Musical Plays for Musically Timid Teachers
by Ron Fink, Bad Wolf Press
WIN A COMPLETE BAD WOLF MUSICAL PLAY!!!
To enter the January 30, 2001, 8pmE drawing to win your choice of one Bad Wolf musical play (including script, directions, and a recording of all music needed for the production) follow these directions:
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with BAD WOLF PRESS DRAWING **in caps** in the subject line. Include your name and e-mail address in the body of the message. The winner will be notified by e-mail, then will be asked to supply postal address. Only one entry per household please. Deadline for entry is 8pm ET January 30, 2001
I'm not sure which was more exciting - was it when several teachers spontaneously started dancing as Carol Pinto's third-graders tore into the closing number of "Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock," or the next day when the parents impulsively began singing and clapping in time?
Both responses were truly amazing. But I've had consistently good experiences working as a pianist and composer at Tierra Linda school in Camarillo, California. I have seen how easily musical theater can be integrated into the curriculum, and why it ought to be.
It all started in 1991 when a first-grade teacher I know began experimenting with musical plays. Soon _all five_ first grade teachers committed themselves to doing three classroom performances every year. These teachers had no experience with music or theater. One is so shy that she refuses to sing at all in front of her classes. None of them play any musical instruments. But all have produced wonderful shows.
Perhaps you're saying to yourself, "Sure, these folks put together a great program. But they did it with a musician, and that makes all the difference in the world." As that musician, I can assure you that my contributions were minor. All published musicals come complete with recordings for learning and accompaniment. You don't need a musician, just a boom box.
I have seen what happens when every class puts on three great shows for parents every school year. For one, students' excitement about reading grows and they eagerly explore stories of all sorts. Two, parents get to know each other, and a sense of community and shared responsibility for the welfare of the school expands. Three, the kids' ability to sing blossoms, and their fear of opening their mouths in public drastically diminishes. Four, school is more fun for student and teacher alike as the learn teamwork - everyone's neck is on the line when you put on a play, and the classes inevitably pull together.
After a recent performance in an elementary classroom, the teacher stood asked for volunteers for an upcoming project. There was no shortage of willing hands, because the parents have come to see themselves as part of a community.
One fifth grade teacher tells me her parents are accustomed to seeing their kids perform in groups of a hundred or more. "They've seen them sing Christmas songs in big groups, they;'ve seen them square dance in big groups. So this was an eye-opener when they saw their kids taking solo parts and doing really well."
One reason teachers like performances is the possibility of magic moments - when a child does something they didn't know they were capable of a profoundly grows from the experience. Teacher Bev Rueckart likes to tell about a very shy student. For the first two plays of the school year this boy made no sound at all. But when the class was picking parts for the final play of the year, he asked for the staring role. Bev was astonished, but he showed how loudly he could sing and do his lines.
Bev phoned his parents to make sure they were coming to the show. They had planned to skip it, but she said please come anyway. When the child took command of the stage and really performed, Bev recalls, "I watched the parents and former teachers cry as they saw a nonverbal, shy child sing and dance with confidence, knowing that child would never be the same insecure person afterwards."
I recently heard about a troubled ten year-old boy. He's can't read, he has a horrible family situation and his self-esteem is extremely low. His class was putting on a musical play. No way was going to sing - and he didn't. But he became the stage manager, and he not only did a wonderful job, how he's starting to look forward to high school, where the drama groups will need efficient, experienced stage managers. It's a small step. But it just might keep him in school, and maybe he'll learn to read.
One teacher who has produced some classroom musicals with classes tells me that she can't convince other teachers at her school to give it a try. "Our job is to teach reading," they say. "Maybe at the end of the year after we cover all the required curriculum." This drives the first teacher crazy. "This IS reading! How can you expect kids to read if they don't know why they should want to? This makes school come alive. It improves their attitude and cuts down on discipline problems. And when I tell this to other teachers, it's like they're deaf."
So how do you do it? The trick is to start small. Perhaps you'll only perform your first musical for yourselves, and not invite any audience. Or maybe you'll be confident enough to ask in a kindergarten class to watch the big kids. Don't put pressure on yourself or the kids and just enjoy the material. This kind of "production" takes very little class time and allows you to do several shows over the course of a year. You'll not be charging a hundred dollars a ticket; so don't make it into a big deal.
There isn't space here to give directions on exactly how to direct a show with your class. Another article, perhaps. In the meantime, you should know that any play published for classroom use will have extensive, teacher-tested instructions.
It's so much easier than you think - you can do successful shows even if you consider yourself musically impaired. As a way of integrating the arts into your curriculum, as a way of tapping into the children's various intelligences, as a way of building community, and certainly as a major fertilizer of reading enthusiasm, musical plays should be an important piece of your classroom arsenal.
You can read the first several pages of any of the plays online at http://www.badwolfpress.com as well as listen to sample songs.
Chat with Ron Fink Live....
Ron Fink of Bad Wolf Press will chat in the Teachers.Net Meeting Room http://teachers.net/meetings on January 30, 2001. Ron will discuss with educators the process and benefits of producing musical plays with students.
Ron Fink Chat On Archive....
Read the transcript of Ron Fink's online chat at Teachers.Net about
dramatic productions for the classroom at: http://teachers.net/archive/badwolf102199.html