21 STEPS TO ORGANISING A NATIVITY PLAY
Organising a Nativity Play can seem like a daunting prospect especially if it’s something you’ve never done before. The important thing to remember is that it will only be as hard as you make it. Therefore always be realistic about what you can achieve given the size and age of your cast, also taking into account how much help you can get from other adults / staff members.
Here then is a list that we’ve compiled from many years experience of some of the pitfalls to avoid when organising a show and tips and suggestions for things you might not have otherwise thought about. If there’s anything you think we’ve missed, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.
1) Look for the 'Aww-Factor' not the 'X-factor'
It's really important to remember that your cast is made up of children not professional thespian actors and as their director you’re staging a simple nativity play, not attempting to win an Oscar! If you demand perfection then you will end up being disappointed and the children will feel too stressed. This in turn means they won’t perform as well and won’t enjoy what should be a truly magical experience for them. However, if you accept the children’s performance for what it is... a children’s performance, then you won’t be disappointed at all. And if there are mistakes on the night... so what? It adds to the charm of the event. Therefore, don’t look for ‘The X Factor’, look for the ‘awww’ factor!
2) Edit your script
At Learn2soar Music, all our Christmas nativity plays come with editable scripts, for you to easily change using your computer. PLEASE DO SO! No two casts are the same, therefore it’s always such a sensible idea to go though the script and edit it to suit your children. Try to imagine each cast member reading out their lines. Is it too hard or too easy, too short or too long. Do you need to add lines or cut loads out? With this in mind we’d also say that wherever possible, keep the performance simple. Even with the longest of scripts it’s still possible to ‘divide and conquer’. I.e. Look for ways to divide the script between as many performers as possible so that everything isn’t all on a few people’s shoulders. For example, don’t just have one narrator, why not have a dozen narrators or even a dozen teams of narrators?
3) Arranging your cast
Unless you already know the performance skills of each cast member, you’re probably going to have to hold some sort of audition process. After each audition, encourage the child concerned with positive praise.
Once you've selected the cast and worked out who has what part, do also remember to cast understudies for the main roles. And so that the understudies' rehearsing isn’t in vain, during one of the final performances why not let the understudies take on the main roles? Also, with this in mind, it’s sensible to plan for what will happen if any other cast member is ill on the night. Who’ll take their place? Or could their lines be spoken by another character?
4) Booking dates in your diary
At the same time as you organise the date/s of the show, you need to also organise dates and times of the rehearsals. Schedule them and stick to them. As the show approaches it can be tempting to add extra rehearsals, increasing their length or suddenly add extra out of hour’s rehearsals, but where possible we always advise you to stick to your original plan... Last minute changes along these lines rarely go down well with parents or your colleagues, who will probably have already made other plans. And remember that over-practising can sometimes be as harmful as under-practising. If the children have peaked too soon, they’ll be getting bored with doing the same thing over and over again and will give a lacklustre performance.
5) Plan each rehearsal
In the same way that teachers write a lesson plan to help them produce a good lesson, it’s a very sensible idea to produce a brief rehearsal plan for each rehearsal. Have an overall aim: i.e. what songs or sections of the script are you going to tackle in this rehearsal session. Have an introduction and ending that involves the whole cast, in which you ALWAYS tell the children how well they’re doing (even if inside you feel like you want to pull your hair out!) but also remind them of areas in which they can improve. During the middle of the rehearsal session, where possible, have various groups working on various sections of the performance. For example, you might have the actors from the first scene rehearsing in one room, the dancers from the third song practising in another room and the choir in another room. Of course most of the time you’ll need most of the cast together, but wherever possible it’s imperative that you ‘divide and conquer’. And if you’re short staffed for teachers to rehearse the various groups, why not ask for some parental involvement?
6) Backing CD or live musicians?
We strongly recommend that you use the backing tracks provided on the CD (or in the download). There are very valid arguments for playing the music yourself or even getting in a live band if you’re lucky enough to afford that. But having seen it from both sides, I personally think that the benefits of using a CD far outweigh the benefits of playing the music yourself. The main two reasons are:
(a) It’s a lot less stressful and saves a lot of time. You don’t have to spend hours practising to play the music perfectly – your time is precious enough as it is.
(b) The music on a recorded backing track NEVER changes, keeping it consistent for the children. So many times I’ve seen children rehearse endlessly to a plain piano and then suddenly for the dress rehearsal and live band is brought in. This sounds good, but can really throw the children off, adversely affecting their performance.
7) Organise your backing tracks
We strongly recommend that you put the backing tracks in the order you want them on a computer or portable device and play them from there. CDs and CD players can be unreliable, jumping and skipping tracks, as well as the problem of CDs getting lost. However, if you play your music directly from a hard drive, MP3 device or iPod, you will very rarely have a problem. If you have purchased one of our download products then great, you're ready to go. But if you've bought a CD, then you should consider 'ripping' the CD onto a computer using iTunes or Windows Media Player, then using the digital tracks for your performance.
However, if for some reason you have no choice but to use a backing CD with a CD player, then we recommend that you have a spare CD ready and a spare CD player ready, just in case! Every year just as it gets close to all the December school performances we get at least a dozen phone calls from panic filled teachers who’ve lost their CD, or had it swallowed by a faulty CD player, or had it painted on and broken in half by a nursery child (no we’re not making it up)! That’s why we’re one of the only music companies that actually encourages it's customers to make ONE copy of any CD purchased from us. And for those customers unable to copy CDs, we sell extra low priced back-up copies of all our products.
8) Organise your rehearsal CDs
If you are using CDs, rather than digital tracks and you have to teach a dozen different songs to a dozen different classes, then it can be a challenge. That’s why we sell low priced rehearsal CDs (£3 each). If you have a small cast you could buy each child a CD each to take home to listen to over and over. Or if you have lots of classes in school, why not buy each class a CD to play during their tidy up time? PLEASE REMEMBER that making multiple copies of any CD purchased from us is illegal. We DO allow the purchasing establishment to make ONE copy only of any CD purchased from us for back up purposes only, but if you require additional copies, then please buy them from us.
9) Prepare costumes
The ‘production notes’ document found in each of our products contains valuable advice about costumes. But please don’t try and do it all yourself. It’s always a sensible idea to ask the parents for help, as there always seem to be some parents in every school who are a dab hand at using a sewing machine.
10) If you're using make up...
Most of our nativity plays come with specific suggestions for makeup. One thing we would say here, is that you should always use good quality, non-toxic face paint or make up. Some cheaper makes can cause the wearer to suffer bad skin reactions. Therefore it’s also very important that you ask for parent’s permission before applying any type of face paint.
11) Creating scenery
All our musicals/plays come with ready-made PowerPoint scenery. Just display it behind the performers for an instant professional looking backdrop. Some also contain advice for making your own scenery, but whatever you do, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Unless you have lots of people helping to make the scenery and even more stage hands for on the night, try to stick to just one general background that can be used for every scene.
12) What about stage lighting?
If you’re performing your show during the day in a normal school hall or church, then you probably won’t need to worry about lighting. But if you’re performing at night, lighting is very important. Don’t just rely on the glow of normal ceiling lights, stage lights make a huge difference. And if you don’t have any installed, you can usually hire some for a very reasonable price from a local staging materials supplier.
13) Using microphones
PLEASE USE MICROPHONES! I feel this is so important that I'm going to say it again: PLEASE USE MICROPHONES...
Let me paint you a picture: I’ve seen it happen so many times, Little Jenny has spent ages memorising and rehearsing her all important line. She nervously stands and just as she speaks an elderly gentleman starts to have a coughing fit. Jenny’s tiny voice is lost in a noisy avalanche of coughing and her moment is gone. A single microphone would have made all the difference. And even if there is no coughing fit, no baby crying, no mobile phone ringing, even if for once the audience is completely quiet, children still get nervous and as they do their quiet voices can get often become even quieter. Microphones make ALL the difference between a successful show and a poor show.
14) Think carefully about the sound levels
Never turn down the backing music during solos! Instead you need to turn up the microphones. The worst example I’ve seen of this was during a performance of my musical ‘Will Santa Get Shot Down’. At the end of the song ‘What Silent Night’ is a beautiful three part harmony involving the three main characters. In one school I visited, as it got to this section, the teacher responsible for the sound turned down the backing music so that the audience could hear the children... Good intentions but BIG mistake! The harmony fell to pieces as none of the children knew where they were up to. They couldn’t hear the music so the timing and tuning went out the window too! All the children’s hard work and weeks of practice had been spoilt. It was such a shame as I’d also heard their dress rehearsal performance which was amazing! And this bit of advice isn’t just for three part harmonies, any time you turn down the backing music, you take a huge risk. Children, much more than adults, really need to hear the tune and timing of the backing music in order to stay on track and avoid a musical nightmare. Keep it consistent and their performance will be consistent.
15) Many stage hands make light work
It’s ok to use children as stage hands for prompting lines and for moving props and scenery off and on stage. But please remember to give these stage hands just as much practice and direction as your actual cast.
You also need some responsible adults back stage to supervise the off-stage children. These children will most likely be as high as kites given the excitement of the event and will need a cool headed individual to keep them under control and move them off and on stage at the right times.
16) Organise your audience
Always ask the audience to switch off mobile phones. Apart from the nuisance of one ringing in the middle of the performance they can also interfere with sound systems and you don’t want that happening either!
There will also most likely be some babies/young children present. Unfortunately you can’t switch off a baby’s cry, but you can organise a crèche in an adjoining room? If you wanted to be very professional about it you could even organise a simple live video feed from the show into the crèche, so that any parents that have to temporarily visit the crèche don’t miss out.
17) Get your performance licence now
In order to perform any type of musical/play from any company, not just us, you will need a performance licence. This is a legal requirement. However, while some other companies will charge a lot of money for this and get you to fill out lots of forms, our performance licences are completely hassle free and start from just £9. For further details please click here.
18) Get your recording licence now
If you’re planning to sell DVD’s or videos of your performance then you will require a recording rights licence. Our recording rights licences are hassle free and start from just £7.50. For further details please click here.
19) Publishing your tickets and programme
On tickets make sure to include:
a) name of show
c) venue (even if the venue seems pretty obvious)
d) whether seats are numbered or available on a first come first served basis
e) door opening times.
On your programme include:
a) title of show / author / name of cast
b) cast list
c) title and order of songs
d) credits and thank you’s
20) Plan your thank you’s
After the final show, carefully make a list of all the people who deserve a special thank you and have some appropriate gifts / flowers ready to give them in order to publically say thank you.
21) Throw an after show party
They do it in professional performances, why not do it after your children’s performance!