Lists are popular on-line, so I thought it might be a good time to present one of my own. It is a top ten list but, in truth, there are an infinite number of issues you must keep in mind as you find and settle on a play. However, since I do not have an infinite amount of time (and you do not have an infinite amount of interest), I have settled on these few. Perhaps these are in order of importance.

1. Your Interest

This is one aspect of play selection that I have never, ever seen addressed but, for me, is the most important. Selecting a play is like selecting a mate. You are going to be intensely involved with this play for months. And I do mean intensely. Not a day will go by when you do not deal with this play in one way or another. You will make phone calls about it. You will take the script on vacation with you. You will work with it on weekends. You will sacrifice family time for it. It will become all-encompassing to your life so you better pick a play that is compatible with your head and heart. If you do a classic, you need to pick one that grabs you. If you do an elementary school play, you need to pick one you want to look at every single day.  If you do a musical, enjoy the songs. You can get frustrated with it, you can lose your temper with it, you can hit a brick wall with it, but you must not get bored with it.

Do not take other people’s word for what is a great play and what is not. Many times, I’ve lost interest reading Tony Award winning plays. Many times, something quirky in a catalog turns out to be the perfect play. You have to read and go with your gut. If you don’t love what you’ve read, read something else. This is one of the most important aspects of finding a play. Find something that you love, and don’t worry if no one else loves it.

2. Your Audience

You might think that your actors would be the second most important thing, but, IMHO, your audience is next. Your playwright has a story to tell and he or she wants to tell it to the audience, not to you. If your audience can’t get what you give, you’ve wasted your time and effort. If you have an audience of “seasoned” season ticket holders, you know what to expect from them and they know what to expect from you. You are on a similar wavelength and you promise to provide new, interesting, challenging performances and they promise to keep up with the challenge.

But, say you are starting out new in an area which has not had theater before or has not had successful theater before (it happens). For example, say the new principal wants to revive the school drama club and you’ve been tapped. Yikes!! Where to begin?

I suggest you start out with something popular. Comedy, for sure – people like to laugh. Begin with a sure hit – Neil Simon perhaps? For younger audiences, fairy tales and nursery rhymes go well. If you begin with a story the audience is somewhat familiar with, they will be willing to see it and meet you half way. If you start with something that scares them off, you’re just making it harder for yourself. Save Shakespeare for your second offering. I love Shakespeare, but I don’t advocate it as a first offering for a new audience.

On the other hand, don’t play the audience dumb. You have to give them something that makes it worth their while to have spent the time and money to see. They want to experience something new, eye-opening, brain awakening. Demonstrate to them why live theater is better than television.

3. The Theater

Your venue is an important factor in selecting a play. If your auditorium is being renovated and you find yourself in the school lobby,  you may have to rethink doing a play that depends upon lots of quick lighting changes. If you will perform outside, you may have to rethink that small, intimate one-person play. Do you have lights? Do you have a lighting board? Do you have wings (wings are the spaces on either side of the stage where people and objects can be stored while waiting to be brought on stage during the run of a play)? Do you have a curtain? Where will the audience sit? On the floor? In folding chairs? Below you? Around you? Above you?   If you have a large cast, where will you put them when they are not on stage? And if you’ve never heard of a cafetorium . . .  well, just count your blessings.

4. The Actors

Finally, the actors. But, before we get to them, just remember for a moment your purpose in doing the play. Do you want to peak the audience’s interest in theater? Good acting will be important. Do you want to get people involved? A play that needs a large cast will be good. No matter what you want, the fact is that you have absolutely no control over who auditions for a play. The perfect person for the part may be out of town for performances so won’t try out. You get no dancers for a dance-heavy show. No singers for a musical. It happens and you have no control so realize that right off the bat.

I am not in favor of asking people to audition or pre-casting. It puts a bad taste in the mouths of those who did not get asked or pre-cast, even though they will be as gracious and kind about it as can be.  It also says something about you that is not the most flattering. That’s not to say that you can’t find out if someone is planning to audition and start creating your cast in your mind ahead of time.

A little about casting. Suppose during auditions one person is amazing! Head-and-shoulders far better than anyone else who has auditioned! Clearly the star! Be careful. You want to create an ensemble and if one person is TOO good, although it sounds counter-intuitive, it will put the show out of balance. Of course, the hope is that the better, more experienced actors in a cast will help the new or less experienced cast members rise to the top. Your job will be to make that happen.

5. Technical Demands

I’ve touched on this earlier when addressing the venue. Just be aware that if you chose a show that depends upon special effects – a rainstorm, fireworks, a fight scene, a toilet dripping from an upstairs apartment, someone disappearing on stage – you have to do a good job in pulling these off. Don’t exclude a show just because it calls for these effects, just keep those demands in mind. Some you will be able to do, some not. Stick to your abilities yet don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and your crew. Your audience will be delighted when you rise to the occasion.

 

Keep in mind that every single rule here has an exception. Sometimes you do Shakespeare at the outset. Sometimes you do the Music Man in the lobby. Sometimes the star is the best person who auditioned.  Sometimes you fall in love with a play and make it work in spite of all obstacles. These are just considerations, not set-in-stone rules.

 

To be continued.

 

 

 

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