FREE RESOURCES: Directing Tips [ Page 5 ]
Ideas & suggestions for producing a creative, fun school play
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This page (Page #5) has creative ideas for directing a fun, successful play or musical.  Check out these examples used in ArtReach popular titles: Treasure Island, A Christmas Wizard of Oz, Sleepy Hollow, The Reluctant Dragon, The Velveteen Rabbit, Glossary of Theatre Terms.  Don’t forget, a Teachers Guide will come with your School Play Package and contain many other ideas and inspirations!

Kids are Your Best Source of Creative Ideas
Stumped for ideas?  Ask your kids, it’s not cheating

Let your students help with ideas for set, costumes and even blocking!

Sometimes during after-school rehearsals your head goes – uh, duh&ldots;  Your lead character looks at you for direction and your ideas just aren’t there.  Why not ask the kids to help you out?  When you hit a low tide in the artistic flow, look around!   You have lots of imaginative minds just waiting for a chance to share!  Ask for their ideas!

Teachers often call me and want to know if the School Play Package includes lots of costume ideas.  I always answer, yes, of course!  But I always add that the kids who are actually playing the roles are your best source of ideas.

Kids are Your Best Source of Creative Ideas!
Garden Island School, Hawaii, Peggy Ellenburg Director

As soon as the students have had a chance to read the script and their parts, take a few moments to speak to each child and coax out whatever visual mental images they may have of their character.  Often they will think of things that are around their house like hats in a closet or keepsakes in the attic or garage.  Ask them to describe what they are thinking of and have them simply ask a parent if they can wear it during the show.  Ask also if the object can be embellished with sparkly art supplies to jazz it up for the stage.  This makes your life so much easier and it gives kids a chance to do more than just perform.  After all, costume design is a creative part of the process. 

Why just assign this fun, artistic adventure to their parents or volunteers to sew on a sewing machine?  Let the kids create their characters in every way and they will feel much more invested in their performance.  Active participation in every artistic decision will give your kids a deeper experience and yield a more expressive performance.

Letting kids decide takes the pressure off of you and makes your job a joy!

ArtReach's "A Christmas Wizard of Oz" is easy to produce!
Here are some practical suggestions for Holiday set and costumes.

Check out these ideas for a stress free production of "A Christmas Wizard of Oz":

Set Pieces:  Instead of a backdrop, consider building or using small pieces that stand alone, such as trees or doors that can be used in more than one scene.   A Christmas tree is all you need to set the story in Kansas at Christmas time. For the Snowman scene you might bring on just a section of picket fence which easily sets the scene in an outdoor field.   For the toys in Oz the PERFORMERS may become toys themselves or they could hold their favorite toys or stuffed animals brought from home.

Practical tips for a successful Holiday play.
A Christmas Wizard of Oz Musical for Kids! Great Holiday script for kids!
A Christmas Wizard of Oz - Shawnee Playhouse, Shawnee On Hudson PA

You will probably need some furniture pieces in the playing area.  You may use ordinary chairs and stools (anything that you have available) to create "levels and scenes."  

If you have the resources, a backless bench and sturdy wooden boxes can be built and painted fancifully to complement your costumes and other set pieces.  If you can't build pieces, be innovative - large plastic flower pots make great stools, students can bring colorful toys from home, etc.   Have the students move these as needed (ie, a bench can be used to elevate important characters above the others). 

The pieces can moved around the area by CHORUS members or even by the characters themselves.  Often, just moving one piece to another area of the playing area is enough to signal to the audience that there is a change of scene.

If you do decide to use backdrops I think its best to show a general outside scene such as a landscape of blue sky and hills of snow, perhaps dotted with Christmas trees.  This will serve just fine the whole play.

"Raid the music room!  Gather percussion instruments!"
A Christmas Wizard of script for kids!
A Christmas Wizard of Oz - Shawnee Playhouse, Shawnee On Hudson PA

Performance Space:  If the play is to take place in a classroom, move all the desks to the back of the room.  If this does not allow sufficient space for the performance, push them against three sides and let the center of the room be part of the playing area (with the audience, if any, seated around).   For a bigger audience, a larger room would be appropriate.  The gym or cafeteria will probably give you more space than needed.  In that case use just half of the room and arrange audience chairs in a horseshoe shape around the playing area.

Percussion Instruments:  Raid the music room!  Gather as many simple percussion instruments as you can find (chimes, xylophones kazoos, whistles, rhythm sticks, jingle bells, etc.)  Create a "percussion stand" by arranging the instruments on a table or a narrow ledge.  Some instruments will need to be held up to be played (triangle, chimes, gong).  The music room might have a stand for these instruments.  If not, you could build a simple one (think "large cardboard box") or simply have the children hold those up when they are played.

CHORUS members (usually identified by different colors) could be seated around the percussion stand.  They can act as narrators and orchestra in the tradition of a Greek Chorus. (Occasionally, CHORUS members are given short on-stage tasks to do.)  Your percussion stand can be placed in the corner of the playing area.

Costumes:  There is a Japanese theatrical tradition of dressing actors all in black and using masks or costume pieces to indicate character.  What a great idea!  Have your young performers wear all black or dark blue - or dark purple, green, have them choose!  They then add costume pieces such as hats, crowns and capes to identify their characters. 

Keep it simple.  Remember it's more important (and more fun!) for your students to convey their character's personality through acting rather than costume.  CHORUS members can wear different color tee-shirts to match their color-name or they can bring a piece of clothing from home (ball cap, scarf, a towel used as a cape) that is their color.

"Keep it simple."
Christmas Musicals for Schools Fund play for schools to perform for Christmas
A Christmas Wizard of Oz - Shawnee Playhouse, Shawnee On Hudson PA

Many schools and theatres replicate the costumes seen in the famous movie.  But the book existed before the movie and it might be fun to re-imagine some of the characters and how they might look.  Here are some suggestions for the Christmas version:

CHORUS:  They may all wear wool scarves and various kinds of hats that suggest their particular color.  It can be really fun to let them create an entire character for their color and I've seen some wonderful examples that include face painting, wigs and anything to be found Grandma's closet.  It can also be fun if they imitate well-known school characters like the principal or the coach by wearing telltale glasses, beards, wigs.

DOROTHY:  She can wear the traditional blue dress but remember it's cold, so give her a cute jacket, a fuzzy hat or any warm piece that indicates winter.

TOTO:  I think Toto is funniest with the slightest indication he's a dog, like little ears on a ball cap or a tail Velcroed around his waist.  But I've seen wonderful flights of fancy such as and entire dog suit with a dog head as part of the hood that sits atop the actor's head.  He can use a little red tie or bauble for Christmas.

GLINDA:  She can be dressed as a female Santa with red velvet cape and hood with white fur trim.  It is important that look very Christmasy since she's the first character that appears in this unexpected Christmas Oz.

ELFINS:  The easy way to go is to use elf ears that you can buy around Christmas.  The actors can decide what other Elfin features they'd like for their characters.

SNOWMAN:  The traditional classic Snowman is always appropriate but be careful not to bog him down in a lot heavy stuff.  He has a lot of work to do in this play.   One student wore a kind of fleece jump suit and painted his face with glitter and spiked and sprayed his hair with snow flocking.

TREES:  You can go with the actors holding just the branches with ornaments on them which clearly indicates that they are trees.   They may have garlands of pine or Christmas garlands around their necks.  Someone can drape Christmas lights over the branches just before they walk on.  Also, the kids can make their own tree costumes out of construction paper which works because they don't have to move around too much.

TIN SOLDIER:  Look at pictures of toy soldiers in books or on the Internet and choose which one the actor would like most.  Again, be careful that he can move easily.

STUFFED LION:  He can look like the traditional Cowardly Lion, but don't forget the price tag!

MR. JINGLES:  He's one of Santa's helpers so he can have an elaborate elf costume, with lots of jingle bells and keys sewed onto his clothes.

FLYING REINDEER:  Antlers are everywhere at Christmas.  They can also wear bracelets and anklets of jingle bells.

GROUCHY GRUMBLE:  She can be the traditional Witch or you can go for something more Grinchy for Christmas.  And don't forget, she doesn't have to be female.  "She" could have a pot belly and a bald head -- anything that says "grouchy" will work.

AUNTIE EM & UNCLE HENRY:  They can look like the traditional farmers but remember to give them hats and coats.

ArtReach Halloween Plays are for Kids
How to Minimize the Scary and Maximize the Fun

If you are of a certain age you may remember the first time you saw the movie, The Exorcist.  That movie and Hitchcock’s Psycho scared the bee-jeebies out of me when I was a preteen.  I remember how hard it was to turn out the lights at night for fear of demons and crazies in the shadowy corners.

Spine-Tingling Halloween Spookiness!
Large Cast Halloween Play for Kids to Perform - The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Edgar Allan Poe Play for Kids! - Poe! Poe! Poe! Frankenstein play for kids to perform!
Halloween Plays:  Sleepy Hollow - Poe! Poe! Poe! - Kid Frankenstein

We all mature at a different pace.  For me, it was quite a while before I could watch a scary movie and realize it was just make believe, therefore not actually something to be afraid of.  So it’s tricky when producing Halloween plays for kids.  Just how scary should it be?

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow takes its cue from Washington Irving’s original work.  Give that story a close reading and you will see that Irving meant the whole thing to be hilarious, not terrifying.  The comedy comes from Ichabod’s fear of ghosts and never tries to frighten the reader.  In ArtReach’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow your young audience will scream at the first sight of the Headless Horseman and then laugh their heads off at Ichabod’s reaction.

We offer the life of Edgar Allan Poe in the play Poe! Poe! Poe!  Since it is offered as reader’s theatre, this play emphasizes the literature and life of this great American writer.   Though stories such as the Masque of the Red Death are dark, quite dark, the audience is left with an appreciation of the writing, not the scariness of the story.

In our newest Halloween play, Kid Frankenstein, Frankie and Irving are science nerds who have an unusual idea for the upcoming Science Fair.  When Doctor Frankenstein's ancient secret book arrives from Transylvania, the friends are whisked into a sci-fi fantasy of time-warped, weirdly scary and lively adventure.

However the kids feel about scary movies these days, ArtReach’s Halloween plays are perfect choices for young audiences.

How to Dress Your Dragon
Creative tips on how to make a fun dragon costume.

There are many dragons in our culture.  You can find them in hundreds of medieval paintings that depict the age-old myth of ‘St. George and the Dragon’.  You can find them in old and new children’s books.  You can even find them on the Disney Channel and in the movies!

Here are some excitingly clever costumes that recently graced the stages of The Rose Children’s Theatre in Eugene, OR, and Bremerton Community Theatre Jr. in Washington State!

 Train your dragon in three easy steps!
The Reluctant Dragon Play for Kids! The Reluctant Dragon Costume Train your dragon in three easy steps! Dragon Costume
Dragons in ArtReach's The Reluctant Dragon

It’s a great idea to leave the actor’s face open to the audience.  Seeing both faces, the audience will quickly meld the two giving you the best of both worlds: A dragon face and the human expressions of your young performer.  Also, don’t forget your poor sweating performer – make the costume as comfortable as possible.

Don’t let dressing your dragon scare you away from presenting this lovable beast on your stage!  You will be surprised how effective a simple headpiece and tail can be.  Here are some examples of simple costumes that will serve beautifully for comic and informal performances:

 Never forget to talk to your actor when making costume decisions.
Dragon costume idea Kids Dragon costume  Performance of The Reluctant Dragon
A little work can go a long way for clever performers! 

Never forget to talk to your actor when making costume decisions.  You’ll be surprised how many ideas they already have in their eager, creative heads!  They may actually know of something at home that they can fashion into a costume.  That makes it clever, easy and wonderful fun for your young cast!

How to Create Amazing Costumes Kids Love to Wear
Let your all-kids cast do the creative work for you

We love all the great costume ideas we’ve seen lately, especially for our new Christmas Musical, THE VELVETEEN RABBIT.  Check out Robbie Robot on below on the right.

"Fun Toy Costumes for Kids Christmas Musical."
Christmas Musical for Kids to Perform The Velveteen Rabbit and his Nursery Friends!
Costumes in ArtReach's Musical The Velveteen Rabbit  -The Innovation Arts, Lexington KY - PACE School NYC

You can make your directing job a lot easier by asking kids to participate in the creativon of their own costumes!  Tell your young thespians to think about how their character acts, talks and walks.  Then have them go home and look around for household objects that might be used in bringing their character to life! You’d be surprised how their imaginations are always turned on – a great resource for you to tap!

"Look around for household objects."
Kids Costumes
Kids Make Imaginative Costumes

Get inspired by robot costumes by Élena Nazzaro of French Toast Girl!

Glossary of Theatre Terms
Theatre Stuff for Directors!

Aesthetics: The branch of philosophy that deals with theories of art and beauty.

Arena: Stage in which the audience sits on all four sides (theatre in the round).

Audience: One or more persons who observe actors in a scene or play in a classroom or a theatre. In theatre education, audience is sometimes loosely used to mean the reflective performer as well as classmates, other students, faulty, or the public.

Black Box: Adaptable playing space.

Blocking: Stage movement including sitting, standing, entering, exiting, and crossing.

Character: A person, animal, or entity in a story, scene, or play with specific distinguishing physical, mental, and attitudinal attributes.

Character Analysis: The exploration of internal and external traits, including character histories, based upon given imaginary circumstances.

Characterization: The process of exploring the physical, social, and psychological aspects of a role in order to create a believable character.

Choreography: Planned movement/dance in a play or musical.

Conflict: The opposition of persons or forces that gives rise to the dramatic action.

Costume: An actor's stage clothing.

Costumes: Fancy or plain, it's your choice!
Large Cast Play - The Princess and the Pea Costumes for Plays Costumes for Easy Play for Kids
Examples of Professional and Easy Costumes - ArtReach's Princess and the Pea & I Think I Can

Costume Plot: The organizational layout of costumes required for a play.

Cross: An actor's movement from one part of the stage to another.

Cue: A signal from the stage manager to actor, stage crew, props manager, or lighting technician that some predetermined action, such as an entrance, sound effects, scenery change, or lighting change, is required. Also used by actors to mean the line immediately before their own.

Curtain Call: An opportunity for the actors to acknowledge the audience.

Curtain Speech: Opening announcements that inform the audience of pertinent information such as safety protocol and audience etiquette.

Dialogue: Words spoken by the characters in a play to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Directing: The process of guidance, both external and internal, incorporating the development of leadership skills; the unification of a production from its basic interpretation through all the acting and technical phases up to the time of performance.

Drama: Literature written in dialog form and intended for the theatre. Although plays can be read for enjoyment and instruction, they come most alive when acted on stage. The term drama also refers to any serious, as opposed to humorous, play.

Dramatic Activities: Such activities as pantomime, creative movement, improvisation, creative drama, storytelling, choral speaking, story dramatization, theme oriented drama, story theatre, readers' theatre, role playing, theatre games, and puppetry.

Elements of Drama: Six major elements of drama according to Aristotle: plot, character, theme, dialogue, music, and spectacle.

Emotional Recall (Memory): Emotional perceptions elicited from past experiences which can be used in understanding, portraying, and reflecting on the human condition and human behavior.

Ensemble: The dynamic interaction and harmonious blending of the efforts of the many artists involved in a dramatic activity or theatrical production.

Ensemble:  Everyone works together!
Team work plays for kids
ArtReach's Blue Horses, LAMB Caravan, Sioux City, IA

Flexible Staging: Any space in which a play can be performed other than a theatre (i.e. gymnasium, cafetorium, outdoors).

Focus: The concept of guiding the attention of the players and audience to a particular place or person at a given moment.

Improvisation: A spontaneous scene or episode created by an actor or actors without a script.

Lighting: The illumination of the stage by means of artificial light.

Lighting Plot: A diagram of the location of lighting instruments and their areas of focus.

Makeup: Cosmetics used to change the appearance of the face and other exposed surfaces on the body in order to emphasize characteristics appropriate to a role.

Monologue: A speech within a play delivered by a single actor alone on stage.

Motivation: The actor's justification for doing or saying something; answers the question, "Why?"

Nonverbal Communication: Communicating without words using facial expression, gestures, and body language.

Objective: A character's goal; answers the question, "What does a character want?"

Pantomime: Telling a story through body movement, gesture, and facial expression; action without words.

Period Play: A play from an earlier time played in the style, costumes, and sets representing the period it depicts.

Playwriting: The act of creating the plot, theme, characters, dialogue, spectacle, and structure of a play and organizing it into a script form.

Plot: The structure of the action of the play; it is the arrangement of incidents that take place on the stage as revealed through the action and dialogue of the characters. Plot structure usually includes a beginning, a middle, and an ending with a problem, complications, and a resolution.

Projection: Control of loudness so that even those in the last row can hear and understand every word in the play.

Projection:  Speak up so everybody can hear!
Plays for Children to Perform Theatre Terms for Plays for Young Audiences
ArtReach's The Emperor's New Clothes

Prompt Book: The stage manager's copy of the script in which the blocking and technical cues are noted.

Props: Properties; objects used by actors on stage (e.g., fan, wallet) or objects necessary to complete the set (e.g., furniture, plants, books).

Proscenium: A stage in which the audience sits in front as if looking in a picture frame.

Puppetry: The animation of objects, ranging from hand puppets to marionettes, creating characters in dramatic situations.

Reaction: Response to stimulus presented by character, event, or environment.

Reader's Theatre: A performance in which a play is read aloud with expression rather than memorized off book.

Rehearsal: A session in which the director and actors prepare a play for performance.

Role: A part in a play; the character played by an actor in a play.

Scene: The division of an act or of the play itself; the division may be dictated by a change of time or place in the play.

Script: The written dialogue, description, and directions provided by the playwright.

Set: All the scenery, backdrops, set pieces, and props used to create a stage environment for a dramatic performance; the performing area created by those elements.

Set/Scenery:  Paint something wonderful or just go with a black drop!
Fancy set for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Painted backdrop for Alice in Wonderland Black background works great for Wizard of Oz
ArtReach's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz

Setting: The time and place in which the dramatic action occurs.

Stage Business:  Movements made to strengthen the personality of a character the actor is portraying including props and/or costumes.

Subtext: The unspoken meaning or intention behind the actions and dialogue of a text or performance, which is implied largely by nonverbal behavior and subtleties in vocal qualities.

Technical Theatre: A branch of theatre that includes scenery, costumes, special effects, sound, lighting, and props.

Theatre Games: Group acting exercises frequently used for warm-up, motivation, and exploration of character and subtext.

Theatre Management: The administrative aspects of theatre (e.g., stage management, budgeting, public relations, box office, house management).

Theme: The central thought or idea of a play.

Thrust: A stage surrounded on three sides by an audience.

Warm-up: An activity in which the student focuses attention on limbering up the body, voice, imagination, or intellect.

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