A Box of Chocolates delivers directing tips

“Teamwork is the key.”

That was the theme of the Musical Theatre: A Box of Chocolates presentation that occurred on Saturday, Sept. 27. Over the course of two hours, presenter Gary Butler of Shakopee Schools provided an organized, step-by-step guide about “everything you always wanted to know about producing a school musical.” The event was sponsored by the Department of Music.

As attendees shuffled into Christiansen Hall of Music, packets were distributed as a reference for all the content that would be covered in the session. Butler authored the packet as a helpful guide that students could turn to years from now, when they are directing school musicals of their own.

Butler began with the most essential, basic step that must occur before proceeding to anything else: budgeting. In the budgeting phase, theater managers must consider several costs, such as the rights to a show, costumes, sets and any semi-professional tech workers. That last point was especially stressed.

“It’s about fairness,” Butler said. “These people with skills are giving their time, and to not compensate them for that time is, I believe, a disservice to our art.”

In order to gather money for said budget, Butler advocated getting funds from wherever possible, and not being afraid to haggle with the higher-ups in attempt to squeeze a few extra bucks into the program.

“One of my talents is explaining to administrators why they’re wrong,” Sean VanderVeen said. VanderVeen, also of Shakopee schools, interjected several times with witty-yet-wise comments throughout the presentation.

While the importance of paying production staff was often highlighted, Butler advised that all publicity be run by a parent volunteer network. This network would be run by a director-appointed volunteer coordinator who would not only organize and oversee the parent network’s jobs, but would also act as a liaison between the parents and the director, creating much more organized and efficient communication.

Butler also stressed the importance of selecting a good stage manager to be the representative of the student actors. Together, the director, the parent volunteer coordinator and the stage manager should work closely together to unite all three aspects of putting on a show – production, publicity and actors – as one team.

Despite having the stage manager as a go-between from students to director, it is still important to interact with student actors.

“Get to know your kids,” Butler said. “That way, you know what to expect. Especially in those junior high and high school years, sometimes drama kids have a little drama.”

Overall, Butler recommended to hold many team-building exercises with the cast and the students working behind the scenes.

“Too often we forget about our stage workers,” Butler said. “Everyone is important. Theatre is such a collaborative thing, and you cannot expect to succeed if not everyone is working together as equals. Teamwork is the key.”

Butler also suggested that casting should be discussed and decided by a team made up of the director and a couple essential members of the production staff. Once a cast list has been made, Butler advised, the team should wait 24 hours before posting it to give members of the casting team time to ponder their choices. Once the cast list is released, it is incredibly difficult to change.

“It’s more professional to live with your mistake than to change things later,” VanderVeen said.

To stay organized, Butler advocated the necessity of keeping detailed notes and schedules on all aspects of the production. A director should have a plan that includes details such as the time of each rehersal, who should be present and what must be accomplished. That way, everyone knows what is expected of them.

Always have a pencil! Everyone involved in a production should bring a pencil with them to every rehearsal for taking notes on any and all things. “During rehearsals, go around and ask ‘Where’s the pencil you brought?’ If they don’t have one, you give them one of the five or six you have in your pocket,” Butler said.

Celebrate each performance with fun activities. Any fun little thing to make each night special. However, to maintain a professional relationship the students, the cast party should be organized by parents,and the director should not attend. “When you’re standing behind a game of Cards Against Humanity, it can get rather awkward,” VanderVeen said.