Open Forum

Too Much Drama in Into the Woods Jr.

  • 1.  Too Much Drama in Into the Woods Jr.

    Posted 12-03-2019 17:31
    Hello all!
    I am a third year teacher, and have been at my current school in a rural district for these 3 years. Each year, the school has a tradition of doing a musical. Each year, I learn a lot about what to do/not do/cast issues, etc. I feel like I've build up a lot of rapport with students during this time, and yet... this year has been wild in comparison to my other years. We are doing Into the Woods Jr. with a mix of high school and middle school cast members. My cast has been dropping like flies, for a number of reasons - academic ineligibility, mental health needs, "just because," etc. It's been quite the domino effect. I have even sent out information to other students to try out if they are interested, and I am getting nowhere. Even when I held auditions in August, only a little more than the bare minimum to do the musical auditioned, even after heavy marketing. I have even talked to students one-on-one to check it out and see if they are interested in joining. Yesterday, my Cinderella stated she had to quit because of a medical reason (that when she explained did not seem that serious to me) and said she had other things like her job going on. I gently explained she shouldn't have a job if she is that stressed about things. I emailed her mom to clarify about what is going on. I had students complete contracts, I explained expectations, etc...but I can't academically hold them accountable since it is an extracurricular - I have talked with them about being accountable and if you don't show or quit that will be remembered for next time. I already had to reschedule the musical in the first place - I think I need to just cancel it. I just feel like I've somehow let down the students who are being accountable and showing up, etc. Maybe I'm being too nice about things? Maybe it's a culture thing, or maybe it's just bad luck. Any advice?


  • 2.  RE: Too Much Drama in Into the Woods Jr.

    Posted 12-04-2019 07:49
    I'm feeling you. I have a floating cast of 6-12 (1200 total student population!). I have had to hold auditions to even see how many turn up BEFORE choosing a play. I started with 12 last year and 2 understudies. Lost 2, used the unders and lost another one. This year I started with 9 and landed two weeks before show at 5. Oh, BTW, all girls. Not one boy for 2 years.

    I will only cast drop outs as understudies in the future or if they really leave badly, will not cast at all.

    This does put pressure on me in the fall for a 6-8 week cycle but I can't pick large shows when I know I won't have the kids.

    For right now, if I were you, re-select a show. It does not have to be a musical. Or a show that has music but is not one. Explain to the ones you have left that this is one of the repercussions of what others can do to a show. Student to student peer pressure will make more of an impression with your drop outs than you. Best of luck.

    Kati Heintzman
    Thespian Advisor
    Middletown City Schools
    Middletown OH

  • 3.  RE: Too Much Drama in Into the Woods Jr.

    Posted 12-04-2019 08:25
    I know I've had years like that as well. Is there any possibility of changing the show. Maybe do a smaller cast musical such as "Little Shop of Horrors" so the accountable ones aren't left out. It would be a hassle but might solve your problem. Good luck and keep plugging along.

    Ray Karns
    Theatre Teacher
    Wakefield School
    The Plains VA

  • 4.  RE: Too Much Drama in Into the Woods Jr.

    Posted 12-04-2019 08:41
    I'm sure changing the show is not what you would like to do if you've already paid royalties, purchased items, etc.  Maybe you could get permission to do pieces of the musical and piece together the parts you have the people to do.  Otherwise, maybe do a couple smaller one acts instead of a full scale musical.  There are even some one act musicals.  You could host a variety show to showcase all the kids who want to participate.  The final option would be to challenge your students to write something.  Sorry to hear about your struggles.  Hope you figure it out.

    Amy MacCord
    Musical Theatre Teacher
    Hawthorne FL

  • 5.  RE: Too Much Drama in Into the Woods Jr.

    Posted 12-04-2019 11:26
    I'm sorry to hear about your problem!
    I, too, have noticed a lack of commitment from students- more so this year, than in any other years.
    Maybe its time to do something really special and small and build excitement and energy back from that?  Instead of canceling your show, can you switch it to something with a smaller cast to work with the students you know want to be there?  Maybe Little Women? Title of Show?  Forever Plaid? Spelling Bee?

    Just a thought.  I wish there was a better answer to cure the epidemic of non committal students and parents happening right now.

    Brooke Phillips
    Omaha NE

  • 6.  RE: Too Much Drama in Into the Woods Jr.

    Posted 12-04-2019 12:38
    Canceling the show is an option however it's tough because I wouldn't want to dishearten the committed students.

    My advice: meet with your current cast and discuss the options:
    Continue as is and try to re-cast the roles
    Cancel the show and do another show with the current, committed students
    Cancel the show and don't do another show

    In my casting contract, it is written:

    I understand that dropping out of this production after being cast will result in my not being cast in the next two productions.

    I've only had a handful of students drop in the past 21 years - mainly because they wanted a role and were cast in the ensemble. When they came to me to drop we discussed commitments and I reminded them of this rule. Each time they agreed it was fair.

    Best wishes.

  • 7.  RE: Too Much Drama in Into the Woods Jr.

    Posted 12-05-2019 08:39
    This can be a very hard, stay up every night kind of decision.

    -Are you able to slap together any type of cast with who you have left?  Maybe not the "best" cast you had in mind but it is a show and their parents will love it regardless.
    -Its been a while since I've seen a Jr script to Woods, but worst case could you put together a somewhat "concert" style version?  Where its more focused on vignettes rather than a full fledged story?  So you could kind of blur age needs and looks?
    -In regards to the dropouts, yes, it does seem to be a "this generation" thing and it seems to get worse.  However, those that commit and go for the duration are great!  I feel like the committed ones, though, are getting the brunt of the repercussions and thus are burning out faster than in the past. (I've always had a drop out here and there but in my current position I lose almost half the cast each time, this is due to me being the 4th teacher in 4 years, the program turns over as much as teachers have.  Fortunately its now going on 3 years at this school and as each show continues and goes up the kids start to trust again and slowly but surely the program is rebuilding.)

    Overall, I'd suggest sitting with your kids on a one on one basis and just having a conversation with them to try to find out why people are dropping out so much.  In that candid atmosphere where they don't think they are going to be in trouble, they typically open up and you learn things that never would have come to mind.

    Kimberly Wibbenmeyer

  • 8.  RE: Too Much Drama in Into the Woods Jr.

    Posted 12-05-2019 11:21
    I understand your dilemma all too well!! I am in a small, rural, Illinois town with about 400 students in the high school and I taught in an even smaller district before that. Here are my thoughts on working in a small town school:
    • The same students pretty much do all the things. They are in band, choir, theater, football, volleyball, etc. They have very full schedules and it can be difficult to compete with other groups and teams. It also causes easy burnout.
    • Fall sports are EVERYTHING!!!! Especially football. It amazes me the support a small town will put behind their football team but very little else. The town gets decked out in the school colors and wooden footballs, with player's name and numbers, hanging around on all the electrical poles. Everyone in town is wearing school colors and mascots every Friday. Everyone can tell you who is playing varsity and who is quarterback. Heck, they can even tell you the odds of us going to state this year... BUT... ask them who is in the musical and even what musical is being done and you get "we have a theater program at our school?"... Creates quite the challenge to get students interested in something if it doesn't possibly get them a full ride to a big name college. (Can you tell this is a big pet peeve of mine! LOL!)
    • Theater often takes a back burner when it comes to funding so it can be a challenge to run a theater program.
    • Small town schools often don't have an auditorium and you have to perform on a small stage in a gym with bad lighting, seating, and acoustics. This makes it more difficult to get the community to come see shows and buy tickets to help fund better equipment and shows. It also makes rehearsals more difficult because you have to work with coaches who are also practicing in the gym.
    • Students often live out in the country or in smaller towns that have combined with our school district. They may live 10-15 miles away from the school and this means they ride the bus. So, it can be a challenge for them to find a ride after rehearsals and parents don't always want to come pick them up.
    • In a conservative area (like most small towns are) it is difficult to change the mindset that theater is not "manly". I have had male students not want to participate in a musical because they didn't want their peers to think they are gay. It saddens me tremendously and I work tirelessly to change that feeling. My school has become much more open minded but it is still an issue.
    A little back story:
    • My current school used to do one musical every other year in the spring. The choir and band teacher used to do a musical every year but they got burned out so went to alternate years. Then they asked another teacher to do the stage direction and they only did music. Well, that one was a disaster and ended up as a choir concert instead. The "director" did not organize anything, set up practices at the last minute, and had the students doing all their own blocking. So, when I started at the school and took over there was basically no trust, on the part of the school, students or parents, that we could put on a good show. They figured it would fail again.
    Here is what I have found to work best to keep students involved in theater and shows:
    • I found that doing more was better. I started doing a fall play and spring musical every year. Getting whoever I could get and sometimes having students playing more than one part. I had students participate in the Veteran's Day assembly with a short skit. Have the students perform at an assembly public service skits about distracted driving during prom season. Do children's theater for the elementary school. Do a variety show dinner theater. Whatever I could to keep the students and community involved in theater all year. Students started to see that theater is fun and that all can be involved. If the dedicated students constantly feel let down or there is too much time between productions then it becomes "what's the point" and they will also leave. Don't let that happen. Keep them active!
    • I have learned that there are some things you just can't compete against. I know that my fall play has to be a smaller cast and mostly female because football will win. My guys will not give up going to football practices so I plan accordingly and understand it is what it is. So maybe you need to find a better time to try to do your rehearsals and musical.
    • Be ORGANIZED!! With all the competition between sports, work, homework, and family they need a very organized schedule. I create a rehearsal schedule for the entire rehearsal period (listing dates, times, what is happening that day, and who needs to be there) and give that to the students a couple weeks before we even start practicing. That way they can schedule their jobs and lives in advance. For a spring musical we audition in December so we can start right after winter break to perform in March (that way we avoid conflicts with track meets). I will have 3-4 practices a week but not everyone has to be at every practice. On the schedule it will say what scene we are working on and only those in that scene have to attend the practice. I have them highlight the practices they have to attend and that way they know months in advance what is expected. Also, it helps them to work around other commitments. I will many times have students go run track practice then come in and run a scene and then go back to track. Since they know that they are needed from 4-4:30 they work with their coaches so they can leave for that 30-45 minutes. The students appreciate the organization and schedule and I think it really helps keep them involved. Yes, they know that sometimes things happen (snow days come to mind) and the schedule may have to change, but for the most part they know what is expected and work hard to make it all fit. Here is a link to last year's musical schedule for Grease
    • Students love a cast party! Keep floating the thought that those that stay committed to the show will get a party after the last performance. Ours are usually at a local restaurant and I don't even pay for them, the students buy their own food. It's a great way to celebrate a job well done.
    • I'm guessing you have a Thespian Troupe so give them lots of opportunity to earn points and make sure they know that if they quit they won't earn any for that show. In my school the seniors like to collect graduation cords (colorful ropes worn over the graduation gown that represent groups they have earned honors in). So I buy the Thespian cords and give them to seniors who have been inducted and have earned at least 10 Thespian points a year during high school. That keeps them motivated to earn their points and stay involved. So find what will motivate your students.
    So, what does all this mean? Well, it means that you have a harder hill to climb than bigger schools, but it is still doable!! I would try hard to do Into the Woods this year, even if you have to have someone doing two parts or shorten it to a one act. If you cancel it then you may have an issue with your students not wanting to commit in the future. Keep trying to promote theater in any way possible throughout the year. Have your dedicated students involved with something all the time. Other students will start to see that theater is fun and get involved.

    Hope this helps!!

    Amy Williams
    District Librarian/Theater Teacher
    Thespian Troupe #8881
    Auburn High School
    Auburn, IL

  • 9.  RE: Too Much Drama in Into the Woods Jr.

    Posted 12-05-2019 12:58
    A few years ago, the Roundabout Theatre in NYC did "Into the Woods" using only 10 actors playing all the parts. You have a couple of things in your favor: "Woods" is a small cast show as written, so you really don't have a lot of roles, plus chorus to deal with. Also, it is a show open to almost any kind of creative staging and interpretation. I've directed it with students twice, and it is a director's dream. It's story telling, so anything goes! In September I saw  a very creative production at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Company and it was wild. The audience will go wherever you want to take them.
    Good Luck!

    Roger Paolini
    Buffalo NY