So proud of my niece Rachel and her cast! They all worked so hard and successfully performed four shows in the last three days! The audiences were blown away by how well the kids sang and delivered their lines and how good they looked in their ancient Greek costumes. That school had never had a School Musical before (at least, not in recent memory). Maybe this will set a precedent and they will demand more School Musicals in the future!
So what is it with Elementary School Stage designs?!?!
My niece is directing one of my shows at her children's elementary school. I went over to help her with a couple of final rehearsals and discovered yet another in a long line of stages that make no sense.
First off, let's talk about the positives. The stage actually has workable drapes -- both proscenium drapes that pull closed and black backdrops that pull shut around the perimeter at either a midpoint of the stage or further back depending on whether you need a big backstage area or not. The good news is that the backdrops are NOT sewn all together. They can leave openings where actors can move through. (However, having openings means that the backstage area is fully exposed.) There are also stage lights that seem adequate and are adjustable. And the school does have working microphones and a house sound system. (Accessing it is awkward, but it does work.)
Now, about the negatives. This stage is another one built with every entrance onto it in full view of the audience -- the front risers, a very small stairwell on SL down into the audience, and a ramp on SR leading out into a hallway with a doorway into the audience. The very long winding handicap access ramp takes up half of what could be the stage area and some large storage/mechanical rooms take up another portion of the stage making the actual stage area much deeper than it is wide. Then, there is an accordion door that closes off the stage just behind the proscenium that folds away into its own nooks on either side of the stage blocking the access for the actors to gracefully get on or off stage behind the back drops. Why?!?!!!!!!!
The P.E. coach uses the stage as storage for much of the school's large equipment such as tumbling mats, tubs of balls and bats, soccer nets, and a host of other enticing toys that kids like to play with. Backstage for this cast is rather distracting! They can hardly keep themselves from touching and playing with all of the goodies right within their grasp!
Doesn't anyone get the notion that having a deep narrow stage is problematic? The most obvious problem is that only the front row actors can be seen. Kids back on rows 3-6 have no hope of being seen by their adoring parents who diligently come out to support the production. The sound implications alone ought to be enough to never design a stage this way! Only the performers near the front will be heard unless the stage has really good acoustics for projecting and monitor speakers so that they can hear the music way in the back. (And just how many young kids do you know that can project over accompaniment music without a microphone from the back of the stage?) And how exactly do you get set pieces on and off the stage with no side access? The list goes on and on.
From comments that I have heard, this particular stage is used very rarely for any kind of theatrical production. They mostly use just the risers in the front. What a shame! No wonder the PE. coach feels that he can use the stage area as a great big storage bin!
The photo below is a cast photo of the Sego Lily Elementary production of Momotaro, a Tale of Bravery. You may notice a few things about the stage. There is a proscenium curtain and a few stage lights, but no other curtains or drapes to shield the lovely avant guard artwork of pipes and lights on the ceiling. And what you cannot know is that I had my son hang sheet drapes to provide a backdrop to hide the storage container, cubbies, P.E. mats and games, many odd boxes, a piano, and lots of other clutter that had to remain on the stage.
This stage has three options for getting performers onto it: the front risers, a side door leading out to an odd hallway on Stage Left, and a long winding ramp on Stage Right leading to the front of the stage. In other words, because all of these options for getting onto the stage are in full view of the audience, it is clear that once the actors come onto the stage, they must remain on the stage for the entire show.
When I inquired about removing some of the junk from the stage so that we would have some room to corral the kids during the show, and have room for costumes and props, I was told, "Sure, we can get some of that stuff moved for you."
And while it was true, that some of the bigger items were moved, the space was still rather tight backstage with 40 kids and all of their costumes and props.
The only comment I got from the overworked and rather put out custodian was that this was not an upscale Junior High or High School with a well appointed theater, it was just an over-crowded elementary school with every room doing double and triple duty! Well, I do understand that.
I have gone to several productions at this school and found that the sound system was dismal. So, thanks to my generous son, I was able to bring in a P.A. system to boost the success of the house system.
Sadly, due to illness, I was not able to really finish painting the sets with the detail I had envisioned. But, the show must go on...
Fortunately, the show did go on to great success. The comments from the guests and the school principal were along this order:
"This was the best performance we have ever seen at this school!"
"The kids were great and we could actually hear them!" "The dancing was so beautiful!" "Loved the story and the music!" "Everything looked so professional!"
So, in spite of all of the extra effort it took to create a workable stage, having wonderful comments at the end makes it all worth it!
My name is Betsy Bailey. I have sung, written and taught music all of my life. I enjoy writing and directing Children's Theater shows. This blog will be directed to topics on creating the magic of Children's Theater. I would love to hear your comments!