PLANNING & RESOURCES
SETUP AND TECHNICAL REQUIREMENTS
-A desk or small table on which to set my audio equipment.
-3 chairs of any kind.
-Electrical outlet near stage or extension cord.
-Turn on the stage lights and dim or shut off audience lights.
-A standard WIRED microphone connection.
I have my own professional grade wireless headset microphone that connects to any standard microphone jack or cable.
I will not use the auditorium’s wireless system. I just need the house PA to plug in and use my microphone. The only exception to this is if the auditorium has a Shure brand wireless system that I can connect to. Also, keep in mind that the person introducing me will need his or her own microphone.
To delegate the whole thing to the tech person or theatre person just tell them the following:
“On stage right, our performer needs an electrical extension cord for power and a 1/4 or XLR connection to the house PA for sound. For lights, a basic downstage wash is fine. The house should be dark at performance time, the main curtain opened, and, if possible, the traveler drawn.”
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS & PROJECT IDEAS
Questions contain plot "spoilers." Only use AFTER show.
Do it Right.
KEYS TO A GREAT ASSEMBLY
II have been on stage for over twenty years and I have performed about one hundred shows a year, specifically for schools for nearly fifteen years. In my travels, I have been to the tiniest back rooms of VFW halls to huge auditoriums and casino ballrooms. One of the frustrating things for me as a performer is the number of problems and pitfalls that could be avoided with just a little planning. It is equally frustrating for the audience, regardless of age, to be put into a situation where they cannot possibly derive any knowledge or entertainment because of a simple disregard for their comfort and environment. I have listed some basic considerations that will help make my show work in your venue. These are somewhat specific to my theatrical one-man show “Dirt,” but there are principles contained which apply to all events where there is a speaker and audience.
1. A Stage
There needs to be a clearly defined and clearly visible area that is only the performer’s. If there is a band concert or school play also working what will be my area, some movement of chairs, music stands, and set pieces may be necessary.
2. No gymnasiums
A gym is where you conduct a pep rally. A gym is where you scream, yell, and run around. It is not where an audience gathers to listen and watch a theatrical event. My show rarely has the same impact nor am I ever totally comfortable as a performer in a gymnasium. Can I make it work it? Maybe…if you:
i. Have everyone seated on one side.
ii. Use chairs instead of bleachers. Don't ever expect students to sit on the floor. Have you ever sat for an hour on a floor? You would be insulted as an adult if someone expected you to be comfortable on a floor so why would you expect listening and attentive behavior from young people if put in the same situation?
iii. Provide a decent sound system. An effective sound system is supplied in about 10% of the gyms I’ve worked.
iv. Control the lighting when possible. I do not do a speech. I do not do a presentation. I am doing a show, a play. When you ask the audience to see a play they must “willfully suspend their disbelief.” This is why cinemas and theaters turn out the lights when the performance begins. Imagine going to see a movie with the lights on the whole time: The audience should be dark; the stage area should be lit.
3. A decent sound system
Please make sure everything works before I get there, especially if your school has electronic equipment that has not been turned on since the Eisenhower administration. I personally travel with my own wireless headset microphone and mixer, so I just plug into whatever PA the school provides. All I require is a standard microphone cable (XLR or 1/4”) and a power supply for my system. It can be helpful to have a custodian or AV person available to help me get things set up if the soundboard is hidden or complex.
The performance or stage area should be lit so the person performing and his facial expressions can be seen. The audience area should be dark. Remember we are creating that old dramatic idea of the “willful suspension of disbelief.” It can be helpful to have an AV person available if the lighting board is complex.
When seating the audience, give them plenty of time to move from classes to the show. The show “Dirt” is an hour long. If you block only an hour of time and it takes ten minutes to seat the audience, that leaves me only a maximum of fifty minutes.
6. Teacher & Student Behavior
I can count on one hand the number of serious audience behavior problems I've encountered. Nevertheless, please make sure the teachers or administrators sit WITH the audience. Students should not be allowed to use their phones, and please do not allow TEACHERS to operate their laptops or phones during the show. Apart from disrespecting the performer and distracting the audience, it’s sending a subtle message to the students: “I’m not paying attention and neither should you.” Also, please have principals and SROs lower the volume on their walkie-talkies.
Have a teacher or administrator introduce the assembly. There needs to be someone to set the tone. Even if you are planning on students introducing me, a teacher or someone in authority needs to address the audience to settle things down first.
Do not allow a free-for-all as the students are being seated. I’ve seen students running into the auditorium, yelling across the building to their friends, throwing things, kicking their feet up on the chairs, and standing around the back wall. In my experience, if you allow the students to settle in like this, it will take at least ten minutes of valuable time to get them focused.
9. Noise & Environment
If the auditorium has a band or music rehearsal space nearby, please do not allow the band to rehearse during a show.This may seem comical that I have to write this, but trust me, please. It’s happened. Recently the audience and I heard all of Beethoven’s Ninth during a show, drums, tubas, gongs, and all. No teacher or administrator asked the band to stop. Also, please do not allow school announcements during the show. It can ruin a poignant moment in the show when the audience hears “THERE WILL BE NO GIRLS’ SOCCER PRACTICE TODAY” blaring from the speakers.
10. Leaving early?
Do not allow students or teachers to leave before the end of the show. The presentation is meant to be seen in its entirety. The stories and messages are intertwined and come together rather powerfully as the show builds to its climax and end. It is distracting to the audience and me to see people walking around and doors opening during the show. I can understand that some students have work-study or commitments. Simply have them sit toward the back and leave in an inconspicuous way.
11. Create a good “vibe” before the show
Try not to yell at the students or condescend by calling them “boys and girls.” Keep things upbeat, respectful, and try not to telegraph too much about the show or throw me under the bus. Examples I have experienced: “OK, settle down. You know kids, every year thousands of young people DIE because of drugs and alcohol. And now please welcome your speaker.” One time, I was doing a show before a prom and the principal announced. “Before we begin I need to announce to all Juniors going to the prom that, because of some miscalculations in administration, you all owe an additional $50 in fees for your prom.” How do I, as a performer, follow that?
12. Preparation & Business stuff
Please review the technical requirements and have them taken care of before the performer arrives. Also, If payment is due or paperwork needs to be processed it is the sponsoring school's responsibility to have things done before the show. If at all possible try to reserve business conversations for after the show and after I am finished talking with the students.
I hope this helps you plan, and I look forward to a great show in your community.