At a school performing our show Planet Power last summer, there were some difficulties around who would be selected as Musical Director for the show. It wasn't a lack of skill to do the job that held anyone back, but a lack of interest from any of the children to take on the role.
What you often find when staging a school production, is that you'll get an organic split between those who want to perform on stage, and those who want to take charge of back stage roles such as props, scenery and music. But on this occasion there was nobody willing to come forward.
"The problem", it was explained, "is that the children think the task is boring, and that they don't want to just sit in the corner pressing play and pause on the backing tracks."
The school asked if we'd encountered any similar problems, or had questions along the same lines from other schools. Admittedly we hadn't, but it got us to thinking about the role of MD in a show where there is no live band. Does it really matter?
Of course it didn't take much thinking to realise just how crucial the MD is to the success of any Stage Invaders production. It's not just "pressing play", not at all. It's about having the natural musical instinct to know when a song should start and finish; it's about deciding how loud or quiet a special sound effect should be to give it maximum impact; it's the ability to multi-task - following along with stage directions and dialogue in real-time to ensure you can adapt to the needs of that night's performance; and it's understanding that a story is watched with the ears as much, if not more, than it is with the eyes.
That last point is the definitive one. Think about it. When you watch a play, a TV show or a film, it's often sound design and music that explain the story even more than the visuals. Maybe that means in a scene you'll hear the engine of a car before it appears in the shot (thus making it apparent you need to pay specific attention to the car), or that a piece of music will ratchet up the tension to make us sit up in our seats and pay more attention to the actions of the people on screen.
Make them see (with their ears)
Our advice to the school with the reluctant MDs was to show them something iconic with the music/sound effects taken out and see whether this would drive up MD volunteer numbers. They picked to show the trailer to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, first without music, and then with the music put back in.
The results speak for themselves. The school didn't suddenly have an influx of people wanting to change from acting on stage to being the MD. But those who did show an interest did so because they had a newfound understanding and passion for the job of MD. They saw that without a skilled professional at the musical helm, there is no musical.
So remember, when staging your Stage Invaders show, the Musical Director is key.