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Too many students in one's theatre program?

  • 1.  Too many students in one's theatre program?

    Posted 01-15-2022 23:17

    I am in a bit of philosophical quandary and am curious about others' views.

    My theatre program has grown a LOT in part because I have chosen plays with larger casts the last few years to grow participation. Students have grown excited and brought their friends into the program, but I've painted myself into a corner now with little ability to produce plays with smaller cast sizes. My schedule and our theatre's schedule is such where we can't just add additional productions to give everyone a chance, so I feel like I'm on merry-go-round of large cast shows and can't get off without causing pain to some really talented kids.

    I don't always want to tackle plays with large cast sizes because with those plays, a lot of my more talented students don't really get to sink their teeth into significant onstage time. I was pondering doing TWELVE ANGRY JURORS this coming fall with a double cast, but I've heard horror stories about managing a double cast and am not really thinking I want to try it. So, I was thinking about running a student-directed one-act with a similar courtroom theme to act as a kind of "warm up" performance to open the main show. That would give more students a chance to participate while still having a medium size cast for the main play.

    Has anyone done something similar to this? Can anyone recommend a great 15-20 minute, courtroom-themed one-act I might consider as an opener? Other thoughts about solving the large cast-size merry-go-round?  :-)

    Thanks, all!
    Julie Hanisch

    Julie Hanisch
    English/Drama Teacher
    Mukwonago High School

  • 2.  RE: Too many students in one's theatre program?

    Posted 01-16-2022 07:56
    There's a really good version called 12 angry pigs that is royalty free for schools.  I used it as a preshow once and it was well-received.  I used it again years later as a student-directed piece.  It's 20 minutes or so with good pacing.

    Amy MacCord
    Musical Theatre Teacher
    Westwood Middle School

  • 3.  RE: Too many students in one's theatre program?

    Posted 01-16-2022 14:32
    Years ago, when my theatre program was a giant, I used student directed works throughout the year.  I was Blessed with many students staying in the program for four years just so they could direct their own stuff.  (They had to apply.)  I've also done double cast shows and they were definitely challenging, especially finding enough rehearsal time on my own calendar to fine tune each cast.  I suggest using student directed works, even if they are small pieces like one-acts or green shows or scene work or improv shows.  And think about using qualified Guest Directors.  Often times we would have two shows in rehearsal at the same time, a main stage and a children's touring show or something else.

    Kathy Siler
    Theatre Educator
    Payson High School

  • 4.  RE: Too many students in one's theatre program?

    Posted 01-17-2022 08:22

    We have found a key ingredient in double casting is structuring the rehearsal time. It is an advantage to having a "gymatorium": cast A on stage acting full out while cast 1 is in the gym going through the motions but quietly reciting lines. I've also had the doubles or understudy shadow the other just upstage. Again, the focus is giving both enough rehearsal time beyond simply watching and listening.

    I love the idea of the short pre-show piece! We produce a One-act Festival between our fall play and spring musical.  It often includes student written work (our Creative Writing Club) and student directors (seniors who have been in the program for 3 years). It is a great way for new students to try acting (lots of walk-on opportunities) and for more students to have lead roles. We keep everything simple: set, props, costumes and focus on the acting and usually rehearse 1 or 2 hours a week. 

    Peace and blessings,


  • 5.  RE: Too many students in one's theatre program?

    Posted 01-17-2022 15:11
    I am right there with you Julie!  I usually try to cast 25-35 in my fall non-musical production and it's HARD to find quality scripts to accommodate or expand.  I'd love to hear what shows you've found success doing this!  My favorites have been: Kate Hamill's Sense & Sensibility, Look Homeward Angel, Radium Girls, The Crucible, Laramie Project, A Midsummer Night's Dream, You Can't Take It With You, Twelfth Night, Museum.  I will probably start to recycle once we hit the ten year mark but I'm always on the lookout for challenging material.

    I am currently doing Twelve Angry Jurors in my advanced Production class!  Everyone in the class is cast in the show but I'm contemplating doing a unit in conjunction with this.  My thought was to have them each write a monologue based on some of The Innocence Project Cases.  Each actor would research a real person who was unfairly convicted of a crime and write a monologue based on their case.  I haven't planned all the details out but I thought they would work together nicely.  

    Good luck!

    Laura Russo
    Teacher/Director of Theatre Arts
    Chatham High School

  • 6.  RE: Too many students in one's theatre program?

    Posted 01-17-2022 15:42
    Lara Russo:

    The monologue idea based on the Innocence Project is a fantastic idea!  Please let me know how this turns out!!!

    After reading what a number of others have written in this thread, I have decided that double-casting is too much work. Therefore, as a warmup performance to go on before the main production of TWELVE ANGRY JURORS, I am contemplating choosing key short scenes from other courtroom plays and having a core company of actors (separate from those chosen for the main production) perform the scenes on the stage apron as an opener. Their job would be to research and read each play, analyze iits characters and craft the blocking and characterization of a key scene.

    Here is a page which inspired this idea: .  I think I would try to grab about four or five key scenes from titles like INHERIT THE WIND, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE NIGHT OF JANUARY 16, THE CRUCIBLE, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG, WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, THE CAINE MUTINY COURT-MARTIAL, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, ANATOMY OF A MURDER, or OEDIPUS THE KING. The tricky part is that many of those plays have more male roles than female roles, so we'll see (Isn't that always a trick when dealing with older scripts? lol).

    If I'm going to attempt this, I am also going to need to find out from publishers how the royalties work for choosing only a five minute scene for those titles not in the public domain. Yikes! I also just found this other trial/courtroom-themed link moments ago which might carry some potential for student-directed work:

    I appreciate everyone's thoughts on how to deal with the wonderful problem of having a program with lots of students in it. Keep those ideas coming!

    Julie Hanisch
    English/Drama Teacher
    Mukwonago High School

  • 7.  RE: Too many students in one's theatre program?

    Posted 01-18-2022 07:59
    The year we went into lockdown (literally the day we were supposed to perform), we had prepared a performance we called "Shakespeare Then & Now."  All the students had paired up and I had assigned a two person scene from a Shakespeare play for them to perform (We had some from  "As You Like It," "Romeo and Juliet," "Much Ado About Nothing," "Othello," and a few others).  The first half of the evening, the pairs would perform the original scene in the original language in costume, props, simple staging, etc.  Then after intermission, the pairs performed their own modern interpretations of the scenes.  For example, the scene with Beatrice and Benedick where she is telling him to kill Claudio if he loved her because Claudio wronged her cousin turned into one teen trying to convince another to block someone on all social media because the person had humiliated their friend.  Although they weren't performed, I had seen the dress rehearsals and they were phenomenal.  The kids had fun writing scenes based on/inspired by the bard's originals and they got some experience with classic theatre.

    Amy MacCord
    Musical Theatre Teacher
    Westwood Middle School

  • 8.  RE: Too many students in one's theatre program?

    Posted 01-18-2022 12:01
    A mixed blessing indeed! For a couple of years I've done 2 thematically-linked One Acts. It's double the work, but provides leadership opportunities for older cast members, who can run rehearsals with one cast while you work with another. (If you want to triple your work, you can use different venues for each play! Cool for the audience, hell for your TD!)

    Stefanie Plumley
    Performing Arts Chair

  • 9.  RE: Too many students in one's theatre program?

    Posted 01-18-2022 08:13
    I am taking a positive stand for double and alternating casts and role sharing, particularly when creating theatre with youth and particularly during theses times. Oh dear, I hope that I don't offend anyone or draw a line in the sand between those who love a double casting/alternative model and those who don't. 
    When I cast shows with youth who might have conflicts or adults who might have work-related conflicts or illnesses, I ask on the Audition Sheet, if they would be open to "role sharing." And I include "if you check yes, you REALLY are willing to accept the director's choice for the role/s for which you are selected." 
    Depending on the show and number of scheduled performances, I may double cast some, many or all roles, or sometimes if it is one of the senior's last shows. I make sure that each double or role sharer gets a substantial or equal number of performances. 
    I also may use the Swing model and assign a student to cover one or more roles. (many times it has saved having a role uncovered in a rehearsal or performance; also it helps if you have a skilled actor in a role and you cast a newbie-there's a lot of learning going on.) 

    Yes, some say it is more work. I say that with careful scheduling, many challenges can be handled, including costume sizes for doubles. During a read through with the cast, lines can be alternated with role sharers or swings. During staging/blocking the role sharers walk together; during developing rehearsals we use scene divisions or divide the script into French scenes and change casts. During tech rehearsals, both actors walk and alternate line cues. During run throughs I plan it so that each role sharer gets equal number of run throughs. 

    And sometimes devoted Theatre patrons pay to see the show more than one time to support both casts. 
    P.S. there is never a cast A and B or cast  1 or 2 demarcation. Involved students get to title the casts with some appropriate names which link to the play title itself. 

    I have presented a quick view of what I have used; I am sure there are others with other innovations, along wit some directors who say, "Never will I ever." 
    Let me know if anyone has questions. 

    Gai Laing Jones
    Past President of Educational Theatre Association (EdTA), National Board Member of Educational Theatre Foundation (ETF), CETA Executive Board-VP Membership, DTASC Advocacy Director, SAG/AFTRA Member


  • 10.  RE: Too many students in one's theatre program?

    Posted 01-19-2022 15:03
    Julie, you don't say how many shows you do a year. I strongly recommend you expand the size of your season. At one point in my career, we were producing as many as seven shows a year. Not everything has to be big, expensive and overproduced. Let students direct. Let other teachers direct. Produce student-written plays. You've got a great problem. Enjoy it while it lasts!

    Billy Houck

  • 11.  RE: Too many students in one's theatre program?

    Posted 01-19-2022 15:35
    Hi, Billy,

    Our Theatre Dept. does officially three productions a year:  a fall play, Thespian troupe winter one-acts (student-directed and some student-written), and a spring musical. The fall play and spring musical are currently both on the "large cast merry-go-round."  LOL.  Our issue is that our theatre space is also used by our choirs, orchestra, band, community theatre, assemblies, and rental groups, so everyone is fighting for the space (again, a good problem to have because that means our fine arts programs are flourishing). I am not available to work with the students during the summer for a variety of reasons, many students are in other clubs outside of our season and therefore not as easily available themselves. Plus, our tech staff are overworked (as I'm sure many are).  Because of these issues, I was trying first to find ways around them without going immediately to the expansion route. I can definitely offer other things during our weekly mid-day flex time, for example, but my hope had been to find ways of not always relegating the smaller cast shows to small-scale production standards. For example, if I wanted to do Noises Off! (and not hand that off to another instructor), that's a show which requires the full stage but has a smaller cast. So, I was hoping first to modify what we're doing versus adding more work to try to sneak in some small-cast, large production value shows.  I hope that makes sense. The more I ponder this issue, however, the more I feel I'm in a spot where I want my cake and eat it too.  :-))))))

    I appreciate the feedback!

    Julie Hanisch
    English/Drama Teacher
    Mukwonago High School

  • 12.  RE: Too many students in one's theatre program?

    Posted 01-18-2022 08:13
    I can't think of any stand alone pieces that take place in a courtroom but you could do the courtroom scene in something like the non-musical version of Les Miserables.  It has a fabulous courtroom scene that I think would be a good length for what you're looking for and uses several different characters.  I like the idea of student directed pieces.  It's such a great opportunity for the students who are more serious about theater.

    In regards to double casting - yes, it is challenging and takes extra time, but I have had to do that with almost every show for the last 15 years and it's not as bad as it seems.  I've learned a lot throughout the years on the best way to do rehearsals and have come up with a pretty good system.  When we start the blocking rehearsals, I have both casts sit down and write the blocking in their scripts all together and then have each cast run the scene twice.  Then, as we get into the later rehearsals, I still have both casts come for whatever scenes we are rehearsing so it does make the rehearsals longer, but it's actually kind of nice to have both casts there in case someone is missing from rehearsal.  In fact, there have been several times when students have gotten sick for performances and their counterpart had to step in for them.  Last week we had our performances for Mary Poppins and one of my Marys, one of my Mrs. Brills, one of my Michaels, one of my bank chairmans, and both of my Berts were sick and couldn't be there.  I've never been so thankful in all my life that I had double cast this show!!

    Arts Avenue

    Vicki Henderson
    Arts Avenue Theater and Dance

  • 13.  RE: Too many students in one's theatre program?

    Posted 01-19-2022 12:02
    I like your idea of creating opening scenes that are student led.  I think that will be great.  

    Some things that I have done over the years to respond to large membership and or turnout were to--
    • Have student directed one acts, while I would work as producer and tech director.
    • Direct one act plays in the classes during the day as well as working on after school productions. (this is a lot of work and leads to 4 to six shows per semester, but everyone gets a chance to be involved in a "production" through out the semester).
    • Create a mostly student directed or collaboratively directed evening of scenes, skits, etc-- We used to use this as a qualifier for Thespys and we would work on the scenes and skits two days a week while we worked on the one acts three days a week.
    • Ten minute play festival-- ran over three evenings, so potentially 9 to 12 ten minute plays presented over the weekend
    • Try to really parcel out technical teams and devote rehearsal time to their needs as well
    Those are just some things I've done over the years to try and allow students opportunities to participate.  I have also produced some very small shows through out the years with cast of 5 or seven, so a complete production team of perhaps 10 for that six week period.  During those shows, Thespian meetings, improv games, tech work days, service and fundraiser projects continued on and provided opportunities for students.

    Hope that helps and looking forward to hearing about your upcoming performances

    Michael Johnson
    Trinity High School