Deirdre Moore | February 2016

So, You Want to Produce a Musical in Elementary School?

“Another opening, another show”…. So starts a song about putting on a stage production. What if you want to produce an Elementary School Musical – one that has no tradition of putting on a show?  How do you even start such a process?  Those are the questions that the Musical Committee at one of the schools where I work was asking.  It’s hard for people on the committee who know what an Elementary school musical is, have performed in musicals, and have seen lots of musicals live on stage, imagine being a child or a parent who may have no experience with them at all.

And that’s where we had to start in producing Elementary School Musical

Once the committee decided to produce Disney’s The Jungle Book Kids, a simplified version of the Disney stage musical, we had to start answering those questions.  Initially, to get the students excited we thought we should show the 1967 movie at school, so the students would be familiar with the story and some of the music.  When that proved difficult we had to create a Plan B.  I’m actually glad we had to. We did not have a plan for moving the students from seeing the animated movie, to understanding how that connected to the Elementary school musical we would be doing.  Our Plan B involved our weekly school assembly, and just a few highlights.  Rather than showing the whole movie, we showed one clip of the song “Bare Necessities.”  It’s a catchy tune with great animation, and it left the whole auditorium enthralled.

Next, I explained that what they watched was a cartoon that some people adapted for real people to perform on stage.  From there, we showed a video of a middle school performing that same song on stage.  Lastly, I found a montage one school had created to show a little of each of the songs used in the Elementary school musical.  (What did I ever do before YouTube?)  It was perfect because they got a taste for the music, and were able to see the different animals and characters in the musical.  We followed that with a quick slideshow about the important steps and dates of auditions and callbacks.  The buzz started to build.

Where Did We Begin?

Our committee also planned a workshop to educate the students about auditions, but we also ran into trouble there with understanding.  There was a scheduling conflict at school, and a Plan B was needed here as well.  Our fearless director took it upon herself to visit each of the 19 classrooms to talk about what the students would have to do at the auditions, and to demonstrate what constitutes a strong audition, and a not-so-strong audition.  This approach allowed for students to hear about auditions up-close and personal.  In a school of just over 400 students, half asked for a permission slip to attend auditions.  Full-on buzz achieved!  Even if only half of those students return the permission slips, and attend auditions, we have ourselves a show and then some!

What’s Next?

I have helped direct and, choreographed shows for community theater and for middle and high schools, but I have never undertaken a show in an elementary school.  I never had to consider educating anyone about what a musical is, or how to prepare to be in one or even to build excitement for one. This is a new experience for everyone on the committee, so a learning experience this shall be.  Our next step is to hold the auditions and callbacks.  As the team at the elementary school goes through this process, I will be sharing what we learn here at Education Closet so if you ever attempt this yourself, you may learn from our mistakes!  After all, the show must go on!

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.