Saturday, August 6, 2016

Musical Prep in Elementary Music 4: Drama Teacher Edition

Today I'm hosting a guest post by my partner-in-crime Drama Teacher Extraordinaire, Kala Chaffin! Check out the first 3 parts of this series here, here and here. Kala's going to give us some tips on the "tech" side of preparing for a musical. Take it away, Kala!

Hi everyone! I'm Kala Chaffin and I'm so excited to be guest posting on Lori's blog. Today I'm going to be giving tips and advice from an elementary drama teacher's perspective!

So, you have an upcoming theatrical production.... Whether you've been roped into this massive project by your school or if it's because you love theatre and it's your first time directing and producing a show, you're going to need some "tech" (technical elements for a production such as lights, sound, costume, set, props and makeup) if you really want your production to pop and "wow" the crowd.

Planning Tech:
First, schedule your production dates and work backwards from there. You need to give yourself enough time to get all your tech work finished before opening night. Check out the schedule that I used last year for our production of 101 Dalmatians. Use this as a reference to help you plan.

Now that you see the time frame you are working with, it's time to start making lists. Because our school is tax exempt through Lowes and Wal-Mart, I usually make a separate list for each store.

Take a look at your script. Usually, there is a prop and set list either in the front or back of the book. If not, get yourself three different colored highlighters (one for set, one for props and one for costumes) and highlight the appropriate sections any time they pop up.

Now that you have everything organized in your script, figure out which supplies you need to purchase to create each item and place them on the appropriate list. Most of our props are made from cardboard or materials we have on hand, but there will be plenty of things to purchase or get donated.

I usually have a third list (in addition to my Lowes and Wal-Mart lists) that is dedicated to online shopping. If you want to be even more organized, make a "donation" list. This is a supply list of items you'd like to ask people to donate to your production. 

You also will want to make a list of big ticket items that are available for rental through local companies (mic packs, mixing board, lights, speakers, cords, etc.).

Be sure to have all your supplies purchased before your first Tech Day (if possible). 

Shopping for Tech:
The actual shopping part is so exciting for me! I get to imagine all of the supplies coming together to make something absolutely fantastic for the kids and the production. If your school has a parent teacher organization, I would suggest trying to go through them for your shopping needs. (Shout out to our amazing PTA moms and dads!)

Going through your school is fine, but you need to plan ahead even more so because you have to go through additional steps to get a purchase order. Not only do you have to fill out a Purchase Order form, you might have to have more than one person sign for its approval, and it may sit on someone's desk for a few days before it ever makes its way back to you. I find it easier to do some fundraising at the beginning or end of the school year and create an account for your program through the parent teacher organization or a booster organization.

After making purchases at local stores, it's time to shop online!

Online Shopping for Tech:
I love getting costume accessories, stage make-up, wigs, glow tape, spike, etc. online because you can find some great deals and have it delivered right to your school! A few of my favorite places to get "tech" for a show are: Theatre House, The Costumer, Norcostco, Oriental Trading, Party City and of course, Amazon. 

Amazon is always wonderful to use, but the tax-exempt process is more difficult. I'm an Amazon Prime member so this really comes in handy during tech week when something last minute comes up, I can have the item shipped free to me in two days. 

After making all of the necessary purchases in stores and online, it's time to order the mics, lights, speakers, etc. Call your local rental shop and order any of the big pieces that you plan on renting instead of buying. Make sure you get everything in writing and have a responsible parent pick up the equipment when the time comes. 

If you don't have a reasonably priced local rental store, don't worry! You can also rent items from NorcostcoThe Costumer, or Grosh Backdrops.

Paint Tips:
We get great deals on our paint. I call both Wal-Mart and Lowes, or any local paint store and ask if they would donate any of their mis-colored paint to our drama program. Once, a local paint store donated truckloads to our theatre program! 

So far, I've not been able to get Lowes or Wal-Mart to donate their mis-colored paint to use for free, but I have been able to get them to agree to sell it to us for $1/can. All you need to do is call the store and ask to speak to the manager. For painting foam insulation board, I suggest latex or acrylic paint. For painting poster/butcher paper, I suggest only acrylic paint because it will weigh the paper down.

Lightweight Set Pieces:
If your production is for an elementary school or you're working with younger children, you're going to want your set pieces to be light and movable. I love the insulation foam from Lowes. My favorite to purchase is the 1" thick 4'X8' sheets. They're easy to paint and to carve.

Use a turkey carver to cut sheets into the desired shapes! I do not allow the children to use the turkey knife; I either do it myself or have a parent volunteers do the carving. You can also use a hot knife to carve into the foam. I used this when I worked with high school students once but I prefer the turkey carver because it seems "safer.” The hot knife lets off a terrible chemical smell when cuts into the foam and that can't be healthy for our lungs!

Acting Cubes:
Another thing I would do is to invest in some acting cubes. These cubes are so versatile! You can paint them how you need them to look, drape fabric over them (I do this a lot when I need a couch onstage) and they are movable and lightweight so children can move them on and off the stage.

When I arrived at my new school last year, they didn't already have any, so I had one of the awesome theatre dads make us a set of three. Here is what you need to make your own:

   Plywood that has been cut vertically into three strips (16, 16, 15 3/4)
   Drywall screws
   Wood glue (same kind he uses in the video)
   2x2’s, quantity = 6

Click here to see the DIY video that I have used in the past.

I hope this information was helpful to you. Please check out my blog sometime for more Theatre Ed tips and hacks. I've just started my blog and it's the beginning of the school year so I don't have much content on there yet, so stay tuned! I want to thank my partner in crime for having me as a guest on her beautiful blog and for helping me create my own. She's the Tina Fey to my Amy Poehler!

Kala Chaffin teaches Drama at an elementary school in Lexington, Kentucky. Follow Kala on Instagram or Twitter @kalasstage. Kala blogs over at Kala's Stage (coming soon) or you can catch the latest video on her new YouTube channel (coming soon!).

Here's a link to the first three parts in this series: Part One, Part Two and Part Three

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