How to Put on a Play or Musical


For those who are getting ready to put on a play or musical for the first time, there’s so much to think about before the curtains go up on opening night. While you might have put on plays for your friends and family members as a child, producing a show that has theatrical value is a whole other ballgame. Although we won’t be able to put together every little detail of what you need to do to produce a play or musical, we can give you a broad overview of the process.

If you’re in the early stages of learning how to put on a play, you should stick to figuring out the basics. Once you’ve produced more plays, you might want to increase your understanding of specialized aspects of play production. Having a friend or audience member you trust to record the production can help you to grow. After the play ends, you can watch it back and consider what you’d do differently next time.

Prepare Your Finances

While you don’t need to be swimming in money to put on a play, a higher budget can correlate with a better result. If you see your plays and musicals as an investment into your future career, you’ll see why money and art have to combine in this situation. Although you may just want to follow your heart in making a play and not care about finances, the truth is that money funds everything in the world from putting food on the table to creating masterpieces as a theatrical professional.

Sometimes, you might not have enough cash to produce a play or musical. In this case, it may be wise to look into options to finance the production such as a business or personal loan. Depending on what your credit looks like, you may need a consignor to obtain this kind of loan. If that’s the case, having family, friends, or business partners who believe in your dream can be worth more than gold.

If you want your plays to fund your lifestyle, you’ll want to create a budget and stick with it. Since producing plays and musicals can provide an unstable income, it can be wise to save more diligently than you would if you had a steady paycheck. Some theater professionals find that it’s better to have a day job or another source of income before you take the plunge to produce plays full-time. If your projects take up all of your time, it might not be realistic to work another job while you’re producing plays. In this case, doing side hustles or gig work can make it so that you can afford your rent while devoting a lot of time to the projects that you hope to use to pay the bills one day.

Taking on large creative projects can make your bank account take a hit. Although you might want to treat your plays like money is no object, learning how to steward budgets wisely will open the door to showing funders and investors that you know how to use money well down the road. If future investors and funders notice that you tend to blow through funding, they may be leery about giving you their hard-earned cash to create your masterpieces. Building trust with investors and funders starts with developing a positive track record for using your money intelligently.

Hold Auditions

For actors, auditioning for a play is not quite the same thing as traditional job seeking. If you want a job as a cashier, construction worker, or doctor, you’ll probably have to go through several interviews after applying for the position by submitting your resume and other materials in the hiring process. When you’re putting on a play, you can think of yourself as a hiring manager looking for the most qualified candidate for the role.

Unlike with standard occupations, an actor not only needs to have the qualifications and chops for a role, but they also need to fit into playing a certain part. For example, someone might have years of experience as an actor. Still, they might not deliver lines the exact way that the playwright and director envision for the character.

Although it can be scary to tell hopeful talent who audition that they didn’t cut it, it’s a necessary aspect of being a producer of a play. While you have to discover your process for telling if someone is a good fit for a cast, you also need to learn how to deliver difficult news. No one likes to be the person who lets other people down, but professional actors will recognize that rejection is part of the process in the same way that being awarded their dream role is also part of the process.

At the end of the day, it’s your play and you should only have folks in the cast who feel right for the project. Anyone who takes that personally might not be cut out for professional acting. After all, you need a thick skin in this business to make it far.

Whether you tell each actor personally if they made it into your play or you post a casting list through an email, you should ensure that you notify those who got the part and those who didn’t in a reasonable timeframe. Actors are used to rejection and should know how to manage their feelings around it, but they also need to know whether they should start looking for other projects if they weren’t selected for yours. On the flip side, if you decide to offer the part to an actor, they need to have the notice to turn down other projects on the horizon and start learning their lines.

Inspect the Venue

When you want to put on a play in a specific venue, you should inspect the place before you agree to use it. Most venues will require you to pay for them as the director of the production. When you’re paying to use a venue, you won’t want to discover on opening night that it has a pest problem or other hazards. This can force you to close down the show early and lose out on money as you refund the cost of tickets for agitated play-goers.

For musicals, it’s especially important to hire an HVAC service to ensure that the climate of the venue can be controlled effectively. If the event space is too cold or too hot, it can affect how the instruments sound. It can also make it harder for the musical’s castmates to deliver their best singing performance if they’re too cold or sweltering.

Beyond inspecting the venue for structural issues and maintenance problems, you’ll want to see whether the venue has hired a carpet cleaner in a while. A dirty venue can be a major turn-off for folks who come to see the play dressed to the nines. It can also cause health issues and become a liability if your event space isn’t sanitary.

Shop for Costumes

For those who love to shop till they drop, this can be the most fun part of producing a play. When you’re in charge of costumes, it’ll give you an excuse to visit fancy jewelry stores in search of diamond engagement rings and other items that you might not typically buy unless you need them. If anyone asks what you’re doing, you can tell them that you’re shopping for your play and give them information on when the play is happening and where. Word-of-mouth marketing tactics are free and they get your community excited about an event before it starts.

Once the play is over, you can research where to sell jewelry in your area. This can help you recover some of the costs of production if you didn’t make as much of a profit on it as you anticipated. It can also be a good idea to find consignment shops where you can sell unused jewelry and purchase used jewelry for future productions at a discount.

Of course, jewelry is only one part of shopping for costumes. You’ll also want to purchase cufflinks for men if they’re a part of your costume design plans and a variety of clothes. Before you go shopping, you should sketch out what you anticipate each character to wear and take note of your actors’ measurements so you can get the right size on the first try before you’re ready to put on a play.

Assemble Your Props

As you prepare to put on a play or musical, you’ll want to pay a visit to your local flower shop and other places to get props. Some of your props may be art projects that your production team will have to create. Others, like a flower bouquet, may be best if they’re the real deal.

While you could wait until the last minute to create your props, it would be wise to give yourself more time than you think you’ll need to make them. If you’ve never made props before, it can be harder than it looks. Even if you’ve made the same prop for every play you’ve ever done, there’s always a chance that something might go awry.

Budgeting time and materials for backup props can help you avoid panicking if one of your props breaks or gets lost in the middle of your show. For props that are difficult or expensive to replicate exactly, you may be able to make a cheaper, lower-quality version of them to use for rehearsals so that you don’t risk damaging the real prop. As long as your cast gets a feel for what the prop will be like on opening day, that’s all that matters.

Build Your Set

For those who love set design, this might be the most exciting part of getting ready to put on a play. There are so many ideas for what your set could look like. The set sets the backdrop for your play, so it’s just as important as the costumes and other aspects of designing the aesthetics of your production.

Depending on where you plan to put on a play, you might find that you’ll need different contractors to bring your vision to life. For outdoor scenes, you’ll want to contact a qualified pergola builder or contractor who has similar experience. If your play takes place in an industrial steampunk setting, having set designers who are used to working with metal and welding can give you a leg up.

Design Your Lights

To illuminate your vision when you decide to put on a play, you should be mindful of how the lighting hits your set and cast. If you have dim lighting or an electrical issue, it can make it harder for your audience members to truly appreciate the masterpiece you’ve created. Unless your set design and play concept involves low lighting, this can be a cause for concern. When it’s hard to control the lighting, it can be tough to show audience members all the hard work you’ve put into your play.

If you have problems with electrical wiring, you shouldn’t attempt to fix them on your own. You should call a qualified electrician company to remedy the issue. Although you might have experience building and designing sets, it’s still risky to do electrical work if that’s not your specialty or expertise. Part of producing a play is knowing where your limits lie and when it’s time to call someone who knows how to do something to help.

As you prepare to put on a play or musical, you can take our tips to heart or go your own way. Although it can be good to read through articles like this on the internet, the best teacher in the theater business is personal and professional experience. Once you’ve put on a few plays, you’ll have a good idea of what your style for production would be. You may also learn things that aren’t included in this article simply by getting out there and doing what you love.

For more specific advice, you can try to find a mentor in your field. Many folks in theater are happy to share their tips and tricks. For professional consultation, you may need to take classes.

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