The Student News Site of West Albany High School


The Student News Site of West Albany High School


The Student News Site of West Albany High School


Thinking up Theater: A look into choir and drama teacher Cate Caffarella’s process as a director

The hidden complexities of show production

Shining lights, props, and skilled actors work every spring to bring a story to lifebut long before the spotlights the actors on stage or audience members fill the theater, there’s another type of performance that takes center stage. Choir and drama teacher Cate Caffarella takes on the responsibility of organizing and directing the school musical

     Caffarella explained that producing the musical is nearly a year-long process, and she often decides which musical the school will put on before summer break even starts. 

     “I’ll take a little bit of time off, and then it’s like, let’s start thinking about shows for next year,” Caffarella said. “I try to have the musical selected before I go away for the summer so that I can also be thinking about that.”

     This massive time commitment means it is imperative that Caffarella feels connected to the musical she chooses, which is often one of her first considerations. 

      However, it’s not a decision that she makes entirely on her own. In order to appeal to both the students and the audience, she tries to ask for input, especially at the beginning of the decision-making process.

     “I’m looking for things that I think will not only entertain my audience but also be fun for my students to perform,” she said, “so it usually winds up with me polling a whole bunch of different people for suggestions.”

     Asking for student input is an important consideration to make, due to the time commitment the actors and participants make in the process as well. There are many logistical challenges that come with the production of a musical that has to be taken into account as well, which means Caffarella sometimes has to make sacrifices based on practicality, regardless of student preference. 

     “It’s so subjective, right? And it’s hard to pick a show that everybody’s gonna love,” Caffarella said. “There are shows that I know kids want to do, but that I’m just not going to do in high school.”

     These limitations sometimes have an effect on the options available to the theater department every year. 

     “A lot of times it’s because of budget or it’s because of capability,” Caffarella said. She has to have conversations with her crew in order to gauge what types of productions are realistic. “I think despite having to kind of scale back a lot and [to] make it work, it’s a high school show, and I think we come up with a pretty good product,” she said. 

     Since the new auditorium has been put in, she has found that her options are not as restricted by the old facilities, which leaves more room for productions that are more diverse and span many different genres.

     “It used to be, I pick a show that people will audition for that we have the technical capability for,” she said. “Now that we have this space, some of those things don’t restrict us as much.” 

     This allows Caffarella, event technology teacher Stuart Welsh, assistant director Trish Wagner, and other members of the production team to branch out in their selections, and within other constraints, select a production that will promote growth and hopefully challenge the theater department. They still have to deal with the financial investment of each show, a difficult challenge because production costs aren’t limited to costumes and set pieces alone—royalties and contracts make up a huge portion of the budget. Acquiring the rights to a show means, first, reaching out to royalty companies, a process that has become significantly more difficult since many companies were absorbed or have changed hands following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

     For these companies, Caffarella has to fill out contracts, provide specifications on the venue and seating capacity, and order or rent sheet music and scripts—which becomes a very expensive investment. Caffarella estimates that her contracts cost around $8 to 9,000 per production, all before set, costume, and production costs are even taken into consideration. 

     “I have to say my house size, which is 719. And then on top of that, I give them an average,” Caffarella said. “Since we’ve been in the new space, that average has gone up every year—so the first year, I wrote it for 350. Last year, I think I wrote it for 400. And now this year, I’m writing it for 450. Because people keep coming. I mean, it’s a great problem to have.”

     Many contracts also come with certain regulations and restrictions Caffarella is legally obligated to adhere to. 

     “When I did Cinderella a little while back, there was a national tour happening,” she said. “That national tour was going to be in Eugene, so they gave me the rights but I was not allowed to advertise with the title of the show.”

      This meant that Caffarella, her production team, parents, and students had to rely on word-of-mouth and workarounds in order to advertise for their show. “So every contract has its little thing,” she said. 

     Because the Performing Arts Department receives no funding from the district, the cost of every musical has to be supplemented and sourced through ticket sales. This is one of the reasons it’s so important that the show is family-friendly, well-advertised, and highly anticipated by the community.

     “I have to sell tickets—that is my only source of revenue,” Caffarella said. “And frankly, I’m going to make more money doing shows where you can bring your 5, 6, 7, or 8-year-old to.”

     Besides just for selling tickets, considering the content of the show is something that Caffarella finds important so that she can avoid offending audience members.

     “With a couple of shows we’ve done, I’ve gotten emails about content,” Caffarella said. “I mean, even in the Addams Family this year, I was worried about it because it is a little more dark, a little more macabre.” 

     Looking past the surface level of the content, however, Caffarella is more focused on the themes and underlying message of the production, so she feels that her students and audience have something to take away from the performance. 

     “I try to find shows where the overall theme is very uplifting and positive,” she said. “Ultimately, the theme of this show is about embracing yourself as a whole human being. We have our dark side, but we also have our light side, and you can’t be one without the other.” 

     Caffarella has been directing the musical here since 2012 when she put on a production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” With 12 years of experience, she has had quite a bit of time to refine the process. She says that her organization has improved significantly, and she has developed a team of people that is crucial to the production each year. 

     “Over the years I have created a really excellent adult support team—people that I work with every year,” Caffarella said. “I cannot do a show without those people.”

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