Children & Youth Theater – Venue Options For Staging a Production

I love thinking about all the wonderful shows I have had the opportunity to direct with kids and young people, from the first one, before I even had my degree, when I was invited into my 2nd grader’s class to create an in-the-classroom -production of Laura Krauss Melmed’s beautiful book, The Rainbabies, to the gorgeous and flashy mounting of Into the Woods I directed ten years later on a huge professional stage where Cinderella’s dress and glass slippers flew in from the rafters and characters magically transformed amid smoke and flames on stage.

I have since directed many plays and musicals in that beautiful historic theatre, complete with air conditioned dressing rooms built to Equity standards, advanced lighting effects and a fly system that could support anything we could think of to hang. When the children arrived during production week for their first big dress rehearsal, it was wonderful. They’d be sitting in the front three rows and absolutely wriggling with anticipation. I’d come out of the wings and sit down on the edge of the stag and wait for them to get quiet. “Actors,” I loved to say, “welcome to the Big Time.”

A big beautiful historic theater like that is a wonderful place for kids to perform and a wonderful place for the community to come to see them. But it is also terribly expensive and not at all necessary.

Do not let the lack of funds for the big theater in town keep you from mounting a play with kids. There are many different options for youth theater performance venues. No matter where the kids end up performing, there will be happy smiles on the actor’s faces, delighted applause from the members of the audience, and a sense of community and pride in every heart in the place.

So what exactly do you need to put on a show? Well, if I had to name one thing that you cannot do without, it would be simply this: space. There has to be space for the actors and the set and space for the audience. But that is really all you need. Everything else is extra. Live theater is about human beings as actors, and especially when you are talking about young human beings as actors, a large classroom or a field or a gym or a church fellowship hall is all you need.

I have staged plays in classrooms several times, and doing so has many benefits. The children involved have a great sense of ownership if the show is being created right in the comfort of their classroom. With the rest of their academic life taking place in the same space, it is easy to find ways to incorporate the work of making a show – memorizing, designing, and rehearsing – into the students’ regular class work schedule. The classroom teacher also has the opportunity to develop cross curriculum activities pertaining to the theme of the play. There is no cost and contacting the parents of the cast for help with costuming or props is as easy as sending a note home in everybody’s homework folder.

And on the day of the play – voila! The desks are pushed to one side of the room, everybody’s chair becomes an audience member’s seat and the empty space on the other side of the room becomes the stage. Cover the bulletin boards with large pieces of fabric or better yet, create a scene on the bulletin board to represent a backdrop for the show, and you are in business.

Another possible choice is a local church. It is often possible to rent space in churches, whether sanctuary or fellowship hall, for a nominal fee, which can sometimes be even more nominal if a church member’s little one is in the play. The sanctuary in a church can often be rearranged to provide a fine staging area, and there are plenty of church fellowship halls that have small stage areas that are perfect for a youth theater production.

The local recreation and parks department can also often be counted on to have large rooms or a gym to rent for a very low price. Recreation and parks departments are always looking for new groups to include on their schedule of events and will be glad to consider a new group of young performers as guests.

If your play is planned for the months of the year when it is delightful to be outside, be bold about staging it simply in a field, a park, the backyard of the public library or on the town green. All you need are a few simple pieces of scenery to delineate the playing space, and a large tent can act as backdrop as well as dressing room for the actors. Invite audience members to bring their own lawn chairs or blankets to sit on, remind the children to project as if their lives depended on it, provide a community can of mosquito spray to pass around just in case, and it’s show time!.