Last night, my students had their opening night for “Shrek The Musical Jr.” If you’re not familiar with the Broadway Jr. series of musicals published by MTI, then I highly recommend you look into these shows. The songs are transposed and edited into ranges friendly to young voices, and the scripts are edited down to a 60 to 90 minutes show. There are several reasons for doing musicals in school. Today I would like to explore a few of them.
I remember when I did my first show at my present school, there was much anticipation and excitement about our kids doing a musical. Over the course of the four months that we rehearsed, our school community rallied around the enterprise, donating time and talent to what was needed. Anyone who has done a show knows how many facets there are to preparing one for performance. A musical simply cannot, or should not, be prepared by one or even two people. The affect of doing a musical was that the whole school worked together. It brought teachers, parents and students across grade levels into this single project, and it raised awareness and appreciation for the music program in a way that concerts prepared by a music teacher and his or her music students simply could not. The truth is that concerts will never involve as many people in as many activities as a musical.
So with one project, the level of my music program was elevated to what we all hope for. Of course, once you do your first show, there is no turning back. You simply have to continue doing them until you retire! But honestly, though they are a tremendous amount of work, because of what it brings to my program and to me professionally, I would be foolish to give it all up.
The nuts and bolts of doing a show will look differently from one school to another. The talents that individuals have within each school community will vary, so organizing the endeavor must include early on taking stock of what people can do. Over the years, a few people have come and gone, but the core of our team has remained intact. We enjoy working together, and rehearsals, which take place after school, can be a welcome lift to our spirits after a day of teaching, especially if it has been “one of those days.” Our original producer and our original choreographer are no longer here. The team that is in place has been together for five of the six years we’ve been doing shows. It consists of myself as musical director, a sixth grade teacher as director, a fifth grade teacher as choreographer and, along with her artist husband, costumer, an art teacher who paints the sets, an office staff that does the program, parents who sell tickets, sell at the concession during intermission, help build sets, and donate snacks. We also have alumni of our shows who are now in high school who faithfully come back to help out. They run lines with students, lead theater games and warm-ups, and even run the light board during performances. These students get community service credit toward their high school graduation, and they love coming back to hep. Needless to say, we love having them too.
We give our kids snacks at a convenient time in each rehearsal. On performance days, we keep the cast straight through after school, using the time to costume them, and do hair and make-up. Before all of that, we give them an early dinner (so they don’t get food on their costumes or disturb their makeup) of pizza or sandwiches. Our school district provides a generous financial contribution each year. Additional expenses are paid from ticket sales and our main fundraiser, which is a cabaret show that we do in the fall. The cabaret gives less experienced actors some stage experience, and prepares them for the main stage production in the spring. The cabaret consists of theater games, student authored skits, and songs from musicals. We serve a pasta dinner to go along with the show. The food is donated and we pay a professional to do make the baked ziti.
I consider myself fortunate to be able to work with such a talented crew of teachers and parents on drama projects such as cabaret and a musical. There is a lot of experience and talent to tap into in most if not all communities. It well worth finding out where that talent is, and giving those individuals the opportunity to be part of a successful project that everyone takes great pride and excitement in. As I hope you have realized by now, the benefits to doing a show run deep.
Oh, and if you’re in the New Haven (CT) area, our final performance is tonight at 6:00 p.m. at L. W. Beecher School, 100 Jewell Street, New Haven, CT. Lots of free parking, and tickets are only $5.00 at the door.