Approaching that Critically Collaborative Creature:  The Musical!

So you’re either getting ready to hold auditions or you’re in the middle of them, hoping your cell phone won’t blow up after you post the cast list for that most intimidating of icons:  the American high school musical.  Here’s my proverbial “two cents worth”—worthy of the taking or leaving.

Hopefully, you chose a show with the current talent pool in mind.  You can expand your “pool” by including a limited number of elementary or middle school students from your pyramid in casting; this works particularly well for shows like Seussical or Oliver.  Make sure the younger kids still have to tow the mark on auditions; this will keep the high schoolers in their secure spot at the top of the status heap, and provide you with information about the maturity and commitment level of your younger potential cast members.  Sometimes that special younger student will outshine even some of your advanced students with dedication to preparation.  Building younger students into the cast can increase their consideration for enrolling in your Theatre class when they darken the high school door.

A few words about casting—NOT EVERYONE WILL BE HAPPY ABOUT YOUR CHOICES.

It’s not IF someone will cry, it’s WHEN.  And though a little piece of your heart may break when that senior you directed and nurtured for three years turns on you with fangs out, remember that THEY ARE JUST KIDS!  They are adolescents growing up in the minefield that is high school, and you cannot make them all happy; they have to do that for themselves.

Be supportive to all, but focus on the students who ARE HAPPY, and the ones who have the maturity to get past their disappointment and contribute to the show.
Don’t engage in dramatic conversations with disappointed kids (learned that one the hard way)—they can’t hear you, and you risk further damaging the relationship.
Do be accessible to calmly discuss how brutal casting is (but we knew that when we began the process,) and that there is life after this show, aglow with unforetold opportunities.
Do emphasize that just being a part of a musical is a growth experience—just preparing a great audition is growth.  If we are to be artistic risk-takers, we must acknowledge that Theatre involves a process over which we do not have total control—but it’s worth it.  Remind students that growth is the goal, not stardom.

The collaboration that is always critical in Theatre is hyper-critical in the musical production process, because there are more moving parts to contend with. Unless you are that rare bird who can direct both the acting and the music, as well as choreograph and conduct the pit orchestra—just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD—you will be the collaborative leader for a group of educator artists.  If you are fortunate enough to work with the people at your school, do it.  Pay them a reasonable to flattering amount for their time and expertise, according to what your department can afford and what school tradition suggests, with the approval of your finance officer.  It will never be what they are worth, but most educators appreciate your efforts to honor their time and hard work.  Compared to what you would likely pay professionals of similar expertise level, your colleagues are usually a bargain.

The next critical collaborative step is creating a REHEARSAL SCHEDULE CALENDAR that includes everyone’s conflicts, from childcare to second jobs, to band concerts or field trips, and all manner of personal appointments.  Without freaking out, you must gather all of these obstacles, throw them into the light of collaborative challenge, work out a schedule, and build in some extra rehearsal days for the unexpected snow day or tornado, and you’ll have a shot at keeping your sanity and organizational leadership credibility.  

Now that you’ve built your sacred schedule of production process, STICK TO IT. Parents, teachers and students all appreciate the predictability of a solid, dependable schedule.  Your hard work will build respect, that most essential element with which to feed the collaborative creature, known as the high school musical.  

After all, “We’re all in this together…”