, “She didn’t cast me in last year’s play; she thinks I have no talent,” “That production company won’t even give me a chance,” or “I don’t bother auditioning for him anymore because he thinks I’m awful!”

And yet as a director, I sit through so many auditions thinking things like, “She gave such a good read, but she’s too tall to play a six year old,” “Wow!  What a voice!  Too bad I’m looking for dancers,” and “He’s a tremendous classical baritone, but this is a contemporary musical.  I hope he auditions for me in the future.”

What young actors rarely realize is that talent is only one factor in the casting process.  So often it comes down to issues that are out of everyone’s control.  Sometimes a great performer gives a poor audition.  Sometimes seven redheads come out for a show and you want a more visually balanced ensemble.  Sometimes you need a boy who can juggle while riding a unicycle.  Sometimes an auditioner performs the tightest monologue you’ve ever seen, but is the wrong age, has the wrong hairstyle, has too many scheduling conflicts, or you simply need to cast the kid whose parent can help sew costumes.  None of these factors would prevent you from casting the auditioner in the future, though.

So what can we do as directors to let young performers know that even if they don’t have much luck the first time around, we hope this setback won’t prevent them from auditioning for us again?

Encourage young performers before the auditions.

It’s common for schools and some community theatres to hold information meetings for potential performers prior to auditions.  This is the perfect time to address your casting policies.  Be open and honest that a variety of factors in addition to talent go into casting decisions, and you will need to cut many castable performers.  Let auditioners know that if they are not cast, you highly encourage them to come out for future productions.  Provide examples of past success stories.  Maybe a few years ago there was a terribly shy freshman you weren’t able to cast after her barely audible audition…but she never gave up, gained confidence through each audition, and by her senior year, she had a supporting role that stole the show.  Don’t have a casting story with quite the same dramatic flair?  Well, this is theatre — make something up!

Encourage young performers during the auditions.

The standard goodbye at an audition is a simple, “Thank you,” from the director.  Consider adding a bit more to your closing:  “Thank you for auditioning for us.  We’re seeing enough great talent to cast this show three times, so if we find we’re unable to use you in this production, we hope you’ll check out our website for future casting notices.”  The extra five seconds can make all the difference to a young performer.

Encourage young performers after the auditions — even with rejection.

Though some directors choose only to notify the performers they’re looking to cast, it’s always nice to inform those you can’t use, as well.  An email or snail mail rejection takes only a few minutes to draft.  To your stock letter of, “We were unable to cast everyone who auditioned…” add a personalized compliment for each auditioner.  Even the worst audition has some redeeming qualities, so gather up your audition notes and let each performer know his or her strengths.  One sentence that says, “You have a beautiful lower register, and we hope you’ll let us hear it again at a future audition,” validates that the performer is, in fact, castable.

Auditioners you’ve cut may not know the exact reasoning behind your casting decisions, but they will remember if you’ve made them feel castable in future productions.  Just remember, your next leading lady might be the girl you cut from the chorus two years ago, and a little encouragement can go a long way.

Pioneer Drama Service

Advertising with social networking

An article I wrote was published today in the newsletter for Pioneer Drama Service (publisher of my plays A Family Reunion to Die For and Murderous Night at the Museum). This article provides some tips for using social networking to market your show. If you’re looking for more theatrical tips, subscribe to Pioneer Drama Service’s newsletter.

Pioneer Drama Service

The full text of the article is below:

Newsletter: Promoting your Production – Advertising with Social Networking

By Mike Steele

September 30, 2014

When I began directing school plays nearly a decade ago, the only way I could really utilize the internet to market our productions was to send an email to local newspapers and cross my fingers that one of them would be interested in running an article about the show.

Since then, Facebook has become available to high schoolers, YouTube has taken off, and the boom in social networking websites (Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Vimeo, Flickr, etc.)  has changed the way we interact on the internet.  It’s now much easier to personally reach a score of local theatergoers over the internet in ways that were not possible ten years ago.

But just because interacting via social networking has become a part of our daily lives, that doesn’t mean we’re all internet marketing experts.  Sure, we’ve all created Facebook events for our shows and posted a few status updates about how to buy tickets, but can’t we do more?

The answer is yes!  And it’s a lot easier than you’d think!

First, establish a professional social networking presence. You’re probably familiar with the various different social networking websites out there, and chances are, you have personal accounts.  If your school or community theatre troupe doesn’t have its own professional social networking accounts, create them.  Sure, you can promote the shows on your own personal accounts, but establishing a professional presence for the theatre troupe will allow people who might not know you personally to follow the happenings of the company, and you will reach a broader group of theatergoers.

(Have you seen Pioneer’s Facebook page?  It’s a great example of the variety of posts you can share to keep your community of supporters involved and interested in your activities.)

Show off your show with photos. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, right?  Social networking users are drawn to visual content, so keep them intrigued by posting production photos on all your theatre troupe’s various social networking accounts.  Pictures from the actual performances will show followers what they can expect to see if they buy a ticket, but you can also give everyone a taste of what goes on “behind the scenes” by posting candid photos of rehearsals, backstage shenanigans and cast parties.  When your followers see how exciting your production looks, they will want in on some of the fun, and this will translate into fuller audiences.

Film a sneak peak trailer. We’re all familiar with enticing film trailers that draw us to what’s playing at movie theatres.  Pique the interests of potential theatergoers by creating a video featuring production photos, video clips, and information on how to buy tickets for your show.  It’s possible to film, edit, and upload a video entirely on your cell phone, allowing you to create a simple trailer in minutes.  If you want to create a more professional looking montage, chances are, someone involved in your production has a high quality camera and some video editing skills.  Upload your trailer to a free online video account (such as YouTube or Vimeo) and encourage your cast and production staff members to share the video on their personal social networking accounts.

(Here’s a fun movie-style trailer that a Pioneer customer made for the show they were doing, Dr. Evil and the Basket of Kittens.)

Brand your production with a hashtag. Hashtags are a popular way for social networking users to find content centered around a specific topic on websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  Create and use a hashtag for your production so that theatergoers interested in the show can see what others are posting.  Keep your hashtag simple so it’s easily remembered by your cast and production staff members who want to promote the show on their personal social networking accounts.  Your hashtag might include the title of the production and the year (such as #PioneerPlay2014) or it might include your theatre troupe or school’s name (such as #NHSfallplay), but be sure to remain consistent with one hashtag so that anyone searching will see all of the content available.

Entertain followers with frequent and diverse content. We live in an age where we’re bombarded with information the moment we log onto the internet.  News becomes outdated or forgotten in a matter of minutes.  Make posts to your theatre troupe’s social networking accounts often so that your production will remain on the minds of your followers.  Post to the social networking accounts several times per week, and try to keep the content interesting.  Repeatedly posting the same message of, “Come see our show…”  can get stale, so think of a variety of content your followers would find interesting.  Maybe every Monday you will post a bio of a different cast member, every Wednesday an interesting fact about your show, every Friday you will run a contest to win a pair of tickets, and sporadic days in between you will upload photos.  Create a schedule of what to post on the different social networking accounts to keep yourself organized.

Designate a Social Networking Manager. Whether or not you’re a social networking whiz, chances are that if you already have a major commitment in some other aspect of the production, it will be difficult to keep up with your theatre troupe’s social networking accounts (especially as the production draws closer and you get busier and busier).  Create a Social Networking Manager position on your production staff, and assign this person the responsibility of handling all social networking so that the posts are organized and the wording is consistent.  This is a great job for a student or an intern.  It’s a good idea to choose someone who is personally active in social networking and will know what kind of content your target audience would like to see.  For example, if you’re working on a school play and want to attract students to come see the show, a student Social Networking Manager will probably know the types of things his or her peers are posting and viewing online and can generate some great ideas for content.  (In fact, it was one of my own school play students who came up with the idea several years ago to film a trailer for our production, and she was able to convince the principal to play the video in the cafeteria during school lunches as well as posting it on Facebook.)

Look to the pros. Not sure what type of pictures or posts will attract followers to your show?  Take a look at the content professional productions are posting on their social networking accounts.  Broadway shows, for example, outsource social networking to marketing companies who specialize in creating content that appeals to theatergoers.  Are the backstage photos on your favorite Broadway musical’s Facebook page garnering a lot of “likes?”  Then there’s a good chance your theatre troupe’s followers would like to see backstage photos, too.  You won’t be able to mimic all of the professional content you see on these professional social networking accounts, but keeping an eye on these pages will certainly give you some ideas.

A trip to the Tony Awards

When someone asks, “Do you want a comp to the Tony Awards dress rehearsal?” there’s only one way to respond, and that’s with a resounding, “YES!” And that’s exactly how I responded!

The Tony Awards Dress Rehearsal

The Tony Awards Dress Rehearsal

On Sunday, I was up at the crack of dawn (and anyone who knows me knows just how rare it is to find me awake when there’s still dew on the grass) to get my butt to Radio City Music Hall by 9 AM. Basically, the rehearsal was like watching the actual ceremony, except no real winners were announced.  In fact, Karen Ziemba and Billy Porter (who were the hosts of the non-televised awards) kept getting yelled at by the director for forgetting to say, “For rehearsal purposes only” before saying, “The Tony Awards goes to…” I was surprised to see all of the performers in full costume and makeup.  I know this was supposed to run like the actual televised event, but I figured some of the stars might not want to get into the face paint so early in the morning.  Let’s face it, most of them performed a matinee and an evening performance of their own Broadway show on Saturday, and then performed at the Tony rehearsal on Sunday morning, performed their Sunday afternoon show, and then had to give their best performances for television that night.  I just thought that maybe Neil Patrick Harris wouldn’t have to get in and out of his Hedwig makeup half a dozen times in a 24 hour timeframe. I was also surprised to see almost all of the celebrity presenters at the dress rehearsal.  Clint Eastwood was not present at all (and he sure could have used the rehearsal if you saw all his flubs during the telecast) and two or three celebrities were late, forcing production to re-rehearse their segments (I’m looking at you RuPaul and Orlando Bloom).  Pretty much everyone else was there, though.  Unlike the performers, the presenters were able to wear their sweatpants and jeans. Another thing that surprised me was how little the performers moved during the musical numbers.  The staging was designed much more for television than I had imagined it would be.  The camera work makes the performers (even the fast-paced tap dancers) look as if they’re moving across the entire stage, when they barely leave a few-foot radius.  In the theatre it looked awkward, but on television it looked natural. Watching the actual telecast later that night, it was interesting to see the same jokes repeated.  Basically, any bit that seemed improvised or organic during the telecast was actually scripted and rehearsed.  Most of the jokes weren’t as funny the second time around.  Maybe it’s just because they felt less authentic. I thoroughly enjoyed getting a little behind-the-scenes taste of the Tony Awards at the dress rehearsal and then enjoyed watching the actual ceremony on television.  Based on the performances, there are a few shows I’d like to see, and there are a few shows I’d never willingly purchase a ticket for.  …But why get into that?

To cut or not to cut?

Another article I wrote was just featured in the newsletter for Pioneer Drama Service (publisher of my plays A Family Reunion to Die For and Murderous Night at the Museum). This article focuses on the pros and cons of cutting students in the audition process. If you’re looking for more theatrical tips and tricks, subscribe to Pioneer Drama Service’s newsletter.

The full text of the article is below:

Newsletter: Working with Student Actors – To Cut or Not to Cut?

By Mike Steele

April 22, 2014

Recently, I attended a middle school production of a popular musical with one of the largest casts I’ve ever seen. When the show began, over 150 students flooded the small auditorium stage. The show was fantastic, but a quick chat afterwards with the director revealed that she had been particularly overwhelmed by the number of students in the show. She asked me whether or not I cast every student who auditions for my school plays as she was beginning to rethink her long-standing no-cut policy.

To cut or not to cut? It’s one of the hardest decisions we have to make as school play directors, especially at the middle school level.

On one hand, we don’t want to hurt our students’ feelings. After all, we know it takes courage to put yourself out there and audition. It’s never fun to face rejection, and we don’t want our students to be discouraged from auditioning for an upcoming production just because they weren’t cast last time around.

On the other hand, if we cast each student who auditions, are we setting low performance standards and a sense of entitlement? Professional actors are rejected at the majority of the auditions they attend, and adopting a no-cut policy will not provide our students with real-world expectations. Not to mention, the more students we have in the cast, the more difficult it will be to manage the group.

So, should you cast every student who auditions for your school plays? I encourage you to make the decision based on your own goals as a director and whether or not a no-cut policy will help you reach those goals.

Consider cutting students if your goal is…

…To provide an intimate learning experience for your students. There’s no doubt that one of the most effective ways to learn about the performing arts is to actively participate in a production. While you may want to provide this learning experience to as many students as possible, keep in mind that regardless of how large you expand your cast size, there is still only one director. The smaller the cast, the less you will need to focus on crowd control, and the more individual attention you can give to each performer.

…To showcase your performers who exhibit the top level of talent. As school play directors, we see a gamut of abilities at auditions – from the student we’re sure will give a Meryl Streep-like performance to the student who makes us internally cringe as he delivers all of his lines to the upstage curtain. Keep in mind that as much as you may want to cast everyone who has the guts to audition, mediocre actors will distract from those with impeccable stage presence. Students who are tripping over their feet as they dance will pull attention from the graceful ballerinas, and singers with poor pitch will make the entire ensemble sound flat.

…To keep performance costs to a minimum. School plays work on tight budgets, and sometimes it’s not financially feasible to feature a large group of students. Every performer is going to need at least one costume (if not multiple) as well as makeup, accessories and individual props. The cost of including unnecessary cast members in a production will add up. You may want to feature everyone who auditions, but there just might not be enough money for other areas of the production if you do so.

Consider not cutting students if your goal is…

…To provide a performance experience for as many students as possible. Some schools only put on one play every year with dozens of students eager to participate in these infrequent productions. As much as you may want to feature an elite set of talent, if there are few extra-curricular performing opportunities available to your students, consider giving every student who’s interested the chance to experience the thrill of being a part of the school play.

…To grow a larger performing arts program. If you find that student interest in your program is waning or if you’re simply looking to increase awareness throughout the school community, it’s a good idea to feature as many performers as possible in your productions. While it may be easier to manage a small cast, students will be less intimidated to audition if they know that their talents won’t lead to rejection. Be sure to spread the word about your no-cut policy well before the audition dates to encourage as many students as possible to attend.

…To raise money. The bulk of a school play audience is made up of families and friends of the cast. Keeping the cast small may be appealing in terms of quality, but a puny cast size translates into puny ticket sales and not much, if any, profit. The more students you feature, the more tickets you will sell. Think of all the extra mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors, teachers and hairdressers who will attend the production if you don’t cut any students.

Do you have goals that aren’t listed? Jot them down, and then think about how cutting and not cutting students who audition will affect your ability to reach those goals.

Pioneer Drama Service

Costuming on a budget

I’ve written another article for Pioneer Drama Service, (publisher of my plays A Family Reunion to Die For and Murderous Night at the Museum.) My article in this week’s newsletter is about costuming a show on a tight budget. Don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter for articles written by a variety of theatre professionals.

The full text of the article is below:

Newsletter: Creative Theatrical Ideas – Costuming on a Budget

By Mike Steele

March 4, 2014

You’ve just signed on as costumer for a play, and you can’t wait to wow audiences with your ideas. Each performer requires at least one — if not half a dozen — costumes, and you plan to ensure that every actor will look good. Making sure the costumes fit well would be easy if you could hire a team of tailors to create your intricate designs from scratch. But with school and community theatre budgets, that’s never an option. Instead, you fear you’ll spend the rehearsal process tearing out your hair as you attempt to keep the performers clothed, because even renting costumes from a theatrical costume supplier would break your small bank.

Well, fear not. Stretching costume dollars is easier than you think. Take a look at these tips and tricks you can use to costume a play on even the tiniest of budgets.

  • Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help. There may be only one costumer for your production, but that doesn’t mean only one person has to do all of the costume work. The more people you can find to shoulder the burden of preparing the costumes, the more time you will have to explore the various other inexpensive costuming options. Other cast and production staff members might have the skills to hem clothing. Parents will often volunteer to make alterations for their own children and for others if you simply ask. After all, they are eager for their children to look great up on that stage. You might even come across a real tailor or seamstress amongst the bunch who has a library of patterns and will help make costumes from scratch.
  • Hold a Costume Conference with the Cast. Take some time early in the rehearsal process and meet with your actors one-on-one to discuss each costume piece and accessory they will need. You’ll be surprised at how many actors will mention that they already own clothing that will work. Utilizing your actors’ own clothing will not only save money but also save time since pieces the actors already wear will likely fit, and therefore need fewer alterations.
  • Get Crafty. You don’t need to be Coco Chanel to construct clothing that’s fit for a short theatrical run. Brainstorm how you can use basic art supplies to take what you already have and transform it into what you need. A little fabric paint and a stencil can turn a plain t-shirt into a custom jersey. With some sequins and glue, you can make a simple dress mimic a designer gown. You can even tailor a suit with duct tape. The audience will never be close enough to the costumes to know you took a few shortcuts.
  • Utilize Your Theatre Network. Call up friends who are part of other school and community theatre troupes and let them know the pieces you’re looking for. Even if the troupes they belong to don’t own the costumes you need, they may know of others that do. Many theatre troupes rent out their costumes for minimal fees (or even for free) as long as the borrower promises to return the dry cleaned costumes in good condition. Offer your own troupe’s costumes to others and begin a give-and-take relationship with the local theatre community.
  • Send Periodic Email Blitzes. Create an email list of all of the actors, parents, production staff members and any other colleagues you know that might have an interest in your production. Shoot out an email at the start of your production stating what costumes you’re looking for, and keep everyone well informed with gentle reminders throughout the rehearsal process. You never know what people have in their closets.
  • November 1 is the New Black Friday. Halloween costume retail chains pop up every fall, and their merchandise is significantly discounted immediately after the holiday. Stop in the day after Halloween and grab any costumes you need for a fraction of their original prices. Even if your production is not in the fall, get ahead of the game and shop for a show that is several months down the road. Mark the date in your calendar and be quick with your shopping, though, because these stores are packed up and gone only a few days after Halloween.
  • Become an Extreme Couponer. Sign up for discount emails at every clothing store you can think of and scour the internet for printable coupons before you go shopping. You can save a ton of money just by utilizing discounts that you might not have even known were available. Don’t forget to join rewards clubs at these clothing stores, either. It won’t take long before you earn free store credit that you can use to shop for future productions.
  • Don’t Discount the Discount Stores. It’s a great idea to save money by shopping at thrift stores, but keep in mind that some clothing pieces are surprisingly less expensive when purchased brand new at big box discount stores than they are when purchased used. For example, a brand new generic shirt is likely to be less expensive at a discount store than its name-brand counterpart at a thrift store. You can find inexpensive clothing and accessories at dollar stores and damaged (but usable) clothing for next to nothing at off-price department stores.
  • Shop the World Wide Web. Conduct an internet search of the various costume pieces you need. You can shop around for the best prices without ever leaving your chair. The internet is especially effective if you’re in need of a difficult-to-find piece. If it exists, there’s a good chance you can locate it online. Check out different auction-style websites such as ebay.com and ioffer.com, and place an ad on craigslist.com if you’re really scrounging. Utilizing the web, you can score clothing at prices you’d never see in retail shops.

…And now that you’ve discovered some ways to save a few dollars costuming this play, don’t forget the most important trick to save money for the next…

  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It’s not just good for the environment, it’s also good for your costume budget. When a production ends, rather than throwing away or donating your costumes, store anything that’s in good enough condition to wear again. Even if a piece seems like something you’ll never need again, there’s a good chance it can be transformed into a useful costume in the future. The more costumes you already own, the fewer costumes you’ll need to spend money on next time around.

Pioneer Drama Service