Why High School Musicals Matter

I recently completed a production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! with my students. Due to limited scheduling capacity in the auditorium, commitments to other activities, and a number of other factors, our vocal musical department produces a musical during the month of June. While most teachers were packing up their classrooms for summer maintenance, planning vacations with family, or gearing up for workshops, I was choreographing “The Farmer and the Cowman”, and tracking down a butter churn—among the many other things directing a musical production demands.

 

And I love it.

 

Some of my colleagues think I’m crazy for giving up a month of my hard-earned summer vacation to be at school from 9-4 most days running through “Surrey with the Fringe on Top”…just one more time. From a practical standpoint, the timing has worked beautifully for us. We don’t have to share the facility with anybody, which means 5 weeks of uninterrupted time on stage. Most of the students are unattached to other activities—with the notable exception of the 4 football team members who came to rehearsal after morning workouts. And, sponsorships aren’t difficult to find because most businesses are enjoying a hiatus from the constant requests by multiple activities for donations or program ads.

 

But there are some other positives to the experience that are less than obvious. The new friendships I forged with the teachers from other departments who volunteered their time as well to assist with the production.

Donna

My trusty side-kick, Ms. Dobbs, vacuuming the girls’ dressing room at 1am after our final show.

The partnership with our local community college, who provided all the sets, several props, and the expertise of their resident technical director. And of course, there are the kids.

 

 

You get to watch your students through a completely different lens when leading them through something as outrageously daunting as a full-scale musical. I mean…we are asking them to do what, at one time, only professionals did on Broadway. Once upon a time, every single production was a first-run Broadway show, and therefore unavailable for amateur performance.

 

There’s something about that kind of experience that brings the kids together, as well.   The boys in this particular production are a perfect example.  This cast included boys who just finished 8th grade, and boys who will be entering their senior year. Boys who are all-star actors, and boys who were on the state championship winning football team this year. Boys who were selected (for the 2nd time) to the ACDA National Honor Choir…just before taking over the starting position as center on the football team. One minute I’d hear them cajoling each other over who beat whom on NBA All Stars the night before, the next they were belting every song from “Dear Evan Hansen” at the top of their lungs. When a certain Thunder trade occurred during the Friday night performance, you could hear an audible holler from the greenroom backstage. The next night, they ran circles around the stage when I announced next summer’s production would be Hairspray.
Cast2This, and so many other immeasurable, invaluable, unapparent reasons are why music and art have existed for so long, and will continue to for ages to come.  It brings people together.  It’s so very human at its core.

 

I’ll end this post with my director’s note from the program this year:

 

A good friend once told me, what matters can’t always be measured.

Truer words were perhaps never spoken, especially when assessing the value of performing arts. Throughout the production, our cast have rehearsed songs, practiced dances, and memorized lines. But what they have learned goes so far beyond the basic components of the show: discipline, work ethic, commitment, collaboration, responsibility, self-assessment, perseverance. The often difficult task of taking constructive criticism. The ability to set a goal and see it through. Delayed gratification. These are things we can’t tangibly measure, but I think we can all agree they certainly matter. And this is what is at the very heart of fine arts education. We don’t just teach art. We use it as a tool for growing more confident and capable people.

And that is what remains when the final show is finished, when the set is struck, and when the last note of the curtain call fades: students who are a little more mature and slightly more equipped to handle whatever challenges are thrown at them. This is the return on your investment for the time and resources devoted to this project over the last few weeks. Ultimately, it’s not about the production. It’s about the people we become as a result of the experience.

Without the help of many people, these projects would never come to fruition. It takes a village to build sets, design lighting, choreograph every production number, fit and alter costumes, track down hard-to-find prop pieces, navigate the many facets (and frustrations) of an outdated sound system, prepare and decorate the lobby, designand format programs, and the list goes on and on…

People ask me, how in the world do you manage it?

And my response is, I don’t. WE do.

͟So thanks, village. You know who you are. And you’re “doin’ fine” in my book.