In every parent’s life, their child has a school event that requests their participation. If your child’s school decides to put on a musical or your community chooses to do so, you need to know how to produce a musical. If all that you know of musicals comes from having watched the Mel Brooks film “The Producers,” starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, and Uma Thurman, read on to learn how to actually proceed. That comedy entertains but does not provide actionable information.
In this article, we’ll go through the major steps of how to produce a musical that any involved community leader can follow to help mount a musical successfully. Although your local musical might start with a dream, you will need more than that to debut a successful show on opening night. Here’s how to proceed.
Form a Committee
No groans, please. Mounting a musical takes more than desire. It takes a core group of interested, hard-working individuals. Put together a committee of community leaders with theater knowledge and convince one person to serve as the director. Most communities have within them at least one individual who took acting or theater courses in college or who acted in high school plays.
Choose Your Musical
Once you’ve amassed a committee of five or six interested individuals, choose your musical. Although you might want to mount a lavish show, consider your community resources. Something that requires complex sets and fancy costumes may not work in your community. A musical, like “Cats,” offers simple costumes and make-up with basic sets.
Decide how many people you want to include in the musical, too. Do you want a large ensemble cast or would a small cast work better? If the latter works better in your location, then look for a musical that mostly features solos or duets and only one or two ensemble performances, like “Grease.”
Inspect Your Venue
In most towns or cities, the municipal government only owns one appropriate venue. It may not undergo frequent use, so inspect the venue before going any further. An important aspect of how to produce a musical includes theater maintenance.
Does the community own a theater building or an amphitheater? If the town only has the latter, you will need a second, backup location, that provides an option for when rain or other inclement weather causes you to need an indoor spot for the show. This may require negotiating with a local school to rent their auditorium or gymnasium.
Inspect the theater location and building. Have a local professional roofer inspect the roof. In small towns, you may not need to do much research to locate the best roofing company because it might be the only roofing company. Nevertheless, act upon the results of their findings and have any roofing problems repaired before mounting the show.
Also, have a professional mason check the building’s foundation and repair it before beginning work on the show. Similarly, you will need to hear and cool the building, which requires a fully functional HVAC system. Contact HVAC contractors in your area for an inspection and maintenance visit.
Once you’ve got the building in top shape, you can move on to the major task of casting your musical with signers and musicians. You’ll also need to cast technical positions, such as stage manager, set builder, set designer, and orchestra conductor. Since this task requires time for both acting and singing auditions for the main parts and instrumental auditions for the musicians, consider holding auditions on multiple days. For example, hold acting auditions on Monday, singing auditions on Tuesday and Wednesday, and musician auditions on Thursday and Friday.
Take copious notes at each audition because, after the auditions, you need to decide who gets which part. This can prove tough since some performers excel at singing, but act mediocrely, and vice versa. Also, consider the movement required by your musical. Will it require some individuals who can dance fabulously, such as the show, “Chicago” does?
You’ve made your tough decisions and cast your musicians, singers, dancers, and actors. Now, you set your rehearsal schedule and start learning songs and lines. The director needs to attend all rehearsals, so confer with that individual when setting the schedule.
Community musicals consist of volunteers in every position. Treat your volunteers right by providing a craft table, a term in theater and film that refers to a food buffet. For rehearsals, you only need to offer snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. Offer plenty of bottled water so your cast and crew remain hydrated.
Build Your Sets
Note that the crew shows up to rehearsals, too. That’s when they work on the sets. One of the top things to know about how to produce a musical comes from scheduling skills. You need to know how to divide space, so many groups can use it at one time without negatively impacting one another.
Hold rehearsals in practice rooms in the theater building or the lobby or balcony area, so the set designer and builders can erect the sets on the stage and have access to the above stage rafters. Once they finish their work, you can move rehearsals of lines, songs, and dances onto the stage and block the action, meaning decide where everyone stands, dances, moves, etc.
Building sets requires shopping for building materials, such as titanium pipe fittings and lumber. The musical chosen decides the sets and prop needs. Search for stored sets and props from old productions to see what you can reuse.
A musical with a cottage as a set might require a shutter install. The alleys of “Cats” require brick-looking backdrops. Shop early for your materials because, while stores like Temu offer great prices on set materials, they ship from overseas, which can take about two weeks to arrive in the U.S.
Design the Costumes
Here’s another tip on how to produce a musical – reuse old costumes. Once a show ends, the costumes typically go into storage at the theater. Digging through these trunks and hanging racks can produce some viable costumes that only need hemming or darts to make ready for use. This method saves your production a lot of money!
Also, consider altering the existing old costumes, so you can reuse the material. Doing so can provide you with the equivalent of many bolts of fabric, so you can make new costumes. Search through the rooms and offices of the theater to find scraps of fabric, lace, etc. to use on updated costumes.
When costumes use a typical item, such as blue jeans or a white or black leotard, have the cast members supply their own. Ask each cast member to bring an old, unneeded piece of costume jewelry. Send a not home with child performers, so their parents can choose the item. They can use the piece they bring in their own costume or place it with others for the costume designer to use as they see fit.
Add Audience Accessibility Features
When you think of how to produce a musical, you probably think of items like singing songs or running lines. Consider how your audience will feel attending the play. Does the theater or auditorium already provide access for all, or does it need an entry ramp for those in wheelchairs or mobility chairs to use? Have your set designers build a ramp for the entry if the building lacks one.
Theaters with a balcony may feature an elevator to access it. Hire a local company that specializes in commercial elevator repairs to inspect it and make any needed repairs before using it. Doing items like these can improve your risk rating with your insurance company, so you can lower your liability insurance premiums.
Sell Tickets to Subscribers
When you first start a theater group, you won’t have subscribers. Consider using directory apps to find interested people and to list your existence! Sometimes, you don’t have to learn how to produce a musical from scratch because you join a group that already has subscribers.
If you need help selling tickets, consider hiring a marketing or public relations professional to help create sales letters and advertising. Also, hire temporary office workers to handle stuffing the envelopes and addressing them. Use the bulk mailing options offered by the U.S. Postal Service to save money on your mailing.
Create a Security Plan
In today’s climate, every theater needs to provide security. Hire a security guard who works during rehearsals and the shows. Part of learning how to produce a musical comes from knowing the administrative details you need to take care of. Hiring security will help reduce your risk level and could lower your liability insurance premiums.
Design the Lighting
Along with sets and costumes, you need to design the show’s lighting. Before plugging in any spotlights, hire a local electrician service to inspect the wiring and breaker box. This activity in how to produce a musical also contributes to lowering your risk level, and potentially, the insurance premiums.
Your director may know of an experienced lighting designer. Otherwise, you will need to find someone in the community who knows how to handle theater lighting. Consider contacting local schools to find out who they use for lighting for school pageants and other events.
If you only have an inexperienced crew, audition people to see who can get the hang of it most quickly. Choose the individual who best learns the concepts to serve as lighting director, and the two next best individuals to serve as assistants. Running the lights typically takes more than one individual.
Hold a Dress Rehearsal
Before you open the doors, hold at least one full dress rehearsal. This rehearsal puts everyone through the paces completely, in full makeup, hair, and costumes. It offers a night of practice for lighting, blocking, music, etc. Most productions hold at least three dress rehearsals – one or two of those nights consisting of full dress rehearsals.
Have dancers rehearse in their performance shoes for at least two weeks before the dress rehearsal to help break the shoes in and to help them acclimate them to the stage. Every stage has its quirks, and in these weeks, you will discover your theater’s stage quirks. Have the set designer fix problems like a chunk of missing wood or cracks in the stage plywood using wood filler and epoxy.
Plan an Opening Night Event
Part of learning how to produce a musical comes from learning to plan the many events around the opening night and closing night. On opening night, throw a party for all those in attendance and the cast and crew. Hire a catering service to cook and serve fabulous food and an event planner and florist to create a sparkling theme for the gala.
If you consider the French food served at many of these soirées trite, consider other options, such as Korean or Mexican food distributors. Order fantastic finger foods to serve as hors d’oeuvres and have the caterer whip up at least one entre to fill your partygoers’ stomachs. Create an opening night event that makes your musical the talk of the town.
Plan the Cast Party
Here’s one last tip on how to produce a musical. Plan and execute a cast party that truly expresses just how special every cast and crew member became to the production. If everyone loved the caterer who handled the opening night gala, use them again for the cast party! Feeding your cast and crew well shows that you care about them and appreciate them.
Consider holding the cast party at the theater. This decision lets you save money on a venue and ensures everyone has viable transportation to the party. Talking about transportation, consider hiring a vehicle, such as a limo, for the night to take home individuals who drink at the party. Doing this keeps everyone safe and offers a fun perk for having participated and given their all.
Strike the Sets
After the show closes and everyone recovers from the wrap party, you need to strike the sets. That phrase means you disassemble the major pieces and store them for future use in the warehousing or storage area of the theater building along with the props and costumes. Most directors and producers make this a casual party, serving pizza, water, and sodas.
It’s a Wrap!
Anyone new to producing musicals has a lot to learn. If you’re lucky, you learn by doing a lower-level job, such as stagehand, then assistant director, then director/producer. Sometimes, you don’t get that luxury, so read this article and follow its tips.