It’s hard work running a theater company, even harder running one designed for kids. There’s several not for profit and for-profit theater companies that focus their efforts on children’s theater. Based on my experiences as both an audience member and performer with children’s and community theaters, here are some examples of what NOT to do when in charge. And these issues probably aren’t just limited to children’s theaters either.
DON’T plan a winter performance without a snow date. Unless your theater is located in Hawaii (if that’s the case are you hiring?) skip to the next section. However, if you are located anywhere there are weather issues, you need to be prepared. Having a snow date (or a contingency plan) mapped out and communicated to your performers and audience members up front is just smart. Otherwise, you run the risk of dealing with a whole slew of last-minute decisions, angering and upsetting people and putting your young performers in awkward situations. Example- a local theater group had to reschedule their December show due to snow (FYI- I live in New England. Snow in December is a yearly occurrence.) They had no pre-planned snow date and ended up rescheduling for the next evening. Problem solved you might think. Except- what do performers and families do with tickets they bought that can no longer be used? What do performers and families do if they have plans for the now rescheduled performance date? Remember- no snow date was planned up front so it’s perfectly logical families would have other activities on other days. Work smarter, not harder is the motto here.
DON’T have policies that vary from show to show or worse, performance to performance. Every theater group has their own seating policy some reserve seats depending on price point, some have open seating, and some are numbered. Whatever you chose, be consistent. A local theater group always offers 2 seating price points- the higher of which receives reserved seating at shows, typically consisting of the first 10 or so rows of the center section. You have the option when purchasing to select your price point. A recent show I attended with this group gave me only the lower price point when purchasing in advance but only the higher price point (reserve seating) was the only option when buying at the door. Even more disturbing the entire center section was marked reserved, essentially rewarding those who purchased last minute at the door (yes for the higher price) but without informing the public of this new seating arrangement up front. Audience members have long memories. Always assume some of your audience has seen a show with your company before and if you are going to make changes that affect them, communicate it clearly up front.
DO make allowances in certain situations. For a small, community theater organization it’s not going to be feasible to have a return policy on tickets. However when acts of God come into play: weather, actor injury, building mishap, regardless of your normal policy exceptions can and should be made. If you don’t, you run the risk of looking greedy, evil, and being compared with Ticket Master.
DON’T change schedules at the last-minute. It’s hard enough for a troupe of adult actors to deal with last-minute schedule changes, it’s even harder for kids. Build enough time into your rehearsal plan to adequate rehearse everything. If you feel additional time will be needed clearly explain that to parents as soon as possible. Remember that the parents are juggling their own lives, work, and sometimes multiple kids. Advance notice is just plain respectful to all.
DO foster and encourage a love of the arts, performing, music and acting. That means make it a safe, and fun place for the children; a place they want to be and return to year after year. If it means an additional time and energy expenditure on your part up front, so be it. We, none of us, are in community theater because it’s easy or because we want to get rich. We’re there because we love it, because we have a passion for it and because we want to share that passion with others. The earlier we can instill and nurture that passion in children, the better.
Photo: Boston Children's Theatre