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Before the curtain: Directors get creative to save on costs

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Directors sent out emails asking for old books or pieces of furniture.

Parents worked to convert a show choir costume into a musical dance costume. Students scavenged Goodwill to find costume pieces.

The work was part of cost-saving efforts by high school theater departments as they prepare for fall productions.

Drama departments receive no school funds to produce shows.

“The budget is whatever you have in your account,” Whiteland director Raenell Smith said. “We literally operate on our own budget.”

Most local high school productions cost about $3,000. That money must be used to costume every actor, build sets, buy stage makeup and props, secure production rights and print programs and tickets.

And so, putting on a show on a budget requires creativity.

Copyright permission to utter one line of a play can cost a school hundreds of dollars. The music from favorite musicals such as “Annie” or “The Wizard of Oz” can cost more than $3,000.

Props are made, found or bought, as costumes, set pieces and furniture. Makeup alone can cost hundreds of dollars.

For Center Grove’s fall play, “Charley’s Aunt,” students will supply their own costumes. They look for pieces at home and secondhand stores or borrow them from family and friends, technical director Shaun McIlquham said.

Student actors bring in their costumes and directors approve them.

For musicals, parents often convert show choir costumes, McIlquham said.

Sets usually are kept from year to year and can be reused at most schools, directors said.

For example, the gardening set pieces from Center Grove’s production of “Cinderella” last spring can be used for this fall’s “Charley’s Aunt,” which is part of the reason the show was picked, McIlquham said.

Franklin Community High School used only one set in last spring’s “The Children of Eden.” The idea is that the simpler sets would require audiences to use their imaginations more, director Jon Stevens said.

Getting creative artistically because of the budget is part of the fun, he said.

“Having that kind of artistic freedom when producing a show allows us to still be creative, even with a minor budget,” Stevens said.

Smith keeps cost in mind when she picks the fall show.

For example, this year she picked “You Can’t Take it With You.” The show has 19 people, less than a musical, which is easier to costume, she said.

In addition, the 1940s style clothing would be easier to find and less expensive Smith said.

All those decisions were made so most of the money in the budget could go to a prop-heavy show, she said.

“Our first concern is usually cast size,” Smith said. “If I had to costume 20 people in period clothing, I couldn’t do it.”

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