Teachers with an idea: Let’s put on an elementary school musical

What happens when a theater teacher, a music teacher, and a math teacher with a background in dance decide they want to collaborate? They make a musical! Hilltop Elementary school has a uniquely inspired set of teachers who, supported by foundry10, dream up ideas for afterschool programs and classes they want to run for their student body. Then they go out and do them!

This idea fell into that same model. Feeling their students had untapped potential in the arts and wanting to give them an opportunity to shine, these teachers chose the Musical Theater International (MTI) musical School of Rock! Fifty students signed up and all of them were cast in the show. On Thursday, June 15th, all fifty students donned the stage with Elvis Presley costumes, wigs, fake guitars, drums, poodle skirts, and the like, as they sang so loud and proud their voices carried to the back row of the packed cafegymatorium. The tech crew, made up of older elementary school students, worked quickly and responsibly, running the costume piece changes and coordination back stage, as well as all the sound and light systems.

By the end, the dynamic trio of teachers were exhausted, smiling, and proud of their students. Four days before the performance they were worried about getting through the full show for the first time. They worked with the students to memorize the line before their cues, and to ‘sing out, Louise!’ Three days later, they certainly did. The students in the audience giggled and laughed, applauded and celebrated their peers. Parents and teachers laughed together at the cuteness of the band, donning their Beatles wigs and fake guitars. Students who often were more shy came out of their shells and shined, big time, swinging their poodle skirts and singing solo lines of music. It was important to the teachers to showcase each of the students’ talents as best as they could, and also tell a fun and upbeat story.


How they did it

In April before the show, the teachers offered sign-ups for the musical as part of the after-school classes that spring. All students who signed up were to be included, but teachers held auditions during a class time in order to assign parts. There was enough variety to showcase the diverse skills of these 1st-4th graders. Some had lines, a few had solo singing parts, others played fake instruments, even more dressed in elaborate costumes and the rest joined in big dance breaks. There were also slots assigned to students who would work backstage, helping players get onstage and off as well as some supervised technical work.

The cast and crew had rehearsals after-school on Monday and Wednesday, but the long break over the weekend resulted in a lot of students forgetting what they had learned the previous week. “The hardest thing has been having to reteach them after so many days in between rehearsals. Next year, we want to re-look at the schedule,” said one of the teachers. During the rehearsal time, the teachers divided themselves and the student up, working with some on songs, others on dances, and others on the scenes, simultaneously, in different classrooms to make the most of the hour-long class-time twice a week.


What we found

Working together as a group, the students bought-into the play, developed both individual and collaborative skills, and learned to command the attention of the audience with their own brand of confidence. Throughout the process, the musical really became their own.

Initially, the directors talked through their idea and their plan with Chelsea, dramatic arts program developer at foundry10, to get some guidance on their ideas. They consulted her a few times throughout the process to better understand how to schedule their limited time, flesh out the material to offer more students speaking or singing roles, and make the final performance day as smooth as possible. With this advice, they took the musical and ran with it! Although starting with apprehension, the teachers grew in their confidence over the rehearsals and, by the end, were fully navigating the stress of putting up a musical with fifty young students.

Because of the excitement around their project, they were able to get funding for a new sound system in the auditorium and borrowed a spotlight that one of the directors operated during the performance. Next year, they’ll be looking into getting funding for more lights.

In debriefing with the teachers, it’s clear it was an all-encompassing and exhausting but ultimately highly rewarding process and they seem to be excited about doing something like it again next year!


Conclusion

At the end of all of the rehearsals, planning, prep, and performance, the teachers reflected back on the monumental task of putting a 40 minute musical with fifty young students and only fifteen hours of rehearsal time. With creativity, drive, student enthusiasm, and some support from a local teaching artist, they built a truly meaningful experience for their school and community. The students were so proud of themselves and their hard work, dancing off the stage and through the center aisle of the audience, they were heralded with cheers and applause during their final bows. They still look back on the play as a big experience for them and many want to do it again next year.