For those of you who don’t know it, A Little Night Music is a 1973 musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Hugh Wheeler. You’re likely to know the most famous song, Send in the Clowns (sung here by Dame Judi Dench), but you should also check the rest of the music out if you don’t know it (available on Youtube or on amazon/iTunes…), because it’s fantastic. Producing it for the ADC theatre was my theatre project for this term (I only wanted to do one, because I had exams) and I’m so pleased with how it went. I want to tell you a little bit about the production process, some of the highlights and some of the stresses, and what I learned from those now that it’s over.
We started preparing for the show at the end of last term (beginning of March). The director, applied to the ADC Theatre for a space in their termly programme, and to Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society (CUMTS) for funding, and was granted both, with the show slots of 7.45pm, 10th-14th May. He opened applications for a producer, and I applied. The director and I had worked together previously on L’Escargot, and which had gone well. He wanted to make sure I had the support available from someone who had produced a large-scale musical at the ADC before (I had produced an operetta, The Pirates of Penzance, in a smaller theatre, but none as big as this was going to be), so he suggested I have an associate producer, who had worked with him on Spring Awakening the previous term. I also decided I could do with an assistant producer, so I opened applications for one, and she was incredibly helpful for me.
The first thing I did was apply to Joseph Weinberger for the rights to the show, which we were granted. Then, during the holiday, (mid-March to mid-April) I started on the “master spreadsheet” of all the production admin. Making one of these is a skill I’ve developed through different productions, but I’ve concluded that the easiest way to make sure that you have all the information you need, and that everyone can find it, and that you can work out which bits haven’t been filled in by that one actor who’s a fantastic performer, but doesn’t do admin (there is always, always one, I guarantee it!) is to have everything in a single google sheets document, ideally one, like this one, which is colour-coded by which bits are relevant to whom!
When I was drafting this post at first I started writing about what was in my master spreadsheet, and then realised I have enough to say about that for a whole blog post. That will be coming up soonish (I have so many things I want to write that it will probably be next month, rather than this one, but keep your eyes peeled anyway!).
Once the master spreadsheet was created, it needed filling in by the cast and crew with things like availability, contact details, sizes… I had created a Facebook group for the cast and crew (this is strongly recommended for student productions – many students don’t check emails, very few don’t check Facebook! Facebook also tells you who has seen the post, so you can chase up anyone who hasn’t actually seen it…) and posted the link to the google doc on there, with instructions as to deadlines for when each section needed to be filled in by.
Tip: for students, as well as using Facebook to see who has seen each post, I recommend using a checking method to see who has actually read the post – finish each important and long post with something to the effect of “Thanks for reading all of this, to let me know that you read it all please comment with [your favourite line from the show/your favourite treats in rehearsal/your favourite …]”. Anyone who has seen it but doesn’t comment hasn’t read it, and also needs chasing up.
Preparing for the rehearsal period happened smoothly and rehearsals started on 10th April. Term didn’t strictly speaking start until the 19th, so the early rehearsals were a little more difficult to plan, in the first week and a half, as some students weren’t back in Cambridge, but the preparation period went well and the rehearsals were scheduled as easily as possible with a big group of busy students. (Students being unavailable is a problem you unfortunately do have to work around in producing student theatre – a combination of scheduling to fit actors availability and pressure/guilt to try and persuade them to make themselves available when you need them to be are the best methods I’ve found to deal with it…)
As rehearsals progressed, the tech team got a fantastic set together (purchasing slightly shabby wallpaper and covering the flats for back of the stage with it, and building a combination of beds and furniture on wheels to create different interior spaces), which you can see some of in the photo right (taken by Sapphire Armitage). The set designer and technical director were wonderful, and this happened incredibly smoothly (except one thing which wasn’t delivered in time, and which had to be replaced). However, there were a few issues with lighting design, but we were able to use the lighting rig from the show the previous week, with which the director designed relatively simple, but still effective lighting and we got a team of volunteers to op a night each, so everything worked out fine in the end. (Thank you to those ops if you’re reading, you saved my sanity.)
Our problem in this case was a succession of drop outs, which was very stressful, but difficult to know how to avoid in a group of students with exams. I think it would have been helpful to try to get the team together even earlier, so people could spread their extra curricular work out more, and that is what I will try to do next time, but I’m not sure what else could have been done. If you were/are a student producer who has dealt with this problem and worked out a good way to deal with this sort of situation, I’d love to hear it in the comments!
We also got a fantastic poster designed by Natalie Price, which you can see left.
Despite a couple of stressful moments in the couple of weeks before the show, the production process went relatively smoothly and the show was a great success. As often happens in student productions, there were a couple of technical issues in terms of microphones etc on opening night, which the reviewers who were there that night noted (you can read reviews here or here), so for future student musicals I might suggest two technical rehearsals, and/or that the deputy stage manager and technical team attend a few rehearsals in the final week, to get used to the cues, if there is time for these (which there might not be; time, in student theatre, is a very rare commodity).
I hope you enjoyed today’s post! Feel free to like the post if you enjoyed it and/or follow the blog if you want more! Let me know in the comments if you found this post interesting, and/or if you have any suggestions about how best to handle/prevent drop outs from stressed students!
I’ll see you on Monday with advice on how to get a Producing Internship, so stay tuned for that, and then next Friday’s post will tell you all about how the June Event went!
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