Your ward! You took first place. You really won! Yippee!
You say that’s never happened to you? You mean, you’ve never shared the happy screams of 25 youths as they have pounded each other and jumped over chairs because they did the best in the stake?
Oh. Your show took sixth place last year. Honestly?
“Certainly we did it honestly!”
Well, cheer up, my young friend, because you can be in the show that wins the blue ribbon, the trophy, or whatever. And even more exciting, you may be asked to write or direct your ward’s upcoming roadshow!
“Yes, you!” With your ward activities committee to help you with all the adult specialists you may need, you, exuberant, laughing, wonderful, young Church leaders of tomorrow, are being offered another opportunity to grow culturally as well as spiritually.
Do you often wish aloud that you were two or three years older? Wonderful! Directing the roadshow will age you two or three years. And whether or not you actually take first place, please believe this: you will grow in humility, love for the youth of your ward, and appreciation for those artistic values that are in the nature of every child of God.
As soon as you have accepted the call, you should have a meeting with your adult specialist in charge, a member of the bishopric, the ward music chairman, and a representative from each Aaronic Priesthood quorum and Young Women class.
At this meeting everybody gets to pile up their ideas for the title and substance of your ward’s show. The stake theme has already been selected. Perhaps it is “Great American Folklore.” Now you all unitedly decide in favor of Superman. He’s American (though transplanted), he’s great, and he’s a legend to a zillion kids, right?
Here is an excellent place to gather good ideas for plot, characters, and names of ward members to draft in for the manual labor ahead.
What should Superman do? Let’s send him back in time. Then we need a scientist with a time machine. And gangsters. Superman fights crime. How about us girls? Okay, if he’s going back in time, let’s have a bunch of suffragettes, and the bad guys could be attempting to stop them from getting the vote. Can some of us girls be lady gangsters? Hey! We need Lois Lane.
See? Before you leave the meeting, you’ll have the start of a plot for the show.
But stay there a tad-bit. Let’s delegate some of the work load out so you won’t be practically in a coma by the time of the dress rehearsal.
Involve the ward! Through the activities committee and the ward talent survey they have compiled, you and they can find enough talent to sew, hammer, paint, musically accompany, and light your way to fame.
Suppose we start with the accompanist. Playing for a roadshow is for an experienced musician. Ask for one of the good pianists in the ward.
Get the name of the best teacher of songs and the best choreographer in your boundaries. The choir director? A sister who teaches tap or ballet?
You’ll want to hire three talented painting people with a promise of blessings for pay. Ask for the name of a brother who is experienced with electronics equipment and one who is at least a good amateur electrician to draft into your helping staff. Collect suggestions for a reliable sister to oversee the costuming.
Now, with a cheery smile, with all these ward members called to help you, promise them a list of their duties very soon. And get yourself a stack of paper. It’s time to—
Write the Script
Is an adult specialist writing the show? Then rejoice, even if you are first cousin to Shakespeare, because she will surely not put her sweat-stained script into your inexperienced little hands and tell you to do your own thing. Instead, she will keep an even more careful eye on the show’s progress, and together you will demand a high quality performance from all those involved.
You say you are writing the script? Congratulations! Then let’s start at the beginning. Plan to write in enough parts to accommodate all youth who may wish to be in the roadshow. You don’t need a head count before you can write. You already know the principal characters required. Now be flexible. There can be a varying number of suffragettes, policemen, or natives, court ladies, or football players.
Before you can actually write a continuing script, you must select the music since the songs tell part of the story. If a ward member is a fantastic composer, and willing (and speedy!), you may have original music, but familiar tunes will do very well.
Do not replace the voices of the youth with adult narration or recorded, professional vocal or instrumental music. It takes away their opportunity to use their own talents and is unfair in an amateur competition.
Use only five or six lively, danceable tunes and repeat and scatter them through the story. Old tunes are terrific, but don’t rule out modern melodies, many of which are outstanding and suitable. Do keep in mind that the judges will likely be of my generation, and that “Yeah, Yeah, Baby” rock music so dear to your heart burns theirs.
Begin your plot in the entrée act. Use characters who will be seen later on the stage. The timid travel agent who sends the professor and his daughter off to the jungle could sing a lonely little song, wishing he, too, could go on Safari. He shows up in the climax of the show as an eight-foot tall gorilla who is unmasked by the long-lost princess, and they live happily ever after.
Don’t force reality into the story. Roadshows are a delightful invitation for originality and fantasy.
The plot can be simple. Give the characters a problem, and let some funny things happen to them on the way to the solution. When the natives dance around the pot, the professor’s daughters join them, and he stands up in the kettle and dances too.
Put some humor into the lines. Moleman, the arch villain, says, “Even my home is subterraneous.” A fellow bad guy adds, “Yeah, and it’s underground, too.” The audience likes to laugh, and a secret of keeping up the morale of the cast members is to let them anticipate making the audience laugh.
Now let the finale song tie up the thread of the story into a neat bow. When it satisfies you, type the complete script, including every line of dialogue and the lyrics to every song, onto stencils. Make 50 copies. Somehow you’ll use all of them.
Casting the Roadshow
Tryouts can be held but are not absolutely essential. You may be short on time, or there may be a flu epidemic and Jimmy is the only boy who’s there to try out for Superman (and he’s five feet one).
If auditions are not held, the adult leader will welcome your expert help in deciding who will play Paul Bunyan or the fairy godmother. You know the young people. You know who was good in the school play and who can carry a tune.
Never rely on looks alone, or even talent. The ideal Prince Charming is handsome, talented, and dependable. Of the three, dependability is the most important. (Well … he should be taller than Cinderella.) A cooperative teenager who will learn his part is a joy to work with. Put this type in the most difficult roles. Meanwhile, back at the ranch is everybody’s mom and dad. Producing a roadshow without their blessing is like waterskiing on your bare feet. You’ll see a lot of fish swimming by overhead.
Let’s enlist their smiling good will. First, your own folks. If, after two weeks of roadshowing on top of your school and social life, it takes a scoop shovel and a fire hose to clean your room, Mom and Dad may go up in smoke at the sound of anything like curtains opening. Don’t let it happen.
Directing a show heats up the telephone. Pry it off your ear and let it cool sometimes.
Now let’s talk about everybody else’s parents. Get the names in writing of all those who wish to be in the roadshow. Give the list to your adult specialist and ask her to call the folks at home: “Bill and Jenny would like to be in the roadshow. It will be presented on April 15 and 16, and the bishopric has set up rehearsals for each Saturday morning from 9:30 to 11:00.”
Bill’s mom is still on the phone, isn’t she? Tell her that in order for her children to participate, they must be able to attend the practices. Then, if the parents know this would be impossible, you’d better get some other young people to play the role of the stepmother or the frog prince. It is difficult to hold rehearsals without the frog prince, and the stepmother will do a lousy job if she can’t ever practice.
One and Two and …
It takes the same number of rehearsals to produce an excellent show as a mediocre one. It’s all in how you use your time.
Always begin and end your practices with prayer. You’ll have a better roadshow with some direction from higher up.
On the first Saturday, divide the troupe among yourself, the song leader, the adult director, and the choreographer, and drill them in separate rooms. The suffragettes can learn their marches while the gangsters are trained to wave their guns in unison. Teach them all the songs in the show on Mutual nights.
The second Saturday, walk them through the whole thing. Let them use their scripts. Correct pronunciation and expression. Sing the songs as you come to them. Stumble through the dances. Show them where to move and stand.
Avoid reducing your voice to a croak. Ask your electronics man to set up a hand mike for you. Yes, ma’am, at every practice. You will never, not once, have to raise your voice. And since you’re not “yelling” at them, the cast will be surprisingly willing to follow directions. Outside of prayer, that microphone is your best deterrent to discipline problems.
On the third Saturday, try taking away their scripts. Give them back after rehearsal so they can study some more. Don’t make the mistake of overprompting. I did, and a week before the show I had to call extra practices so they could learn to walk without the crutch I had given them.
Be willing to accept ideas from the youth as you go along. When the Polynesian natives in a jungle show advanced menacingly toward the cowardly professor, he leaped into the arms of the guide. It looked so funny we wrote it into the show.
There is a natural inclination to move to music. When the players are singing, let them bob their heads, bend their knees, move their arms, or whatever fits your show. Even when Clark Kent is singing alone, all the cast keeps time in unison.
A good music director will teach the cast to sing loudly and clearly. You must teach them to speak the same way.
Coax them to smile. Judges will break their pencils crossing off points if you don’t. I know.
The last two or three practices should find your show being polished like a pewter pitcher, eliminating any gaps, and adding swing to the songs and dances. Performance time is very near.
Costuming a roadshow is fun. Clothes may not make the show, but they help. When planning costumes, keep the Church standards! Muu-muus portray a South Sea Island just as well as bare tummies, and they come in more colors.
Bright color is vital to your show. Don’t dress the girls in khaki-tan to go to the jungle. One could wear orange, another turquoise or yellow. Array the marching suffragettes in bright bloomers, not black.
Add bewitching sparkle to costumes with sequins and glitter—George Washington’s coat cuffs or Cleopatra’s forehead.
Give costume assignments as soon as the show is cast. Many of the youth will need outside help. Here is where your wardrobe specialist goes to work. Canvassing the ward will net you the loan of wigs, aprons, long dresses, white shirts, or gum boots. Let her find sisters to sew.
Set a firm costume-finished date for ten days before the performance, and most of the cast will meet it. The rest will be only a few days behind, and you’ll be spared the nerve-peeling sight of Sally sewing up her dress on the way to the roadshow. (She pinned it last night for rehearsal.)
The scenery is a park, and you don’t want it all green. Tell the artists to plant flowers everywhere. Yellow walls are cheery for an interior setting. Props, too, can be bright. Stark reality is thumbs down. Let the bad guys carry red and blue guns. Use a pink pail for the milk maid.
The most important thing to know about props is to get going on them! Borrow all you can and save your budget for things you can’t. The cast will reward you with more skillful acting if they can drill with their props early.
Advance publicity will alert your community. Notify the local newspaper. They’ll even snap pictures of a practice if you give them the good word.
Now you need a poster for your meetinghouse foyer. Here’s a way to be sure that everyone in your ward who isn’t bedfast will want to attend the roadshows. But it takes work. Want to try?
At your very first rehearsal, or before, ask each member of the troupe to bring you a small colored picture of himself, such as a school picture. It will take several practices before they all come across. Or take Polaroid shots of two or three at a time.
Cut their heads out with scissors. Use felt tip pens to draw and color the bodies in the costumes each will wear, in action poses. Add scenery and lettered information, glue on the heads, and shazam! You have a sign just like the ones in the theater lobbies. (Make it big!) People will line up to see it at every meeting, so display it for ten to fourteen days before—
The Big Night
The magical time has come. And it’s usually three big nights—the stake dress rehearsal for welding up goofs, plus two performances.
Costumes are pressed, props are loaded, and your theater troupe is in a laughing state of rubber-legged excitement. The technicians have cased the backstage area of the stake center, and they know where the light switches are hidden and which microphone may be scotch-taped to a loose socket.
Are you ready to mortar two dozen sweet faces with grease paint? Don’t do it. It will run when they nervously perspire. Each girl should put on her own makeup that she ordinarily wears (going a little heavy on the eyes) before she leaves home. None of you can make up Linda’s face better than Linda can. She can add lipstick and plenty of blusher in the dressing room. Boys need only blusher and lipstick, and that’s all. The exceptions are wrinkles or baggy eyes. An eyeliner will suffice. Beards can be glued on easily.
Scrounge up some mirrors for the dressing rooms. Rest rooms will not accommodate girls from seven wards who need to touch up their hair. One little girl timidly tiptoed into our room as we were leaving it to go on stage. There were no other mirrors in the entire wing.
Plan to sit on the front row. The confidence your face radiates will encourage the cast. Hold a sign that says “Smile” on one side and “Louder” on the other.
You are going to see some mistakes. One adult specialist said her ward keeps a written record of boo-boos. Last year they inadvertently put their props into the wrong pickup, and the owner burned them with those of his ward. Since her show took first, she had planned to do an encore for a nursing home. The experience went into their book for future reference.
It is time to go downstairs. The youth of your ward look enchanting, glamorous, and hilarious. Thirty young people and adults kneel quietly in a plea for divine help. You’ll do fine. Now get out there and win!