Author Topic: School productions.  (Read 13723 times)

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Mac Calder

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School productions.
« on: Jan 15, 2007, 05:20 am »
I have just been called about a job starting soon about managing a primary schools (ages 5-12) annual production - thankfully I will be PM and not SMing until just before tech (along with lighting design and running sound) - anyway I spent a lot of time talking to the principal about what they want out of this production, yadda yadda yadda, then I got given a photocopy of a number of government regs - namely to do with children's safety with adults. The long and the short - basically the principals interpretation is that once the rehearsals/performance starts, no-one without a police check carried out by the school and cleared will be allowed in the space. Generally - that is fine, I run a closed rehearsal room policy anyway, and am AR about keeping people out of the back stage area.

The principal however wants access control.

And I hope someone here can help me.

I have never been in a situation where I have had to have access control implemented - I work with mature actors, and I usually have a tight reign over everything and by the time we are in the theatre, I know everyone well enough to know when someone is where they shouldn't be. Hundreds of children, adult chaperone's that I will not have met until dress etc have never been an issue.

My initial thoughts was to get an adult at each door and to make up "Back Stage Passes", however it will be a hassle, as I believe the only time back stage passes are useful is when they have a head shot. In my mind, it's a logistical nightmare.

Another option that came to mind was to get wrist straps made up (those paper ones that tear when you try to remove them) and then have each adult present their drivers license at the start of the night, put a wrist strap on them, bob's your mothers brother. That is still a logistical nightmare, but maybe not so much. I don't know. Maybe someone else knows of a really simple method which is still secure.

The second part of this - Group management. What I have gathered from the principal is that this show will involve each class giving a 5-10 minute show (about an hour and a half) followed by an interval of half an hour, then the "main show" which is two hours long, no break, then half an hour of talk by the principal. (Sounding like hell at the moment)

Looking at the venue, I will have to put the children in the auditorium whilst they are not getting ready to go on. I am thinking that dedicating a balcony would be a good idea, then placing the classes chaperone's in the isle seat, and having three teachers dedicated to herding children (one on cans, one grabs a group of children+chaperone and leads them down back stage, grabs the next lot as they come off stage and leads them back up, and they cross paths with the second group going down - however whilst they are waiting up there, the teacher can be used to relay "shut those kids up" messages to the chaperone's)

Any other help on managing these style shows would be great too, because frankly, I feel out of my depth, and am slightly panicking. I have never done logistics for something like this... and frankly... kids en-mass always give me the willies.
« Last Edit: Jan 15, 2007, 07:29 am by Mac Calder »

Scott

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Re: School productions.
« Reply #1 on: Jan 15, 2007, 08:13 am »
In my mind, it's a logistical nightmare.
[snip]
(Sounding like hell at the moment)
[snip]
... kids en-mass always give me the willies.

Yeah, me too.

Does this gig pay well?  Because it doesn't sound like the kind of credit that will help career development much considering your experience and credits and sounds like a lot of jumping through hoops to please petty bureuacrats ... if it's not paying in line with what teachers make, maybe you should reconsider... really does sound like a nightmare.

philimbesi

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Re: School productions.
« Reply #2 on: Jan 15, 2007, 09:07 am »
Hey Mac,

The principal is leaving an outside contractor in charge of finding an access control method to his students?  That seems very un-principal like to me. 

For access control, the school might have some way of denoting vistors already that you can adapt to this situation.  I worked for 8 years as an IT guy at a school district and they had a temporary "pass" system where a parent, contractor, whatever had to show ID and sign in and out of the school denoting times.  Then wear the pass around their neck kind of like a backstage pass.  On special occasions like this, the secretaries would print labels much like the "Hi my name is" labels and, after verifying who they are, have the parent's wear them in a visible area. Then teachers and backstage people would only have to see the label.  It seems like all you really need is a way to allow only one point of access to the backstage and post an ASM, parent volunteer, teacher, or administrator to man a sign in sheet.  Asking for ID is a good thing too, but remember that parents last names don't always equal kids last names, the better thing is, what class is Tommy in? Who's his teacher?  That kind of thing.  The school should be able to provide you with some type of list to use. 

Logistically you're actually pretty sound.  I'd have a conversation with the Principal and find out what (if anything) he's thinking along those lines.  He might have an idea as to how he wants to deploy his teachers.  If he's writing a blank check and saying Mac fix it..  The one thing you might want to keep in mind is kids are going to respond best to their teacher as opposed to other teachers.  If it were me and it were possible I'd tell the teacher to bring their own class down.  As for kiddy control... again teachers are your friends... by instinct they control the kids and usually by instinct the kids respond.  Use them.  It sounds like you actually have the potential to not have a problem when it comes to that.  You're biggest challenge will be controlling a bunch of 5 year olds during a two hour show with no break.  Again rely on your teachers.  If you not sensing your going to get that help, and your dreading doing it as much as you sound like you are get away, far, far away.

Kids in theater are kids in life... they can be wonderful and awful in the same breath, though my experience with kids in theater is the worst is no where near as bad as the parent it's spawned from.  I started a kid’s theater company with a dear friend a few years ago after working for another for 12 years.  It can be the some of the most amazing and rewarding hell you've ever been through.   When all else fails, (and at one point it will) remember the music man syndrome, the balcony can get as noisy as you want... the parents will think "it was better than cats".
« Last Edit: Jan 15, 2007, 09:09 am by philimbesi »

Canuck

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Re: School productions.
« Reply #3 on: Jan 15, 2007, 02:27 pm »
Oh boy, Mac, sounds like you're in for a whole heap of fun!  I've done many of these showcase events, and like everything else in theatre, they are as much fun as you make it!

I take it this is a one night event, if that is the case, it does make things a bit easier.  I ASM'd a school showcase that did the wristband check in   We had the teachers submit the parent volunteers they had from each class.  The music teacher (who was in charge of running the event) then provided any other names that needed to be backstage.  The afternoon of the event we had a mini tech dress which is when we ASM's went out and wristbanded all the adults who had to be backstage.  The theory was, if you missed the tech dress - your backstage duties were handed to someone else.  This meant that not only did we get all the backstage logistics figured out, but we also had met and "branded" those who were to be back there, leaving only a few people to be checked in come call time. 

Any parent who questioned what/why we were doing what we were doing was gently reminded that this was a security precaution for the safety of the children involved (let's just say this reasoning quieted the overbearing stage mom riding the SM's back!)  A week before the showcase, we had the teachers send out info letters to all the kids and parents letting them know about the limited backstage access so the evening of we weren't bombarded by waves of parents wanting to pick their kiddies up.  Each class had a designated "parent pick up" spot in the lobby.  Each class had made up a sign they put up so parents could easily find them.

It worked for us for that event.  I understand that they are still using that system now, a few years later.  Ultimately, yes, the principal should be helping you with the whole access control thing, but they are usually busy people so they may just be looking to drop that burden on you.  Don't let them, because ultimately the safety and security of those students is their responsibility, not yours.  Offer up a few ideas of how you're thinking of doing the access control and get their thoughts on what will work.  Definitely once you've decided on what method you're going with, let the students and parents know, this will save you massive headaches the night of!  Clearly indicate where the kids should be dropped off, whom to contact if you must get to your child ("family emergency and we have to get home, now!") and how to pick them up at the end of the night.


As for the logistics of running the event, you've got the right idea, I wouldn't panic about that.  Use the teachers, use the chaperones, use any crew you might possibly get.  Hopefully you are getting a full day tech dress with them.  If you do, try to run it in order, getting the classes doing the full move from balcony to backstage to going on so everyone knows how long they need/have to complete this feat.  My biggest piece of advice is to try to find some way that those kids don't have to stay up in the balcony the whole time.  What you're going to get is a whole bunch of anxious kids who definitely don't want to be stuck up there.  Yes, the audience will be comprised mainly of their parents who should understand, but there will inevitably be the parents who get a bee in their bonnet because the kids upstairs were creating a distraction while their precious star was on.  If space is extreamly limited, consider having a rotation to the lobby, or rehearsal hall.  Some place the kids can run around a bit and burn off some energy/boredom.  There will also be a lot of "I gotta pee" moments, so have the chaperones prepared for that (nearest washroom is...)

My biggest tip on a school showcase...barf buckets, both sides of the stage and where the kids will be lining up to go on.  Trust me on this one   :D 

And as the others have said - if this is too much to be worth it, get out.  These events are no picnic, testing you in ways you couldn't imagine.  But sometimes it does work out, and either way you did your thing and at some point you will see some kid doing something funny, guaranteed!  PM me if you want to talk more about these, like I've said, I've done a whole bunch of these.  Best of luck!

Mac Calder

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Re: School productions.
« Reply #4 on: Jan 15, 2007, 03:29 pm »
Scott: I owe this principal a lot on a personal level - they did me a favor when I was in a tight spot, so this is repayment (and she is paying me).

Philimbesi: Since this is an external venue, the school is basically leaving everything up to me as PM. I will have the names of the chaperones in advance, because as I mentioned, they all need to pass a police check. Parents are to drop their kids off in the venues foyer and to check the kid in with their dedicated chaperone at 1800hrs each night the show is on, chaperones are to check in at 1740hrs. That is all I have decided so far. No parents back stage. That should eliminate the problem of "Now who's mother are you?".

Canuck - nope. This is a 3 night, 1 matinée number, tech is going to be odd, as it will basically be teching each class act in what ever order they arrive, then as classes leave, those involved in the performance piece remain in the auditorium, and when everyone is there, we tech the 'performance piece'.

I have spent most of the night worrying about logistics, so I have a few pages of notes on how I plan to have the show run without delay because people were not in place at the right time - but basically I want their preparation timed, I want their act timed, and I will work out the time it takes to walk between the seats and the green room, and the green room and the stage. Then I will add a couple of minutes margin for error.

Your comment about getting them out of their seats for some release is certainly a good one. The venue does not have a rehearsal room, but I can get my hands on some rather large floodlights on tripods and we can set up a space in the small courtyard behind the theatre for them - it is inaccessible from outside the venue and has toilet and drinks facilities.

Barf buckets are already "check" - I have gone a step further and said I will need a person each side of the stage with a comfy chair and some cool, wet cloths and bottles of water for the inevitable feinters. I used to be in a childrens choir, and at these events there were always a few feinters (usually indicated by a dull thud as they hit the stage floor).

jwl_868

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Re: School productions.
« Reply #5 on: Jan 15, 2007, 04:44 pm »
Sorry – this got long and somewhat meandering – and I suspect there are many things that you don’t know already.

I’d agree with philimbesi’s and Canuck’s posts.  Definitely have the teachers control and monitor the kids while they are off stage, in the audience, etc.  My own observation is that the teachers are all you need.  If its all possible, have each classes teacher’s there (But based on your second post, I see that’s not going to be the case.)  (Curiously, during my daughter’s time in public school, this background check for events like this was not an issue.  On the other hand, I think the teachers and teacher’s aides may have run the shows.) 

Bear in mind that the parents helping backstage will want to see their kids acts, so you’ll actually need a few extra people to cover while one watches part of the show.  Same with the people guarding the backstage doors.  You will also find there will be several parents who will be more than willing to take the lead on this stuff and/or more than willing to do whatever you ask of them.  And, likewise, there will be a couple parents who know everyone else, and they will be able to make sure that the correct people get back stage passes.

My guess is that the most difficult part will be getting each group of kids down and back, a place for each group to wait just before they go on, and a place to wait after they go off stage, but before heading to the balcony.  I’d have one parent offstage to make sure that the group that is next is ready to go, and a second parent up in the balcony to tell the successive groups to head down.  (I’d go as far as having the first two groups ready to go off stage or in a classroom off stage about 10 minutes before curtain.  And ask the teachers – they probably have a good idea what works, too, after all they have to herd the kids around for assemblies and field trips.

If there is a PTA or PTG or PTO at the school, see if you can draw on them for volunteers to help.  At the very least, you will find most of the active parents in that organization.

As canuck noted, you should also ask the principal to make it clear well ahead of time that only those parents who have been clear ahead of time are allowed backstage.  This can best be accomplished by sending a note home about it and maybe putting it on their website.  But be prepared for parents who did not receive the notices.

Another thing to bear in mind is that few parents and probably none of the kids know what a stage manager or production manager is.  The only person they have seen for the past few months is the director.

And, at the risk of stereotyping, the problems will be with the oldest kids, particularly the 6th graders, because, well, they just know everything.  Kindergarten and first graders tend to forget things.  And in every grade there will be few kids who just don’t want to be there.  But on the whole, working with a lot of kids like this is a lot of fun.  (A few parents, of course, will cause problems)     

[I might have missed something, but is the “main show” a completely different set of performers?  And are the “Backstage parents” needed for that? ]

Also, I may have misunderstood – am I to understand that even if a parent wants to sit and wait in the audience during a rehearsal [and this is not that unusual], they need clearance?

Joe


LiLz

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Re: School productions.
« Reply #6 on: Jan 15, 2007, 05:07 pm »
Hi, Mac. 

My heart goes out to you.  I don't envy you the job you face, but I think you're really doing a great job of getting things under control.

Containing entrances and exits is key in my book.  As long as they are limited and well manned, especially from parental units deciding to pull their kids early or pulling surprise backstage visits, you've won half the battle. My school is small and doesn't face a lot of the issues you describe, but our parents can really stir things up!  Secretaries are invaluable resources at entrances - they know everybody and already have relationships with faculty and parents.  Plus, have you had an opportunity to meet with the venue's security guys just to make sure they're working with you?  I know that we've had a proble when we've had events off campus - If the venue sub-contracts their security and doesn't communicate our plan things can go to hell in about 2 seconds.

In addition to puke buckets and wet cloths, I encourage you to keep a few sets of gym clothes or something for the kids who will inevitably have bathroom accidents.  I swear, one of our little ones wees onstage almost every year.  Being friends with the plant manager always helps.

Luckily, the problems on these events are usually miniscule compared to the fun and it's all good for a laugh over a couple beers when you're done.  I look forward to hearing how it all turns out.

Lilz

Mac Calder

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Re: School productions.
« Reply #7 on: Jan 15, 2007, 05:43 pm »

[I might have missed something, but is the “main show” a completely different set of performers?  And are the “Backstage parents” needed for that? ]

Also, I may have misunderstood – am I to understand that even if a parent wants to sit and wait in the audience during a rehearsal [and this is not that unusual], they need clearance?

The main show is made up from a selection of pupils from all the classes. It is a one act musical (an extremely long one act musical) - chorus will be made up of the younger half of the school, and the main performers will be from the upper half. They will all have to audition for roles within the cast etc.

As for the second part - correct. No parents in the rehearsal room unless they have been cleared - ie the choreographer for the main show is a parent. Most classes will rehearse their acts during school hours anyway, so it does not matter. Tech etc will be completely closed door too as that will occur during school hours too.

Quote
Containing entrances and exits is key in my book.  As long as they are limited and well manned, especially from parental units deciding to pull their kids early or pulling surprise backstage visits, you've won half the battle. My school is small and doesn't face a lot of the issues you describe, but our parents can really stir things up!  Secretaries are invaluable resources at entrances - they know everybody and already have relationships with faculty and parents.  Plus, have you had an opportunity to meet with the venue's security guys just to make sure they're working with you?  I know that we've had a proble when we've had events off campus - If the venue sub-contracts their security and doesn't communicate our plan things can go to hell in about 2 seconds.

There will be minimal venue staff on hand. The FOH manager, 2 people in the bar and one technician. Everyone else the school is supplying.

mca

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Re: School productions.
« Reply #8 on: Jan 15, 2007, 06:13 pm »
I have to say that this is a very interesting project in my opinion. When all is said and done, will you perhaps post a recap of how you dealt with all of the issues that came up?

sailor_sam

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Re: School productions.
« Reply #9 on: Jan 16, 2007, 08:24 am »
after being in a similar spot-

I used the building security personal at all dressing room/stage doors.  They had direct instructions not to let anyone unless they had a wrist strap (they kind they used at clubs).  I had different colors for my vols. depending on what they were doing.  The the start and ending of each night they check in and presented a photo ID and sign in, and when they signed out, we removed the band, so they could not "pass it off".


They system worked well, a bit "over the top" as one parent stated, but its for the kids, and my, security and legal safety.



centaura

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Re: School productions.
« Reply #10 on: Jan 16, 2007, 01:05 pm »
The dance school show that we had in here before christmas has a standard policy that each kid has an i.d. tag that tells who is allowed to pick them up.  They had parent volunteers who stood at the backstage door and called out the kids one at a time as they lined up, and each parent had to present a driver's license - that matched what was on the kid's tag - to get their kid.  I thought it would take forever, releasing the kids one at a time like that, but it went fairly smoothly and quickly.  Of course, there its the normal policy of the dance company for all rehearsals and shows, so the parents were well trained.  The adults who were allowed backstage all had lanyards that they wore with their name and job backstage.

-Centaura

Canuck

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Re: School productions.
« Reply #11 on: Jan 16, 2007, 02:23 pm »
You're going to have to do this production 4 times!  Wow.  A 2 hour one-act, 4 1/2 hours in total...holy smokes...that's all I can say about that!

Well, in a scenario like this, you're photo ID backstage pass idea might work.  If you have mostly the same adults backstage, you could get the school to put together the passes.  (Once a parent clears the security check, they go to the school and get their pic taken and the school can produce the pass.)  This way the school itself is responsible for whom they issue passes to - all you have to do is set up the enforcement within the venue.

As for your outside courtyard, that sounds fantastic!  I wish I could have had something like that on past showcases.  If you go ahead with this idea, have the principal get some staff to help you set it up, and have them bring in some stuff for the kiddies to play/learn with.  You know, some pillows and books in one area, some jump ropes or small balls in another, etc.  Keep it small and easy to clean up, and I'm sure the staff and students would love you for it.

If you're worried about possibly delays between acts for the first part of the show, have the emcee (if there is one) have some extra filler bits prepared.  Facts about the class/school, jokes about the principal, whatever.  A good emcee can cover any delays and keep the audience amused whilst 30 kids are being hurried to stage left!  If there's no emcee, have some sound clips on hand that you can use instead - anything to fill the dreaded dead air.  We did a show once that was all fairy tale themed with no emcee, so we had clips from the well known cartoon versions to play in the transitions, and it helped keep the audience interested and covered the sound of 90 little feet moving around behind the curtain.

When does this go up?  You've said you're just about to start on it. 

Mac Calder

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Re: School productions.
« Reply #12 on: Jan 16, 2007, 02:36 pm »
2 months. I plan on getting as much organisation done now as I can, so that the teachers can spend the next two months drilling students on the protocol, as well as let the parents know from the get-go how everything will happen (school does not resume till Monday here in Vic, Aus).

jwl_868

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Re: School productions.
« Reply #13 on: Jan 19, 2007, 12:57 pm »
A few things to remember about the parents who will be helping.  We mean well, and most of us are motivated by a sense of service.  (But there will be few of us motivated by living vicariously through our kids, or because we have to be there to fulfill some school some demands of the school or spouse.)  But very few of us have any stage experience.  And any experience that we did have was at least one child ago.  We don’t know the jargon and terms of theatre.  And even the few terms we know, we may mix up, so there may be a few glitches in communication, at first.

But you will find there will be enough natural leaders and do-ers among us to see the show through. 


Joe

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Re: School productions.
« Reply #14 on: Jan 28, 2007, 06:29 pm »
Mac-

It sounds like everyone has had some great suggestions for some of the logistics.  It did seem in your original post, though, that the project looked a little overwhelming.  I just wanted to suggest that (especially as you have some time) to approach it just as you would any other project.  Create a list of what you generally need to accomplish (you can always add as you go along), and approach/attack it one piece at a time.  I have in the past found it useful to start at the door (security, access, etc), get to the theatre (dressing rooms, traffic patterns, etc) through to onstage, and then back out again.  It all seems a little less daunting if I know that the only problem that I might have to solve at that moment is how to get little Susie out of her banana costume before the curtain call.

Best of luck, and let us know how it goes!

SSM
“I've never been paid a lot, but the theatre has kept me, and for that I shall be eternally grateful.” Tony Church

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