Something magical happened. Magical because it was beyond anything I had ever anticipated. Magical because it was/is something that, to me, is truly indescribable as I have never experienced anything like it before in my teaching career. I still cannot fathom the enormity of the response to what I and a large team of teachers created. I still cannot fathom what I saw unfold before my eyes in the weeks leading up it. Thus a long time between posts. I needed this time to digest, to reflect and to formulate those reflections into words. To make sense of the risks taken and the lessons learned.
The Musical Beast
This creation somewhat consumed my life. Thus why my blogging of the last few months has been so scarce. Thus why my house resembles a teenager’s bedroom floor (what floor?)
This creation is the beast we drama folk call: the school musical.
Earlier in the year I posted about how one of my goals for this year was to put on a musical at my school. I was at a point where in order to get my class numbers up I was going to have to go out on a limb and really put my subject out there. Up until this point my little drama production and taster lessons weren’t exactly drawing in the crowds so I felt the best way to improve this was by putting on a musical.
I’ve always wanted to put one on. I love them. They’re colourful, catchy and they leave you feeling good. Some true thespians, mock the genre that is musical theatre but I applaud it. If it’s good it rakes in the audiences and anyone who sees live theatre always remembers it because it is something truly unique. It beats your $11 Cheap Tuesday blockbuster anyday.
On a professional level I felt I had reached a level of confidence in my ability not only as a teacher but as a leader. Much of my TPL last year, particularly the Team Leadership Program I was involved in, helped with this. I knew I would need help. I was now finally prepared to ask for it. To delegate and share my vision with others to let them help me create it. I hadn’t done so before now, not because of ego but because of fear. The fear of failure, or humiliation and embarrassment.
The music teachers and I danced between Grease and Footloose at the end of 2011 and made the decision at the beginning of the year to go with Grease. Having not produced a musical before we wanted to choose relatively simple music for the kids to sing and play and something well known for the actors to model their scene work and characters on.
We continued to do the tango with the company who was to give us the rights. Performance rights are expensive and we had little money so we had to cut our run down from three nights to two. This consumed much of Term 1 which left me clamouring in the Easter Holidays to put together a rehearsal schedule and get us started at the beginning of Term 2.
Now just to put this in perspective: most schools would probably take two terms to produce a musical. We did it in 11 weeks.
Challenging the Fear
Initially we struggled to get male cast to fill the roles. Getting up and performing in front of an audience is such an uncool thing at my school. It doesn’t give you street cred. It gives you a verbal bashing. These entrenched values and fears are incredibly hard to break and so it took a lot of convincing to get many of the kids to give the show a go. Most of them didn’t believe the show would be very successful but for some reason they stuck around. Also, the kids I thought I had convinced to audition didn’t and it broke my heart even more than anything.
Finding The Light From Within
This was my lowest point. I felt completely deflated with no sense of purpose. With the difficulty of filling roles plus the many other hats I was wearing as part of the production as well as my normal classroom duties, I felt completely taken for granted, tired and run down. I wanted to run away I pushed on however, believing I wouldn’t ever put a musical on again. Somehow though I seemed to pull out this perseverence, this light or energy (or perhaps it’s stubborness) when things were getting tough. It is a habit of mine.
Something In the Air
Magically though, things fell into place. We could easily source a car, another school had costumes we could borrow (thanks @MsConstrue1), another group had some set pieces we could use, oh, and YouTube is mighty useful also. The dancers were rehearsing, scenes were coming together but we were all relying on the holidays to pull it all together.
All the while though, there was this feeling around the school. The air had changed. There was a buzz. We were talking the show up. We truly believed in it. We believed it was going to be awesome and people hopped on board. People bought tickets though I dared not look at how many seats we’d sold.
Those Magic Changes
Then the holidays arrived. When I think back on it now much of it is a blur. The cast came in during the first week and their energy had changed. They were excited. Painting the car, feeding them breakfast. Pulling together costumes, organising stage crew, running the show from beginning to end. Watching them find their feet, work together, support each other. A teaching team that brought in new ideas. Kids that came in and were willing to help. Community support. Family support. It just seemed to get bigger and bigger without us realising. By Day 1 of this Term we were ready to show the community what we had created.
On the first day back before our evening performance we performed for the primary schools. For many of them, this was their very first experience of live theatre. They didn’t know to clap after each song (even though I’d told them to) and hearing their gasps of excitement as Grease Lightning rolled on stage was exhilirating! It was important to me to let the cast and crew know what an enormouse gift they had given someone today without their even having realised it. This sharing of the Arts with our community it so important to me and the fact that the kids were now passing this on was so moving.
Tuesday evening was the biggest Drama event I’d ever put on in my life. A bigger audience than I’d ever had at anything. It was exciting and it went off with a smash! Family, friends, colleagues and yes, TeachMeeters (@wanstad73, @clarindabrown, @whartonag, @PollyDunning) were all on hand to offer their support. Before the show that night the cast created a “Family Circle” around the Director’s. Each student spoke their thanks to us for being given the opportunity to perform in the musical. How it had deeply affected their lives. I felt so lucky. It was one of those teaching moments. All a teacher could ask for really.
The Power of Facebook
Oh, what a single status can do. If you weren’t part of the conversation the next day you had missed out on something big. The response was overwhelmingly positive. I didn’t hear a bad word. “The best thing the school has ever done,” said one teacher. There was a rush on tickets. Some people came back for seconds and brought more people. Families who’s kids had seen the matinee performance wanted to see it again. We had to put out more seats. I was terrified. There was expectation now. What if we didn’t live up to it? Witnessing a line of audience snake around the building and out onto the footpath was truly a sight to behold. 400 people. What a phenomenon for our school.
In the days after the final show there was an even bigger response. Emails poured in. Everyone wanted to know what was next. Could they be involved next year? The kids were on an absolute high. Their confidence a real sight to behold.
For me this experience has been a lesson in self-belief not just for me but for my students. It has been about unlocking potential and perseverence. Perseverance in team work, building confidence, vocal skills, community spirit, valuing the arts, providing opportunities for the Arts in Western Sydney. It has been a lesson in taking risks. Of not being afraid, following what you believe in and working hard to make it happen.
I now feel a sense of enormouse responsibility and pressure. To make the next show as good if not better as this year. As they say, with great power comes great responsibility. It’s what I do with this now that is important. We don’t get cocky or egotistical. We become humbled and realise that we have an even greater responsibility in our school, in all schools, to provide even more meaningful experiences for children in the Arts.
Something magical happened. True magic. It was a gift to witness it. Take risks. Be bold. Follow what you believe and you and your students will receive a magnificent gift.
Grease 2012, Fernando Moreno