If you’re like me, one of the toughest decisions you make every year is choosing a show. It is hard for me to choose my fall show/musical, but the craziest decision I make each school year is what show I will do for one act play.
I’ve been asked many times over the years questions like, “how did you find that show?” or “what made you decide to do that show?”………and so I have thought about it quite a bit. I came up with a list of things that I consider each year.
First, I have to consider which kids I know I will have. I have friends that direct at large 5A and 6A schools that make their show choices in the summer and stick with it. They have so many kids, so they are able to fit students into just about any show they want to do.
I do not have that luxury in a small school. For example, this year I know I have 5-7 strong girls, most of which can sing, one that has been the lead in musicals. Then I have about the same amount of boys. All but one of my kids this year are young. So thinking about all of that will help me decide which show we can handle and which ones we cannot.
It is rare for me that I have a pretty even split on gender. Normally, for me, my department has been really male heavy. We have done Of Mice and Men, which is 14 male and one female and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which is mostly male with one EXTREMELY strong female lead.
Then on the other hand, I have had a couple of years with lots of girls. In that case, we did These Shining Lives. So my advice being in a 3A school, would be to keep close with your kids and make sure you know who you have. Also, stay in close contact with your JH director and get with them at the end of each year. Make a list of theatre kids coming to HS that will be OAP kids with the dedication to make it at that level.
Scope the Trends
The next thing I do before I make a decision about a play is read and watch other plays. Whether we are competing at state or not, I always attend the contest to watch the plays.
As I sit in Austin and watch the plays, I think about a couple of things. First of all, do I feel a strong connection to the play? I tend to like a certain type play. I love time period pieces, and I love the period between 1910-1950. So if I see a play from that time period, I am thrilled. I immediately order the script to read it over the summer.
There are certain types of plays that I will never do…they are not something I am willing to spend six months working on. So, I can rule those out quickly.
Also, something to think about when you watch shows at the state meet is to be careful. When a show has had HUGE success at state, you might want to be careful about jumping into it the very next year. Make sure you ask yourself whether or not you have new and original ideas to add to that script before you jump into it. You do not want to do a show that all your judges just saw win the state championship. Although it is certainly a beautiful show, you will need to make it yours before you produce it.
If you can’t make it to see the state shows, then make sure you look at the website after the state meet (or check Stage and Craft on Facebook because we will have the results almost immediately) and then do some research on the shows. Even look at the regional OAP list and do some research on those plays. Please be aware that just because a play made it to region or state, does not mean that they will work for you and your particular situation. Be really honest with yourself, and choose the play that is best for you and your kids.
The next thing I always keep in mind is Community Standards. This has been a real hot button issue for the past couple of years. We have all read the Facebook posts concerning whether or not shows are appropriate for high school kids. The bottom line is that the play has to meet the standards of YOUR community.
I live in a small, conservative town in East Texas, so my community standards are sure to be more conservative that a larger school district in Austin or Houston. There are shows that I would not be able to do that a larger school in a more urban area would have no trouble with producing. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with any of these shows. I have seen shows that I thought were fabulous and very well done, but I knew I would not be able to do them in my small town.
So, my advice to you is to always think about this. Make sure your principal has read the script. I would also make sure that you highlight for them any language or situations that you think might be questioned and let them make a ruling. Once they have signed the Community Standards form, they are approving the content of the play. You want to make sure that they have really read it and understand any questionable parts. You certainly do not want the principal to just skim the play, sign the form, and then later have a problem. There are also situations where parts of a play are unacceptable, but you can cut the play so that it is appropriate. If you are really in love with the play and believe in it, then try to cut the show to get rid of language, etc. that might not meet the community standards of your area.
If you need more clarification on the community standards topic, read our summary of Luis Munoz's talk at SummerFest 2016. There are more details there about the Community Standards approval process.
One thing that is really important to me is that I am teaching a good, solid piece of literature. I love historical pieces, plays that show a struggle and triumph of a people, and shows that are about real people and real events. I love a poignant, heart-warming show. As you can tell, I am not the fantasy play type girl. I love a good, solid story full of beautiful characters and relationships. But if you ARE the fantasy play type, or any other type, go for what you love and for what you are willing to put your heart and soul into.
The last major thing I look at when choosing a play is whether or not I will be able to handle it technically.
Do I have the technical knowledge to handle a show that has special effects and lighting?
Or do I have kids that can do those things?
Do we have the equipment to make effects happen or can we afford to buy them?
Do we have the costuming necessary or can we rent costumes?
These are huge questions that you must be able to answer. I know that if I choose a play from my favorite time period (1910-1950) I will have plenty of options for costuming because I have sewn, designed, and collected those things for years. But, on the other hand, if I choose to do a play set in the Civil War, I would have to rent almost everything. Make sure you have the budget to handle expensive costume rental. There is nothing worse than a period show with costumes and technical elements that don’t match.
Did this little checklist help you out? We sure hope so!