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22 Feb 2017

Newsletter: Recruiting Young Actors

Flip Kobler began his performing career as an actor before morphing into a writer.  Flip and his wife, Cindy Marcus, run Showdown Stage Company and Showdown Theater Academy in Valencia, California.  Pioneer Drama Service is pleased to offer several plays and musicals by this dynamic duo, including Best of Both Worlds, the one-act version of the popular Mirror Image

You’ve had great shows in the past.  You’ve played to packed houses and standing ovations.  So why is it still an uphill climb to fill out the ranks of your acting pool?
Ah, the age old conundrum.  Recruiting.  In a perfect world, and the world of TV sitcoms, young talent flocks to the drama department simply for the thrill of being part of the club.  But in our real and imperfect world, it requires work.

So let’s talk about how to entice those young, fevered talent-machines.
Bribery might seem like a simple solution, but it never really works.  No matter what you offer, once they get “paid,” they have no reason to return.  So whether you’re offering English credit, a starring role, a gift card or even candy, once the promised goodies are in their hands, they are gone again.  If they’re only getting involved for the external rewards, then you really never recruited them.
Wanting to be a part of theatre has to come from within.  They have to feel the cool and fun allure with all their heart.  Make being part of the drama department cool and you’re golden.  Within your own school or organization, aim for other cliques to get involved.  Go after the jocks, the cheerleaders, the marching band, the choir, the chess club...  Heck, go after everybody because you never know where some hidden talent may lay.
However, be aware of fiefdoms.  This is a common occurrence in schools and other organizations.  Each department holds firmly to their own talent pool.  Back in the day when I was high schoolin’, you couldn’t be part of the marching band and in drama.  Rehearsals and performance schedules conflicted.  No quarterback would give up a game for opening night and the choir teacher wouldn’t allow the drama musical director to unteach her wisdom.
So be prepared to compromise.  Bargain.  This may go against your instinct and create a lot more work, but it is worth it in the end.  So don’t give the quarterback the starring role; give him a small speaking part.  Let him miss rehearsals and work around the game schedule.  Think how packed your theatre will be with coolness when the entire football team comes to see the play!  It’ll be worth the extra effort you went to.
If the drum major needs hell-week off, perhaps you could compromise with the band.  The same holds true for any new recruit.  Work with them and avoid hard and fast rules of attendance.  I know, I know, you only have a few weeks to get the show up, and you’re under the gun already.
But it’s my experience that once the theater bug bites, it bites some kids hard.  Who knows?  Next semester they may be missing cheerleading practice because drama has become their primary interest.  A little creative bargaining now can pay off big time later.  There’s something about that applause and the teamwork it takes to earn it that gets inside of them and leaves them wanting more.
Also try to work with the heads of other departments and give them something.  Can your drama kids help build a set for the choir?  Can you loan costumes to the marching band?  Can your leading star help tutor the quarterback for his big halftime speech?  Too often departments are compartmentalized.  A little cooperation and creative scheduling can go a long, long way.
Even if you just make a little progress this year, that’s okay.  Come spring, you’re going to start recruiting for next year.  Your spring show has opened and closed and there are only a few weeks to the end of school.  Now is the time to recruit for next year.
How about taking those last few weeks and putting together a presentation?  Maybe the best musical numbers from this year?  Or the funniest scenes?  Work on new songs or revive old skits.  Who’s on First never gets old and everybody loves it.
Now you’ve got a mini-show and I do mean mini.  Keep it under 15 minutes.  You want to blast these guys and get out, leaving them to say, “I gotta be part of that!”  Maybe you could present at a school assembly?  Or can you take your mini show on a mini tour of the school or your feeder schools?  If you’re a high school, target the graduating middle schoolers.  Get those freshmen before they’re even freshmen.  If you’re a middle school, schedule a performance with the graduating elementary kids.  Get them excited about drama before summer even begins.
Most importantly, remember, you’re expanding minds.  You’re changing lives.

You rock.

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