- The Audition 3. Where are we? 5. Naming of Parts
- The Read-through 4. Improvisations 6. Prepare the Drop-ins
- Rehearsal Hints
- Further Adaptation
- Sample Budgets & Financial Notes
- Production Manifests
- Lesson Plans
When Peace Child started to be used in hundreds of schools across North America, it became fashionable to say: “Peace Child is not so much a play as a process…” True – up to a point. In introducing this section, it’s important to stress that what must emerge at the end of the process is a performance – a performance with integrity and quality as a piece of theatre, not just as an educational exercise.
It is my conviction that a proper execution of “the process” enhances the performance – makes for more compelling acting from the children, more emotive and accurate singing, more passionate and coherent delivery of the message because it is a message that the children have, for the most part, written themselves. If the performance shows signs of falling apart or needing that dreaded tag-line “Workshop Performance” – please, I beg you as an artist! – DUMP THE PROCESS – and get on with doing a good play!
The classic Peace Child process is in the following six stages:
The Audition: The audition sets the tone for the whole production. Peace Child auditions must always be fun and educational. They must be extremely carefully organized to give children, and their parents, a sense of confidence in the production. This is how I do it:
- Take the children in groups of 10-15; sit them in a circle and go round getting each one to speak their name and phone number in a loud, clear voice; [take notes on vocal projection & confidence]
- Explain to them the story of Peace Child and how you are looking for children who are going to help write Ask them to do an improvisation – anyone from the lesson plans will work, but I generally use the one where a kid who has been cast in an overseas production of Peace Child runs in to tell a friend who is sceptical. They argue for a while about the pros and cons of going. Then switch roles have the sceptic run in and gush with enthusiasm for Peace Child. Change cast members until everyone in the group has had a go. [take notes on quality of ideas, timing, humour, presence, comfort in performance etc.]
- Hear the prepared song. Those that have not prepared a song should sing something simple but testing to see how they can hold a tune. “Silent Night” is my favorite – shows off a range, the timbre of a voice. Recently, I have found “From a Distance” a good song, particularly for possible
- Talk about the rehearsal schedule; ask if any one has any questions about the show; tell them when decisions will be made about who will be in the core cast, who will be in the chorus etc. Ask if the Music Director wants to hear anyone •
- Send them off to work with the choreographer – even those who have no intention of dancing. Finally, ask them how many of them would like to be in the show. Tick those who raise their
- Mark each child out of 10 for:
- Voice Projection;
- Improvisational Skills
Do it immediately before you see another group. Compare notes with the Choreographer and Music Director. Split the names into two lists: those for the Core Cast and those for the Chorus. Those who want to be in it but who have no ability to move or sing, and are uncomfortable in improvisation should be offered backstage roles.
General Points: If you are doing a community performance, it is good to do auditions in different sectors of the community. For example, for a production in Seattle, the artistic staff auditioned in several parts of the city to draw in children from the various ethnic groups.
Be sure to advertise your auditions widely!! Your success in getting people to auditions is an indicator of your ability to get people to buy tickets to the show!
The Read-through: Even if you are going to spend some months doing classroom study of the Lesson Plans, it is good to begin the formal process of preparation with a “Core Cast” read through of the script. The Chorus, sadly, cannot be a part of this: it’d be just too many They should be rehearsed separately and their movements rehearsed into the play in the final week.
- Get everyone into a circle and start reading from Page One – reading all stage directions, everything!
- Everyone should read something, including the music director, the choreographer, the stage manager. Make everyone feel involved in the words on the page. Even you.
- Be sure to circulate the lines for the Boy and the Girl amongst all possible candidates. Choosing one child over another to play a “lead” is an inherently un-peaceful act which must be left finally to the judgement of the Artistic and Musical Director(s). Making the whole cast feel ownership of the Boy and Girl’s characters during the read-through can help ease the blow of that
- Mix up generations and genders: let adults read kids parts; kids read adult
- Do not Stop. Read the whole thing straight through pausing only if you need refreshment or bathroom
- At the end, discuss the following question ahead of all others:
Where are we?” The first thing you must decide is where your Peace Child is set. Which occasion are you using to launch the process by which peace and happiness comes to our world? Obviously, we hope you will use the Hague Appeal for Peace, or the Millennium Young People’s Congress, but it could be anywhere – anything: a United Games week-end; an international youth event in your home town – or something very small like the arrival of an international visitor at your school – or a birthday party at which an old friend turns up with their family.
Think about it, be creative! Every other decision you make about your production will flow from this first decision. After you have got some suggestions, slide down through the scenes and see which ideas fit best – and how much will need to be changed. Discuss the ideas with the cast and see if there is a consensus. If not, take a vote: the idea with the most votes wins.
Note: I have recently been told of two productions where the producer preferred to leave the “place” indeterminate, hinting at several events around the world. This is clearly another solution.
Improvisations: Once you have made a decision on Place, it’s time to work through the lesson plans with your cast. The information and ideas that come from these discussions and improvisations + the energy you tap from them will transform the final
The best way for a community cast to do this, especially if you are pressed for time, is to split the cast into small groups of 5 or 6, and taking a lesson each (include stage managers, choreographers, dancers – everyone!). Each group should read the background material, discuss the discussion points, do the improvisations and present their findings to the whole cast. Each group should include an improvisation in their presentation along with detailed suggestions on how to adjust the script.
Make time to discuss each group’s presentation. If the group wants, let others join their
improvisations. Take copious notes and write up on large sheets of paper lines or ideas for scenes or characters or songs that people seem to like. Give the notes to the writer and let him/her fashion it into a First Draft script.
The frenzy of activity and improvisation doing the lesson plans should allow you to get to know your cast well. Many parts will have cast them-selves. Names must now be ascribed to the others so that, in the First Draft Script, Child 1 will have become “Malcolm” – Kid 5 will be “Natalie” etc.
Naming of Parts: It’s a big debate in Peace Child as to whether children should perform using their own names. Some psychiatrists have told me it could be damaging, but I cannot see why: no character in Peace Child is anything other than normal. By contrast, I see many benefits: when a kid called Marco plays a character called Marco whose purpose in life is to bring Peace to the world, that child will carry the experience for the rest of his life. Me will become, in a sense, a Peace Child, as others become Boy Scouts, or Brownies, or
The Presidents, commanders, parents etc. are character parts: the kids should invent outra geous names for them. But for themselves – for the core group of children that spread out across the world and end up at the United Nations, let them carry their own names. Let them be Peace Children.
Prepare the Drop-ins: A Drop-in may be defined as a section of the script which has a clear beginning point and a precise end-point. To complete the First Draft Script, these need to be writ ten, preferably by members of the cast. There are nine: [See Lesson Plans]
Act One, Scene 1: State of the Planet Report; 21st Century Resolutions;
Act One, Scene 5: How to spend money on making the world more beautiful; Act One, Scene 6: Youth Statement to the Plenary;
Act Two, Scene 1: Youth resistance to Saskia’s ideas for a peace meeting;
Act Two, Scene 5: Youth resistance to the March + Saskia’s persuasion speech; Lines for Great March National Groups
Act Two, Scene 7: Agreements made at the Millennial Assembly;
Act Two, Scene 8: Questions for the Epilogue & Story-teller’s final speech;
Once you have completed the improvisations, drafted a script, named the characters and written the Drop-in Sections, you should print out a “Line Text” in as few pages as possible and make photocopies for the entire cast.
Now all is prepared for REHEARSALS TO BEGIN!!
REHEARSAL HINTS: In the normal business of rehearsal – doing the blocking, setting the songs, – I find that kids learn their parts in a second. If they don’t there is something wrong with the lines and they need to be changed. A good way to do this is to “Take the dog for a walk” through the script. You know the way a dog on a lead scampers from one side of a path to another, exploring different smells. In a similar fashion, should allow your actors to wander down the woodland path of your script, straying wildly from the text, exploring side-paths, jumping in ponds, relaxing in clearings. See what new ideas emerge. If you like them, splice them into the script.
- In 2-hander scenes, switch characters: let each see the other’s
- If a funny line isn’t being funny, find a bit of business that makes it funny – a silly hat, a prop, an extravagant gesture. If the line still doesn’t get a laugh, change it or cut it. A Peace Child show with flat jokes is deadly.
- Work the transitions. Make sure every child knows where they are coming from, where they have to get to, how they are leaving. Especially the Core Cast.
- Do double-speed run-throughs to make sure that the kids know the text – very well! We never use a Prompter in Peace Child. If a kid dries, the others must feel confident about filling in with improvisations until the scene gets back on the rails of the agreed script. It’s the best safety net.
- Have everyone do vocal and physical warm-ups at the beginning & end of rehearsals; go through the big numbers all together – Peace Day, Sing, Look at Life etc. so everybody knows them inside out;
- The Dancers, the Chorus and the Singing Soloists should rehearse separately, in different rooms. So will the Core Cast principles. This is good. Don’t present the scenes or numbers to the full rehearsal until you are happy with them. Then impress everyone with the QUALITY of each component.
- About a week or two weeks before the show, type up a FINAL Draft Script. Try not to change anything after this; (though if something can be improved, I always do – but people hate me for it!)
New Characters: Take the “Child 1, Child 2” characters and, as well as giving them a name, give them a characteristic: maybe one is a joker; another is the star of the swim-team or an ace chess player – one might always wear green or has a mother who likes hanging out at shopping malls. Develop new characters in new scenes.
New Scenes: As you explore the lesson plans, ideas will come flooding from the kids; the script will quickly become constricting. Cut whole scenes: make space for new ones, new sub-plots – new jokes!
New Songs: Nobody knows if they can write a song until they’ve done it. If they can write a lyric, they can write a rap; if they can write a rap, the next step is to write music. Work closely with the Music Director to help kids complete and perform new songs. Also, look through the Music Score – you will find new songs that are not woven into this script which you can use. Two of these, Say you love this world and Myechta, were both written by cast members, Ella Vituk and Colleen Barry. “We want this world to survive” was written by 18-year old Pavel Sydor from Poland for whom English was his 3rd language.
New Story- New Play: New scenes, new songs, new characters will start to send tremors down the length of the play. New story ideas are bound to emerge. Pursue them: Peace Child gives you the freedom to explore major world events as they hap pen. As I write this, NATO is bombing Serbia and the war shows every sign of spreading into Montenegro and the rest of the Balkans: if I was doing a Peace Child show at this moment, I would feel compelled to include a discussion of this latest madness. I urge you to be as daring as you can possibly be in your departure from this basic script.
Ground Rules: So when does a Peace Child play stop being a Peace Child play and start being something else completely?? The short answer is: when you want it to be something else. The Peace Child name carries a certain magic and a long history, so if you want what you do to carry that magic and history with it, there are certain ground rules you should stick to:
- It should be set in the Future,(ie. 2025/2050) with the majority of the story set in a flash back to the present;
- At least half the music should be from the Peace Child
- The story should feature a friendship between children of different communities (North South; ethnic differences)
- Some of the dialogue, in particular Drop-ins, MUST be written by cast members;
If you are doing all the above, you can say you are doing a Peace Child. If you are doing only one or two of the above, you are probably doing your own play and you should consider calling your performance something else.
.These budgets are based on the actual costs of three, very different productions.
- Large: This budget is based on the one used for the Kennedy Center Concert Hall performance; costs will vary, but large performances can cost close to $100,000 +;
- Medium: based on an excellent performance at the Derry Concert Hall, Northern Ireland;
- Small: based on a small performance arranged by the choir-mistress for a church in Minnesota;
- Sponsorship – Companies, Government, Churches – anything from $1,000 to $25,000
- Sales of Merchandise – T-shirts, programmes, mugs, etc. Without a well-thought out sales operation, this does not often make much money. It requires up-front expenditure to purchase stock, and can leave you with a lot unsold. Tread carefully.
Liability Insurance: You must be sure that the children who participate, and the building in which you rehearse and perform, are properly insured for all eventualities
GALA: All productions should aim to have a “Gala” Opening performance, or last show to which local officials and dignitaries may be invited; not only will this raise money to help cover the · budget, it will also ensure that the children is message reaches the ears of those in a position to act upon it.
Travel Costs: This can include bringing children from disadvantaged areas of a city or region to rehearsals, to a research or relaxation trip out for the whole cast;
International Productions: These are the best kind of Peace Child shows – but they are expensive as you have to find homestays for the International kids, and you have to work, eith. er through Peace Child International Headquarters or another agency, to get kids to come from overseas.
Any child coming from a developing country or a war zone will normally require their ticket to be paid. However, the determined producer can make this all happen – Steve Elliott and the Monkton Heathfield Community School raised thousands of pounds to bring kids from many places to a magnificent production that ran in a local theatre and London’s West End in the presence of royalty!
Contact Rosey Simonds at Peace Child International Headquarters if you are interested in doing one: through our network of some 500 groups in 120 countries around the world, we can find you some excellent young people for your show,
NOTE: ALL PRODUCTIONS ARE DESIGNED TO RAISE FUNDS FOR ON-GOING WORK!