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Best advice for a first time director?

  • 1.  Best advice for a first time director?

    Posted 12-03-2018 06:34
    Hi, I've taken on the task of directing the spring play at a local elementary school (grades 3 - 5). We'll be doing Annie Jr. I haven't done this before with kids but have experiencing directing and producing shows with adults. I've been a parent volunteer at the school the past 3 years so I'm very familiar with the lay of the land. I'm gearing up for auditions and finalizing the rehearsal schedule and would love your best advice for a first time director.


  • 2.  RE: Best advice for a first time director?

    Posted 12-03-2018 08:35
    Cast the play as the text demands.

    Remember the show will go on, and it will be as it will be. Don't drive yourself crazy if things aren't exactly perfect-especially where things are out of your control. Directing does not mean that you are the only responsible party for the success of the show. Everyone must work together.

    Rebecca Black
    Wayland MI

  • 3.  RE: Best advice for a first time director?

    Posted 12-04-2018 09:41
    I did Annie Jr. a few years back in a similar thrown in last minute type thing.  I too had only worked with high school or older and I quickly found out that in treating my young kids like "professionals" and always calling them young artists the kids raised their attitudes and talents to my expectations.

    Granted, you aren't going to have an award winning show, but it will be probably one of the most rewarding.  I miss my little guys.  Beware of tired times when the, "He gave me a mean look" will burst everyone into tears, but just smile it off and move them along.  When you feed into the frenzy it can unravel very fast.

    We did themed rehearsals (wear a onesie to dance, superhero day, dress like your favorite animal day etc) and that helped alleviate the stress and anxiety.  It also welcomed the kids to feel silly in front of each other and not be ashamed of it.

    Have so much fun!

    Kimberly Wibbenmeyer
    Sullivan MO

  • 4.  RE: Best advice for a first time director?

    Posted 12-04-2018 09:58
    I think that I might have some insights. Over the past 7 years I have been hired to teach a weekly Drama class to all 5th graders of an Arts elementary school. The goal of the 6 week class which is part of the 5th grade curriculum is to teach basic personal presentation with mime, a bit of structured improv, stage terms, how what they learn in Drama can be applied to other classes, and preparation of an audition. Understand that every 5th grader gets cast. Does not mean each kid is wonderful; they know and understand the process. And understand any historical references in the play.
    Staffing is me as director, an adult choreographer, the school’s music teacher, who teaches all vocals. All I do is direct. 2 teachers whose classes we work with are on supervision and supply quiet things for the kids not being involved on stage at any time. Very important that you do not have to do any discipline. Another important staff is the parent volunteer team who handles costumes, set, lights, mics, etc.
    We did Annie Jr, so as I recall, the set has to be kept simple. As you know there are several sets. A semblance of period costumes along with bald pate for Warbucks, red Annie wig, dance maids, and the casting of the real dog as Sandy are things to have the parent booster work on.
    Feel free to send me a message with questions. Best with the project.

    Gai Laing Jones

  • 5.  RE: Best advice for a first time director?

    Posted 12-05-2018 10:07
    You will do great! Fabulous show.

    1 Read the MTI materials well. They have lots of professiobal hints for you
    2 Get a "Dance teacher parent" to volunteer to come in and do choregraphy. I you rehearse before school, they are available
    3 Have a faculty if 3 including yourself help cast. Or ask a "drama friend". 

     When I did Annie Jr in middle school, I asked a friend who love to go to the theater to be on the committee.  She had seen hundreds if productions and knew what to look for.  
    4 Get a voice teacher to volunteer to come in and help with the singing. Or, 2 voice teachers to tag team teach
    5 Purchase the rehearsal music CDs that MTI puts out, at least for the principal characters. Well worth the $10
    5 Make sure Annie is shorter than Daddy Warbucks! 
    6 Try the app "Remind" to communicate with parents. They sign up and you can send a group text in a snap!

  • 6.  RE: Best advice for a first time director?

    Posted 12-04-2018 13:36
    I love working with elementary.  They can be so much fun.  Here is my best advice: unless you are planning to cast everyone (and if your school is anything like my past elementary schools, you may have more kids than you will know what to do with), bring in a couple of community members for your audition panel and produce a very clear scoring rubric.  Once you have a cast, run a tight (but fun) ship.  This is, likely, the first experience some of them will have on stage, and what you do now will set up how this goes from now on.  Break legs!

    Myndee Washington
    Music/ Drama Director
    Union Park Charter Academy
    Wesley Chapel, FL

  • 7.  RE: Best advice for a first time director?

    Posted 12-04-2018 15:23
    While I have never directed elementary children exclusively, I have seen some excellent practices by colleagues that have been successful. This is a mix of their successes and mine.

    1. Create a specific schedule and stick to it. This let's the kids know what to expect and provides structure. Parents will be appreciative as well.
    2. Involve the high school theatre kids. They can help with tech, reviewing lines, working choreography, etc. This is a great tool for both groups of students because the HS kids are giving back (can earn service project hours if that's a thing in your district) and the younger students have role models.
    3. When you are two weeks out, prioritize what can be completed. It's possible not everything will get done, and that's OK as long as you are able to "let go" of the small stuff.
    4. While the parents only see product, the focus should be very process-based. Be sure the students are always learning at every rehearsal. Let parents know the learning that is happening each day.
    5. Give the parent organization specific jobs to do. They want to help, but most don't know what needs done. Use them to your advantage so you can breathe a bit during the process.

    Those are my top suggestions. Best wishes for a wonderful experience for everyone involved!

    Scott Wilson
    Fine Arts Consultant
    Ohio Department of Education
    Columbus OH

  • 8.  RE: Best advice for a first time director?

    Posted 12-06-2018 08:17

    My career has been exclusively with elementary and middle school students.... Here are my thoughts:

    1)  Have fun. Laugh loudly and often. Make sure your kiddos do the same.

    2) Make lots of mistakes and allow your kiddos to make lots of mistakes. Laugh at those mistakes and use them to teach and create.

    3) The kids want to do well. Even if they seem lethargic, or were yelled at earlier for forgetting their math homework, or someone looked at them wrong, or Mom forgot to put Oreos in their lunch... they want to do well. Always approach any trying situation from this perspective. Teach your kiddos how to leave things outside of the theatre. They will not yet know how to do this on their own.

    4) You know how to direct and organize a show. Nothing has changed from that perspective. What will change is the language you use to coach your kiddos. Before rehearsals, instead of stressing over blocking or choreography, think about the vocabulary you will use to explain what you need. Yes, yes, yes, teach theatre terminology as part of your work with the kids.... but give them the scaffolding they need to make that language their own. Never assume the kiddos know what you are talking about.... even if you have taught it a few times already.

    5)  Remember that kids don't yet understand that they have an emotional or experiential catalogue to pull from.  Help them realize that they can use their own experiences to frame what they are talking about onstage.  This, again, is new for them.

    6) When in doubt....  go back to #1. 

    Suzanne Katz
    Washington DC

  • 9.  RE: Best advice for a first time director?

    Posted 12-06-2018 10:12
    Make certain you compare ANNIE JR vs ANNIE KIDS.

    The 'junior' shows are adapted as ~70 minute one-acts aimed at middle school production.
    The 'kids' shows are adapted as ~30 minute one-acts aimed at elementary school production.

    Every group is different - there are high schools that do jr shows and middle schools that do the full length Broadway/original version.

    Michael McDonough
    TRW Director of Amateur Licensing
    New York

  • 10.  RE: Best advice for a first time director?

    Posted 12-06-2018 12:13
    Kid Wranglers.  Having folks who are solely focused on the kids - keeping them occupied while not on stage, getting them to the stage, fixing last minute costume or hair disasters, dealing with boo boos or upset stomachs or I just need a hug (not that these cannot come from the Director or other adults involved, but it's tough to do this and direct too).

    Amy Learn
    Ballwin MO

  • 11.  RE: Best advice for a first time director?

    Posted 12-06-2018 14:45
    Thank you all for such wonderful tips! Some great points I hadn't thought of and some that really reinforce what I have planned. Thank you, again!