Christmas Program: Directing a Children’s Play – Part 3 of 3

Any successful event begins with planning. The larger the event, the more planning needed to pull it off.

With a play, I spend two-thirds of my time planning all the details before the cast enters the rehearsal space. Knowing the framework helps me progress through rehearsals while using time wisely.

In part 1, planning the script, set, and properties forms the outward framework for the production. Then in part 2, developing the cast and crew, costumes and lighting conform to the framework for a cohesive whole.

After planning for so long, the time comes to execute those plans in rehearsals, through the program notes, and presented at the performance.


With this performance, the action switched from the modern family to the traditional manager scene characters. Since all the practices occurred during school hours, I chose to work with either the modern family actors or the traditional manager scene characters up until performance week. During these rehearsals, we worked on the following:

Blocking. These are the entrances, exits, and movements on stage. By walking through the path they travel as they communicate their lines, the actors become more comfortable with their parts and confidence builds.

Line Interpretation. Assisting actors with attitude, understanding, and pronunciation of difficult words guides them to effectively communicate the script.

Characterization. Teaching the Wise Men to stand up straight while the Donkey should slump his shoulders due to his heavy burden is part of creating a character. Each actor is unique and brings a flavor to that character’s part. Encouraging play and experimenting results in some fabulous outcomes.

Motivation. Giving the actors the purpose behind their line prods them in the conflict, contrast, or amusement. Keeping the actors motivated in their communication brings intensity to an otherwise static performance.

Projection. In our performance space, we do not use microphones. To encourage the children to project their voices, I spend a full rehearsal concentrating on speaking to the ball field on the other side of the parking lot. Without screaming, the students work to increase their performance skills.

Tempo/Timing. Putting it all together with all the actors and the music usually produces many stops and starts. To get the performance to a smooth transitioning point, the tempo/timing rehearsal focuses on the transitions between the scenes. By reminding and guiding the actors, this rehearsal gets the production ready for full run practices.

Full Runs. To instill all the elements practiced, the final rehearsals are full runs including a dress rehearsal. Allowing the students to try-on their costumes helps to know where to adjust to accommodate angel wings and shepherd staffs. After these final adjustments, we are ready for performance evening.


Though a program distributed to the attendees on the day of the performance can range from simple to complex, I chose to write director’s notes for the program. By including the scenes and words to the songs for the congregation, the list of cast and crew, and the director’s notes, the program for this production ended up taking 2 full 8.5”x11” sheets of paper. The finished program was a folded 4-page front and back booklet.

Since I enjoy writing the notes and including details for our parents, grandparents, and friends, my programs are lengthy. Some programs are as simple as listing the title and cast and crew. Depending on your time frame and the type of performance, your program length may change from simple to detailed.


By staying organized with each child’s costume labeled and set at his assigned place in the green room (for this performance the choir room), the children arrived, found their items, and enjoyed taking pictures while preparing for their performance. Knowing their entrances and exits, the cast performed well with seamless transitions.

All the children remembered their lines, their movements, and their properties. The planning resulted in a successful performance proclaiming the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

Whether you are directing a children’s program, a play for adults, or skits for a birthday party, spending the time planning before entering rehearsal will be using time wisely. Getting the framework in place keeps you focused to execute a successful event. Happy planning!

Question: What event is on your horizon? Please add your answer to the comments.

Christmas Program: Directing a Children’s Play – Part 2 of 3

My son - Shepherd 2 posing with his staff 😉

Directing a program can overwhelm. In arranging the details and giving instructions, support an atmosphere of calm.

Even with preparing in advance, I still get bombarded with questions and suggestions that did not cross my mind.

Knowing my framework assists me in fielding these questions and deciding to add, remove, or change a previous choice.

Last week, I shared my planning process for directing the children’s play for my son’s school Christmas program where two-thirds of the process is planning.

The first third, covered in Part 1, focused on the script, set, and properties. Upon gaining momentum with the framework in place, I move to the second third of the planning process, the cast and crew, costumes, and lighting.

Cast and Crew

Though thought-out and working on paper, you need people to execute, put feet to your plan. Recognizing  your limitations and your strengths can guide you to find a cast and crew to balance you.

For me, working with children is hard. Dealing with the talking, wiggling, giggling, and goofing-off distracts others and wastes time. To keep myself focused, I plan extra help during rehearsals to handle these distractions. With this extra aid, I make progress while using time wisely.

The cast and crew for this production included the following:

      • The student actors
      • Playwrights
      • Adaptors
      • Director
      • Choir directors
      • Costume Engineer
      • Lighting Engineer
      • Pianist
      • Parent Volunteers

The Cast

The cast received assigned parts for this production. Via e-mail, parents responded if their child wanted an acting part. From the feedback received, I (with help) assigned the actors to a part.

The actors received their scripts before Thanksgiving break. With the extra time, most of the actors had their lines memorized during the first week of rehearsal.

The Crew

Comprised of parent volunteers, the crew helped pin sticky notes with children’s names on costumes, brought in items for our set, and assisted with crowd control during rehearsals. By never turning away help, I kept a list of To-Do items. When asked if I needed help, I had an answer.

With the cast and crew chosen, I began working with the costume engineer.


The mom who helps as the costume engineer is fantastic. She brings creativity and energy to the project. With a list in hand, she and I sort through the school’s costumes. Placing the garments, head pieces, and sashes together, we make notes of items we are missing.

Then we borrowed, made, or purchased more items for the cast members. Adjustments to the hems,  fasteners, and accessories came after the actors’ fittings. But getting organized early and planning for dress rehearsal gets us closer to a successful performance.


Though limited in lighting options, I chose to create a simple light plot with 6 cues. Working in a church auditorium with groups of lights controlled by one switch gets tricky. No matter what the limitations, you can still make the most of the situation. My lighting design will not win any awards. However, the simple design creatively followed the action.

With the cast and crew, the costumes, and the lighting design chosen, the framework is complete. This framework is the road map to get from start to finish. The last step is executing this plan, covered next week in Part 3.

In planning your next event, ask for help. While planning and executing, you will have a friend along with whom to interact, laugh, and share. Enjoy the calm of the event by using time wisely to organize. Happy planning!

Question: How often do you ask for help when planning an event? Please add your answer to the comments.

Christmas Program: Directing a Children’s Play – Part 1 of 3

My son - Shepherd 2 🙂

In the next three weeks, I will share the process and results of directing the children’s Christmas program at my son’s school. When I first mentioned this project, posted in My Upcoming 2011-2012 Events, I was scheduling time to read and search for a script.

Often, finding the content is the most time-consuming part of the event. Preparing a solid foundation and framework provides a home for the “guts” of the event. Since the details fall into place with a set structure, I focused two-thirds of my time on preparing for the program before rehearsals began.

My planning process for this free Christmas children’s program followed this progression:

Part 1 – Script, Set, Properties

Part 2 – Cast and Crew, Costumes, and Lighting

Part 3 – Rehearsals, Program, and Performance


Finding a Christmas program that meets my criteria takes a few weeks. I spent about thirty minutes each day for over a week reading print scripts and searching online. After locating this play that had great form but needed some revisions, I began the approval process through the school and contacted my father-in-law for his assistance in adapting the play. Within a week, the adapted script was in final form with approval from the school. Yeah!

After formatting the script into scenes and adding in Christmas carols, I created the cast of characters page listing all the characters for which I needed actors. (Note: Most programs come with the cast of character’s page. However, the free program I used did not have this information included.)

With the revised script and prefatory pages complete, I was ready to prepare for the performance.


With the script complete, I began sketching a preliminary set for our production. Knowing the entrances and exit options for our auditorium, I took pencil and paper and drew different sized boxes for the elements needed in the script. For example, the box representing the couch was longer than the box illustrating the benches for the church pews.

I then read the script from beginning to end mapping out the blocking (traffic patterns of the actors) making sure there were no conflicts.

When the plan worked, I compiled a list of items I needed to create the set.


Also known as props, the properties are the items used by actors throughout the program. From a magazine to a mortar and pestle, I added to the set list all the properties I needed to aid the actors in communicating the gospel message.

With the prop list complete with all the items needed for this production, I was ready for the next phase.

After planning the script, set design, and properties, I was ready to execute these plans with help. The next phase of preparation for the Christmas program required a crew (helpers to carry out the plan). Next week, I will share the cast and crew, costumes, and lighting developments.

This process takes time and preparation, but with the proper foundation, all the details come together. Are there changes? Absolutely! The changes can be made easily because you know the framework and can adjust within that framework.

Whether you are directing a children’s program, hosting a birthday party, or entertaining friends, planning will take you from beginning to end. If you don’t have a framework, then you will continue to make adjustments, and your participants will get confused. For any successful event, the key is using time wisely  to organize. Happy planning!

My Upcoming 2011-2012 Events

Photograph Credit: Flickr (Kees Straver)

The rain arrived this weekend in South Carolina, and I feel fall coming. With the cooler weather, pumpkin candles burning, and the changing of the leaves, I will be preparing for some large events this school year. Here is my current Event To-Do list that is already underway:

Fall Festival

In October, I have the privilege of coordinating the kids’ zone to raise money for our wonderful school. These preparations are in full swing, but still lots of details to complete.

Christmas Program

Having earned my graduate degree in theatre, I am honored to direct the school Christmas program again this year. In preparing for this event, I feel that I should be further along. The obstacle at this point is locating a script that works within the parameters of our program. Thankfully, a kind teacher provided some scripts for my review. Now, I need to schedule time to read through these options.

Spring Play

Taking on a full play with backdrops and scenery in addition to the costumes, lighting, and sound is a large undertaking. Staying surrounded by knowledgeable helpers, who can carry out delegated responsibilities, is a big key to a successful production. I am looking forward to working with the cast and crew. Thankfully, this script has already been decided.

As I continue keeping event notes and using time wisely, I will take you along on my journey. Hopefully, we will learn from my mistakes and celebrate the victories together. Happy planning this fall!