Putting together a large scale production is not a job that comes with an instruction manual. In addition to understanding the content you are teaching young musicians, attributes such as music educator’s intuition, an ability to balance small goals with the big picture, and preparation all play a role in that final showcase moment. Below I have boiled down the student performance into three categories to help simplify the preparation process for your future show planning.
Planning out events, musical or otherwise, take time, reflection, revision, and flexibility. During the original conception of this blog post, I had thoughts of creating some sample timelines based on a series of blanket assumptions. As time passed and my draft of this post progressed, I realized that creating a sample template just is not possible. No two events are alike; each one is its own living, breathing, evolving creature. Venues, age ranges, and structure of performance may be the same. However, personalities of students and staff, available resources and materials, and repertoire will be different. There’s not much else to say except give yourself months if possible to set up a timeline structure, don’t forget to evaluate how things are going with mini-goal checkpoints sprinkled along the way, and don’t be afraid to adjust the timeline to allow for a better learning experience and performance.
Gathered around the breakroom table at school or at a hangout with fellow music teachers, it is bound to happen. You reflect on past times, you want to compare notes with others who understand your situation, and so the tales are told. Reflection on previous experiences is how we process and learn. What stories do you have to tell? Here are some questions to get you thinking:
What was my favorite show to put together? Why? How many shows have I organized? What kinds of show collaborations have I been a part of? What was the worst show I have put together? What are the top three mistakes I have made in putting together a large-scale production? How have I communicated the timeline of the show to fellow stakeholders? How can I delegate parts of the preparation process to engage all stakeholders? How do I assess the progress of the show throughout the preparation process?
One of my favorite tales I reflect on occasionally was a chain reaction I set off during my first summer leading a two week long theater camp. Less than three days before the camp began, my job was switched from the counselor to the director. In that short span, I had to familiarize myself with the script (Alice Through the Looking Glass) and attempt to create timelines for a performance at the end of the two week camp.
There were two initial challenges I faced that led to my learning moment: 1) there were twice as many roles as children signed up for the camp and 2) I had no idea the experience, ability, or expectations of any of the children. I found ways to quickly assess the abilities of the group and edit the script. However, when I announced roles on the second day of camp, I overlooked an extremely important part of children’s theater–making sure all of the kids know that each role is important. My adult assistant wasn’t even sold on this!
Even though we spent hours after the first day thinking about each child’s age, ability, and roles they had expressed interest in, my assistant still questioned the fairness of our part assignments. We had concrete reasons why each part was given to each camper but she made me doubt our decisions. So after announcing roles that second day of camp in the morning, we announced “slight” changes to make things fair that afternoon.
Kids were upset, parents complained, conversations were had with supervisors. In the end, I learned that there is a time for collaboration and there is a time for calling the shots. Everyone can’t be the star of the show and teaching that lesson in kids theater is tough but it’s part of the job. Sometimes there is not enough time to completely work through a leader’s rationale for the choices they have made. Sometimes it’s easier to stand your ground than allow others to cast doubt. In time crunch situations, if you’re the boss then BE THE BOSS.
Take these tips as points of consideration. Within the planning process we all have to start somewhere.
My first tip for making sure your next show is one for the books–write it down. Whether it be a timeline, expectations, show song choices, production notes, writing it down will hold you accountable. Documentation, when printed out, can help the visual-oriented adults and child learners understand what comes next. For administration, having a hard copy of all of the work you have put into the show will remind them of your dedication to the job.
In order to ensure that you are using effective communication, attention to detail within preparation is my next tip. Give yourself time to plan your show on your own terms. Research best practices, reflect on what you have read or heard, and then adapt your knowledge to your individual circumstances. Decide what parts of the show are most important to you and your school–Singing with strong voices? Music class assignments leading up to the performance in preparation? 100% student participation? Scenery and costumes? School-wide collaboration? Parent involvement? Publicity of the event? In an ideal world any element of the show that you could name would be equally important as the next. However, prioritizing your list helps you to focus on the parts of the show that you hold to be most important. It allows you as the music teacher to zero in on the language you will use throughout the production process, to place emphasis of show parts of your choosing, and helps to direct expectations towards the elements of highest priority.
The top tip I have for your next production is crystal clear communication. Success is inevitable if you are using crystal clear communication within yourself as you prepare, during discussions and in emails concerning expectations to all school stakeholders (administration, teachers, development directors, etc), and for all contact with students and their families.
So what do you think? If you are comparing notes, would you offer these same top three tips? If you are new to the scene, are you beginning to feel less overwhelmed and more full of visions of success?
Nothing can take the place of doing the work and learning from experience. But who says you can’t learn from others’ experiences too? If you write it down, use clear communication, and diligent preparation, you will be on your way to having your very own timelines, tales, tips, and SUCCESS!