BY DAVID HEFLICK
Author of How to Make Money Performing in Schools
When considering artists for all-school performances, principals almost always look for programs that have educational value in addition to entertainment value. To design a program that is truly educational, the artist must articulate a theme, determine performance pieces and other program elements that relate to the theme, and then weave the elements together so that the theme develops in a logical, meaningful fashion.
It is possible for an artist to design from scratch, without any prior conceptions regarding what performance content might be included, a program of performance pieces, narrative, and other elements to develop a predetermined theme. Most often though, artists go about it the other way around. Having an existing repertoire, they are looking for ways to assemble a series of performance pieces in order to create a program.
For each piece in your repertoire that has potential for inclusion in a performance for young people, list the following: the work's message or theme, additional concepts that underline the main concept, any actions or behavior modifications suggested in the piece, particular emotions expressed in the piece, factual or historical aspects to the piece. After you have analyzed the performance pieces in your repertoire, study the results, looking for common threads. You will likely identify one or more common denominators that may be turned into themes and sub-themes. The next step is to weed out the pieces that don't really fit, determine whether you have enough content to develop the theme, and if needed, begin the search for additional material.
Next, begin creating non-performance content (NPC) that will tie the works or pieces together. The first step in the creation of NPC is to explain, on paper, the concepts addressed in each of the pieces. Once you have created a narrative for each piece in your program, determine whether there are means other than direct delivery of narrative to convey the educational content of the narrative, such as audience dialogue (conversation between the artist and the audience), activities, or demonstrations. Using a variety of vehicles to convey NPC makes the show more interesting and entertaining, thus engaging the audience. This, in turn, enhances student retention of the concepts addressed.
The next step in program design is deciding on the most logical progression of the components of the program. Heavier material should be placed at the beginning of the program and lighter material toward the end. Activities, demonstrations, skits, audience participation, and other non-performance content should be strategically placed to maximize audience engagement.
Making the effort to transform a series of performance pieces into an effective, educational program can be a challenging task. But the end result will exponentially increase the impact and retention of your message, enhance your reputation in the schools, and result in a significant increase in bookings.
Copyright 1999, David Heflick. This article is based on excerpts from the revised, second edition of "How to Make Money Performing in Schools," which contains an extensive chapter on program development. Visit http://www.schoolgigs.com for more information on performing in schools.