I have a passion for the performing arts and especially musical theatre for children. During my time as a classroom teacher I produced and directed a school musical every year. Sometimes, depending on the support, or lack thereof, of the principal, it was a pretty tough sell. Then when I became a principal I didn’t need anybody’s blessing. Every year I produced and directed a major musical. Teachers bought in and parents were thrilled, so much so that they actually funded our productions up front. Teachers applied to my school because of our arts focus so getting support from my staff was never a problem. The annual musical was a major community event. The benefits to the community as a whole were abundant, the team building was a gratifying by-product, and most importantly, the children (usually upwards of two hundred) grew immensely in self-esteem and confidence.
*Note: Any child who wanted to be in the play or to be part of the play, was in the play. Even for those who proved to be totally tone deaf we always managed to find a role. The cast of lead characters was selected from within the “ensemble”. We would “double cast” the show so twice as many children had the opportunity to shine under the spotlight. By nature, the show was an “ensemble” production with all children on stage all the time. Needless to say the chorus was huge. We always arranged for at least eight performances, two or three evening shows (depending on the size of the community) and matinee performances for neighbouring schools.
The cost of all this was nothing more than time. Because it was, at my insistence, an extra curricular activity, rehearsals were held during lunch and after school hours. The entire experience impacted the community so positively that the children who were waiting their turn to be the star performers were filled with anticipation for next year’s show.
For reasons mysterious to me, performing arts in schools appear to be facing extinction. I have a good friend, Nancy, an elementary school teacher, who shares my passion. She still produces a major musical at her school every year or every second year. She has a supportive principal who encourages her and finds the resources she needs. She also has strong parent support. She basically pulls this off on her own with the help of three or four like-minded colleagues. This was not always the case at this school. Just a few short years ago the annual musical was a custom, a highlight of the school year, and she had the support of most of the staff. The constraints on teacher time today have forced many teachers to make some difficult decisions about how they allocate their volunteer time. Sadly, the performing arts program has taken a back seat. But my friend Nancy soldiers on and still manages to present the school community with a stage production that is polished and rich with the energy and enthusiasm of children. A chorus of 100 or more voices belting out songs from Oliver, Annie, The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz still sends shivers down the spines of very grateful parents.
Recently Nancy discovered a most interesting document, written by Dr. Rena Upitis, Professor of Arts Education at Queen’s University It is entitled “Arts Education for the Development of the Whole Child”. Not only does this piece promote the performing arts in schools, it presents a most compelling argument for the incredible benefits to both the community and the children.
In gratitude to Nancy I am going to post the entire article in a separate post. I sincerely hope it inspires those of you who feel as we do about the performing arts, to find the time. I urge you to use your performing skills to solicit the support of your principal, the staff and your parent community. This is a beautiful and magical time in the life of a school. It is well worth the time and the effort to watch children “shine”.
As the director of my own shows I always positioned myself down in front of the stage and served as the sound guy because I knew what I wanted and needed to hear. I could control the mics and give visual prompts. At the finale of the show, during curtain call, I would just watch the faces of the children as they received their well-deserved standing ovation, and I cried.
Break a Leg!