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"Launching" an after-school high school theatre program

  • 1.  "Launching" an after-school high school theatre program

    Posted 03-13-2020 22:05
    Hello all -

    I have what I think is a somewhat unusual problem. Day after day I read this forum (which I really enjoy) and hear about after-school theatre programs where there aren't enough roles/lines for all the interested students, and programs that feature a large menu of annual productions of various kinds. I also read posts by teachers at these schools who are doing wonderful things with large groups of students and very few resources. I have the opposite problem.

    My school has a well-funded theatre program, with its own dedicated endowment, but relatively few kids participating. This year we did a musical theatre revue/showcase, and had about a dozen kids participate (2 from the lower school, 8 from the middle school, and 2 from the high school). This spring we've been working on a "junior" musical with maybe 20-22 kids - same ratios.

    Next year we really want to add a high school play, but I'm afraid that if we don't introduce it the right way, it won't fly, and we'll take a step backward instead of forward.

    Issues we're fighting in trying to field a high school production:
    • It's not a huge school. There are about 300 kids in the high school and 250 in the middle school.
    • No curricular theatre classes to feed into the after-school program.
    • No choral/vocal music program to feed into musical theatre.
    • A small cohort of middle school theatre kids, many of whom we lose after middle school, so there aren't many feeding into the high school program.
    • A school day that goes til 4.
    • Kids (from generally well-to-do families) who are overbooked to the extreme.
    • Kids who are extremely social, and I hate to say it, almost like herd animals. The vast majority will do what their friends are doing, and nothing beyond that.
    • A population for whom live theatre is not a familiar experience. More than half of our families are first or second generation transplants from South America. While nearly everyone speaks excellent English and has assimilated into American culture as far as consumerism goes, they never had theatre as part of school. Most of the parents are hard-driving business people, and I don't think the arts have been a priority in the upbringing (by nannies) of their children.
    • Finally, the stereotyping of theatre and singing as being less than masculine persists within the male student community, where old-school machismo attitudes are still depressingly present.
    We're attempting to add some curricular theatre offerings, and there is a nascent lower school chorus slowly gaining steam, which will hopefully help long-term.

    Meanwhile, what can I program as a high school play, or high school/middle school play, and how can I announce and sell and recruit for it in a way that makes it exciting and irresistible? What title(s) or types of shows could turn heads and get these non-theatre kids curious about finding out more? And how can I even rehearse it when even the genuinely interested kids show up with a list of weekly rehearsal conflicts as long as your arm?

    As someone who grew up in schools where theatre was a popular thing (even with modest production values), it's crazy to me to be at a school where the theatre resources are plentiful but few are interested!

    I would warmly welcome any ideas you might have to share.

    Thank you.

    Stuart Rosenthal
    Dania Beach FL

  • 2.  RE: "Launching" an after-school high school theatre program

    Posted 03-14-2020 09:31
    Have you considered In the Heights? It would be very difficult for beginners but has a lot of roles that would appeal to guys. The movie version of In the Heights comes out in July. Maybe start a social media account, put a student in charge of it to get others following. Then announce a group get-together to go see the movie, or maybe it'll be out on dvd by the time you want to hold auditions. At the very least, you could post the trailer to get kids excited about it.

    I've found that the best turn-out comes with shows that the students/audience can already relate to as soon as they hear the title. Musicals that have been movies (Lion King, High School Musical), or that just have some connection to pop culture (The Addams Family, All Shook Up which only features Elvis music) are your best bets. Find something that your students are currently obsessing about and look for a show to feed into that. Some other suggestions are Bring It On the Musical, Shrek, Aladdin, The Wizard of Oz, & Freaky Friday. Of course, adding a theatre class at both middle & high school levels will help grow your program by creating a more tight-knit group. Good luck!:)

    Lori Bush
    Director of Theatre Activities
    Pike County Middle & High Schools
    Zebulon, GA

  • 3.  RE: "Launching" an after-school high school theatre program

    Posted 03-14-2020 10:34
    Take this time at home to really clearly articulate the benefits (not the features) of your program to your students (and separately to the parents).
    Focus answering the "What's in it for me?" question.
    Answer this question also for the benefits of high school theatre (like the improved SAT scores in both English and Math!!).
    Choose some shows with very familiar titles (to the general public, not the theatre-going aficionados) for improved audience (and auditioner) appeal.
    Use improv to full advantage. Make it competitive like TheatreSports. This tends to draw more guys than gals, and it requires much less time (both in prep and in lines to learn (none)), and zero investment.
    Try devised theatre to create ownership of the process.
    Stuff like that...

    Douglas "Chip" Rome
    Theatre Consultant
    Educational Stages
    Burke VA

  • 4.  RE: "Launching" an after-school high school theatre program

    Posted 03-20-2020 08:20

    I applaud you for this effort. Lori and Doug have great points. We have had a couple full programs locally that grew from a "club-like" beginning. Best of luck!

    Crit Fisher
    Lighting/Sound Designer
    New Albany High School

  • 5.  RE: "Launching" an after-school high school theatre program

    Posted 04-05-2020 23:54

    We did You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown my first year as I was concerned about not having enough kids to fill a lot of roles. You can do it with 7 but can expand if Cast grows. 2nd year we did Godspell, you need 10 and everyone gets a song, also room to expand.

    Auditions are open to 4th-8th grade so we try to get them early & groom them. We also invite PreK-3rd to be in one dance (always a kick line), and another song in the other Act. This gives you a feed in. Our Little Ones can’t wait to be Big Kids. The little ones come 4 times & then the last 2 weeks.

    I also hold 4-6 Acting Classes in the fall to get kids interested, Gr. 5-8. These are FUN. Rehearsal is Work.

    I run one Drama Games Day for 1st-5th the week before the Little Ones join us to spark interest.

    Maria Stadtmueller
    St. Augustine School
    Kendall Park, NJ

    “We are in Stay-at-Home order, home of the second highest # cases, ugh!”
    Sent from my iPhone