How To Put On A Show


Everything you have to do to get the show home in no particular order.  It’s nice if you have a producer but they tend to be hard to find/pull out suddenly once they see your to do list…It’s a hell of a lot of work and responsibility.

Seriously though, you can’t do this all on your own. Call a meeting before you commit to a show and make sure you have at least: Director/Wardrobe/MD/SM/Sound and Lighting/Makeup/Chaperone/Front of House/props person/chippies/set designer and painter. If you choose to do the rest yourself read below and see just how much you have to do. You need free time, computer know how and diplomacy. You also need around £700 in the Panto bank account to buy insurance and scripts and random stuff you have to pay for early before ticket sale money starts to come in.

This list is particular to the Players and the Northmoor Village Hall but most of it applies universally. Feel free to plagiarise.

Script  Choose in the Summer and buy permissions (around £170) once it is cast. Transfer to computer and keep it ruthlessly up to date. Try not to annoy people by asking them to print out full new scripts all the time. Do refreshes scene by scene (keep page numbers in hand to avoid confusion – this is where ‘on the same page’ takes on real meaning.)  A lot of actors will bring tablets with the script on so they are easy to keep updated. All very well but they still need to make notes on something. Bring spares to rehearsals.

Cast:   Audition and cast in September. Get contact forms filled in including the all important email address. Check the address actually works and add to the relevant mailing list for the panto. You want lists for chorus, production and cast separate or people will get over faced with irrelevant information.

Block movements etc and make them learn lines early. Twice weekly rehearsals Monday and Thursday. Do not cast anyone who cannot commit to all rehearsals at least in principal. Keep an eye on time slippage. Cast tend to come in later and later, shortening usable rehearsing time. Crack whip. Keep eye on chronic absentees. Sometimes they are the ones who pull out altogether at a week’s notice..Pre emptive sackings may be in order.

Chorus:   As cast but get a leader who can report to you. Rehearse on Mondays.  Attend all rehearsals in January. Make sure they have fun. They don’t get the ego strokes the leads get.

Kids:   You have to have two chaperones for the actual shows and separate changing areas.  Run a register for shows and get them signed and keep contact list at VH at all times. Sack the horrible kid early if you find you have one.  It’s not worth it. Do not allow parents to leave kids at rehearsals unless they are angels and sensible and they have a designated carer in the hall keeping an eye on them. This is not you  – or anyone else who will be full on busy. Often a  stray parent will stay and be the carer for the lot.  Police checks are nice but as we all know, non transferable and only prove the nasty ones have not got caught doing anything. Use your gut instincts about people and listen when kids or mums are worried. It is very unlikely to be an issue. You are far more likely to need a first aider.

First Aid    Make sure there is a first aid box and book in house and that it is stocked and up to date. Don’t rely on the village hall to have done this. A drama company is the most likely hall user to actually need it. Tell the hall if you do use something.  Have a plan re fire/emergencies. Ask if you have up to date first aid trained people around and make sure everyone knows.

Risk  Once props and sets come into the hall things can get nasty with falling wobbly and pointy things. Partly finished stages are fall hazards and backstage just gets worse when the wiring goes in and it all becomes cluttered. Add to this granny’s medicine in her bag and the prima donna’s  bottle of Dutch courage and it’s a health and safety nightmare for kids. Do a properly thought out risk assessment from day one and keep doing it as things get added. Share the results. Don’t let the kids run about backstage or onstage or play with props. Sometimes you have to be the teacher you all hated in school.

Sets  Agree on number of scene changes. Design sets, get flats moved from Florey’s barn and arrange painting parties to blank out and colour in. Start ASAP as this takes months.

Music:  Choose, buy and rehearse. Finalise songs as soon as you can, ideally at same time as choosing script. although sometimes you have to see what works with the voices you have. Better to shoe in a late song that works than make them sing something that will always sound horrendous. Cut Cut Cut : Verses, songs that don’t work, the chorus member who is as flat as a pancake.  The MD needs as much rehearsal time as the director so plan for this. Factor in dances as well.  Give cast MP3s of the songs and lyric sheets and always bring spares. Cast always forget to learn the words and to bring lyrics to rehearsals.

If using playback instead of piano player, find backing tracks for your songs and edit them to incorporate any changes you have made re length (really tricky). Put these on your computer so you can do any song any time and set up strong enough speakers to fill a noisy hall each rehearsal.

Some panto scripts come with songs written for the show but they tend to suck and it is easier for cast to learn a song they already know and can watch on You Tube. There is always a ‘song of the year’ the kids will adore to hear. You have to shoehorn it in. Gangnam Style was a gift to pantos.

Lighting  Make plot and order lights etc Nov/Dec. Load in Friday before tech R. Try out Saturday. Cost usually around £600. Some effects may be perfect in your head but horrendously tricky and involve a special light that costs twice your budget. So do talk to the techs. I know they bang on about stuff in detail until you want to scream but no one has more power to make the magic happen. You can play with models of the stage and run through the script with them using Lego people if you want to be uber professional.

Thank them often. I am married and mother to my lighting techs so I make them puddings.

Sound  Agree on effects in October. Audition them asap. Run Rehearsals with them from Dec onwards. Get PA for these to use for rehearsals. Choose interval and scene change music for play back. SFX chaps tend to be mischievous souls who can insert last minute jokes to keep things fresh. Let them do it.

Props  Make list and source/make before Christmas. Check store in Sue’s shed. Run rehearsals with as many as possible.  Props are my personal nemesis. They are never done in time and often look all wrong so I end up secretly doing it again myself. Except for Will’s fabulous creations, which are just stunning.

Make Up  Inspect box for missing/knackered  items and start design mid December. Try outs in January. Be firm on not overdoing it re eye-liner on kids and vivid blush etc and an overly strong dame look will scare the kids in the wrong way. We are only a few yards to the back of the hall. Recruit and train up helpers. Get mirrors and ask cast to provide own wipes/remover. A lot of the cast will be able to do their own once you show them how. Saving masses of time. For some reason make up seems to be the easy one. People are brilliant and just get on with it. Expensive.

Wardrobe  List what is needed. Get sizes from cast. Try on using what we have in store and order/make/alter the rest. Use ODN wardrobe if needed (fee £20 a costume) or other hire companies. Start in October as this all takes time. Get them cleaned after the show. This is the second big expense of the production. Insist on seeing all costumes including the minor chorus who often bring their own. We had to ditch the denim mini skirts one bought in for the cowboy panto. Again, wardrobe tends to just work.

Insurance  Renew policy in December with First Night £175 all year cover plus employees cover and public liability. Bargain

Tickets  Design and order printing well before mid November to sell to cast. Go on sale to public at The Christmas Shopping Evening mid November and thence to the Red Lion to sell. Sell the back of the tickets for advertising.

Posters  Design and get printed (A3 and A4) and laminated before January. Posters up round villages in January. If children are going to do a design competition organise this to be run  in October. Making a poster from the kids design can take a long time with Paintbox to make them look strong enough to work as viable posters. Soft crayon on white paper does not make an arresting picture.  Ask Julie Thorne to design a poster instead. She is brilliant.

Oxford Drama Network  Renew annual sub in December. Put advert for show in their website. (Log on and add)  Apply for the competition by Dec 10th. Reserve two tickets, seats near front and two programmes for judges. Keep tickets with person on the door and let them know. Buy them a drink.

Village Hall  Liaise with VH about use and when it is free. Share diaries. Black out all windows as soon as is friendly once the stage is up. This takes time. Get helpers for this. You will need many rolls of black sugar paper and many rolls of Gaffer tape. Worth getting every last chink of light out though. The lighting will look so much better. Put sound proofing on noisy doors if still needed (all ok as of 2015) Put up signs. Reserve seats as applicable. 100 Chairs go out on Wednesday. Keep hall and floors clean between shows. Bucket and mop in kitchen as well as in cupboard in case of sudden spills. Make sure loo rolls/hand soap etc are replenished between acts as the cleaner will not be in.  Keys for loo dispensers in the kitchen on the wall last time I looked. (why do they have to be locked?)

Decorate foyer and set up bar. This can be huge fun but takes time so you might just find someone to take this on as a project during the run up to the opening night. Do a theme to match the show. Include cast photos and blurbs like a proper foyer. Front of house wear costume.

The hall get the profits we make on the show etc once we have taken out what we need for the next show (around £700) and bought equipment for store. Leave hall immaculate after the show and in better shape than you found it.

PA  Gather all elements ready for show in Dec

Photos   Get your local photography enthusiast to come in and take rehearsal snaps and head shots of the cast (a group one for the chorus) for printing out and putting up in the foyer for the shows. Ask cast to provide a short bulb to go with their picture.’Angela Luvvie trained at RADA and was ‘corpse’ in season three of Casualty. Her Lady MacBeth was described by the Neesdon Tribune as ‘startling’.’ That sort of thing..

Publicity  ODN website. Oxford Mail, Contact magazine (Harvey Ellett), Stanton Harcourt Village Voice ( They do not have a December one so let them know early)  Village emails. Fox FM

Backstage Crew  Recruit 4 people to help scene changes and appoint a leader to organise this. Make sure they have a script each and attend rehearsals in January and of course, the Tech. A private run through or eight with them is a good idea so bang goes your one night off.

Prompt  Book Elaine to start December (scripts down December 1st) A good prompt is worth rubies. Elaine has it down pat.

Dress Rehearsal  Invite Thursday Club, Hospice  and other local charities free to make up an audience for this. Sell tickets half price for regular punters. Run bar/tea etc. Old folks have a powerful thirst.

Funds  Treasurer to keep track of expenses and forward plan. Regular reports to chair. Plan for special investments. Wish list. End of show report in March. Floats as needed.

Programme    Using Publisher or similar software make a booklet and add your content. It is much easier nowadays to make it look fab with lashings of colour and fancy boarders and fonts and stuff but don’t go mad.  Make sure you spell all the names right. Ask if in doubt. Check twice. Thank everyone on the back page, even if they were arseholes in reality. Contact previous advertisers and find new ones and get their art work to insert. Get it properly proof read. Beg someone to print it for free then you get to keep the modest income from the ads (£40 full page etc). If no go then you can probably print them between you and the cast sharing ink costs. You need about 50 per show. We always have too many. Ads and content deadline Dec 31st and go to print first week of January. Ideally get a test one run off first. Don’t forget to invoice the advertisers and chase payment.

Get your most A type personality friend to sell programmes on the door and tell them you never usually sell more than half.

Video  Book someone to do this, preferably with two cameras or over two days. Keep an eye on continuity!! Get DVDs burned and in cases. Take orders at shows. Sell at the DVD viewing in March. Should bring in £200 if ask £10 per DVD. Don’t bank on selling to anyone outside of the cast.

Dressing Room.  Clear out  (Thursday Club stuff etc) and use asap. Some negotiation may make this possible nice and early.  Put up curtains. Install rails (In Sue’s loft and Druce’s) Black out on French doors.  Do all this as soon as the last Thursday Club is finished before the show. Practise exits and entrances from here asap. This is when it starts to feel real.

Other Hall Users  Get contacts for these and be considerate. Help them move stuff.  Be willing to compromise on things. The Saturday market does not run in January so that is fine. Keep floor clear of chairs until Wednesday of the show. Thursday Club do a trip out for the last week but can use hall when just stage is up. Put steps on stage so they have more room. Store sets and props considerately and keep it to the minimum. Often we find broken things and mend them so the hall gets better loved when we are in with all our practical chaps.

Stuff  Install a lost property box. It is amusing what people leave behind and never reclaim. Reading glasses, overcoats, phones, tights. Offer to lock up valuables during the show in the boiler room.

Keys  We have a set and more are always useful especially when it comes to near  show time. Never leave the hall unlocked once the PA and lights are in. That stuff costs a bomb.

Website Keep up to date with content and lists etc. Add photos and video clips. Don’t forget to pay the annual fee to WordPress.(£15) Yes, I know nobody reads it but if you have one it has to be fresh up to date and glossy.

Stage  Erect three weeks before show.  This will take two weekends at least. Arrange crew for this. Hopefully chaps with own tools/ladders.  Make them lots of tea. Bring cake. Do not allow them out to the pub at lunch.

Bar  Apply for temporary licence in early December for the four days (£21 from the Oxfordshire County Council Website). Ask Michael Druce to run the bar as he brings own glasses and wine etc. and has been doing it so well and so long people automatically say ‘bottle of red please’ as soon as they come through the door. Agree prices if Michael is not available. Add 50p. Remind people what they pay for a watery G&T in the New Theatre.

Raffle  Collect prizes/tickets and co-opt people to sell at the shows. This will make up a substantial part of your profits. Raffles are like Jack’s magic beans. They grow money from nothing. Be prepared to be the front person with roving mic for this. So make sure you know who is in the house and what their name and what amusing thing you can say about them, so you can insert some banter into the deadly proceedings. Keep it short. Two prizes maximum.

Announcements  Get Robert Florey to record the pre show and interval announcements in his strong booming voice. Don’t forget the matinee is a different time..

Last Night  Arrange flowers for SM, MD, Director and Wardrobe/Prompt. Remember to thank techies and set designer…..People get upset if you forget. Don’t be a wuss, get up on the stage and make a short speech. Use face powder and more blush as the lights will make your expensively attained glowy, dewy make up look like you have been dragged from a feverish deathbed.

Get In  The lights and PA go in the Saturday (and maybe Friday) before the show week. No one except trustworthy techs allowed to this. Supply food.

Tech Rehearsal   Sunday before the show. Midday to late.  Make cue sheets. Have stand ins lined up if the lighting tech should, say,  knock himself out in the bathroom the night before the first night!! This is useful for everyone but the techies run it. It is their one and only rehearsal. The cast will complain about being dazzled. Tell them they look so beautiful in the pink spot it is worth it. Point out it also means they can’t see the audience in terrifying detail.

Front of House  Book a team to run teas/sweets/cakes from the kitchen and sell raffle tickets. Get them to arrange teas for crew and cast at interval. Don’t forget the director. Mine’s a large gin btw. Lock doors to keep public out until official doors open time. They will try and sneak in while the dame is still walking about the hall with his boobs out and half his make up done. I swear some of them would camp out overnight to get the front row.

Mingle  Be visible (I sometime wear my ‘Director’ badge) and available to the audience. Everyone will have some fabulous compliment to pay to you and the cast and this is your time to get your ego strokes. Write it all down and pass on  every nice comment to the cast after the show. I even wrote the best quotes on a white board one year and put it in the foyer. Fellow luvvies will want to talk and make contact.

After Show Party  Buy several trophies for the comedy “Oscar” awards. Write your script for this the morning of the last night so you don’t miss out any last minute jokes. Keep it funny and make a fuss of the youngsters. The stars will know they were wonderful anyway.  Book nibbles with pub. Decompress massively and get tearful.Tell everyone you love them.

Tear Down  Sunday after show make sure everyone helps to rip it all out. Keep safe as they will all be hung over! Trips to dump with tons of rubbish.

Weather huge come down in the next few weeks as you find you have evenings to yourself and miss your cast horribly. Console yourself by looking in your garage, which is still full of panto stuff and unclaimed property.

Viewing Party  Arrange party with proper food to view the DVD in March/April. Useful source of top up income so maximise profits from food/bar. Whip up frenzy of anticipation for ‘the next one’.

Be a luvvie. Go to see other amateur shows and hug everyone. Keep a eye and ear out all year round for useful recruits. Get the phone number of anyone who says they might like to “have a go”. Village parties are very handy for charming new members into attending.

Make it fun. Or why would anyone want to do all this for free?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s