Saturday, May 29, 2010

Directing A High School Play

Putting on a high school play has many unique blessings and challenges. As far as blessings go, the students are usually very enthusiastic about the show. They are willing to put in long hours after school and on weekends. They are full of inspiring creativity and energy and are often capable of solving problems that crop up in the show by themselves. By the end of the rehearsal and performance process, the students have become a tightly knit group of performers and as their director, I am included in this group. These are the blessings of putting on a high school show.
But oh, the challenges. As I mentioned before, the students are highly creative. However, their sense of the resources available to our program sometimes seems slightly impaired.

“Mrs. Hughes!” They will say, convinced that their idea is the best ever conceived, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we ended the show in a gigantic display of pyrotechnics?! We could have rockets shooting from the stage and the characters flying in from the wind, and fake smoke billowing up through the audience. That would be awesome!”

I take a deep breath and pause for a moment before I answer, “Hmm….that’s an interesting idea. It would be awesome, but I think that might also be illegal. Maybe someday you should work for Disney. They might have the capabilities to do that sort of thing.” I say this in all seriousness, because they really should use these creative ideas somewhere, but not at this stage in our drama program.
Or, I have the observant students who see what other, much more developed drama programs are accomplishing in Kern County.

“Mrs. Hughes!” They shriek in a frantic, get-over-here-right-now sort of tone which makes me wonder if someone needs First-Aid or CPR (which, thanks to the State of California, I am certified in.) As I rush over, I start trying to remember the ratio of rescue breaths to chest compressions. ‘Is it 30 rescue breaths to one chest compression? Or one rescue breath to 30 chest compressions?’

One of the really special things about taking CPR is that they are always changing the ratio. I have been to CPR training three times in the past 6 years, and every single time, they have changed the ratio. Apparently, they just can’t make up their minds. This means that in an actual emergency, I can never be exactly sure just what the best ratio to use is.

“Stockdale High School is doing the musical, ‘Moby Dick,’” they explain frenetically with a newspaper in their hands as I begin to realize that there really was no emergency, “They have a cast of forty students and every night has been packed out. Look at these pictures, and this set. We should totally do a musical next year! How about, ‘Alice in Wonderland?’”

“Ooh, or that new Beatles Musical, ‘Across the Universe,’” another little darling will interject.

“Oookay…I will think about those suggestions.” I reply (‘deep breaths,’ I tell myself, ‘deep breaths’), “You know,” I go on; “I read that article, too. Stockdale has a really amazing program that they’ve had for like 20 years. Their Drama director is a full-time drama teacher, who is practically the best high school drama director in Kern County.

“‘Alice in Wonderland,’ the musical, hasn’t been performed seriously since the 1920’s,” I continue, “and ‘Across the Universe,’ is not actually a stage production, and even if it were, the royalties alone would cost more than we could potentially make in 15 years worth of drama productions . But we will be doing a musical at some point in the next few years.”

The students sadly listen to my reasons and as I see the light die in their eyes, I too wish that we had the unlimited capabilities to perform a stage production of, “Across the Universe,” or at least, include a vast pyrotechnics display in our latest show, complete with smoke and rockets. Maybe next year.


  1. Know how you feel, as a veteran of many of these plays, I too wish I'd been able to allow the children their choices some of the time!

  2. It would be nice to be able to validate their dreams!!!! Tell them to make their rich parents give generous donations to your program and then maybe you can get an awesome pyrotechnics show:).

  3. I know how you feel,my kids also use the 'frantic shriek' for no good reason, sending me into blind panic. Good luck with the play and hopefully no-one turns up with a pocket full of fireworks for the finale.

  4. Isn't it hard to be the adult. Is is hard to be in charge. I still give that shriek to my principal with some kind of outlandish idea. It is the prerogative of the people not in charge. Of course as a fellow adult I know it is impossible. Children unfortunately just think you are being purposefully difficult and uncreative.