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Pre-Production Planning Tips from a Veteran Theatre Teacher

By Tina Cocumelli
Creative team in a production meeting

Your audience might imagine that the magic of theatre is half vision, half talent...but we theatre makers know there’s another important ingredient: organization.

All the creativity in the world can quickly turn to chaos without a carefully structured container in which to flourish. That’s why it’s the Director’s job to plan, plan, plan for the success of the show.

Of course, there is plenty of artistry to directing a work of theatre, as well. But the bulk of your work, both creative and organizational, happens now—before casting, before rehearsals, before the performance. So, set your production up for success with some well-thought-out strategy and a commitment to getting your ducks in a row.

 

Production Planning

We’ll assume for the sake of this conversation that you already have a team in place and have selected your show. You may even have a sense of how you’d like to creatively approach the material. But remember: theatre is a collaborative art. If you jump right ahead into scheduling you’ll miss out on many of the benefits of working with a talented team.

Give the following steps the attention to detail that they deserve:

  • Schedule production meetings with the creative team to brainstorm ideas for design and concept. If, as the Director, you already have a strong vision for the show and are simply asking for buy-in, expansion, or input, make this clear to team members from the start of the conversation.

  • Agree on concept and design basics. Everyone should be on the same creative page before any further work is begun.

  • Create a shared timeline. Each team member should be fully aware of what is expected of them in terms of both deliverables and deadlines. Keep in mind the domino effect of materials: blocking and choreography are dependent on a ground plan, elevations and models inform lighting design, and so forth. In order to do their jobs, everyone on the Production Team needs to have their needs considered, planned for, and met!

 

Preparation of Materials

Next, each team member should re-read the script for details that affect their specific area of responsibility and begin their own specific production prep.

Deliverables by Department

Director

  • Scene-by-scene breakdown of the entire show
  • Rehearsal schedule

Technical Director/Set Designer

  • Ground plan
  • Model
  • Elevations
  • Etc.

Props Master

  • Prop list

Costume/Make-up/Hair Designer

  • Drawings/photos/mock-ups

Lighting/Sound Designer

  • Concept in service to the creative vision

Marketing/House Manager

  • Marketing plan in service to the creative vision and mission
  • Social media calendar
  • Publicity materials (print and digital)

Producer/Business Manager

  • Set up ticketing in your theatre box office software
  • Create merchandise

 

Virtual & Streamed Productions

If you will be producing or presenting your performance virtually, your production process is likely to be affected in numerous ways, from large to small. Logistics to plan for include:

  • Will your cast be performing together in one space, or logging onto your streaming platform from their own remote locations?
  • How will this affect the way you approach character and scene work?
  • Do you need to make changes to your usual audition process to allow for physical distancing? How might this affect your ability to read chemistry between actors?
  • What video, audio, and/or other equipment do you have access to, and what will you need to acquire?
  • In what ways do your options for production design change in response to the technological requirements, limitations, and opportunities of virtual and/or streamed performance?

Depending on your specific circumstances and material, there will likely be other considerations, as well. Be sure to talk these through with your team early in the pre-production process.

 

Final Pre-Production Meeting

Before you begin production, you should once again meet as a complete team to:

  • Finalize your budget. Each member of the Production Team should have a clear understanding of their spending limits and a guideline for how to prioritize goals and expenditures.
  • Agree upon the production timeline. This is your at-a-glance master list of everything that needs to be done, by which team and/or Company members, and when. It’s a big document and a significant undertaking, but worth every bit of effort that goes into its creation.
  • Create your audition plan. When will they occur? Where and how? Who will be involved in casting decisions? How will the results be communicated?
  • Familiarize the team with your production platform. Anyone who is involved with the business or technical production sides of your show should have a solid working knowledge of the tools you will be using. This is especially the case if you are transitioning to online production management and/or a theatre streaming platform. Take the time to walk through your tech together now, before any lack of clarity can create confusion.

While creativity is impossible to pin down, the success of your production lies first and foremost in how prepared you are to channel that magic when it happens. So, get to planning! With all the logistical pieces already accounted for, you'll be ready to face the production period with your feet firmly on the ground while, to quote Tennessee Williams, looking at the stars.

 

 

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Tags: school theatre, production, how-to

Tina Cocumelli

Tina Cocumelli

Tina Cocumelli is a native of Los Angeles, California, who has spent over four decades creating K-12 theatre curriculum. She has produced and directed over 300 plays and musicals with students of all ages. Tina is a graduate of the UCLA School of Theatre, Film, and Television, and also holds a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology from Point Loma University. Reach out and say hello at tina@onthestage.com.