Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Musical Prep in the Elementary Music Room: Part 2


It's time for part 2 in my Musical Prep series! Check out Part 1 here. Let's talk rehearsals!


In my previous post, we discussed planning the schedule of rehearsals (depending on how much time you want to spend) and communicating that with the parents. Now let's get to the nitty gritty - how we ran our rehearsal schedule & what you can accomplish in a limited time.


Our first after school rehearsals were for "character roles" only - students that had auditioned and won "character roles" knew in advance that they would have a few more rehearsals than the other kids.

While we were able to learn most of the blocking during specials class, there were a few scenes that involved a majority of the kids (who may have been in different homeroom classes, some in orchestra practice during specials, etc.). So, we held three blocking rehearsals after school, where we basically finished whatever scenes were left and rehearsed extra scenes as time allowed.

All students were required to have their script & pencil to write down their blocking. Let me give a shout-out to MTI for including a page in every script that teaches students how to write blocking in their scripts! Woot!


Tech Transition Night is specifically for the students who were chosen to do tech jobs during the show. While everyone is invited to (and expected to be at!) Tech Day, some students have been asked to do tech roles during the show.

In our show, these tech roles included: Stage Manager, Assistant Stage Managers (ASMs), Lights, Sound, Wardrobe and Makeup.

Stage Manager provides another set of eyes for the directors. They write everything down in their director's script so that if the teacher directors don't see something, they can mention it. (For example: the #1 mistake in rehearsals was entering or exiting from the wrong part of the stage. Almost every time, the stage manager caught it and would whisper to us "upstage left" or "oops - she's supposed to exit downstage.")

As a stage manager, they have the authority to ask the other students to be quiet, to move to a new spot on stage and to take attendance at the beginning of rehearsals. They are also in charge of following the script and calling out lines if an actor forgets a line, or reading the lines if someone is absent. Stage Managers come to every rehearsal.

ASMs are in charge of moving the set pieces around on stage. They are the only students allowed to touch the set pieces, so it's a huge job that must be filled by reliable students. Tech Transition Night is mostly for ASMs - we assign each set piece/prop to an ASM, and they practice moving from one scene to another over and over!

The Light Operator sits in the "pit" with the directors & Stage Manager and runs the lights. In our shows, we have a simple up-down toggle that controls the lights over the chorus. They follow along their script and write in exactly when they are to have lights up and down.

The Sound Operator also sits in the "pit," directly beside the director. In our experience this year, the adult director (drama teacher) is in charge of the sound board, but the Sound Operator follows along in their script, which is marked with sound cues, and helps with each mic change. They also listen for anything unusual, like a mic that has not been muted (but should!) or if a mic isn't loud enough, etc.

I'll talk about wardrobe & makeup in the next part of the series, when we discuss the Costume Parade. They are the only members of the tech crew who don't have to attend the Tech Transition Night, unless there is a complicated costume change that they need to practice.


We had 2 tech rehearsals (one for each cast) that served as last minute runs for each cast, plus a chance to try out our tech equipment without costumes or makeup. This is supposed to be a full run with mics/sound/lights, with the flexibility to stop and rehearse scenes as needed. All students attend the Tech Rehearsals so that we can see what the show looks and sounds like with all cast, crew & chorus!

One thing that I came to learn is that the unexpected will happen at a tech rehearsal!

During our first series of tech rehearsals (with 5th graders), we didn't have any tech equipment! They morphed into extra blocking rehearsals, and we did sectionals with the chorus.

During our 4th grade tech rehearsals, half of our tech equipment arrived an hour into our first rehearsal and the rest was MIA! Due to things beyond our control, our first cast didn't get to practice with their mics/sound/lights until their first dress rehearsal.

For Blocking & Tech Rehearsals, our students stayed after school. They sat in the back of the gym eating their nut-free snack (brought from home) and took bathroom breaks while the drama teacher and I finished our car rider duty. During this time, our wonderful Americorps worker sat with them and managed bathroom breaks and kept shenanigans to a minimum.

After this, they got a 5-10 minute break in which the ASMs set the stage for the first scene, the students got pencils and scripts, threw away their snack trash and got mentally prepped for rehearsal. Because blocking and tech rehearsals are the shortest of our rehearsals, we did minimum warm-ups, and then jumped into the action.


Dress Rehearsals are a monster of their own! These 4 (2 for each cast) rehearsals were held at the same time as the shows, with the call times & agendas the same as the actual show. For our purposes, we had students arrive an hour and a half before show time.

The student have the first 45 minutes to get into costume & get in line for makeup. It takes almost this entire time, depending on the amount and complexity of makeup.

After getting into wardrobe & makeup, character roles had to report to Mic Check at the front of the stage. Most character roles in our show got wireless mics taped to their faces. Mic Check can get complicated if you have multiple wireless mics - and we had 16!

Side note: The best thing we did was have a trusted "tech guy" come to set up our tech equipment & teach us how to troubleshoot it. Our fabulous volunteer not only set up 16 receivers, taped the mic packs with corresponding numbers and labeled the mic cords - he came back when we were having issues & taught us how to sync different channels when we started having 2 mics come through on one channel! Whew!

It was a beast of a job and, looking back, I will have to think about having someone run our sound for us for the next show!

After Mic Check, all students reported to backstage for warm-up. This helped us to mimic the timeline of a show night, because all students had to be backstage (in our cafeteria, which backs up to the stage) when we open the house to parents 30 minutes prior to the show.

Warm-up gave us a change to get some wiggles out, bond as a team, and of course mentally and vocally prepare for our show!

At "show time" we begin a full run of the show with no stops (ideally). This is very telling of how the show will actually go, and the first time we get a chance to see what it looks like put together.

The directors take notes (with help of the stage manager) during rehearsal and we have a short notes meeting at the end of rehearsal. Everyone should have their script on hand so they can make notes of the things that need fixin'. :-)

After our Notes Meeting we begin a timer - no one leaves until the stage, boys & girls dressing rooms, and both bathrooms are clean & all clothes are hung up correctly. Theoretically, the timer makes the kids move faster & try to beat their time from the night before. When each room is "all clear" then we allow the kids to leave.

Our first dress rehearsal usually takes the longest to clean up before they realize that they need to move faster. Mwahaha. It also depends on how organized the kids are - typically the older 5th graders move faster because they've done it before.

3 Things I've Learned: 

1. Have a plan, stick to the plan, but be flexible for things beyond your control. Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance!

2. Have reliable parents backstage to help things flow! Can I say that again? Have reliable parents backstage to help things flow! We had some FANTASTIC parents helping with our last show. Their kids were both in the tech crew, so it wasn't imperative for them to be front of the house every show. They each took a turn "going" to the show, sitting in the audience, and it was so much fun to have them building relationships with the kids through rehearsals and shows.

3. Hold the kids accountable to a high standard of performance - and they will achieve it! You have to practice like you're going to perform. Young kids especially cannot practice one way and perform a different way. Whatever you do in practice is what you will do in performance.

Stay tuned for Musical Prep #3 - Tech Day!