It’s always a great feeling to recognize and reflect when a new program or added class has been successful. For me, this was the inception of our Musical Theatre Workshop Program. A few years back I was asked by the artistic directors of the studio, to start this class; not really knowing what to expect or how I would structure the class. Many, many shows later and we have a real winner on our hands!
While the whole faculty thought it would be a successful class that would engage our most technical dancers as well as our singer-dancers and actresses, we also opened the workshop to the community teens as well. I’m not sure any of us, however, anticipated the overwhelming response and involvement the students have conveyed. Because of this wonderful program which affords them the opportunity to thoroughly learn about the musicals being work-shopped, these students also have found a class where they can hone in on their strengths; whether it is dancing, acting, singing and/or production aspects and develop other areas. Another benefit has also been the added performance opportunities which the class creates (though on a scaled-down level) where parents and friends can see the progress first-hand from show to show.
So…how did I structure this you ask? Well, if you are interested in bringing this course to your school, there are a number of things I would suggest as someone finishing up an inaugural year! First off, make sure you hire a teacher for the class that has unlimited knowledge in the musical theatre genre and is apt at setting material and directing. It is a good idea to make sure they know how to restage choreography and adapt script-work as well, to make it relevant and appropriate for your students and audiences.
Secondly, be aware that it is a lot of preparatory work for one teacher, so if you do have the faculty to spare (i.e. a dance teacher/choreographer/director, a voice teacher, acting teacher, etc,) the work will obviously be cut down. If that is not an option, I would suggest choosing the musicals for the upcoming season as enrollment begins. That way the students get excited for what is coming up in the new season and can familiarize themselves with the shows. Also, the teacher can accomplish most of the preparation during this time as well. Remember to pick shows (and write/adjust scripts) that are age-appropriate and will get your students excited. It is great to find shows that have a nice balance of dancing, singing and acting!
We broke it down as follows: 3 musicals to be rotated every 11 weeks with an in-studio performance at the end of every cycle; each class meeting for 1.5 hours a week. Ex. Choose one classic/traditional musical (Guys & Dolls), a fun dance show (Saturday Night Fever) and one that is currently on Broadway (On the Town.) This can always be tweaked as well, In fact, I would suggest doing only 2 shows, split half a season each. This might work out more efficiently if time constraints due to holiday breaks, competitions, and performances conflict, and your studio schedule is not able to squeeze in extra rehearsal hours. This will also prevent the students from feeling overwhelmed in terms of learning lines, lyrics and choreography and give more time to clean and fine-tune. Just remember it is beneficial to always select various types of musicals to expose students to musical theatre history and vast score selections as well!
The first class of each new workshop, I provided each student with background information on the musical, the show’s synopsis and history, you-tube clips of musical numbers, movie scenes, etc, online websites for further info and all song lyrics. (I would suggest that each student be responsible for also obtaining a 3-ring binder to hold all these pages in throughout the year). I also handed out their scripts, which included a cast list, as well as a prop-list and costume-list (which we tried to keep simple and to things the students already had at home.) While this may seem like a lot of material and information to hand out, giving them everything up front makes it much easier and clearer throughout the process.
Teacher should also make a weekly time-line for themselves as to what musical numbers and scenes need to be set each class, so they stay on performance schedule. Make sure to allot room for things going off course and time to clean and review at the end as well.
A couple of things that I found most interesting throughout the process was how wonderful it was to see each student really flourish in their interest areas but also push themselves to uninhibitedly try new things out of their comfort zones; whether it be singing a line by themselves, dancing a feature, or acting out dialogue for the first time. Another wonderful thing that might occur (which I didn’t anticipate) was the class’ self- motivation and initiative on the production end. By the middle of the first cycle, they had a prop-master in place as well as a set designer, costume organizer and student who designed programs for show night. It really started to become a collaborative effort where the kids were not only learning the musicals but ultimately producing their own show as well.
As for show night, keep it simple and laid-back. This keeps the students relaxed and ready to have fun and perform at their best! We set up audience style seating and reminded audience members at the start of the show that a workshop was a scaled down, work-in-progress, i.e. no lighting, live accompaniment, etc. To our delight, parents were pleasingly astonished at how much material the students learned in 11 weeks and boasted about how much fun they had reliving the musicals and seeing their children perform with such understanding of the book, score and choreography! I think you will also find that parents will ultimately be ecstatic at how engaged their kids are with this musical-theatre curriculum idea!
See you in the dance studio!