Matthew Burns

Top Tips for Putting on a Production

Written by Head of Performance Drama, Cathy Want.

  • Decide what you are going to do!

Sounds simple but you may have to take lots of things into account such as: the time you have to rehearse – there is no point setting out to do some epic and ending up only doing Act 1 because you ran out of time.

  • Your budget (more on that later)

What you did last time and what you want to do next – I always try to have a 2 – 3 year rough plan, this means that a pupil can be involved in a range of genres and styles during their time at school.

Who are your likely cast? What are their strengths and weaknesses?  I have seen some well put together school musicals with the unfortunate feature that half the cast couldn’t sing in tune!

What expertise do you have, or your in-house team have? If no one can choreograph Latin American New York style routines and you can’t afford to hire a choreographer, then don’t do ‘In the Heights!’

  • Check your dates

It may sound very obvious, but make sure your dates are in the calendar including rehearsal dates and times and any ‘cue to cue’ and tech rehearsals toward the end of the process.

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Sedbergh School Production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
  • Performing rights

Get the performing rights to the show.  Never be tempted to try and avoid these! It can be very expensive so make sure you have budgeted for that. A good tip for avoiding fees is to do a Shakespeare (in an exciting, innovative way of course!) now and again to balance the books.

  • What is your budget?

Work out your budget before you start.  You need to cost out:

  • Performing Rights (and music hire if needed)
  • Set and props
  • Costumes and make up
  • Specialist staff input (technical, choreography for example)
  • Technical requirements
  • Publicity

This means that before you even start rehearsals, the design and technical elements of the show should be planned.

  • Casting

Casting and allocating positions. Avoid cliques, make auditions open, tell potential actors what they will need to do for the audition, have a meeting to explain all backstage and design roles so that people know what they are signing up for or get an idea of what they might want to do.

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Sedbergh School Production of ‘Joseph’
  • Schedule

Do not call everyone to every rehearsal and then decide what you are doing that day! Schedule each rehearsal by 30 minute slots if possible and let the cast know who should be there, where and when – it is a lot of work and it is very tempting to make them work it out for themselves but then there will always be someone missing!

Do put some catch up time in your schedule – it will stop you stressing!

  • Ask for Help

Ask for help then delegate! I am so lucky now that I have a marvellous team around me but in the days when I have had had to build that, I just asked for volunteers. Trust them – if someone says they will do the program then let them – give them a clear brief with deadline, catch up with them at some point before this but make it clear that they are responsible. Make sure that roles and responsibilities are clear so that you know everything is covered.

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Pupils at Sedbergh School provide support throughout the entire production
  • Collaborate

Collaborate! Don’t be too precious about your own ideas, be a magpie and use ideas you have seen in other productions, but try not to use them in the same way they did – that’s cheating!

  • Communicate

Utilise messaging platforms such as Microsoft Teams and have a dedicated channel so that messages can be sent quickly.

  • Train

Train up pupils in all areas of production, this can take time if you are starting from scratch but make sure that all skill areas are covered from Stage Management to Costume making  – again, ask for help with these if you are not an expert, local theatre will also often help to define roles and there are often people in the community who will help

  • No Prompts

Do not allow prompts – pupils won’t all learn their lines and prompts are just awful. Have a clear and definite cut off date when they should be off book.

  • Enjoy

Enjoy rehearsals! 

  • Keep it tightly organised but fun
  • Give praise
  • Tell ‘em off if they mess around
  • Expect 100 percent commitment
  • Give 100% commitment
  • Have high expectations but allow and support them to get there – they might need a bit of time and encouragement.

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