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Arts in Community: Creating a smoother process flow

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Pirates of Penzance

Whether you are directing a show or putting together a community pageant, there are several aspects of the project that will either support a smooth process and positive outcome, or create major stress and early onset balding (or maniacal laughter...). Here's a few tips to help it go well!

Schedule. Number one arch nemesis. Everyone has other things to do, there are different skill sets represented (and so of course, different members of each subgroup have different learning-time needs), people forget, and things come up at the last minute. What are some steps you can take to not go postal? If at all possible, create a google calendar! There's a feature where everyone can type in their own availability and you can easily see where things overlap. As the calendar manager, you can erase the ones that aren't pertinent once yo set the schedule. You can add fun icons for folks who need a visual cue (like me). You can have it send reminders to peoples' emails. And for folks who do not have a computer, set up a meeting time where they write down on their calendar in pencil when they may be needed while you type it in to the google calendar. Once it is set, follow up with that person in person, with your laptop 1) so they can write the correct dates/times down on their own calendar and 2) so if they are at a library or other location with public-access internet, they will know how to check the google calendar online. Changes? Have google calendar send out an email AND TEXTS to all the subscribers. That way you only have to follow-up directly with the folks who do not have the privilege of cell-phones/computers, etc. By the way, the google calendar for your event will appear nestled into the rest of your computer-based calendar, in a new colour.

Organize the schedule into what are called "French Scenes." This means you rehearse the scenes with the same people in them, even though they are not consecutive, trying to follow the sequence in which they appear, so as to focus on how the relationships or use of space, etc change in the course of the piece. Very helpful both for schedule and for people seeing the relationships and character growth more clearly. I often do a variation on French Scene scheduling by adding a sort-of "pyramid" structure: Choose the pair or trio on which you wish to focus. Start with a large group scene that includes them, then do a scene that is a slightly smaller group, then a smaller group, then just the pair or trio. No performer is kept waiting, and the pair or trio gets a sense of their relationship in a group context. You can, of course, start small and grow the group sizes to end with a large scene, but then you need to give everyone exact start times, which they may or may not adhere to.

Scene buddies. When you are missing someone, make sure someone ELSE in the scene has them as a scene buddy (so that they go to the same locations and do related things), and pretends to interact with them, puts empty shoes where they are so you everyone knows how much space the missing person takes up, and learns where they go together. The scene buddy can go over it with the person who was missing BEFORE the next rehearsal-even if it is immediately before. Much time is saved!

Space. Whaddaya mean we can't rehearse where we'll be performing?!?!? Argh!!!! Where can we practice? How do people get there? It's different every time! Yup, this is a challenge. As much as possible, try to have a consistent space so people can focus on developing the piece and not just re-orienting. Churches are often very generous with their spaces, as are schools (especially in the summer), and un-rented storefronts. Bring painters' tape or sidewalk chalk to mark out the size and shape of the space you will actually be performing in-neither will hurt a floor finish nor a rug. For one or two rehearsals, try to find -even if you have to pay for it-a space similar to the one you'll be performing in, especially if it is outside, or has vastly different acoustics. Have at least one-hopefully 2 or more-rehearsals in the actual space. ALSO-keep your set to a bare minimum and make sure to rehearse with the pieces every time.

Expectations. Keep them clear, keep them consistent, keep them HIGH. Say them every time. Have fun with them. Use them to give adjustments, redirects, gentle reprimands and reminders. Bring in funny props as reminders. I have also found that using multiple cultural references to explain an expectation or explain why we have a certain expectation helps LOADS. Anecdotes make terrific illustrative tools as well, especially to show what can go wrong or be an undesirable consequence.

Hope these help for starters. And remember-no matter what the project is, have fun!

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