My son has participated in a local theater camp for the last three summers. At the end of camp the kids (ages 8-16) put on a musical at the high school. The kids and the parents and especially the people running the program work really hard and the show has always been awesome.
Now, I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in a different place or because I grew up in a different time, but children’s activities nowadays seem so much more…intense than I remember them being. So many times I have signed my son up for an activity without realizing how much it entailed. It’s not that I would have said no, it’s just that a heads-up would have been nice so that I could have mentally (and financially) prepared.
I finally feel like I have my act together with my son’s shows. Don’t get me wrong they’re still a ton of work. It hasn’t been my new obsession for the past two weeks for nothing. Below is a list of things that I wish I had known as a new theater parent.
If this is a musical, your child will at minimum be asked to do a cold reading and to sing. A cold reading is reading lines from a script without advanced preparation. Some places will want your child to have a monologue prepared and some will want a head shot. Your child may be asked to demonstrate their ability to do something else if it is required for a part. This could be anything from dancing to singing while jumping rope.
I have always found the song to be the tricky part. The directors may ask your child to prepare 16 bars, 32 bars, or a full song. They may want you to provide a backing track or they may have a pianist and ask that your child bring sheet music.
Sheet music isn’t difficult to find online. You will usually be able to buy and print songs a la carte. One website that I like is Sheet Music Now. Another option is to purchase a book of audition songs. These books have sheet music and include either a CD or a link to download an MP3 version of the backing tracks. My son has Broadway Presents! Teens’ Musical Theatre Anthology: Male Edition.
By the way, a backing track is the music to a song without the vocals. It is sometimes referred to as an accompaniment track or karaoke track. These can be difficult to find, especially if you are looking for a particular song. In addition to the anthology book, we have the CDs from a few Broadway musicals. These include both the vocal version and the accompaniment track.
Some places give preference to older kids or kids who have acted at that theater before. Some cast strictly on merit. Every place that I’ve been to splits the cast for their child and teen productions. A split cast is when two sets of actors play the lead characters in alternating shows (see Shows below). The ensemble is usually the same in both casts. Often the leads become part of the ensemble on their off nights.
There will be sets. Like with wood and nails and paint. Sometimes the pieces even slide around to turn the stage into different places. They may ask for parents to volunteer with this. If you are an introvert like me, this is the job for you (see also Set Strike below).
Your child will get a nifty, rather official looking script (see below). It’s actually kind of cool. It’s so cool that you should cover it with contact paper if your kid is a slob like mine. They only get one. Nuff said.
These vary depending on the theater (or school) that is putting on the show. Rehearsals are usually a couple of hours long two to three times per week. They may or may not be on weekends.
At some point, they will be off book at rehearsal. This is the date by which your child has to have their lines memorized because scripts are no longer allowed. When it gets closer to opening night, rehearsals will become dress rehearsals. The week before the show opens is tech week. Tech week is when rehearsals entail full run-throughs of the show, on stage, with lighting and costumes as if they were performing it for an audience.
If your child is going to be in a production at an established community theater, they probably have a costumer. This doesn’t mean that you are off the hook, only that this part will be a little easier. At some point they will put out a costume plot. A costume plot is a list of all the characters and the articles of clothing and accessories that they need. A lot of times the theater has pieces of the costume that they lend the children.
For example, my son played Augustus in a production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory earlier this year. I supplied a white button-down shirt, brown pants, suspenders, green lederhosen, and black shoes. We already had the shoes and suspenders. We bought the shirt, shorts, and lederhosen. They lent him a hat and a fat suit to wear under his costume.
One more thing, you may be told to send the pieces in a costume box. Most people use a plastic underbed box like this one.
You may be asked to submit a short bio for your child to go in the playbill. This is usually a few sentences long and is written in third person. I could spend an entire post talking about this, but why reinvent the wheel? Check out this article on How to Write a Bio for a Playbill. It explains everything more fully and gives examples at the end.
You may also be called upon for the ads section of the playbill. Ads are usually sold by quarter page, half page, and full page. They are a combination of business advertisements and well wishes for the cast members from family and friends. Some places require each actor to sell a certain amount of ad space and some do not. Prices vary.
Businesses may already have advertising prepared or will use an image of a business card. Ads from family and friends consist of a message and sometimes a picture. Messages are along the lines of, “Congratulations Johnny! Love, Aunt Jane and Uncle Joe” or “We are so proud of you, Johnny! Love, Mom and Dad” or “Break a leg! Love, Grandmom and Pop!”
Playbill ads typically need to be sent in JPEG format. Some theater companies create the ads for you. Some will not and you will need to make them yourself. If this is the case, they should give you specs which tend to be about 5” x 2” for a quarter page, 5” x 4.25” for a half page, and 5” x 8” for a full page. I make mine using PicMonkey or Canva.
There will most definitely be tickets. There may or may not be assigned seating. Tickets go on sale a couple of weeks to a month before opening night. I have encountered prices ranging from $10 to $25.
Someone will usually collect for this a week or two before the show opens. It isn’t a big deal, but I thought I’d throw it out there because it is one of many small expenses.
Candy Grams and Concessions
Again, some places offer these and some do not. Just be aware that you may be called upon to donate a case of water or a box of candy. You can get boxes of full-sized candy bars at wholesalers like Sam’s, Costco, and BJ’s. Target sometimes has them as well.
If you can’t stand to see your child left out (no judgement), then you should know that the girls’ families usually give them flowers. This is one thing that us boy moms don’t have to worry about. The guys are more than happy with their bag of candy grams. I did get my son a key chain once when he had the lead in the school play.
When I was a kid, the school play was a singular event. Not so anymore. My son has performed a show anywhere from four to sixteen times – sometimes twice in one day with a lunch break in between.
There will be a cast party after the show wraps. It may be a potluck in a back room of the theater or school. It may be a barbecue at a local swim club. Each program has its own traditions. A lot of times the cast goes out to a restaurant after opening night as well.
Parents will likely be needed to sell concessions, 50/50s, and/or candy grams. There is also usually a need parents to help with hair and makeup before the show and for backstage parents to watch the kids during the show. Oh, and one or two parents will be needed to check tickets at the door.
Parents may be asked to come help with set strike after the show has finished its run. Set strike entails taking the set apart and storing the pieces, organizing and storing the costumes, and general clean-up of the venue. I always volunteer for this which is good because my son always leaves one or two things behind in the dressing room.
I can’t stress enough that every theater company is different. Get an idea of what you’re signing up for before you commit. I was so clueless and ill-prepared for my son’s first few shows and I ended up scrambling as a result. If you’re on a budget you should know that there are a lot of small expenditures. I end up spending $300 to $500 per show. School shows are at lower end of that range. The camp that he is in now is at the higher end. There are places with base fees that are even higher than my above all-in costs.
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