What Kind of Mood Are You In Today?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The 11 Stages of Putting on a Musical

As I have mentioned before, I teach Music at a PreK-8 school.  Best job I've ever had!!!  Besides the kids, the Christmas musical and the Spring musical are my two favorite parts of my job.

Well, O.K., I lied.  But Tuesday night around 8pm it will be true again!  You see, in 2 days we "go live."  All 90 or so kids will be on stage, smiling and looking adorable, realizing the fruit of their labor.  And while the best part of the whole thing is the final bow, the few days before the program are, well...in a word, stressful.

This is the 11th musical I have directed at Pacific Coast Christian Academy and after experiencing 9 of them, I discovered that there was a certain rhythm to this whole thing.  Just as predictable as a lively song to start the program and just as predictable as the preschooler in the front row picking his nose, so are the stages of putting on a musical.

Stage 1: Research
It all starts with the question, "What are we going to do this year?"  It follows with browsing the internet, looking for musicals that are cute enough to make the audience smile and "cool" enough for junior high kids to sing.  (Not always attainable, but you try.)  You choose a few that have good sound bites and look entertaining and then order the preview pack.  (A choral book and CD packaged together at a very reduced rate.  It's like bait only it doesn't smell bad.)

Stage 2: Discovery
You get the bait in the mail and start popping CD's in.  You're simply listening to see if this is the program. It only takes 5 minutes or less per CD to decide.  If I'M bored in the first 5 minutes, the audience certainly will be!  No use in listening to the whole thing.  NEXT!

Stage 3: Deliberation
While deciding whether a certain program makes the cut or not takes 5 minutes or less, deciding which one of those that made the cut will be THE ONE takes a bit more deliberation.  Is it TOO predictable?  It the title hopelessly cheesy?  Can Kindergarten handle the music?  Is it too cutesy for Junior High?  Will the audience love it because if not, I'll be judged accordingly.  How complicated is the drama and can the kids handle the parts that are played by grownups on the CD?  What kind of message does it send?

Stage 4: Decision
After weighing all the options, I choose the one that excites me most.  Most of the questions I asked myself above are completely unnecessary because in the end, because I'll pretty much just improvise it all, anyway.  Whatever obstacle appears, I'll figure it out.  But not yet because I must enter stage 5.

Stage 5: Glorious Excitement
I love stage 5!  Oh, the thrill of creativity!!!  I pop that CD into my car and listen to it over and over again.  As I listen to the drama, I am creating the props, visualizing the staging, dreaming up costumes, and coming up with my own interpretations.  I'm tearing up at all the sappy parts and singing cheerfully to that first lively song.  So many ideas run through my head.  It's like a drug.  A natural high.  A most happy place where life is a hall of mirrors that reflect such beautiful light in all the shades of the spectrum.  It surrounds you and lifts you and you just want to skip through a field, only you couldn't skip because you'd be floating.  There is nothing else except for newly opened lilies and hummingbirds...

and...well, until someone calls, "MOM!" from the backseat.

Stage 6: Tryouts
This is such a fun stage!  Seeing those 3-8th graders get up in front of their peers and saying their lines or singing a solo is incredible and I stand taller because of them.  You have to admire the ones who seem to have no fear, but you have to especially admire and respect the ones who are frightened out of their wits, voices quivering, hands shaking, and determined to finish because they are more afraid of not doing what they set out to do than they are of standing there in front of everyone.  Right there.  That's where I stand taller.

Stage 7: Casting
I don't care to dwell too much on this stage.  It's painful.  Only a few kids will get the part they really wanted and there are always a few parents who aren't happy with my decisions.  Yeah, it's painful.

Stage 8: Rehearsal
We sing, sing, sing and sing some more!  Well, actually we've been singing since the start of stage 5, but this is where we begin to rehearse the drama, as well.  Oh, my this is fun!  This year's musical has been especially fun.  The drama is just over-the-top hilarious and one of our kids knows how to work an audience really well.  He's a total crack up!

This stage is also a lot of fun because I get to take quiet, reserved children and turn them into little acting machines.  It's fun to watch them at the first rehearsal, arms crossed, head down, barely audible...and compare it to the last rehearsal where they are loud (or at least louder), arms are moving about freely, head is up, and they begin to walk taller as they glide down the school halls, proud of what they've accomplished and feeling bonded with the other actors.  There is nothing like the bond of fear, hard work, and universal accomplishment.

Stage 9: Freak Out
It's how many more days until THE day?  What?!?  Are you sure???  Uhhh...am I as far along as I need to be?  Should I freak out right now?  No?  Oh, well, too late.

Stage 10:
This is where I am right now.  This is the most horrible stage of putting on a musical.  Horrible is a bad word.  Horrifying might be a better one.  It is only mere days before the program and everything is suddenly overwhelming.  All the weak spots are glaringly obvious, all the things that have been procrastinated on have come due, and all the extra space left in my schedule is now completely full and overflowing.  You're still freaking out because you can't for the life of you see how everything that needs to get done will get done and doggoneit, those kids better memorize those lines!  Fred's sick and can't make rehearsal?  Which parent am I calling back today?  What else needs to be coordinated?

I was tempted to make this another step, but I think dress rehearsal needs to stay in Stage 10.  Oh, dress rehearsal...  I get the whole, "You gotta do it so you can see where all the holes are and what needs to be fixed," but we only get one rehearsal on the actual stage we do our program on and it's not your normal dress rehearsal.  It's far worse than that.  We can't do our programs our own building because we can't fit 300 people plus the kids in our own chapel, so dress rehearsal becomes a field trip to the church we are renting, thus allowing us approximately 2 hours to do it "just like we're going to do it live!"

(forced laugh)

What really makes dress rehearsal difficult is that ALL the teachers are watching, the staff of whatever church building we are renting are watching, and all the parents who drove kids on this field trip are watching.  This is their first impression and it is always a mess!  The program is what everyone judges my performance on.  Whether or not I'm viewed as a good teacher or not depends 90% on how the program goes.  Overall, it's a very small glimpse into what I do.  Teaching is a complex art.  Somehow you're supposed to take a subject that 1/3 of your class is interested in, make 99% of them like it, find a way to engage 20 kids...at the same time!...who are all incredibly different and make sure they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are loved, good grade or not...that's a better measure of my value as a teacher.  But, reality is, all most parents see is the show.  So when they are watching the dress rehearsal and seeing all the most minute mistakes, it's a little unnerving.  I begin to say to myself, "That's it!  After this I'm done!  I'm so unqualified, I've made so many mistakes, the school will look bad because of me, and why am I doing this to myself, anyway?  I'm so tired...so very, very tired."

But Stage 11...

Oh, glorious, most wonderful Stage 11!
The show starts at 7pm sharp.  (Well, except for the one time I lost a kid's costume and ran back home and then back to my office to find it, but I'll have to tell that story later!)  By 7:10 the welcomes are complete and all the kids are assembled on the stage.  The crowd hushes, the children take a deep breath, and then the music plays.  Suddenly the kids and I are in a world of our own making.  This is what we've visualized in our heads for so long and now we are living that moment.  First scene, second scene, fourth song, fifth song...they fly by like the telephone poles on the highway.  Before we know it, the musical is done and we are standing there, taking our bow, and basking in the glow of Stage 11.

I can be no prouder than when the audience is clapping, yelling "Bravo!", standing to their feet, and giving their kids what they desire most in life...the look of acceptance and pride on their parents' faces.  No, there is no better moment when it comes to putting on a musical.

This is when I answer the question I asked myself earlier.

"Why do I do this to myself?"

Because you love it, Rachael.  You love watching these kids.  You love seeing them shine.  You love seeing them proud of themselves.  You love watching a kid who is struggling in school do something he never knew he was good at.  You love seeing the kid who was having a hard time being accepted by his peers suddenly the center of their praise.  You love watching the teacher's faces as they gain an even deeper appreciation for what his or her student is capable of.  You love the hugs.  You love hearing, "You're my favorite Music teacher" (even if I am the only one). You would be unfulfilled if you never did this again, knowing that you are missing the opportunity to make a difference.

Bring on the next musical!

(Here's last year's Christmas musical."  Feel free to click on parts 2-6 as well!)