This week I attended a semi-professional production of "Camelot" done in a tiny theater with just a handful of actors, with barely any sets, and no scenic backdrop. Obviously, there was no build up of any great expectations there. However, I knew enough by reputation of this theater group to wonder just how they would do a show that usually depends on color and pageantry to pull off this grand Lerner and Lowe Musical. Well, they did it with inspired direction, fine acting, beautiful singing, and regal costuming --- okay, and a few props. But mostly, the audience members were invited to use their imaginations. What they did with so little was impressive!
In contrast, the elementary school show I attended this week had an incredible set that was in full view of the audience when they walked in. So, already, by just walking into the gym, my expectations were set pretty high. I had done a show at that school five years earlier. So, naturally, I felt some jealousy because, for that show, the school administration wouldn't even allow the stage to be cleared of all of the junk they had stored on it. We had to figure out how to work around all that stuff, create a "backstage" with drapes we hung ourselves, and deal with not having entrances onto the stage except from the front. And we barely had any budget whatsoever.
When the show started, though, I remembered how tragic the sound and lighting situation was. The air conditioning system on the ceiling of the gym was exceptionally noisy. The stage lighting only lit up the deep stage, nothing down front of the stage. (And half of their usable set was in front of the stage!) They somehow had gotten eight lavalier mics, but only a couple actually worked at the right times.
Anyway, where the kids sang well on the songs they did together in unison, there were unfortunate sound issues on the solos. So, as an audience member with no previous knowledge of the play, I really couldn't understand the words, and so I had trouble following the plot. Also, the kids did what most untrained school kids do on stage --- they turned their backs on the audience. Most of the time, we couldn't tell who was talking or singing and we definitely couldn't read their lips.
A far better return for their investment would have been to teach the kids to "cheat" out to the audience, be aware of "Proximity, Planes, and Levels," and use proper gesturing to pull focus when giving a line or singing. Maybe they could have utilized their stationary mic better through tasteful blocking.
It is sad that the audience members usually come not really expecting much. They stoically clap and bring flowers to their child performers to give them validation for their hard work. Wouldn't it be better to give these kids some actual training so they could give a polished performance?
My understanding is that this show was mounted purely by untrained volunteers. Too bad. The school should have hired at least one professional. Clearly there is available talent in the school population! With what the people in charge did with donations and volunteering from the school community to create the set this go around, by rights they should be able to do a top notched show in the future, one that can deliver on great expectations!