By Sam Bianco
Each year, show choir directors are responsible for creating shows for their choirs to perform. This important job can make or break a show choir season before it even begins. There is no one right way to get it done, and the beauty of this is freedom of creativity, but here is a general guide to show design.
Always keep the level of the choir in mindMany great ideas have failed due to a choir (or director) not being at a level to perform certain material. If you have a newer or smaller group, use a loose theme that just collects some great music that is performable and fun for the choir and the audience. Heavier material is often more difficult to perform in believable ways.
You can find inspiration almost anywhereOne of the best ways to find inspiration is looking at other show choir shows, especially ones from a different area of the country. Watch the choirs that compete in the national championship competitions to get ideas. Movies, television, theater, and books are also great places to pull inspiration from even if you aren't basing a whole show on a certain story (i.e. "Star Wars," the show choir show). Pulling themes from existing works is often a great starting point. Possibly the simplest way to put together a show is finding a collection of songs that you really like and tying them together in a way that either tells a story or follows a logical progression. The songs you pick need to tell the story of your theme, so depending on the music you choose, your story may change.
Choosing the music is the most important part If you can write your own arrangements or have an arranger, then you can pick just about anything. If not, you have to find songs previously arranged for show choir (choir and pit band), which will be limiting. I recommend contacting show choir arrangers (just search "show choir arranger" on Google) to get their previously arranged music catalogues and inquire about rates to create new arrangements for you.
When it comes to choosing music, show choir shows generally follow a simple, five-song formula:
1. Fast OpenerLots of dance and big vocals that set up your story.
2. Mid-tempo PieceChanges the pace, but still furthers the story.
3. BalladStand still and sing beautifully. This is usually the hardest piece vocally.
4. Costume-Change PieceUsually features a soloist or small group while everyone else changes costumes, or a piece that features one gender, then the other to accommodate the change.
5. Fast CloserLots of dance and big vocals that bring the story to a close.
There are obviously many variations for show construction and the sky is the limit, but this is an easy base to start. Find music you like and think fits your theme well, and put it together with this formula for an initial draft of a show. Give yourself some time to think it through, then revise. When I create a new show, I revise multiple times (after throwing away a few themes along the way).
Which sections will feature soloists?Once music has been chosen and it fits the theme, you need to determine which sections of music will feature soloists and which sections will be reserved for full choir. This choice will determine both the feel of that section and what the judges are able to grade at any given moment. A solo-heavy show may be a big hit with the crowd, but if the choir isn't involved enough in the music, it may hurt your choir come judging time. It's important to strike a balance between featuring your most talented vocalists and your full choir.
Costumes are a critical visual elementOnce you have settled on a theme and songs, it's time to take care of the visual aspects of show choir. I like to start with costuming. There are many different considerations to make with costuming.
-How many costumes will each performer have?
-Is there enough time set aside for their costume changes, if necessary?
-What should the color scheme of the show be?
-Are there styles of music in your show that are associated with certain clothing styles? (For example, it would be a little out of place to perform punk rock music while wearing ball gowns)
-Will the costumes look good on every body type?
-Does this costume fit the feel of the show?
-Will this costume "read" well from stage?
-What is your costume budget?
Many companies specialize in show choir costuming for every price range. If you're lucky enough to know someone who can make costumes, that's even better!
Have you accounted for sets/props/risers?An under-appreciated aspect of show design in show choir are the sets, props, and risers. The traditional riser set-up is four rows of four platforms that get higher as they go backstage.
Recently, show choirs have been letting their risers help tell the visual story of the show. Depending on the risers you use, many different combinations and formations are available. Don't be afraid to experiment. Many show choirs also have backdrops or set pieces that enhance the visuals for the show. These should fit your theme and help tell your story without detracting from the performance of the choir and band.
The performance should always come first! If sets, and props enhance your performance, make sure you keep in mind their cost and the mobility of the pieces. Most shows only allow 30 minutes for set-up, performance, and tear-down, so anything you use in your show needs to be mobile enough to not cause timing penalties. I recommend starting small to see what's feasible before biting off more than you can chew!
Most importantly, the show needs to be enjoyable to teach, to perform, and to watch. Run your ideas past people that you trust and respect. If you love your creation, chances are others will too!