In a perfect world, there would be no show dropouts for your theatre production once a student earned a part on stage, a duty on the tech crew, or been assigned a show-related responsibility.
But it’s not a perfect world.
Occasionally a major life issue beyond a student’s control will require them to withdraw from a production. However, there seem to be a few other reasons why students may be considering dropping out of productions:
- Disappointed with the part they’ve been given.
- Overwhelmed by the time commitment.
- Discovered something else they wanted to do.
4 Strategies to Help Prevent Show Dropouts
Regardless of the cause, dropouts can become a major problem for any production. Luckily, you can implement a few strategies to help keep things under control.
1. Set Clear Expectations
Jennifer Morgan Beuchat of Brownell Talbot College Preparatory School holds open auditions during which students sign a contract that details specific expectations for attendance, supporting others in the cast, and other participation requirements. Immediately, students can consider what they’re committing to should they be selected.
“After I decide on casting, I email each individual, describing their amazing character and how essential that character is to create incredible storytelling for our show. They then have 24 hours to let me know whether they accept their role,” Beuchat explains.
Giving students this time, confidentially, to reflect on the expectations encourages a sense of confidence and helps them develop a personal investment in the show’s outcome. Beuchat doesn’t post the cast list until she’s gotten answers from everyone she’s emailed.
In 30 years of teaching, only five students have dropped from productions after the show rehearsal period began, and Beuchat notes that four of them were because of grades.
2. Build a Safety Net of Support
Another helpful resource Beuchat creates is a family group, led by students on the theatre leadership team who have been in the program for at least two years.
“We have a senior member of our leadership team as head of the family; both tech and actors are in a family. The first 10 minutes of rehearsal are spent in family groups. We go over the rehearsal expectations for the day, check with each human to see how they are, and end with clarifying the goal for the rehearsal time,” Beuchat explained.
Family groups address the basics for students new to the school or who haven’t taken theatre classes before. They explain what a call time means, whether the student needs to come every day, why a scene is being run again, what exactly the expectation contract means, the phone usage policy during rehearsals, and so much more.
Clear communication about schedules is also key. “I create a Google Classroom for each production, posting the complete rehearsal schedule,” says Beuchat. This makes it easy to update everyone if or when changes need to be made.
3. Enhance Student Knowledge
While you can focus plenty of time preparing your Thespians’ performances on the stage, it’s often the work done off the stage that can create a deeper connection with the material. Beuchat builds these connections by helping students deepen their understanding of each character’s backstory and motivation.
“We create a giant character web for every show. The students share their characters’ backstories,” Beuchat says. This exercise requires the students to consider in detail who they are playing, which in turn encourages the actors to step more fully into their roles with confidence.
4. Make the Experience Less “Hellish”
Remember: Words matter. How you talk about the parts of a production can influence students’ desire to participate. A common moniker to consider dropping? “Hell Week.”
“In college theatre programs and even in some high schools, it is often called ‘hell week.’ I hate, hate, hate this practice,” says Matt Buchannan in his essay Taking the Hell out of Hell Week. “There is rarely a good reason to allow production week to feel like hell. Many college and community theatres end up with massive nine-hour rehearsals, tech crews pulling all-nighters, and general panic during this week.”
Instead, make it a pleasant experience for all by ensuring your rehearsal schedule works for everyone (within reason), focus on using positive language, and baking fun exercises and cooldowns into every session – remember putting on a production should be fun!
Better Cultures Produce Fewer Show Dropouts
Chances are there’s always going to be a little stress and something unexpected that crops up in a theatrical production. But with some changes to your culture, students dropping out of their roles won’t be one of them.
For starters, be sure to set expectations as early as possible. Attendance requirements, rehearsal schedules, and other commitments can help your Thespians understand their commitment as early as possible. Similarly, work with your students to create a supportive environment where they not only help but hold each other accountable.
In the end, it may take some prep work on the front end, but you’re often left with smoother productions, fewer dropouts, and a group of Thespians who will be happy to return for next season’s performance.
Patty Craft is a regular contributor to the Education Theatre Association.