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Ideas & suggestions for producing a creative, fun school play
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This page (Page #2) has creative ideas for directing a fun, successful play or musical.  Check out these examples used in ArtReach popular titles: Winnie-the-Pooh, Peter Pan, Christmas Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Christmas Cinderella, Wizard of Oz, A Thousand Cranes.  Don’t forget, a Teachers Guide will come with your School Play Package and contain many other ideas and inspirations!

STAGING NOTES for ArtReach's 'Winnie-the-Pooh'
Cuttings from Teachers Guide: Performance Guide

This play has been written especially for you and your students. It is a shortened simplified version of the famous classic so that kids can concentrate on the fun part – creation and performance. If you have the time and resources to build elaborate sets and costumes, please don’t hesitate to do so! But always remember that the play may be performed without traditional scenery. Pantomime and imagination can help simplify set, props and costumes. Here are some suggestions for a fun, stress-free production.  (See more in Teachers Guide)

"The Storytellers are the most important roles in the play."
Winnie-the-Pooh Play Sript Directing tips for Winnie-the-Pooh Kids love performing in Winnie the Pooh
Lakeview Public Schools Drama Department, Cottonwood MN

Open Staging Concept:  Winnie-the-Pooh is particularly suited for what we call “open concept”. Audience should be seated on the same level as the “playing area” and seated in three-quarters round in a horseshoe shape.  (See more in Teachers Guide)

Storytellers: You may get a few groans when you cast some of your most talented actors in the roles of Storytellers, but in fact these are the most important roles in the play. This group needs to establish a real sense of ensemble and a spirit of cooperation. They need to find a rhythm that comes easily to them as a group. The old standby creative dramatic exercises such as Trust Fall, Making a Machine or the Mirror exercise will help them establish a sense of working together. Also, give them time before and during rehearsals to just hang out and become friends. 

Winnie-the-Pooh and Forest Friends
Storytellers are Rabbit's Friends and Relations and have important roles in the play.

Creative Opportunities for Storytellers: Storytellers are tasked with making the Balloon, Rabbit Hole and the Very Deep Pit using only their arms and bodies. This can be a challenge and it can also be the most fun of all. Send the Storytellers who will perform these things over to a corner to work it out when you are rehearsing these parts and see what they come up with. You can refine their ideas so that the physical representation is understandable to the audience.

"This play has been written especially for you and your students."
ArtReach's play "Winnie-the-Pooh" Winnie-the-Pooh play for kids to perform
ArtReach's Winnie-the-Pooh - Smithfield Little Theatre, Smithfield VA

Scenery Suggestions: This script suggests a very minimal approach to storytelling. When the audience enters, they should see only the furniture and props that will soon come to life as the Storytellers present the tale. So, you will need some stools of various heights, a ladder, some cubes or benches that can be easily moved, and a hat rack and/or a prop box.  The backdrop will be the wonderful map of the "100 Aker Wood" that appears in the front pages of Milne's book.   (See diagram in Teachers Guide)

You can either put the map up during the performance as the script suggests or have it hung already (just have the characters refer to it). You will need an easel and the signs that introduce the stories (if the signs are too much to do, you may have a Storyteller simply say the name of the story). The script suggests some small free-standing flats with pictures of the setting (such as Rabbit's House). These can be fun and help with clarification but are not absolutely necessary.

Cast the Shy Kids First
ArtReach’s School Plays Let Your Kids Blossom

Theatre is a fantastic way to draw kids out of their shells.  The written lines give shy kids something to say without having to worry about the difficulty of conversation.  Without too much effort they are suddenly engaged with others – speaking, emoting and having fun with new friends!   Almost every one of ArtReach’s School Plays has roles that require lots of movement and very few or no lines.  Kids who have trouble memorizing facts in class will love being free to perform without having to remember anything but the action of their scene!

"A wonderful moment on stage that child will never forget!"
Children's Play - Peter Pan Great Parts for Young Kids!  Peter Pan!
Welsh Hills, Granville OH  Peter Pan - Multiple Peter Pans help each out!  Peter’s Shadow, Tinker Bell

In Peter Pan, each pirate has a name and personality.  The part of Smee is less famous than Captain Hook but it’s a great part!  Smee has a hilarious scene with Tiger Lily that will draw belly laughs from the audience.  This will be a wonderful moment on stage that child will never forget!  Very shy students or kids with learning disabilities will blossom in roles written just for them. 

"Bring out the hidden talents in every child in your cast."
Captain Hook!  In Peter Pan play Peter Pan Play for Kids to Perform Young Audiences love Peter Pan
Kirkham Grammar School, Lancashire UK - Lighthouse Drama Players, Appomattox VA

Tinker Bell, Peter’s Shadow and, of course, the Crocodile have tremendous fun on stage without the burden of memorization.  And take advantage of the multi-casting option for the large roles.  When five kids play Peter Pan they will likely become a band of brothers and help each other along throughout the entire process!

When choosing a play for your class or group, instead of thinking who will be “best” in a given role, think of who will get the most out of the experience.  Open up your mind to casting decisions that will bring out the hidden talents in every child in your cast.  You’ll be surprised how often the least obvious choice is the very best one!

Oak Ridge students give 'Wizard of Oz' a Christmas spin
Definitely not in Kansas anymore

News and Record:  Greensboro, NC

Christmas version of "The Wizard of Oz"?

More than 1,600 people saw Dorothy and Toto trying to get back home from the North Pole before Christmas, snowmen rather than a scarecrow, elves rather than munchkins and an overpriced stuffed lion at the Oak Ridge Elementary school's PTA "A Christmas Wizard of Oz" Dec. 10 and 13.

"We are so blessed to have the arts represented here at Oak Ridge," said Mari Snipes, a third-grade teacher. "Our 'little theater group' has made a direct difference in the children I teach. They are excited to learn about theater and be involved in the creative side of education."

"They are excited to learn about the creative side of education."
Christmas in Christmas Land. The Stuffed Lion in Christmas play. Snowman instead of Scarecrow for Christmas
Oak Ridge Elementary School's PTA "A Christmas Wizard of Oz"

The play was dedicated to retiring Principal Ann Kraft.

"In my 10 years as principal, I have never seen the gym filled with as many people," Kraft said. "Each year, these parents and kids outdo the previous year." Kraft was presented with a poster of pictures with her posing with the actors, signed by the full cast.

This is the third year the Oak Ridge Elementary PTA drama club has produced plays with first- through fifth-grade actors.

"It is hard to believe, but these productions get better and better every year," said Debbie Gsell , a fourth-grade teacher. "I loved, loved, loved 'A Christmas Wizard of Oz,' and my only regret is I did not get to see it twice."

"I loved, loved, loved A Christmas Wizard of Oz."
"I'm melting!" Christmas musical for kids
Oak Ridge Elementary School's PTA "A Christmas Wizard of Oz"

Led by Maria Keating, drama director, along with assistant Tracy Bolejack and almost 50 parent volunteers, this year's production was over the top by any measure.

The club is self-funded and all volunteers.

"We had 40 actors and 72 chorus members," Keating said. "That is a bit less than 20 percent of the student population at Oak Ridge Elementary."

"I'm so impressed - even more knowing that some of the quietest and most shy students have turned out to be some of the best actors in the show," Gsell said. "I am so glad our students have this opportunity."

Keating said that each year, the drama club adds something new. This year it was the chorus, so every child who tried out was offered an acting or choral role.

Missy Malone and Ronnie Lycan-Coggin led the chorus with four other parents. "A Christmas Wizard of Oz" was the most visual and musical of plays yet.

"We had 40 actors and 72 chorus members."
Santa makes an appearance. A Christms Wizard of Oz
Oak Ridge Elementary School's PTA "A Christmas Wizard of Oz"

The set included a handmade life-size gingerbread house, 9-foot scenes from Elvin Land and the witches' castle and a 9-by-7-foot green door to Oz.

The set crew was led by a parent team of Preneet Nag, Jennifer Holmes, Mary Miller and David Bolling.

The parents who started the drama club at Oak Ridge Elementary are starting one at Northwest Middle School in the spring through the PTSA. Auditions are in January, and no experience is required.

Take a Tip From Andre
The Possibilities for Alice in Wonderland are Endless

 If you’ve ever seen the movie “My Dinner with Andre” you know that Alice in Wonderland has a rich theatrical history.  In that movie, Andre Gregory describes his experimental approach to theatre and talks about The Manhattan Theatre Project’s production of Alice in Wonderland.  Andre’s much ballyhooed production in the 60s gave the children’s story a twist for grownups, proving that theatrical possibilities are limitless. 

t’s always fun to dress up like a character in your favorite movie which is why most schools use designs they’ve seen on the screen.  But a little bit of imagination can really get kids excited about making their School Play something unique and special.  If you are directing ArtReach’s Alice in Wonderland, you might want to mix it up by asking kids for their own ideas.  Discuss and look at pictures of the traditional designs and then ask them how they might do it differently.  Here’s a unique production of ArtReach’s medium cast version of Alice in Wonderland by Trafalgar Middle School in Montreal:

"Theatrical possibilities are limitless!"
Medium Cast Play - Alice in Wonderland Medium Cast Play - Alice in Wonderland Children's Play -- Alice in Wonderland
Trafalgar Middle School, Montreal - ArtReach's Alice in Wonderland

It makes us smile to see these pictures because the ideas here are decidedly French!  And here’s a picture from ArtReach’s original professional production of Alice in Wonderland. 

Let your imagination soar and don’t be afraid to open your mind to new ideas.  When you break with the designs that you have already seen in a movie, you make your production extra special.  

"Let your imagination soar and open your mind to new ideas."
Directing Tips for Alice in Wonderland Alice in Wonderland Kids perform
ArtReach's Alice in Wonderland - Lighthouse Drama Players, Appomattox VA

Alice is in Wonderland after all, and anything can happen there!

Using Pop Culture to Kick It Up a Notch
Jazz it Up for a Cool Show

We like to think of ArtReach’s School Plays as a solid, well-structured place to hang your own ideas.  Although we embellish familiar stories with tons of humor and participation, we seldom stray too far from the original story as you and your kids know it.  You won’t go wrong if you stick to the script.  We know some of your performers may be very young.  They have experienced the magic of the fairy tale quite recently and may still be captivated by the wonderment of a glass slipper or true love’s kiss.  For them it may be best to present the tale in the time and place that seems the truest to the story.

"If you would prefer to jazz it up go right ahead."
Dwarfs in Snow White play for kids
ArtReach's Snow White - Palace Theatre, Manchester NH

However, if you think your kids would prefer to jazz it up go right ahead.  Add rock songs, write rhyming raps, dress everyone like the stars of Glee!  If you have a teacher or student who is a great composer, by all means enlist their talents!  We all know the Wizard of Oz spin-offs of The Wiz and Wicked.  Go ahead and use ArtReach’s script as the first step toward your own Rock Musical!  Here are some cool Dwarfs from Snow White (Gellett Elementary School, Sarasota, FL) and Cinderella’s Step Sisters from A Christmas Cinderella (Theatre Works, LLC of Stewartstown, PA):

"Liberating and inspiring?  Now that’s what we like to hear!"

ArtReach's Snow White & A Christmas Cinderella Gellett Elementary, Sarasota FL

When you purchase your School Play Package you have the rights to make any changes and adapt the script to make it perfect for your special performance.  Terry Overfelt produced a contemporary version of ArtReach’s School Play with High school students at Rock Bridge High School (MO).  She had this to say:

"Peter Pan was wonderful!  WE HAD SO MUCH FUN!  Your giving us permission to adapt the script was liberating and inspiring!"
Terry Overfelt, Rock Bridge High School MO

Liberating and inspiring?  Now that’s what we like to hear!

Adapting the Script for Your Kids
Adapting the ArtReach Script for a Large Cast of Students

Oh, no!  Everyone Wants to Be in the Play!

We hear it everyday:  "Last year we had 20 kids in the cast and this year 50 kids showed up wanting to try out!”  First of all congratulations – last year’s show was such a hit everyone wants in on the act!

 But, what do you do?  Should you hold auditions and give the parts to the best actors, the ones that show real talent?  Or should you pack the stage with every child that wants to be there?  Here’s a picture and quote from one of or ArtReach fans:

"If you want to involve every child you can easily do it!"
You may add as many parts as you like! - The Wizard of Oz!
ArtReach's Wizard of Oz, Columbia Children's Theatre, MD

"Don't know if it's a record or not... but Columbia Children's Theatre is presenting ArtReach’s The Wizard of Oz with 156 children!"
Jerry Stevenson, Columbia Children's Theatre, SC

Check out lots of large cast ideas here:  ArtReach’s Wizard of Oz.

When you purchase ArtReach’s School Play Package you have the rights to make any changes to the script in order to make it a perfect fit for your kids.  If you want to involve every child you can easily do it!  Each script gives you suggestions for adding more parts.  Think herds of Munchkins, Lost Boys, Mermaids, Pirates, Mice – you get the idea.

But don’t forget that each School Play has been carefully crafted to give each cast member his or her own special moment in the spotlight.  So we suggest you give each new added character a name and a bit of action and/or at least one line.  This doesn’t have to be much, mind you.  Just one second in the spotlight. 

"Use your imagination noodle and create something unique."
The Good Witch and the Bad Witch Kids have Fun Performing with ArtReach Plays Large Cast Play for Kids Wizard of Oz
Drama Kids Temecula Valley & Menifee, CA

Use your imagination noodle and create something unique.  For instance, in A Snow White Christmas you might have added characters actually become the snow and dance, as the Snowflakes sing.  The naughty Boys & Girls in the Land of Toys in Pinocchio might have a moment of mischief, playing a game of catch and annoying Pinocchio with their ball.  The added Mice in Cinderella may play a quick and funny game of hide and seek with Cinderella.  You get the point – don’t just add characters that stand around – add something unique and fun to the story, making sure everyone in the cast feels that they are fully a part of their School’s special performance.

Have you thought of a unique way to add characters to ArtReach’s School Plays?  By all means, let us know and we’ll pass your ideas along!

How to Read A Play
From Drama for Reading and Performance, Perfection Learning Collection One

Photos of Roach Middle School Production of A Thousand Cranes, Frisco, TX

Reading a play is different from reading other kinds of literature because a play is different from other kinds of literature. Short stories, poems, novels, and so on are all complete on the printed page. But a printed play-also called a script-is not complete. It becomes complete when it is performed by actors for an audience. The play is what happens on the stage or screen. Because of this, you-as reader-must bring a little more of yourself to reading a play. Of course you will bring your imagination, as you do to reading short stories and novels. And you will also make an effort to visualize the characters and actions, and to imagine their thoughts and emotions. What else can you do to help make your reading more complete and satisfying? Here are some tips.

Read the stage directions. (They are often in parentheses and printed in italic type, like this.) Stage directions are not meant for an audience; they are messages from the playwright to the people who stage the play. They may tell the actors when and where to move, what emotions to express, what props (handheld objects, such as a newspaper or a coffee cup) to pick up and what to do with them. They may tell the director where to position the actors or what the overall mood of a scene should be. They may tell the designers what the set looks like, what costumes the actors should wear, what music or sounds are heard, or what time of day the lighting should suggest. Stage directions are usually not read aloud, even when the actors rehearse a show.

"You must bring a little more of yourself to reading a play."
A Thousand Cranes for Middle Schools Middle School Performers
A Thousand Cranes, Roach Middle School, Frisco TX

Understand the stage areas. Stage directions often include abbreviations like R for right or L for left. (These mean the actors' right or left sides as they face the audience.) Other abbreviations are U for upstage or D for downstage or C for center. (Downstage means toward the audience; up and down are terms left over from the days when stages actually slanted.)

Pay attention to the characters' names. They tell who says what speeches.  Read the speeches aloud. They are, after all, meant to be heard. Read with as much feeling as you can, to get the most out of the speeches. Even if you're reading the play by yourself, you can play all the parts, changing your voice for the different characters. This will give you a better understanding of the characters, who they are and what they are doing.

Look for a subtext. This is, simply, what the characters are thinking or feeling, and it is not always the same as what they are saying. For example, a character may say, "Of course I'll take my little sister to the movie, Dad," but actually be thinking, "How can you do this to me? What will my friends think?" Theatre Conventions A convention is an accepted way of doing things. The more plays you see on stage, the better you will understand the conventions, the things that make a play a play. Here are some common conventions. Narrator Sometimes an actor will speak directly to the audience, to explain who the characters are or what is happening. Sometimes a character will speak directly to the audience and then go back to speaking to the other characters. When they do, they serve the function that a narrator serves in short stories or novels. The "Fourth Wall" In realistic plays, the actors may behave as if the audience simply isn't there. It's as if the audience is eavesdropping on the action through an invisible "fourth wall" of a room, whether the set is actually an enclosed room or not. Dramatic Time The time an action is supposed to take onstage isn't necessarily the time that same action would take in real life. For example, actors may take seven minutes to eat a meal that they would spend twenty-five minutes on in reality. Just accept what the play tells you about how much time has elapsed.

"Seeing a play performed live onstage can be a truly thrilling experience."
Kids Perform in A Thousand Cranes Middle School Performance of Sadako Play Sadako Sasaki Play for Middle School Perormers.
A Thousand Cranes, Roach Middle School, Frisco TX

Lapses of Time. If you go to the movies, you're probably familiar with the convention that several minutes or days or even years elapse from one scene to another. It's the same with plays-a curtain or change of lighting may suggest that any amount of time has passed. When you read a play, the stage directions will usually specify what is happening. The World Offstage Actors are trained to keep in mind, when they enter or exit, just where it is they're supposed to be coming from or going to. This helps them create their characters more realistically. When you're reading a play, try to imagine the lives the characters are leading when they're not onstage. This will help you understand the characters and their subtexts better, and will give you a better understanding of the play as a whole.

Sharing the Experience. Seeing a play performed live onstage can be a truly thrilling experience. As a reader, you can share some of that thrill if you read attentively, with imagination, and if you try actively to enter into the world of the characters and of the play. In this book are many different kinds of plays in different styles from playwrights all over the world. Enjoy them.

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