Staging Your School Assembly

This is the fifth article in an 9-part series with tips on planning, producing, and paying for your school assembly program. The complete School Assembly Handbook will be available online at my website for educational school assemblies.

This is where the rubber meets the road!  You chose the right program and booked the right presenter at the right price.  These are the details that will play a big part in how pleasant the experience is, both for your presenter as well as your students. 

What do you have to work with?  Schools range from “cafe-toriums” where everything happens somewhere at ground level to beautiful auditoriums with full stages.  Assembly performances also vary.  Some presenters have an interactive style where children help throughout the program.  Others don’t involve this sort of audience participation.  Some programs are more visual, while others are more audible.  Jugglers have their own special requirements. 

Obviously, you need to take your space and your artist into consideration as you plan.  Here are a few general guidelines that will put you on the right track. 

Leave an Aisle.  An aisle is really a necessity, whether the performer asks for it or not.  A child may need to get up and leave during the program.  Or, a teacher may need to talk with a student about behavior or re-arrange the seating for students.  They need a way to get to these children. 

Tip:  An aisle is as easy as a two rows of cones in the center of the seating area.  If you want to label seating areas, use dowels with laminated paper “flags” with teacher’s names.  Drop the dowel into the top of the cone to make it easy for teachers to find their section.

Stage.  If your school has a stage it’s a huge plus.  Many stages are used for music rooms.  This makes it tricky working to get the space available for an assembly, but it’s great to have the option available.  A stage elevates the performer, making it easier for kids at the back to see. 

Tip:  If there is a basketball hoop lurking in front of the stage, ask the custodian if it can be raised to improve sight lines. 

Tip:  Older stages (and platforms) don’t have built-in steps.  If you have steps that can be slid into place at the front it’s easier and faster to get people on and off stage (as opposed to taking steps at the far wings).  If you don’t have portable steps, you may be able to use a stack of gym mats to create a “step”. 

Bleachers.  Bleachers are more common at middle and high schools and at older elementary schools.  The plus:  sight lines are good for students even at the back.  The minus:  bleachers are loud.  Hundreds of little feet moving around on wood with space beneath them are noisy. 

If you have bleachers be sure that students understand that stomping their feet is not acceptable.  This is a cultural program indoors, not a sporting event at the stadium.

Timing Your Assembly.  If the assembly is scheduled to begin at 10:00 am, teachers should be moving towards the gym five+ minutes before the program begins.  Start on time, end on time, and get the maximum value from your assembly program. 

Delaying the start of an assembly for one class that forgot to come is no fun and everyone loses.  Announcements by intercom calling students by grades for seating are a great way to get the process started in an organized way.

Sound Systems.   This is a can of worms, as a whole book could be written on how to set up and use microphones and sound systems.  Let’s keep it simple here:  your music teacher, principal, custodian, or PE teacher can show you how to work your sound system.   

Tip:  have a handheld microphone (either wired or wireless) on a stand set up regardless of whether your presenter needs it or not.  A microphone is a huge help for introductions and announcements.  It’s also great insurance in the event that something happens to the performer’s microphone, they can simply reach over and have a microphone that is set up and ready to go. 

Tip:  Feedback is the terrible squeal that happens when you place a microphone too close to a speaker or have the volume too high on a speaker.  It happens most often when someone unknowingly walks in front of a speaker with a microphone.  The solution is simple:  know where your speakers are located and avoid walking in front of them with a live microphone. 

Tip:  If you need to adjust the volume of music or a microphone, adjust the control for that one channel only.  Don’t change the master control, as doing so immediately changes the volume on every other input. 

Here’s a sample situation:  a student is speaking into a microphone on channel #1.  The presenter has their microphone plugged into channel #2.  The student is soft-spoken and hard to hear, so you move the master level up.  Your presenter begins speaking and -AAGH – feedback!  Adjust the individual channel levels rather than the master level. 

Lighting.  You may or may not have much control over lighting.  If you have a stage of any kind there is likely special stage lighting.  Sometimes there are light switches or dimmers that control these lights.  Other times they are controlled by breakers in a (possibly locked) electrical panel.  Sometimes special lighting boards must be plugged in before any of the lights can be turned on. 

Your music teacher, principal, or custodian will likely be able to help you here.  In general, the more light on the performance area, the better.  (Exceptions:  projection screens, shadow art – you get the picture.)

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