Tag Archives: education

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Introducing StageAgent for Schools

Drama StudentsStageAgent is proud to announce a new online platform to empower high school drama teachers and students: StageAgent for Schools. With StageAgent for Schools, our mission is to help develop the next generation of actors and theatergoers by improving student literacy in the Dramatic Arts.

The StageAgent for Schools project started in the summer of 2016. At that time, we discovered that a large number of our subscribers were high school drama teachers. After interviewing some of these teachers, we learned that they often used StageAgent to help them advise students looking for audition pieces. StageAgent’s monologue and song databases helped teachers efficiently and effectively come up with ideas. Further, StageAgent’s show guides and character breakdowns made theatrical literature much more approachable for their students.

However, many of these teachers also wished that their students

Foothill High School drama students
Foothill High School students, Pleasanton, California

could have individual access to StageAgent. They wanted their students to learn how to become more effective researchers and encourage more independence in the classroom setting. Additionally, since each student has unique needs and interests, it became challenging trying to customize preferences for so many individuals within a single account.

To solve this problem, we produced a ‘beta’ version of StageAgent for Schools allowing for teachers and students to all have unique StageAgent accounts managed by an overarching school account. Teachers and students alike were now able to access StageAgent’s extensive content and research tools. During the 2016-2017 school year, we worked with 8 high schools in two states to pilot the program. Teachers and students told us that they loved having access to accurate and reliable theatre research tools right at their fingertips.

“StageAgent has been a wonderful tool for my students. With just a click on the computer, students have access to monologues, audition choices, show information, and much more. It has been a great tool to give students access to a lot of information on a variety of shows. ” 

– Laura Rose, Drama Director, St. Francis High School, Mountain View, CA

The teachers and students from the pilot high schools also gave us some suggestions on how to improve the school service. Teachers asked us to develop lesson plans to help them integrate StageAgent into their classroom activities. They also wanted a way to measure student progress and to ensure that students were actually absorbing information. Meanwhile, students told us that they wanted an easy way to sign in without having to use an email address. They also wanted a simpler user interface that was more kid-friendly.

After receiving this feedback, the StageAgent staff worked diligently throughout the summer to create a new StageAgent for Schools platform that would solve these issues.  The new platform not only provides access to amazing theatrical resources, but it also includes a series of features making it appropriate for use in academic environments.

On StageAgent for Schools, students can access show guides, character breakdowns, monologues, songs, and scenes. Students can bookmark their favorite materials and use keywords to search by theme. Self-paced quizzes provide a fun way for students to test newfound knowledge, and they can help teachers measure student comprehension. Meanwhile, teachers now have their own dashboard where they can access dozens of lesson plans, grant students’ access to StageAgent’s materials, and view student progress reports.

StageAgent for Schools also provides COPPA/FERPA privacy protections. Students are able sign in with a unique 6-digit passcode and do not need to share any personal information.

We invite all high school drama teachers to visit our new website for StageAgent for Schools (https://stageagent.org) to learn more. After signing up for a free trialwe believe you will be convinced to make StageAgent for Schools a part of your teaching and learning curriculum.

“StageAgent helps make theatrical literature approachable and accessible to students of all cultural and economic backgrounds. As a COPPA-compliant resource, StageAgent offers a safe internet environment for students to conveniently access both in and out of the classroom. Further, it helps save our teachers time by providing students with an accurate and reliable research tool for independent study.”

– Rachel Harrah, Director of Theatre and Dance, Dallas Independent School District

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Audition Blackboard - Are you ready?

Performing Arts High School Auditions: Preparation

Audition Blackboard - Are you ready?Your child has decided that they want to go to a specialized arts high school. That’s a big decision. Now what? If they are in seventh grade, going into eighth grade in the fall, then hopefully you have already addressed some of the items covered in this prevous blog on the first steps to take regarding performing arts high school auditions.

So here you are a couple of months away from the start of eighth grade, it’s summer — time for relaxing before school starts, right? Nope. You and your child need to be starting your preparation now for auditions that could begin as soon as late October (yes, that’s soon). For the sake of this article, I will be focusing on the New York City schools preparation, but most of it should apply generally to your local schools.

Once you and your child have narrowed down what schools they are interested in, you need to determine the audition schedules and any other pre-audition testing or requirements. Your middle school/junior high school counselor should be able to help you with some of this, and if you are in a large district like New York that has multiple options for performing arts high schools, there should be information on your school district site like this. Get a notebook or keep a good calendar so you don’t lose track of things. The whole process can get overwhelming, especially with multiple schools, and you don’t want to get any dates mixed up and not be allowed to have your child attend the auditions.

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Once you have determined your choice of schools and the audition dates, it’s time to think about audition pieces. And hopefully your youngster is already studying in the arts. Here we will focus on acting and vocal auditions, but much of the timing and general advice will be the same.

Drama/Acting

Be sure to check for your school’s specific requirements (and they could differ by school even in the same district), but in general an acting audition will require two memorized, contrasting monologues (for example, a comedic one and a dramatic one). They must be from either published collections of monologues for young people, or they can be taken from a play. But the key is that they must exist in some published form. The play that Aunt Susan wrote as a college project or a monologue from a TV show or movie your kid loves does not count. The characters in the monologues should be close in age to your child, and they should avoid classical (ie, Shakespeare) at this stage. Check out the StageAgent monologue tool and our partfinder to start looking up some possible audition monologues. Some school sites will also give you a list of suggested monologues to use.

As a student preparing for auditions, finding a monologue isn’t just a matter of picking something off a list and using the first one. You must try a few out, see how they feel, see how you like the character and how comfortable you are with the language. You shouldn’t just decide to perform the first ones you pick. I have had students work through half a dozen monologues or more before settling on the final two pieces; then we have to work out just the right cut of it to fit the time requirements, generally a minute long. As a parent in this process, try to find someone to coach your youngster; often they are just too self-conscious to work with mom and dad, and then they won’t really be prepared. Your school’s drama teacher, local conservatories, or private acting coaches all will have experience that will help your child feel really ready to audition.

Starting this process is not something you want to do a mere few weeks before the auditions. Once you’ve found monologues that seem interesting, your child needs to read the plays they come from (where possible–many of the monologues in anthologies may not come from full plays). Your acting coach will work your child on creating a character, understanding what makes that character tick, working on their diction and projection skills, as well as keeping them on task with memorization. Coaches will help a student work on additional skills like how to confidently walk into the audition room and introduce themselves, “cold” reading (performing a scene or monologue without benefit of extra preparation), or improvisation or theater games.

Photo credit: Tammy Ayala via Creative Commons License.
Photo credit: Tammy Ayala via Creative Commons License.

If a student is auditioning for a straight drama/acting program, this will be the general run-down. Students auditioning for musical theatre programs will need to perform song selections as well, which we’ll address next.

Vocal/Musical Theatre Auditions

Vocal programs could be either classically based or musical theatre. Once again, check the specific school’s requirements, and more specifically, understand the types of vocal classes offered. If your child only wants to do musical theatre, you want to be very clear that you are not auditioning from a more operatic/classical program (although the skills learned in either are going to serve them well down the line). Musical audition pieces should be chosen with the same care as monologues. They need to be age-appropriate and show an understanding and relation to the lyrics being sung. Lyrics need to be acted; singing pretty isn’t the only option here. I believe that an auditioning singer needs to read the libretto for the musical they are singing from just as the actor doing a monologue would read the play.

Two contrasting pieces should be prepared: an uptempo and a ballad; a comedic and a more dramatic song; or a musical theater piece and a classical piece, which might be in a foreign language for more classical programs. Once again, the StageAgent Partfinder and our audition songs database are a good place to start looking for material. The pieces must be memorized and fit comfortably in the student’s range. It can be better to choose an easier song that your child can perform really, really well than a more showy piece they might struggle with. And as with monologues, the process of choosing these pieces should be started months before the auditions! Hopefully, for singers, they are already in choirs or musicals or are working with private vocal coaches to develop their skills. At the auditions, students may be asked to sing scales or listen to rhythms or pitches and repeat them back to show facility with musicality in an improvised, unrehearsed setting.

Once again, any coaching outside of the family setting is a huge help. Having someplace to go and sing other than their bedroom will encourage exploration and better practice skills where your child isn’t worried about people hearing mistakes as she learns her music or if he is singing too loudly and bothering the neighbors. And a professional vocal coach will make sure that your child’s music is prepared correctly for the accompanist and work with your child on how to make their entrance and speak appropriately to the accompanist as well. Anything you can do to boost your child’s confidence is key.

Photo Credit: Tulane Public Relations via Creative Commons License.
Photo Credit: Tulane Public Relations via Creative Commons License.

One last note about musical theatre auditions. Those students will need both songs and monologues prepared, and they will need to be ready for a dance audition as well. They don’t need to be ballerinas or amazing tap dancers to get accepted (that’s why there are dance-specific programs), but they need to be able to demonstrate an ability to move well and keep count with the music. They need to demonstrate that they can make the effort to learn the dance movement and sell it and show their character and personality! Overall, schools are looking for potential.

So, here are your summer homework assignments that you need to get cracking on now (sorry about those summer plans):

  • Reread the First Steps blog for a few reality checks/reminders.
  • Determine audition dates.
  • Choose audition material with your child and an outside arts professional.
  • Encourage and support your child to practice daily now and consistently for the next few months and not wait until the last minute.

These next few months will fly by. Create a plan and help your child stick to it so that they will be well-prepared, confident, and be able to nail that performing arts high school audition!

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Break Into the Biz: A Career in Theatre Design

set modelSo, you want to design for theatre? Where do you begin? It’s an odd industry, combining a myriad of skills that apply to other industries, but are entirely unique to our craft. Luckily, the industry thrives on collaboration, evolution, and the spirt of artists both green and seasoned. Whether you’re in high school considering the college path, or mid-career with an urge to see your art onstage, there’s room and potential for everyone.

As with many industries, the easiest “in” is education. Whether you’re just embarking on a design career and are considering a major, either a BA in general theatre with a design emphasis, or a more focused BFA in design and technical theatre, this is a traditional first step. If you’re afraid it’s too late in life to start over with a bachelor’s degree, have no fear, it’s never too late to design a play! I’ve know many designers who chose graduate school after a few years designing low budget theatre. Their majors have ranged from fine art to fashion design. Graduate school is perfect for the serious late-start designers and those out of BA or BFA programs.

If it’s too soon for school, volunteering is the easiest way into the industry. Theatre thrives off of eager volunteers. Once you earn your stripes, companies are also more willing and likely to hire you and connect you with other artists. There are two levels to begin volunteering—community theatre and regional theatre. Both are an excellent start. In a community theatre where musicals featuring large family-friendly ensembles like The Music Man or smaller single-set plays like Steel Magnolias are the norm, you’ll likely have more hands-on experience with design, while a regional theatre usually looks for administrative help. Both situations provide excellent networking opportunities.

There are low-budget, no-budget, and rough-and-tough community theatres everywhere. These are theatres that operate on sheer will and love of the art, and they are always looking for volunteer help. Maybe you have to begin as an usher if you have no technical experience, but just getting your foot literally in the door can open up networking opportunities with designers, and most likely at this industry entry level, people will accept any willing extra hands.

Regional theatres rarely ask for volunteers in their production departments. Often, their craftsmen are union and highly skilled, but if you happen to be a carpenter aspiring to become a scenic designer, it never hurts to get to know your local regional theatre’s technical director. Start by contacting the institution’s volunteer coordinator, or reach out to departments directly, you never know what a theatre needs!

For those in-between volunteer and school phases, internships are an excellent way to transition from enthusiast to professional. Many regional theatres have internship or fellowship programs designed to jump-start careers in technical theatre. If this isn’t an option in your area, try the local community college for design classes. Generally, students are given the opportunity to design or assist designers on shows, while networking with professionals. Brushing up on sewing and drawing skills, or learning CAD drafting and video editing are great ways to develop employable skills.

Once you’ve honed your skills with classes and volunteer experience, then you’ve also met some designers that are always looking for assistants. Assisting is one of the hardest, but most rewarding steps toward a design career. If you have an excellent attention to detail and are great with a scale rule, you’re the model builder your local scenic designer has been waiting for. Do you know some simple hand sewing and are great at organizing receipts? You’re a costume designer’s dream assistant. If you’re patient, eager, and willing, nearly any designer would love your help, and assisting is one of the greatest resume credits. Eventually, designers have too much work for any given show, and often recommend the theatre hire their favorite assistant instead. Just like that, you go from assistant to designer.

There is no simple path to a career in design. Some people find their way into the industry fresh out of college; others discover theatre later in life. Many receive traditional education; others learn on the job. This diversity in knowledge and experience is the life force that keeps theatre innovative and evolutionary. We welcome new generations of thespians with open arms, so what are you waiting for?

 

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