A Senior’s Guide to Building A Show

How to set the stage for a performance of a lifetime!

Something not often discussed when it comes to theater is just how hard it is. Of course, there are the obvious bits: the lines, the movements that actors have to memorize, the lighting that needs to be set up, and the sound that has to be dealt with in much the same manner. All of these things are the parts of theater that just about anyone could notice, but beyond that, there are so many moving parts that need to be understood to build a show. The question then becomes: “How could just anyone build a show?” and the answer is simply by learning all the pieces.

The first part of building a show is the budget, the most important part of building any production. Without money, your group will not be able to buy the props, set pieces and wood to build the set, rent lights, sound equipment, and most importantly, get the license to whatever show your group wants to put on. Money is of paramount importance, and a downright necessity for building a show, except that’s a complete lie. 

Every single piece above, barring the licensing issue, can be solved by good relations with any theater in the area, whether it be a community, regional, or other high school theater. All kinds of theaters love supporting new work from students. As long as good relationships are made with the people in those theaters, they often have few problems with letting new theater makers borrow sets, props, costumes, and anything else an up-and-coming creative would need. Even the issue of licensing can be solved by starting with royalty-free works, creative works that require no license to be done. However, if there is any monetary backing to the group, getting licensed works should be the first priority.

Now that the show is set monetarily, the next part is to hold auditions, the most stressful and exciting part of any production. The key to having a successful audition cycle is to announce and advertise the date of said audition at least two weeks in advance, in order to let people prepare and set their schedule and plan to audition. Giving people the time to learn a monologue, a song, or both makes them less nervous to audition, and allows for a better turnout. As a person running a show, the best problem to have is too many people auditioning; this gives you, the director, options and allows you to choose the best fit for your show. However, getting just the right amount of people is perfectly fine as well, as it makes the casting process feel intimate and gives it a familial sense, making the comradery between the cast much stronger.

Once you have a cast, the next part is to stage the show, giving direction to the cast on an acting and movement front. While directing the show, a big pitfall to avoid is giving a line reading, which is telling an actor exactly how to say a line by reading it the way you want it to read. This type of direction stifles the creativity of the actor and it then hurts not just their performance, but the relationship you craft with them. The most important aspect of building a show isn’t trying to make the best show but trying to form genuine relationships and trust between you and the cast and crew. By doing that, as well as quality direction, you can craft a show for the history books.

Finally, after you get through the rehearsal process, you start to bring in the other elements, such as sound, lighting, full sets, full costumes and makeup, and props. This is often done towards the end of the rehearsal process, with a final week before the show called tech week. This is the week to run through the show numerous times in full, which is done in order to give the tech crew time to build the show on a technical front. Once you reach the end of the week, you have one final job: enjoy the show.

If there is any takeaway I can impart from this article, it’s that this is the basic guide, and there is still much more to learn. From specific directing strategies to the functionality of different lighting systems, the theater is an ever-expanding art form that has so many layers. Even those with 50+ years of experience are still learning new ways to build a show. However, I hope that from this article, any aspiring creative can start to get a grasp on how to build a production and start to make some art that they get to share with the world. Using this guide, I hope that new up and coming creatives don’t just make art, but make a community of artists in all parts of the process because, at the end of the day, the theater is for everyone.