Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Show Program: a Thorn in My Side


Now that it’s nearly ready for the printer, I would like to say a few words about the printed program that is handed out to the audience members who attend a theater production – specifically, a high school musical. I was whining to a friend earlier today about how much I dislike putting the program together, and she reminded me I’ve been complaining about it since 1979 when I was involved in my first community musical theater production. I wonder how many people realize those programs are produced through great effort and take huge chunks of time.

It’s tremendously time-consuming, and I was spoiled because an extremely capable and super nice mother handled assembling the program for our high school for three years. I still had to keyboard all the information, but I didn’t even have to think about layout, or worry about getting the ads in, which is a big job in itself. It’s nice when the director can concentrate on directing and not the eight zillion other jobs (or so it seems) associated with getting a high school or community production up and running, where you either do it yourself or beg friends to handle something for you … such as the set. The set always scares me. At our high school, we either have to depend on the kindness of strangers (or preferably, friends and/or family) for set design, construction, decoration, gathering properties (which usually includes furniture … and believe me, the shows that don’t require a bed are few and far between), being in charge of costumes, make-up, promotion and publicity, and on and on.

I’ll stick to the program for this blog entry. Our program includes advertising (which we ask the cast members to try and sell, and about a third of them actually bring in ads and money), the cast list, a list of the instrumentalists who play in the pit orchestra, a list of scenes and musical numbers, the names of the production staff, a list of the school district administrators and school board, photos of the cast members, bios of the cast members (which I generally have to threaten to write myself with kids who inevitably drag their feet -- and I promise them if I write their bio they will not like it), a list of seniors, acknowledgements of the nice people who lend us that furniture and other items … in other words, a lot of information that has to be gathered and then keyboarded so it looks nice, and then the book (because it IS a book, this year’s is a total of 28 pages) must be laid out. Oh, and those photos: finding someone to take them, and then keyboarding captions (name of actor/role) and checking to be sure Johnny Smith’s name doesn’t go under Susie Jones’ photo. You get the idea.

And generally all this can’t be done too far ahead, because many of those names (acknowledgements, technical staff and stage crew, etc., even cast list because people leave the show for various reasons or changes are made) aren’t available until the week before tech week, and I always try hard to get the program to the printer the Monday before performances begin on Friday. Partly I have to admit I keep hoping some wonderful person who loves to put programs together will appear miraculously at a rehearsal and offer to take care of the program. No such luck this year! There are such people. I knew one years ago. You guessed it, she was my BFF.

If all I had to do was the program, or I have to admit, if I were paid to do it, it would be different. But just when I have to be thinking about those pesky little details like seeing that the set is built and painted and all the trillion hand props are gathered and that bed is finally found and we’ve figured out how many microphones we need to rent and making sure the tickets have been printed and the newspaper ad has been ordered  … that’s when the program rears its ugly head, demanding to be attended to. So I settle down and get started on it, fuming and whining. I’m terrified I’m going to leave a name out of the program. For the one I am working on now I almost forgot a courtesy ad had to be included and sent to the printer (it had been e-mailed to me some time ago) … yikes. Fortunately writing this blog jogged my memory!

I’m always sure a glaring error will leap out at me the minute I pick up the printed programs. Nobody wants to proofread the darned thing. I wish I could look at it as just a program for the musical that nobody will ever look at after they come to see the show, but I can’t do that. Maybe from the years at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival/Edgecliff Academy of Fine Arts when I was paid to typeset the programs (well, it was part of my job), and I wanted them to be beautiful and wonderful. Old habits are hard to break.

If you live near East Stroudsburg come and see BYE BYE BIRDIE at South high school next weekend. The kids are terrific, and the show will be entertaining and fun to watch, and you’ll see some amazing young performers. And if you find a typo in the program, do not tell the director about it.