Your days are filled with teaching and your nights are filled with rehearsals. You spend the weekends hunting thrift stores and crafting props out of whatever you can find. Somewhere in between everything you might find some time for sleep. Meanwhile, that stack of ungraded work gets higher and higher and your patience gets lower and lower. If you’re a theatre teacher who also produces shows, this probably sounds familiar. As the school year kicks into gear, I’ll share some advice I’ve picked up as a drama teacher who balances teaching with producing two shows a year.
Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
In the interest of full transparency: this is probably the one that’s hardest for me. But after spending my first year desperately trying (and failing) to juggle it all, I realized that I’d have to accept that no one person can manage everything. So I embraced the fine art of delegating. I started with small stuff: instead of spending my plan period hanging show posters around the school, I had some students do it. As they grew and became leaders, I tasked students with bigger responsibilities. Now, we have full committees for set/props, costumes, lighting, and publicity. Each committee has about three to ten people, depending on the specific needs of the show. Not only does this help reduce my workload, but it gives students a sense of ownership over their drama program.
Don’t Forget the Parents
Remember, it isn’t just your students that you can rely on-you have a network of parents, too. The key is to build relationships early on. A letter home at the beginning of the year introducing yourself and expressing your enthusiasm for the months ahead is a great way to make those connections. Be sure to include your contact information so parents can reach out to you. I also send home a form that parents can fill out if they are able and willing to help with things like sets, supplies, or snacks. This year, I’m offering incentives like a free ticket or ad in the program for parents who contribute. As the year progresses, you can harness the power of technology by creating social media pages to share updates and pictures of what you’re working on. Buy-in always goes up when parents can see tangible examples of what their support does.
It Takes A Village
Sometimes as arts teachers we feel like we’re all alone on our little island of misfit toys, left to fend for ourselves. Thankfully, social media has made it easy to connect to other educators and resources for help. Facebook is populated with a myriad of groups for theatre teachers; there’s a large group that acts as a general resource for drama teachers, as well as technical theatre/design groups, set and prop sharing, and lots of others. There are also groups for specific shows, where directors who are currently producing that show can ask questions and get advice from those who have done the show before. As I write this, we’re gearing up to produce Clue: On Stage, and through the Clue support Facebook group I’ve already found some great ideas for some of the more technically challenging elements of the show.
There’s nothing like trying to produce a show and teach a full class load at the same time. The more you can plan ahead, the easier your life will be, come tech and show week. I have a “tech/opening week” file on standby with lessons and activities that require little to no prep.
My students love creating their own scenes, so I’ll create an activity like “turn your favorite movie into a stage production” that they can work on while I knock an item or two off my production “to do” list. I’ve also had a lot of luck with a “teach us something” unit; students choose any theatre-related topic that interests them and prepare a presentation to teach us about that topic. Similarly, they could work in pairs or small groups to research a specific topic. Theatre eras, major practitioners, and plays/playwrights or musicals/lyricists/librettists are good umbrella topics.
Don’t forget that StageAgent has a huge variety of lesson plans, as well as expert learning modules to study the history and practice of theatre. Take a look at this lesson plan on Comedy of Manners and The Importance of Being Earnest and our guide to Nineteenth-Century British Theatre.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten is to set your show dates as soon as you can, then plan lessons backwards from there. The 10 days leading up to opening will be when you’ll want to keep your plate as light as possible. This is when a unit on improv may be particularly valuable. I do “Fun Facts Friday”, where I offer a crash course on a specific topic like basic stage combat or exploring an accent. Finally, reach out to friends and contacts about visiting your class for a day. I’ve brought in professional actors, stagehands, and singers for a quick workshop and a Q&A. My students loved hearing from someone who wasn’t me for a change (I can’t blame them).
Planning as much as you can as early as you can will save you a world of trouble later on. I have a checklist of things I know I can have ready over the summer or by the end of the first week of classes that will save me time later on. At a minimum, you’ll want to have:
- A production calendar with key dates: audition/performance dates, off-book deadlines, planned rehearsal days, etc.
- A rehearsal attendance/absence policy
- A production contract with basic expectations and etiquette guidelines
- A list/spreadsheet of prop, costume, set, lighting, sound, and any other technical/design needs
- A character breakdown with descriptions
- A breakdown of which characters are in which scenes
- Audition requirements and sides
Take Care of Yourself (and Your Students)
This one is important but usually easier said than done. It requires giving up the “everything must be perfect” mentality and giving yourself permission to prioritize. What are your “must haves” and what can you sacrifice? When I first heard the mantra “good enough is good enough”, I thought it sounded like a cop-out. I was wrong. It doesn’t mean that our standards should be lower, it just means they should be realistic. After all, there will always be things about every show that could have been better. And that’s okay.
In a practical sense, meal prep when you can. Salads, peanut butter sandwiches, almonds, and cheese and crackers are my best friends during busy weeks – they’re quick, easy, and portable. Use your downtime to its maximum potential and give yourself permission to do absolutely nothing related to work.
And if you need a mental health day, odds are good that your students do too. Every couple of weeks or so, I’ll do a wellness day with guided meditation, a “vent circle”, or some games. The students genuinely appreciate these days, not just as a break in the day but as a place (sometimes the only place) where they can be vulnerable and get things off their chest in a supportive environment.
Time management is tough for any teacher, and it’s even tougher when you’re juggling a show on top of teaching. It continues to be a work in progress for me, but hopefully some of this advice will prove helpful. I’d also love to hear about some of your best time management tricks.