As readers of this blog already know, we are HUGE advocates of musical theatre in schools. But we are also the first to admit that putting on a musical is hard work, especially for the teachers. It is the teacher who is usually expected to be the director, choreographer, stage manager, and producer; all while still being a teacher!
That is why we have asked Kimberly Patterson, the Theatre Arts Teacher and Performing Arts Chair at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida, to write this series for our Spotlight On Musicals blog.
The series outlines the process of putting on a musical from start to finish, providing helpful tips and maybe even some new ideas. Topics include:
- Applying for a license with a publisher
- Budgeting and creating calendars
- Assembling your team
- Running rehearsals with a student crew
- Working with your technical theater team
- Managing the house
…and many others. Whether you’re a seasoned producer of school theatre or you’re just starting out and have suddenly been put in charge of it all, this series will have something for you.
Thus far, we’ve posted PART 1: Selecting a Show & Securing Performance Rights, PART 2: Creating Your Documents, PART 3: Assembling Your Team, PART 4: Casting, PART 5: First Rehearsal, PART 6: Table Work, PART 7: In Rehearsal, PART 8: Production Decisions, PART 9: The Tech Team, PART 10: Troubleshooting, and PART 11: Tech Week. Now it’s time for…
Before you can open your show, you have to open your doors. Having a dependable house manager can relieve you of many pre-show duties, leaving you to focus on the hundreds of other things you need to do!
The house manager’s tasks will vary based on how your theater is set up, as well as what flexibility and the resources you have. He or she can assign and delegate, or run it all like a solo performance. The following areas can fall under the house manager’s umbrella.
Maybe you already have a dedicated box office staff or policy; if not, make sure there aren’t any regulations about who can take money for ticket sales. You can assign a box office manager to oversee distributing tickets and checking reservations. It helps to have more than one person at this post, in case of long lines or the need for someone to run off to get more change, etc. The box office staff can report to your house manager—and they’ll have to stay in close communication to determine if there are tickets still to be picked up, and whether or not they need to hold the top of the show for a few minutes. Don’t forget to have change on hand! Also, it never hurts to have a pen.
Since ushers usually aren’t part of the earlier production process, they’ll probably need some information about the show: whether or not there’s an intermission, what the running time is, and so forth. Be clear on their responsibilities: do they take tickets or has it been handled at the box office; if there are assigned seats, should they direct the audience to the location; are there programs to give out. Make the most of your ushers’ time, and use them to keep the house closed until you and the stage manager are ready to let the audience in. Oftentimes, eager parents want to rush to get good seats and set up cameras, but their presence in the venue can distract nervous performers as they finish their warm-up and mic check. You can also dress your ushers to match the theme of your show—sailor caps for ANYTHING GOES, perhaps?
This may fall under the same regulations as ticket sales, since it involves handling money. Also, concession sales can very much be a two- or even three-person job. Make sure you have LOTS of change, and avoid mixing your concession income with your box office sales. Depending on the kind of snacks you’re selling, have any necessities available, like napkins, plates, and cutlery. It helps to keep a garbage (and recycling bin) nearby.
The most important thing the house manager can do is to stay in communication with the stage manager to find out when the actors are ready for the show to start. This might mean checking with two different people—one backstage and one in the tech booth—or even three, if there is a conductor and live band. Once this information is clearly shared with each other, the house manager can let the audience in.
A few other takeaways:
- No matter who does it, someone has to remind the audience to turn off their cellphones.
- Be aware of the emergency exits, and make sure they aren’t blocked.
- Inform your audience and ushers about photography policies
- Make sure someone is assigned to open the doors at intermission and at the end of the show
- Provide a paper recycling bin for unwanted programs
- Breathe! This can feel like a stressful job, but remember how important it is!
Part 13: You Did It!
Kimberly Patterson is a two-time graduate of New York University, with an undergraduate degree in Dramatic Literature, Theater History and the Cinema, and a Masters Degree from the Gallatin School. Her program in Individualized Study focused on performance studies, dramatic writing, and technical theater, and her coursework included scenic design, puppetry, and “ritual-as-performance.” She spent more than a decade in New York City working in Off- and Off-Off Broadway theaters in almost every capacity possible. As a playwright, her plays have appeared in the New York International Fringe Festival and the New York Musical Theater Festival; her musical, Oedipus for Kids!, is published by Samuel French and has been produced around the U.S. Kimberly has extensive experience working with educational technology, and has managed online content and curriculum development for McGraw-Hill, ProQuest Education, and Curriki.org. When not working behind the scenes in Oxbridge’s auditorium, Kimberly plays Japanese taiko drums and is a performing apprentice with Fushu Daiko.