Nuts and mandrels for the production of Musical Theater for Children
It is no secret that everyone and his brother, sister, aunt, and uncle feel that they have a talent for the production of Musical Theatre for children. With so many releases there producing mini versions of some of Broadway’s greatest hits, providing “how to do it” and a solid directorial handbook and pre-recorded songs for show songs, everyone jumps on the band’s wagon and offers summer productions for children aged 5-15 years. However, it is very important to realize that it takes much more than just a scenario, a group of students and a production hall to really great theater for children!
There are definite areas of musical production with children that will make the performance just average or make the performance simply spectacular. These areas are as follows: Casting quality; Strong direction; Stage design and construction; Lighting; Sound design; Costume design; High-quality presentation space, Advertising, and Marketing.
The reason I mention casting quality is that this is where the most important task lies. During my 25 years as Artistic Director, I have always spoken: “Casting can be your best friend! This can make your work as a director a pure joy or a living hell! And that’s the truth. If we throw the wrong child into the leash, a great set, costumes, and lighting design will not save our show. Because of the fact that time and careful planning and consideration should be devoted to casting each role, especially the wires. With casting in mind, always planning in advance and casting double or incomplete study is a wise and prudent thing to do if your first choice falls ill or falls out of the tree a week before the opening of the show. Of course, going shoulder to shoulder with a strong casting is your job as a theatrical producer who will hire a top-notch director. Without an experienced director dressed in cast iron clothes, you will ruin the risk that the performance will not have a strong flow or appearances.
Another important thing to consider is the rehearsal process. Where will the rehearsals take place? Church, school, room? How many days a week? Hours per day? Will the rehearsal process last 8, 10 or 12 weeks? Once this date has been set, you can set up a solid schedule for the rehearsals and distribute it to the students.
Now that the rehearsals are in progress, it is time to reflect on how your design will look like. There are so many ways you can choose a set design. Of course, after many rehearsals and mistakes in the last two decades, I consider the KISS principle to be the best. “Keep it simple and stupid! It’s true. A brilliantly designed set of bright colors simply hanging on a theatre baton will cost far less than building a few stage cars or huge flats to get up in the air. Remember: This is a theatre for children. Children playing for children. You can find great scenographers almost anywhere these days. Craigslist, College Dept, High School Theater clubs, etc.. I strongly advise you to stay away from Performing Arts magazines, as all these folks are strictly professional and you will be charged quite a penny.
Your next important task is to find a great lighting designer. Focusing light on the stage and mixing colors to create a mood is not a difficult task. However, this is specialized and if you do not hire the right person, your beautiful set will look much less beautiful and you will not be able to evoke the kind of response you are looking for from the audience. Like Scenic Designers, you can find good lighting designers at places like Craigslist, College Dept, etc….. Most lighting designers charge a fee of several hundred dollars for lighting throughout the show. I’ve always believed that the lighting of the show, especially the musical, is crucial for the overall success of the production. This is undoubtedly one area where you don’t want to skimp. There is nothing worse than going into production for children, and the curtain opens up for all those children in a costume with dazzling white light from ceiling lighting fixtures! In the words of one of my previous students,
Speaking of costumes for students, this is another big item that should be on your list. Costumes are really important, but I think you have to go out and spend hundreds of dollars on each costume. Simple waistcoat, hat, glasses, suits, etc. Of course, much of this depends on your performance. Do you do a musical, Annie? Creating an orphanage garment is quite simple. Is Aladdin? Of course, this may require a costume designer and dressmaker. Again, you can find students who are eager to help in this or even volunteer mom, dad, grandmother,