Making Your Little Show a Big Success—Some Challenges and Solutions!

By Andy Beck

Most of my experience directing theatre over the years has been for big schools on big stages—with even bigger budgets (believe it or not). So last fall, when invited to co-direct one of my own shows for a start-up community theatre group, I got a suitable dose of reality when it came to producing a small-scale show on a shoestring budget. But despite all of our challenges, we managed to create a big hit!

Who to cast when so few have experience . . .
Even though the parts in Nanny Claus: The North Pole Nanny were written with child performers in mind, the small audition pool and limited experience of our first-time group presented a real challenge. That’s when we decided to call in a few friends to fill out the cast. This worked exceptionally well, due to the fact that some of the characters in the show are actually adults. And what a wonderful way for our younger cast members to learn from these more seasoned actors.

What to do with a tiny stage …
The opening pages in Nanny provide an in-depth description of the recommended set, but for our small performance space, adapting the suggested design was a must. Four double-sided flats were reduced to two (our main Elf house), and then simple signs (for the other North Pole shops) were hung on either side of the proscenium. Actors wheeled on small rolling carts to complete those scenes. Additionally, the three beds (for our nursery) were built to be especially small so that they could be easily tucked out of sight.

Where to go for costumes and props …
Thankfully, we were able to borrow some excellent basic costumes from a generous high school. But then there were the jobs of individual fittings and filling in the blanks. As you know, parents can be a great help! As a matter of fact, we were surprised to discover some existing sewing talent, and even develop a few new hobbyists. As for props, again volunteers came to our rescue. A few of our students were especially excited to offer their own teddy bears to be considered for that pivotal prop.

When to compromise your best choreography ideas …
The answer is simple—be ready for Plan B when choreography does not look good on the performers, or when it does not fit on the stage. We encountered both! Years ago, Alfred published my staging ideas in the Nanny score, so this provided a nice starting point. But as we worked on this production, alterations were needed. Some moves proved too difficult, others not challenging enough. One of my favorite substitutions was a double circle of “ice skaters” moving in opposite directions, which made a huge effect on our little stage.

How to get it all learned in a short time …
A well-organized schedule allowed us to get so much done in a short amount of time! The main ensemble of our cast was only responsible for three big numbers and the related reprises, so their time at rehearsal was spent almost entirely on perfecting those songs. Additionally, by dividing the chorus in half for two other features (girls vs. guys), each performer only needed to prepare four songs. The small group of leads required some extra practice, but were happy to do so—graciously accepting the responsibility of their featured roles.

Why keeping it small still works …
The most important part of any theatrical performance is storytelling. And by encouraging a cast to fully immerse in the journey of their characters, the outcome will be truly rewarding for the performers and entertaining for the audience.

Click here to learn about this outstanding Christmas musical.

Enjoy some photos of our performance of Nanny Claus: The North Pole Nanny at the Halle Cultural Arts Center in Apex, NC.



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