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How to stage a successful production: Prep work

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Early last year, Beat by Beat Press published Putting on a Play: How to Plan for a Successful Production. The step-by-step advice is comprehensive and clear… but is it relevant to Malaysian companies?

We talked to Freddy Tan, director of SIFU productions and Fa Abdul of Big Nose Productions, and found that there were quite a few differences. So, in collaboration with Freddy and Fa, ARTERI presents this introductory guide to successfully staging your production… in Malaysia.

1. Choose a show that fits your mission statement
Too many productions choose scripts because of reputation or from a love of the material. Its important to choose shows that will fit your audience, budget, your company mission statement, and most important, one that you understand fully.

Freddie advises asking yourself, “ Are you staging the show for profit, as a creative outlet, to learn and gain experience, to build future opportunities and credentials; or a mixture of the above?” These questions will help you to identify and determine your objective and mission before getting caught up in the details.

He says that it is a clear warning sign if for example, the director is gung-ho about the script but the producer and music director are still asking, ‘but can it sell?’. Unless everyone has the same motivation, it is best not to rush into a decision.

2. Identify the type and genre of the show
It is important for the core production team and the director to sit down and discuss and determine the direction that will be taken based on the genre and type of the play.

Follow this rough format:

  • Treatment style (Modern, absurdist, classic/period, etc)
  • Script genre/subgenre (Drama, comedy, romantic comedy, etc)
  • Theatre form (Traditional theatre, interactive, with improve elements, etc)

Once you’ve narrowed down to specifics, it is easier to estimate the requirements for assembling the creative team and the cast you need. For example: Hamlet done as a classic-tragedy-drama will require as very different skill-set from your cast and crew than Hamlet done as a modern-tragedy-drama-interactive theatre piece.

3. Get your team together
Young producers like to pile work onto themselves; which is counterproductive and tiring. Fa recommends “clarifying the responsibilities of each member of your crew.” Freddy categorised the roles in order of priority but noted one should “always decide on Tier-1, before confirming Tier-2, 3 etc. Because the people in the higher tier should be included in deciding who goes in the immediate lower tier.”

  • Tier 0 – Core project initiator: Executive Producer (usually the one with the initial funds or the highest share/influence in the company/team) / Producers
  • Tier 1 – Once tier 0 is formed they look for: Director / Musical Director / Artistic or Creative Director / Company Manager
  • Tier 2 – Assistant Director / Production Manager / Stage Manager / Production Designer (I.e., Lighting Designer, Set Designer, Costume Designer, Prop Designer, Sound Designer, etc.) / Head of Marketing & Publicity / Head of Sales
  • Tier 3 – Assistant SM, Graphic Designer, Set Builder, Technical Manager/Director, Technical Crew, Stage Crew, FOH crew, Wardrobe Assistant, Follow-spot operator, etc.

Tip: Some productions may not include a ‘Production Designer’ or ‘Creative Director’ but if you can afford them, these people will ensure a consistent theme to your production. These are the people who can work across departments to achieve the vision laid out in the overall design concept.

4. Take casting and the audition very seriously
Freddie emphasises that casting is essential. A successful production must have an actor who not only suits the part in appearance and can play the role in terms of technical capabilities but can also meet the below criteria:

  • Can play the role in the way the director sees it
  • Can work with the other role(s) in the same vision as the director
  • Has good theatre fundamentals (basic projection, enunciation, techniques, etc.)
  • Has adequate experience or personal capabilities to perform on stage while dealing with technicalities (i.e., just because someone does well in audition/rehearsal doesn’t mean he/she will do well live when there’s audience, lights, sound, etc.)
  • Is disciplined and professional

In addition, it’s always a plus if you are casting at least one ‘known name’, in other words, someone who already has audience appeal.

The criteria changes for every production, so it’s important to sit down with the core team (Tier 0 – 1) to update the list before you send out an audition notice.

Tip: In Malaysia, it’s not that common for production companies to hold open audition due to various reasons (e.g., cost, reach, extra work). However productions of a certain scale or of a certain mission statement, it’s good to hold auditions. Be cautious and send out individual emails to actors whom you may be eyeing as not everyone may see your audition notice.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this article: Team work.

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Mia Sabrina Mahadir
Mia Sabrina Mahadir

A jack of many trades, Mia is a familiar face on TV, in the news, at last night’s company dinner or at the place she calls home: the theatre.