Choosing and Budgeting a School Musical

Choosing and Budgeting a School Musical

Mark McDowell from Yourshow Pty Ltd has some handy hints.

Budgets for school musicals are usually set in stone, i.e. “the same as last year”. The bean counters will tell you the maximum you can spend and that is that.

Some schools give an allocated figure and ticket sales can be added to reach the maximum budget, whereas others will give you a figure and the school will recoup as much of this as they can with ticket sales. Front of house sales can also be factored in with the sales of food, drink and programs. Some schools see musicals as promotion of the school and are therefore generous in financial support and less concerned about balancing the books.

Most of the time you know how much you have to spend before you have even chosen the show.  All shows have different pressures on the budget. It is a constant battle to choose a show that is popular and one that is tried and tested but not as known to students. As much as you want to do a particular show for artistic reasons, you have a responsibility to the budget to aim for a break- even outcome.  

Remember there are many reasons why shows flop on Broadway or in the West End, but mostly it’s because they are not very good. One song does not make a musical. Also, there is a limit to how many ‘artistically successful’ productions a school board will accept. My motto is whenever possible try to break even and they will leave you alone. If you make a profit, spend it on something that will save you money on your next show.

If you have a Principal or accountant who will try to help relieve the pressure by investing some capital money, spend it wisely. They may look at the big ticket hire items from last year’s show and inevitably instruct you to go and buy 20 radio mics. This is not a good idea and will come back to bite both of you in the short term.

Unless you have a trained ‘Theatre Tech’ to maintain them, they will let you down and you will end up hiring them anyway. Also, you only use this number of mics once a year; the rest of the time they sit in the cupboard deteriorating. I’m not saying don’t buy radio mics, I’m just saying cap it at six. If its lights you want to buy, then first make sure that your infrastructure can support them. Moving lights are very similar to radio mics, they require someone to maintain them. There is no use buying moving lights if your lighting console can’t drive them.

Budgets are flexible. I don’t mean the overall amount, but the breakdown between disciplines in every show. Budget wise, look at each show that you are considering and check out the following details:

How many scenes? By this I mean locations. Can this be done with a basic set and more lighting or props? Can I hire the set?

Wardrobe?  How many different sets of costumes does each cast member require? Does much need to be made or can it be hired? Can it be purchased from Op shops?

How many radio mics? Can this be reduced by using corded mics with careful choreography? Will this suit the show? Can the number of radio mics be reduced by more swaps?

Can more students be put into the orchestra? Can money can be saved on hiring professionals?

Do you need moving lights, as they require extensive programing. Most schools have lots of students keen to be involved, but not on stage. This is fantastic – more follow spots -  you have the operators. They don’t replace moving lights but can help the lighting be less reliant on them.

Every spoken line or sung lyric in a professional musical has a follow spot on the actor. Remember follow spots don’t need to look like a hard edge circle of light following an actor around the stage. They also don’t need to be at 100% intensity.

Once these types of questions are answered you can adjust department budgets to suit the chosen show. Most people involved with school shows expect that their department will have the same amount of money to spend as they did last year, but that is not the case. Some departments will have more and some will have less. They should all be show dependent.   

Don’t worry about doing a show that has been done before at your school. As long as it’s over six years ago, you will have a different cohort and may in fact get the old cohort buying tickets to compare. You also may find that you have some resources around from the last time you produced it, therefore allowing budget monies to be re-allocated.

Choose wisely and remember, ‘If it breaks even or makes money, it will continue to happen.’

Mark McDowell

Yourshow pty ltd

0412 580 977