If you enjoy musical theater and have experience in the field, you can produce a community theater show. If you’re already part of a troupe with a theater venue, talk with the theater manager about allowing you to be a producer. You don’t need special training to be a producer, although experience in many areas involved in a show will help prepare you for how to produce a musical.
1. Choose Which Show to Perform
Any project needs a beginning, and the start of a musical production is to choose a show. Part of the choice should be to consider the type of cast you will likely have. Being in a troupe is also helpful here – because you’ll know the size and the type of cast members who may try out. If you are starting fresh, starting with a small production might be best.
Another consideration will be to predict which type of show the people in your community might enjoy. You’ll be inviting people in the community to enjoy the show, so you must select a show they like. For example, an area populated primarily by senior citizens might prefer a traditional musical, like ‘Oklahoma!’ while a college town might prefer a more edgy musical, like ‘Rent.’ When planning how to produce a musical, put your own taste second to the presumed taste of your audience.
No matter which musical you choose, if it’s written by someone else, you must apply for the production rights and pay a royalty to get permission to use it. As the producer, you’ll be responsible for obtaining this permission before you can do the show. Keep a copy of your production permit and royalty receipt.
2. Assemble Your Production Team
There are many aspects of a musical, and you won’t be able to do them all. One of the essential selections will be the director. They will be the ones to instruct the actors and actresses to help them bring the playwright’s words to life. A director should have enough experience to produce a musical – even if they’ve never been a director.
Since the production is a musical, having a musical director is also essential. The musical director is responsible for ensuring all the singers know their parts. If there is a band or orchestra, the musical director is also in charge of that group. Dancers in the show will be led by a choreographer.
The other members of the team include someone to be in charge of makeup and costumes. Lighting can help transform your set and enhance the mood, so you’ll need a lighting designer. You also need a stage manager and someone in charge of props to keep the play moving. You’ll need a set designer to create a realistic setting for the play.
3. Publicize and Hold Auditions
If you’ve been talking to people in your troupe about your musical, people may have already approached you to ask for a part in the play. Unless you’re positive about them playing the role they want, keeping your mind open to other possibilities is a good idea. Advertise your auditions with an ad in the local newspaper or on a local radio station. On the day of the audition, ask as many production team members as possible to be there.
Ask everyone to prepare an up-tempo song and a ballad for a musical audition, and to bring their headshots. This will give you an idea of their voice and their energy, and remind you how they look. Once everyone has auditioned, ask them to read from the lines of the play. If any of them have impressed you, you can ask them to read with another person who is auditioning.
Once you and the select those who are possibilities for parts, you’ll need to do ‘callbacks’ – another day of auditioning. Have your candidates read with each other to see how they look together. When it comes to your final selection, choose the parts on whether they can embody the role; this is more important than the way they look. One of the crucial aspects of how to produce a musical is your sense of which people will best allow your audience to believe and be entertained by the show.
4. Purchase or Make the Costumes
An essential element of how to produce a musical is to obtain costumes for the play’s characters. Even characters who wear ‘street clothes’ must have clothing that fits their character. But, if you’re doing a musical set in a specific era, like ‘Grease’ or ‘Camelot,’ you’ll need costumes that reflect the era in which the show is set. If you have seamstresses in your troupe, you might decide to make the costumes using patterns and online pictures of the costumes worn in the Broadway production.
If you have a large ensemble (group of people who sing and dance but don’t have a significant role), you’ll typically want all their costumes to look similar – but not the same. Try using a color palette to keep the colors of the ensemble costumes of the same type (purple, blue, magenta, violet, ruby, navy, and other similar hues.) Instead of going to a fabric store to buy expensive fabric, you can go to a thrift store and purchase sheets, curtains, or other linens to turn into costumes. As for hats, you can make them from felt and cardboard if you’re creative.
An aspect of costuming you don’t want to ignore is the jewelry. For example, some female characters should wear a jewelry ring to signify engagement or marriage. The call may be small, but it conveys essential information about that character. To find inexpensive jewelry, check if anyone in the troupe knows places to sell jewelry at a discount.
5. Assemble Your Props and Set Pieces
In addition to creating the scenery by painting ‘flats’ (tall wooden frames covered with cloth and painted to make scenery), you must pay attention to things that need to complete the scene. For example, you’ll need a sofa, a chair or two, a coffee table and some lamps in a living room. You can probably borrow some furniture from troupe members. For a bedroom scene, you’ll need to buy a mattress (or borrow one), some linens, and a dresser.
Some troupes will have a large storage room to keep furniture for use with as many future musicals as possible. This storage idea is a good strategy; you should suggest it if the troupe doesn’t already use it. You don’t want actors sitting on cardboard, so you may need to buy furniture at a thrift store. Other things you may not automatically think of might be made of cardboard – like a refrigerator, stove, or end table.
Props are necessary, too. Many can be borrowed, such as a phone, a book, a set of keys, or a mirror. Don’t discount the importance of these small things. They help tell the story. As the producer, you can list all the props and then entrust the stage manager to see that they are in place and ready for the show.
6. Design Your Lighting to Enhance the Scenery
You may not realize it when you’re watching a play, but the lighting design can help the audience sense the mood of a scene as much as the scenery. The same background scene of a flowery field will look different in the morning light than in the evening. If possible, use a theatrical lighting system to help the lighting in your play tell the story. Part of how to produce a musical is finding the right lighting system and lighting team.
If there are any solos in the musical, there should be a spotlight on that singer. Spotlights can call attention to a character or depict them as isolated from the group. To cast a light across the whole stage, you can use a ‘wash’ light. Wash lights could be used in big dance numbers, so the audience can get the effect of the entire cast.
Lighting can be done in colors if you have colored lights available. Blue light is usually used to signal sadness, while red means anger or passion, and yellow conveys a sense of energy. Your lighting director should consult with the director to be sure they know if a particular mood is needed during one of the scenes. No matter the lighting system you use, be sure to have the lighting elements inspected by an electrical service provider before you use them for production.
7. Plan a Gala Opening Night Event
As you get close to the show’s dates, many theater producers enjoy an opening night party. The party is a way to thank the cast and crew for their hard work and to celebrate the opening night performance. As the producer, another part of how to produce a musical is arranging and paying for this party. Find a nearby party venue to donate a space or rent a party room at a discount.
The opening night will be a day to enjoy in style, so it’s okay to treat yourself to a limousine rental to arrive at the gala in style. You can pretend you’re a Broadway producer if you allow yourself permission to make this an elaborate celebration. Your cast and crew can dress up and make the party a truly ‘Hollywood’ occasion.
For the opening night event, you’ll want to have food available. If the place you are holding the event serves food, ask them to cater it. If you need help, you could contact one of the local corporate catering companies to provide the food. Since they are used to corporate events, they’ll likely have competitive catering rates.
8. Sell Refreshments at Intermission
When your audience is enjoying the show, it’s not a good idea for them to be eating or drinking. In addition to spills, there might be noises from chewing or unwrapping the food. You can sell refreshments at half-time to provide refreshments and make a little money for the troupe. Some troupes ask their members to bring food for the refreshment table, but there are other ideas you might try.
If you plan to allow halftime food to be brought back into the theater, that will limit you to snacks your audience can carry, like pretzels or cookies. If you can use snacks made by troupe members, you can also encourage volunteers to sell the snacks. Be sure to provide napkins and place trash cans at the end of the theater aisles near the exit doors. One of your decisions for how to produce a musical will be whether to serve snacks or to have lunch or dinner with your show.
If you have enough room for tables for the audience to eat, you could try serving lunch with the production. Dinner theaters are very popular, they will sometimes offer a package ticket for dinner and a show. You could contact a company that offers Hispanic food distribution for an enchilada dinner. Another choice might be to get a catering service to provide a different type of cuisine.
9. Pay Your Team and Pay Your Bills
You don’t have to pay your cast or crew in a volunteer theater troupe. If you are working with a company with some paid workers, using a payroll service is the easiest way to facilitate the payroll service. Some of the production team members may have had to pay for some of the services or items needed for the show. Use the proceeds from the tickets and the snacks to pay those production members back.
There will be other bills to pay. Unless your troupe owns it, you’ll have to settle the rental costs for using the theater building. Don’t forget to pay the expenses for the refreshments, and the cost to rent costumes, if any. If the orchestra or band needs to be paid, those costs will be assumed by you.
As you can see, there are many tasks to oversee as a producer. You’ll go through many steps as you learn how to produce a musical. But, with a great production team and a talented cast, you’ll produce a show that will entertain your audience. Break a leg!