As promised here is the article on musical theatre in schools. Thanks to my friend Nancy for sending it to me. It is meant to be an inspiration to you and to all teachers who have considered a school musical but were afraid to try. Go for it! It will change your life.
Extra-Curricular Arts Activities: Making A Case for Musical Theatre
One of the most long-standing and effective extra-curricular arts activities is participation inmusical theatre. There are many accounts of the value of taking part in school musicals, based on verbatim comments of children and teachers, photographs, and student-generated artifacts. These accounts provide vivid descriptions of how students learn to trust one another, take risks, become part of a larger community, learn to interact more effectively with their peers, form a deeper and more sophisticated sense of creative identity, and gain ownership over the creative process and product (Ogden, 2008; Upitis, 1990, 2010). The kinds of outcomes that are associated with school musicals in the short-term (Upitis, 1990) are evident in the long-term as well (Ogden,2008; Upitis, 2010).
Musical theatre has a long and continuous history in elementary schools. As Ogden (2008) notes: Teachers are not mandated to organize musical theatre productions and yet somethingcompels them to do so. Perhaps it is because teachers see the benefits of musical theatre… that they are willing to give up free time to provide the opportunity for their students. Further, parents and community members who have themselves participated in such activities promote and encourage youth to become involved in musical theatre. Ogden surmises that teacher and parental involvement in musical theatre can be linked to Erikson’s (1968) notion of generativity. In Erikson’s work, generativity is used to refer to the way in which people strive to make a difference, to create something to be passed on to future generations. According to Erikson, “generativity vs. stagnation” is the seventh of eight stages of the human life cycle – the stage associated with the middle adult years. Ogden claims that generativity is about educating young people by assuming the role of the responsible adult, guiding and fostering the development and well-being of individuals and social systems that will outlive the self, through parenting, teaching, and mentoring. Generativity is also about being a responsible citizen and a contributing member of a community (Erikson, 1968; O’Neill, 2006).
Musical theatre encompasses all of the fine and performing arts, and encompasses some of the domestic and outdoor arts as well. As such, it is one of the most comprehensive forms of artmaking that is possible in the elementary school context. Students act, dance, sing, learn to tell a story, and interact with one another, both in rehearsal and on stage (Ogden, 2008; Upitis, 1990). Memorization of lines and action are essential to the process; even for those members of the cast who are not speaking the lines, knowing the script intimately is important for proper timing of speech and song. But participation is not limited to those performing onstage; other students may choose to be involved offstage, as scriptwriters or musicians. Yet others may prefer to be involved with the stage, itself, coordinating and creating sets, costumes, props, and lighting design – all forms of construction and design that fit well with the broad definition of arts used in the present review. The magnitude of musical productions, including the costumes, the tickets, the rehearsals, the make-up, and the overall detail makes the experience real for the children. Indeed, the “realness” of musical theatre is one of its key attractions (Upitis, 1990, 2010). The social interaction and collaboration that accompanies this form of situated learning is also important; interdependence of the performers is key (Ogden, 2008).
Musical theatre requires effective social negotiations between the cast and the crew, the children and the adults, the school and the community. It is collaborative in nature: Not only do the arts come together, but so, too, do the people. Elementary musical theatre involves students, teachers, musicians, parents – on stage and backstage, in the audience and in the community – acting, singing, learning, building, advertising, and selling tickets. Musical theatre is collaborative learning at its best: Group members must work interdependently in order to create the performance. The generation of shared meaning amongst group members through an iterative discussion process is an essential element that defines true collaborative learning (Webb & Palinscar, 1996).
Musical theatre nurtures this type of learning. Working collaboratively requires social skills such as “active listening, talking, compliments and constructive criticism, taking turns, reaching consensus, and conflict resolution” (Ogden, 2008, p. 30). These skills are required in all aspects of musical theatre. Another form of learning – that of embodied learning – is inherent in musical theatre as well. Embodied learning has been used to describe those experiences that engage the body, senses, emotions, and imagination, as well as the intellect (Bresler, 2004). The notion of embodiment unites mind and body in learning. It provides a way of conceptualizing learning that is supported by the research on brain function and is also in line with Dewey’s definition of art (Jackson,2002).
In a report on creative drama and young children, Pinciotti (1993) maintained that engagement in drama integrates mental and physical activity, engaging the whole child in improvisational and process-oriented experiences. Dance educator Ann Dils (2007) described how all of these forms of knowledge also intersect in the study of dance. She writes: At its boldest, then, dance literacy reconfigures the dance curriculum as a set of interconnected knowledges through which we understand the body and movement, how these operate in various dance traditions, and what meanings they might hold for us as individuals and societies. As an activity in which people participate as doers and observers, dance conceived of as a literacy might spill over into many subject areas with any number of outcomes: individual physical, creative, and intellectual accomplishment; improved problem-solving skills in individual and group settings; improved observation and writing skills; critical understanding of the body and dance as social constructs; social integration; historical and cultural understanding; and sensual, critical, intellectual, and imaginative engagement. Dance underscores the importance of bodily experience as an integrative agent in all learning. (p. 107)
The simultaneous incorporation of thinking, feeling, seeing, acting, knowing, and creating offers a compelling way to think about how children learn, how teachers teach, and how school activities might be organized. Indeed, Ogden and her colleagues were so taken by the positive effects of musical theatre that they created an opportunity for pre-service teachers to mount their own musical theatre as an extra-curricular experience in the teacher training program (Ogden, DeLuca, & Searle, 2010). The response was overwhelming: Close to 20% of the pre-service teachers volunteered to take part. Data collected from the participants through rehearsal observations, a post-production questionnaire, and focus group interviews indicated that participation created a sense of community and belonging for the participants, and that the authenticity of the experience resulted in immense pride on the part of the pre-service teachers. Most important of all, the research showed that as a result of taking part in the musical during their teacher training year, the pre-service teachers felt that they had both the confidence and the skills to bring musical theatre opportunities to their students.