How to Succeed at Starting a Home school Theater Group Without Even Trying (more or less)
(A version of this article was published in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine and Homeschool Iowa Magazine, with photo credits going to Rebecca Miller and Amy Young Miller.)
My eyes widened in astonishment when, from the darkness of the crowded auditorium, I heard waves of laughter. The packed-house crowd was laughing at this play that had lost its humor to my husband Bryan and me many rehearsals ago. They were laughing hard. They looked as if they’d never had so much fun, in fact. Mystified, I looked across the aisle at my husband, and our eyes met. He looked as perplexed as I. How how this happened?
The kids on stage, our fledgling drama students, had started out awkward and uncomfortable onstage during rehearsals, which had not been surprising. But after three months of rehearsals, every one of them had gained self-confidence and sparkle, and now, in front of an audience, had blossomed into creative performers. They were, simply put, a delight to watch. They were having a blast, and it showed. I shouldn’t have been surprised, of course. I had laid out my fleece.
To be brutally honest, the entire theater idea was borne out of a selfish desire to provide a theater experience and friends for our own children, after a job-related move left us lonely in a new community. We had left a beloved home school coop group (which included theatre) behind, run by talented and selfless home school moms. I would sit in awe and watch those amazing supermoms do their work with my children. Somehow I had the confidence, when we didn’t find home school theater in our new area, to suggest to my husband that we lay out a fleece, Gideon-style. Gideon had laid out his fleece and asked God to give him a sign. I had an idea about how we could lay out our fleece and wait for God to answer. And answer quickly, I had hoped.
“How hard can it be? We find a script, we rehearse, and then we put on one little show. It wouldn’t be that difficult, would it?” I asked Bryan in my wheedlingest voice. He was working long hours in a new job, so I knew that much of the work starting a theater group would fall on the shoulders of our five children and me. Well, mostly on me.
“It would be a lot of work,” he pointed out, tiredly.
“But—fun work, right? Um. . . satisfying work?”
“’Fun work?’” he snorted, but after a bit of thought, he gave me the go-ahead. He knew how much our children missed their friends. He seemed fairly sure that home school parents in the area were not going to entrust us—strangers to most of them and not exactly qualified to direct theater—with their children. But we decided that it wouldn’t hurt to try.
Right away I called a local home school mom I had met, and she set the e-mail ball in motion for me. It was the first of January. We decided that if we could find ten home schooled students within a week who were interested in doing a play with us, we’d. . . well, figure out what to do next. It did seem unlikely—it was the middle of the school year, and home school families were already enmeshed in their routines and activities for that school year. Maybe Bryan was right, and the fleece would come up dry.
But it didn’t. God provided a very clear answer. Before the week was out, we had fifteen local home school students signed up and enthusiastic about the new theater group. I was delighted, and a little scared. Okay, a lot scared. I didn’t have the luxury that Gideon took to test God a second or third time. I knew I was stuck with this frightening prospect of directing these children in their first—and my first—theater experience. One question stuck in my mind: What had I been thinking?
Bryan and I had been active in theater in high school and college, and we did have a predilection for all things theater-related, but we had no experience in producing and directing a play. But if God believed we could do it, we’d figure it out, I knew that much. We had no idea at the time how this new adventure would eventually take over our lives, although in a good way (mostly!). We also had no idea how much fun we were going to have. We were climbing into a roller coaster, one cluttered with half-used tubes of make-up and bits of velvet costumes held together by safety pins, and old ratty wigs and strange bits and pieces of furniture and old junk, and it was going to go screaming up and down, and we were going to cover our eyes at times, shrieking and hollering . . . with fear, astonishment, but most often delight.
Bryan went to his new job, and I went to work teaching our children, unpacking boxes, and planning our first play. I picked out a script that fit our cast size, and ordered copies of it. I wrote a check for the royalty fee. The home school mom I knew got permission from a local church for us to have our rehearsals there. I made up a tentative schedule, and we held auditions.
All of this was completely out of my comfort zone, by the way, but I knew that God wouldn’t present this opportunity if He didn’t think I could handle it. Somehow I pushed through my discomfort to lead this eager group of kids. Thankfully, my children are all extroverted enough to make up for my natural introverted tendencies, anyway. (Funny how that worked out.)
We held auditions, and then rehearsed weekly for three months, doubling up the rehearsals the last two weeks. We built set on the weekends and shopped for and sewed costumes whenever we had a moment. Parents were helpful in finding costumes and props and providing snacks after rehearsals each week. We all got to know each other very well, and we became friends. Before we knew it, it was show night. The roller coaster ride was almost over. We printed off programs and put finishing touches on the set. Our children didn’t want the experience to end, but honestly, Bryan and I were ready for it all to be over. We had learned a great deal, we had had oodles of fun, but we were tired and anxious to catch up on some chores. I really needed to clean my house.
Furthermore, we didn’t know if anybody would even come to watch our play. So we were dumbfounded, later, to watch the auditorium fill up, and then at the last minute we had to scramble to find extra chairs to set up in the back. The performance was a hit. We were astonished. Afterwards, the performers lined up in the back and hollered with joy, hugging each other and laughing. Parents showered us with gratitude. I felt God’s pleasure. We had put our fleece out, in faith, and God had rewarded us with this successful production and new relationships with these awesome people. It had certainly been a growing experience. We had all been strangers to each other a few months back. Now, we were a close-knit group.
But even good things have to come to an end, right? We would pack up the scripts and the stage makeup, return the spotlights, clean up the auditorium, pack away the costumes, and return to our “real life.” That was the plan. I felt like I could have slept for three days straight.
The drama kids rushed up to us, excited, after the production, and showered us with appreciation and hugs. And then they began to chatter enthusiastically about next year’s play. Bryan and I looked at each other and wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. “Whaaa . . . next year’s play . . .?”
Starting that theater group was probably—aside from our decisions to follow Christ, and to teach our children at home—the most impactful decision we have made (so far!). Not only did God provide for the social needs of our children, He also saw to it that they were schooled in how to become leaders among their peers. We reminded them to watch out for shy kids or newbies who might feel out of place, and to shower attention and kindness on them. Moreover, we had unwittingly provided a positive social experience for many home school students in the area who hungered for friends, too. Our group became a fun social entity even beyond the months of drama, holding parties, bonfires, showers, celebrations. Now ten years later, we’ve had weddings between drama kids, and a few babies born! What a blessing! I am so happy that I listened, all those years ago, when God nudged me a bit and encouraged me to lay out that fleece.
So there’s the short version on how we succeeded at starting our theater group. We are now preparing for our eleventh year of home school drama, reading scripts, getting the school auditorium rented, and lining up parent volunteers. We do things a little differently now than we did that first year. We put on a much bigger show, too, with surprise community guests and musical numbers. It still takes over our lives for a good four or five months of each year. We have made countless friends and savor precious memories.
Now that you’ve read my story, perhaps you’re thinking “Yeah, that’s something we might want to try. Maybe I should put out my own fleece . . .” And perhaps you’re right! Maybe a theater group would bless the home school families in your area, and some of that blessing will fall onto your own family, too. And perhaps the roller coaster ride sounds like a fun adventure to you, too! Go for it!
And if you have any questions about how we did it, please don’t hesitate to send me a message. I am working on a booklet jam-packed full of details of how we started our group, and things that we have learned, and I’d be happy to share it with you if you indicate your interest in the Comments box below!
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Uhm, you made me cry. I’m a homeschool mom with the baby being 22 so haven’t schooled in several years. But the memories and drama was right in the middle of it all. Our kids where always involved and for two years I directed.
I’m not sure how you do it with the ages but our homeschool group had two different groups the play that was put on yearly was for all ages and then we had a Shakespeare group for the jr/sr. high kids. They usually did something 2-4 times a year. It was a lot of hard work but the kids loved it and the parents usually loved it after it ended. lol
Oh my! I can’t imagine doing more than one production in a year! Our annual play totally wears me out, though it is totally worth it. I don’t think I could do more than that! But thank you for your encouragement.
you guys are great! keep on moving!
Thanks so much for reading!
1) I like your ‘are you a human?’ question. I can read it.
2) I’ve been involved in a few small plays with local folks, and it is a lot of fun. Maybe we need to change the idea in our culture that work is somehow bad. It is the effort and the striving that makes something worth doing. As Mark Twain suggested, if you aren’t getting paid for it, it isn’t work. Happy UBC.
Thanks Charlotte, for reading! I agree that too often we think of WORK as a four-letter word. I appreciate the Mark Twain quote!
Great name for a blog!
Also a lovely story about getting the theater group started – an impressive feat which would have been easy to give up on – well done!
Thanks so much for reading!
I think you should make this into a movie script! The photos added so much to this lovely story.
Thanks for reading, Pam! Good pictures do really add to a story, don’t they? A movie script . . .? Hmm–that’s an idea! Thanks again!
Bravo, Amy, on your successful theater production! It’s something special how children that are home-schooled have such hidden talent, but it’s not until you discover it that how open they can be if you just work with them. I love your post! And, yes, the pictures do tell the story.
Thanks for reading, Aletha!
It was so much fun to read how Kings Players got started! I am so happy I have gotten to act with this group. You guys are awesome directors, thanks so much for all your hard work!
How sweet of you to read my blog post! You know it has been worth every minute!
I am wanting, though it feels more like needing, to start a homeschool drama group and even compete in one of our state drama competitions. Any and all advice you can give me is wanted and welcome. Congrats on the success you have had with your group! I hope to one day be a success story and inspiration as well, at least to my kids and the kids that I can bring to the love of the theater.
Samantha, bless your heart! What state do you live in, that your homeschool drama group is allowed to participate in drama competitions? Or are these homeschool drama competitions? If you want to e-mail me specific questions, please feel free to do so. Actually my husband and I are working on an ebook on how to state a theatre group, so keep posted!
I live in Alabama and I was looking through the guidelines for the Walter Trumbauer competition when I ran across a section where they now allow homeschoolers to compete. I really want to start a group where I can work with elementary and middle school kids so they can get all the benefits of theater, and I want a high school competition team and also prepare them for scholarship auditions for college.
Wow, Samantha, that is an ambitious project! Let me know how it all goes. I’d love to hear more about your developing this program! Blessings!
I am very interested in starting a drama group for my children. We have a similar story where we have moved from a place where to kids were very involved in drama and now we live in an area where there isn’t the same opportunities. Could you share you ebook?
Hey Becky, check your email–how ironic that we are flush in the midst of Show Week, when I get this message from you! First I would say: are you sure you want to get yourself into this? I’m just joking, of course, but know that what you are contemplating will stretch your creativity, your heart, your brain, and you’ll never be the same again. Also, that you’ll wonder at times what the heck you were thinking when you decided to start a drama group. Becky, we’re nearly finished with that ebook and are hoping to publish it within the next month or two. In the meantime, I would encourage you to check my other blog posts regarding homeschool drama. Thanks for reading, and God bless!
Hello, I have two teens absolutely eager to act, but where we live offers few options – and any options available are too expensive and the waiting lists are crazy. I’ve already received plenty of emails from fellow homeschoolers ago are very interested in joining such a group. I’m feeling anxious and completely unsure of where and how to start. I don’t sew … AT ALL. How would we come up with costumes? My husband isn’t handy with tools or anything, and would unlikely become very involved considering his work schedule. BUT I am motivated and ambitious. What can you suggest?
Thanks so much!
Believe it or not, we’ve (literally) written a short book on this subject, but we’ve not published it yet. Here are my suggestions:
1. There are many play companies (Playscripts is one) that will let you read scripts online FOR FREE. Find a simple script with a very easy set (many do have minimal sets) (I’d suggest a one-act, rather than a full-length play) and the approx. number of kids as you have interested, and just do it!
2.Set up a rehearsal schedule, have a parents’ meeting and pool resources and abilities. Estimate how much it might cost (if your kids are highly motivated–and they ought to be! if theatre is in their blood–) and ask each family to pay a certain tuition fee to help pay for all the stuff you’re going to need. We’ve also nearly always had a church (or two) who would let us rehearse in their space, for free, or for a small donation.
3. Costumes you can require your actors to come up with–we sew very little, mostly we buy thrift store stuff and then alter it to work. Chances are, one of your dramamamas will be an expert sewer and will be able to help.
4. Elaine, if you are motivated and ambitious, you can do this. Take it one step at a time and gather anybody who offers to help and let them help you. It takes a village, you’d better believe it!! You may even have some theatre-crazy folks in your community that you can ask for help. But start VERY simple. Our first play was done in a church auditorium, only one show, using coat racks to hold our backdrops up! Every year our shows get a little better, I think. It’s a worthy enterprise, to pour into your kiddos this way. God bless and don’t hesitate to ask me for help.
Would you be willing to send me your email copy of your book to get a theater for homeschoolers up and going? Also, did you do this strictly volunteer or are you making something financially? Did you form an LLC? How do you advertise and market for potential students? Do you have them sign any kind of contract that covers various things as injuries, commitment, etc?
Lisa, I’ll see if I can get that booklet together. I’ve not finished it! For your questions: we used to just try to make enough money from the show to pay the expenses. That is still our aim, though we do make a little extra now. We’re in it for the kids’ benefits, not for an income stream. NO we didn’t form an LLC, we don’t have a contract, and we’ve never advertised. It is all word-of-mouth. In fact we were asked to provide info for a local event in the city, to drum up new families, and we refused. We have been part of a huge drama group and it wasn’t well taught and was poorly supervised. We prefer a smaller group of kiddos that we can work intensely with, to a large group that we struggle to keep up with.
Thank you for the information. I too am starting a homeschool performance group. We will be doing skits, dancing, singing and drama. The thought of a “play” with all those parts is overwhelming. Were you ever worried no one would remember their parts? Anyways, any advice would be appreciated. Have you worked with younger kids? It will be a Christian group so I definitely want to use appropriate material. Do you have a few other sites you recommend?
We also live on a small farm and just starting to find ways to profit (a little) from it. So I appreciate your livelihood also.
Well, this post was from quite a few years ago but if you still have that booklet or any information to share I would still be greatly appreciative.
Tobey, we didn’t work up that booklet after all, but we are planning to work on it this summer. If you want to make sure to hear about it, please share your email and I’ll make sure to notify you!