Advice for Camp and School Theatre Directors: It’s Not Broadway, Part 1

Are you expecting this from your students?
Are you expecting this from your students?

A Summer Learning Opportunity

This summer, I took on the role of Theatre Director at a summer camp. My task was to direct two musicals in a limited amount of time. The kids were wonderful, but the one thing I struggled with was the time constraint on rehearsals that was paired with the fact that the children had so many other commitments that interrupted those rehearsals. At first, I was frustrated. I felt irritable, disorganized, and did not understand what my purpose was in even directing a play. I felt the need to take them out of rest hours and other activities when I could, which caused them to become bitter.

I did not understand why they were angry when they wanted to be in a play. Didn’t they want it to be a good show? At the peak of my frustration (during the rehearsal process for the second production), I was speaking with one of the cast members. I asked him, in his opinion, why everyone seemed so miserable when this was supposed to be so fun. He said to me, “Well, for us, this is just a way to have fun. We like to come here and put on a play with our friends. We aren’t used to spending so much time at rehearsal and missing out on the rest of camp life. Don’t worry—we will pull it together and put on an awesome show for you.”

A Theatre Director’s Turning Point

Having fun is important.
Having fun is important.

His simple and honest response inspired me to take a step back and look at the situation from another perspective. First of all, this show was not for me. I, of course, wanted the camp director to be proud and happy with my work, but primarily, I wanted the show to be a success for them. Right then and there I realized that these kids could only be as good as they wanted to be. I could only guide them in the right direction, but the final product was in their hands. Believe me, when I came to this what-should-have-been-obvious realization, I felt significantly less pressure. I could not mandate that these busy kids miss other worthwhile activities. If I did, their heart would not be in the right place at rehearsals. This kid was right…I needed to find a way to transform rehearsals into a fun, non-stressful experience for us all without losing control.

Remembering Our Mission

It's not about trying to be Hal Prince.
It’s not about trying to be Hal Prince.

In Part II, I will share a few pointers that helped me through the rest of my summer directing experience. Not all school theatre directors are going to be working on what I like to call “Broadway-caliber” productions. Sometimes it is because they do not have the financial backing to be able to afford spectacular sets and costumes. Sometimes it is because the cast is not committed, and this can result from a variety of reasons including family issues, extracurricular activities, or maybe they simply dread rehearsals. Regardless of the caliber of the production, all school directors need to remember why they are doing what they are doing, and who they are working with. If one is directing in the professional world, that is a different story. In high school, middle school, and elementary school, we are dealing with kids, and our goal should be to provide them with an enjoyable experience.