What every high school musical should have.

I spoke to a group of educators earlier this week at the beautiful John Engeman Theater in Northport and I was asked what I thought we could do to increase student participation in the arts.

I hemmed and hawed for a few moments as I  thought back to my high school production of Anything Goes and I thought . . . how could we have had more students involved?  And how could we have more students from the other side of the cultural tracks involved?

And then I thought . . .

Why doesn’t every high school musical have a Producer?

I’m not talking about the kooky drama teacher that lets the students call her by her first name or the parent that did some summer stock in college, I’m talking about having a student serve as the Producer of the show.

Think about it . .

You could grab a kid who might not even be thinking about a career in the theater, but instead he or she might be planning on and attending business school.  What better way to learn about business than to do it?

By putting him or her in the Producer seat, he or she could learn about fundraising (they could organize fundraisers through Kickstarter, or old-fashioned but always beneficial car washes, etc.), or marketing (someone has to design the posters), revenue management (how much are we going to charge for seats and who counts the money and pays the royalties), and yes, what is the budget of a high school musical and how do we make sure we don’t go over that budget?

And most importantly, this Student Producer could be in charge of making sure all the departments were communicating effectively, which we all know is an asset in any industry.

Are you going to hand over the financial reins to the student?  No, not entirely.  But a Student Producer could certainly sit side by side with a Faculty Advisor and learn a heck of a lot, valuable resume experience, and gain exposure to the arts without having to sing or dance.

But wait a second, why stop there?

Why not have a Student Press Rep?  Someone has got to schedule interviews with the student newspaper, public access cable, local radio, and so forth, right?

What about a Student Marketing Director?

A Student Casting Director?

Yep.  Every show could have all of them.  This is my advocating that any position that exists in the commercial theater should also have high school equivalents.

What will this do?

  • Increase participation in the arts from students who might not normally participate.
  • Inform students about several different future job opportunities that they would never know even existed.  (I didn’t know what a Company Manager was until I worked on a Broadway show.)
  • Help train future Producers, Press Agents, Marketing Directors which strengthens our overall industry.
  • Give students a valuable resume credit for college applications, and future job applications
  • Sell more tickets to the shows, since you’ll have people focused on press, marketing, etc.  And we all know that the bigger the staff, the more tickets you sell to relatives, friends, etc..

If you can’t already tell, I love this idea.

You know why?  Yes, because it accomplishes all the bullet points above.  But the real reason I love it is because . . . it doesn’t require a grant from the state.

It’s free.

And, for those students that do sign up?

It’ll also be fun.

And that’s how you develop future theater professionals and audiences at the same time.

  • Theo says:

    I would have done this in High school! Any hopes for me now to do something like this??? I am a working engineer who wants to get involved with theater, but I don’t know how. Suggestions?

  • Thanks for this, Ken. I love this idea. My high school was close to this – there was no student producer, but there were student directors, students created the programs, manned the box office, built the sets…learned how to do things in theater besides act, some of which they could actually get paid for out in the real world. But I agree with you: take it a step further!

  • I used to run a summer camp for kids, and I did something like this with the older High School kids who wanted to be involved… though I thought of it as overall “assistant”.
    I’m moving back to Montana and starting the camps again, and this post gives me some great ideas on how to take something that was a little “haphazard” and make a more formal program out of it with specific duties.

  • Aurora says:

    Theo, there are small community theaters all around the country (so probably some wherever you live). Their websites usually explain how to go about getting internships or jobs as Production Assistants etc. and you can always keep learning and growing from there.

  • Rachel says:

    You face a few problems:
    1. The outcries of the students and their parents who did not get a position, and “How dare you put that much power into the hands of a 16 year-old”
    2. The power struggle/dictatorship that comes out of giving a 16 year-old that much power.
    3. Having to hire someone to either
    a) make sure the kid doesn’t screw up
    b) clean up after the kid when s/he screws up
    I think it is a good idea in theory, but break it up. Too much power in the hands of a 16 year-old is not good.
    Also, student casting director is just asking for trouble. Students fight enough with each other over casting. If students know that little Sally was part of it, she will be shunned by society, parents, etc.
    It’s difficult enough having a student assistant director and stage manager because no one wants to listen to people who are their age (possibly even younger), a peer, a friend, or an enemy.
    I see where you’re coming from as a producer, from a business perspective. But honestly, think of the emotional/psychological effect. Teenagers are fragile. Drama kids are fragile. Teenage drama kids are extremely fragile. You don’t want more bullying and fighting.

  • Kristi R-C says:

    When I taught theater in schools K-12, I had a “no cuts” policy. As a teacher my job was to teach and if a kid was willing to come after school for 10-15 hours a week for 6-8 weeks, I was willing to do everything I could to turn that dedication into love for theatre and an opportunity to learn as much as possible about it. I’d do shows with flexible casts or double cast the roles and I required ALL students to participate in non-acting activites – that eliminated the “you’re not good enough to get a part” attitude. I also encouraged everyone to be onstage in some way – even if it was in a non-speaking role.
    Much as I’d love to support your idea, the sad fact is there are very few teachers who are competent to do it. In the state of Wisconsin, the vast majority of high school drama programs are led by choral directors – NOT teachers certified in in drama. Two years ago, there were 60 teachers in WI with certification in drama and 425 high schools, and we’re considered to be one of the best school systems in the country.

  • Mark Slavkin says:

    My son was producer for several musical theatre productions at the Hamilton High School Music Academy in Los Angeles. With some faculty guidance, he and his team had responsibility for all aspects of the production — casting, budgeting, marketing, etc. This opportunity helped him hone his leadership skills that have served him well ever since. More kids deserve this real world experience, a great blend of arts education and career technical education,

  • Anna says:

    I was a Student Producer in High School. Maybe that’s why I am where I am today. 🙂

  • Shannon D. says:

    As a senior in high school, I would have loved to have an opportunity like this. I’m not a performer and I’m not exactly running crew material either, but I’m really interested in the administrative side of theatre (particularly in casting). It would probably be more successful the more people were involved, but this really is something that high school theatre should have. It’s not like high school students have the time for internships and stuff like that, so having hands-on experience during the school year would be awesome.

  • Terry C. says:

    Hi – I was lucky enough to attend that workshop and I truly believe in having students take on all positions because, as I put it, there are more jobs in the performing arts than just acting. My students learn that right away. I purposely choose projects that don’t have large casts.

  • I have tried this, but find few students who have the initiative to proceed without being told absolutely everything to do. Consequently, the producer functions start being absorbed by others, because the nominal producer lacks the stuff to step up and take charge. Also, few students today have the persistence and follow-through to stay with it all the way through. I haven’t given up, but overall I find my students in middle class suburban NJ to be overly docile and distractable to function well as producers.
    I did have good success with a team of students who took over costuming from the Home Ec teacher who had been volunteering out of the goodness of her heart. They were extremely effective and engaged.

  • Uke Jackson says:

    I thought the “what” was going to be ukuleles.

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