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Life skills centre stage with school performances

Staging a school drama production may seem a daunting task but, according to Warren Flanagan of Northmead Creative and Performing Arts High School, it’s a task well-worth the benefits to students, teachers, and the wider school community.

School News caught up with Mr Flanagan to demystify the process and help equip teachers for taking on a student cast.

This interview appears in-full in the latest issue of School News. Make sure your school’s subscribed to receive the print edition. 

Suzy Barry: What are the legal considerations for putting on a musical? Copyright for songs and plays and what about if students write the play?

Warren Flanagan: Necessary rights vary in cost.

If students write their own material they have to make sure their work is original and does not plagiarise other works, this also includes using iconic characters or branding, such as Mickey Mouse, as you have to seek approval for the use.

However, you can create adaptations from stories for example creating a modern adaptation of a Shakespearean play as plays by Shakespeare, Wilde and many other pre-twentieth century plays can be performed freely without obtaining a licence.

You don’t need a licence if your production will be performed only for students and staff as part of your usual school activities, within school hours and no outside guests will be present.

You do need a licence if the production will be public. That means anyone who is not a current student or staff member at the school will be present (whether or not they have to pay for a ticket) or the performance will take place outside of normal school hours.

Almost every song, musical or play which is performed in public is subject to the payment of royalties and this includes excerpts, except in cases where copyright because the period of protection has expired (70 years after the artist’s death).

You can use songs in your devised play however you still need to seek approval and buy the licencing rights to have the songs played during your production. APRA AMCOS New Zealand provides information on licensing rights for music. However, students can write their own musical score as there is no licensing rights for originality.

My advice is to do both (scripted and devised) for experience as you learn new things along the way. Producing a play or musical is never the same as there are always challenges to face. The remarkable thing about producing a student devised work is the satisfaction of witnessing a student’s creative production coming to life on stage.

(The Ministry of Education provides guidelines for schools: https://www.tki.org.nz/Copyright-in-schools/Guidelines-for-schools)

SB: How does costume provision work these days – not so many stay at home parents to sew on sequins and ruffles?

WF: Sourcing costumes from OP shops, and sites like eBay are the best, as you find things that save you time. Getting in contact with local theatre groups and schools that may have a costume wardrobe they are willing to lend, rent, or in some cases, donate. Seek, ask and you shall receive.

Advertise within your school community for a group to help out with costuming. You’ll be surprised how many parents or grand-parents will be interested to attend, bringing an array of creative skills.

SB: What sort of AV equipment is required for a school to put on quality performances? Is it just a PA? What about lighting?

WF: For a quality performance, I would seek out equipment to mic the stage properly for effective audio projection. This may require an assessment of the performance space and venue making sure the audio equipment would satisfy the acoustics and there is a clear balance for the performers as well as audience. Hiring equipment for audio can be costly, however some companies are willing to negotiate to give you the best.

I believe lighting is very important as it creates the ambience and atmosphere with in a production. Once again lighting hire companies are willing to help, patching in lights with special effects and will even demonstrate how to operate and cue lights into the lighting desk. Visual projections are a great way to utilise the stage to add to a set creating depth or even create a minimalist effect.

Overall you can hire an operator for lighting and sound. Try and provide students with the opportunity to learn new skills in production elements such as lighting and audio systems.

This is an excerpt. The full interview appears in this term’s issue of School News

Supplier insights…

World-class kit makes school performance the main event

Jamie Cashmore of Edwards Sound Lighting and AV says there is no one-size fits solution for school theatre audiovisual requirements. With variables including space dimensions, audience size, types of performances, and budget; he says expert advice is vital.

“Quotes and designs are usually provided at no cost – if you can supply a scale drawing of the venue we can really help,” Mr Cashmore notes.

He says school theatre is becoming more ‘professional’, with increased performance skill from children and greater access to world-class equipment that rivals the set-up at the local theatre.

“Schools can buy the base equipment (permanently installed speaker system) and rent peripherals or one-off required pieces of kit,” he explains.

He says when a school partners with Edwards, they benefit from 50 years in business, talented staff; and access to partner companies (and installers) all over Australasia, who are dedicated to providing the right solution every time and backing it up.

“For spare parts, repairs, expanding on the original purchase, or simply support; we are there.”

Strong customised staging solutions for a stellar event

Lloyd Sutton of Stronglite Staging says schools are producing more technically intricate shows: “With professional assistance from an experienced company, schools are achieving exceptional results.”

He says set requirements vary: “Depending on the show and venue, multiple levels requiring access may be required. Steps, windows, bridges or ramps can all be created via a safe structure, designed to suit the particular needs of the show.”

He says this is where experience is vital “to achieve a safe, successful, stellar event”.

With many years of experience in TV, theatre and event production, Mr Sutton says Stronglite Staging has everything from grandstands/audience seating and catwalks to flat, stable and exceptionally strong stages, up to the most demanding Kapa Haka event.

“In this time of heightened health and safety regulations, it is important that schools work with a company that provides professional, top quality equipment and has the experience and technical ability required to assess the school’s requirements and provide the best solution for their event,” he concluded.

Suzy Barry

Suzy Barry contributes her professional background in education, as well as more than a decade of editing and journalism experience, to her role as editor of School News Australia. Research interests range from linguistics, to behaviour management and the sociology of education, underpinned by her enthusiasm for innovation and education paradigms that are both inclusive and effective.
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