Monday, June 30, 2014

Just follow the Yellow Brick Road.

We've just bumped out our school production of 'The Wizard of Oz'. It was a great show and got terrific reviews from the people who came to see it ( even some that weren't related to the cast ;-)

The planning for this year’s play started about a week after we bumped out from ‘Oliver’ last year.
At that stage, the VCE Theatre Studies students compiled a list of possibilities, taking into account the very specific requirements of our company. These requirements include;
  • ·      A chorus of thousands!- Our company is open to all comers. We audition for the leads but everyone is welcome in the chorus.
  • ·      Enough lead roles for all our senior students and junior stars.
  • ·      A musical range that we can cope with.
  • ·      A great story. Not only do we want the kids to perform, we want them to think, to analyse and understand the story.

The VCE students are asked to complete a theatre brief on each of their chosen plays and to present these to Lyle, the director. She then investigates the availability of the scripts and the music before deciding on‘The Wizard of Oz’.

Over the Summer we hold a number of planning meetings to decide performance dates, rehearsal schedules etc.

When school starts, the 5-7 and 8-10 performing arts classes start looking at the script. Main roles are cast via audition; minor roles go to younger students who show aptitude, willingness and who take the initiative in role plays and drama games. Everyone else makes up the chorus.
Our music teacher, Kath, begins looking at the music and trying to get it into a key that we can manage. The hard slog of learning lines begins.

At this stage, Lyle starts creating her beautiful drawings of the set, the costumes and the props that will later bring the story to life on the stage.
Our Yr 12 technician Brad and the 8-10 production group start making the set and the props. Kath and I start working on the choreography, Geoff works with the senior cast and VCE Drama students on their expressive skills and Olivia starts learning where all the music tracks begin and end.
By second term, rehearsals move to the local hall and we start blocking out the play. Jenny, one of the cast parents, creates meals for everyone, every week. We try to work around footy and netball training, swimming lessons and all the other extra curricula activities our kids are involved in.

The senior students make a trip to Block Theatre in Ballarat to hire the main cast costumes while our own team of costumers,  Lyle, Wendy, Mirren and Janet, start working on the chorus costumes. With a cast of 60, all having two or three costume changes, this is a huge effort.
Once we have the costumes, Kerry and Wendy start sorting, fitting and labeling.
Kate, one of our talented mums, transfers Lyle’s drawings to the sets and she and her helpers spend hours in the shed getting the painting finished.
The sound desk

With a month to go, rehearsal time becomes frantic as we try, (in vain), to get all the way through the show. 
On the Sunday before performance week, we bump in. This is a full day exercise for as many helpers as we can find. An extension stage to fit our huge chorus is set up, all the sets and props are transported from school, the back rooms are scrubbed and carpeted and Geoff works out how Lyle's vision will become a reality on the stage. After many hours of saying it can’t be done, it is done. Brad and our IT tech Joel spend the next day setting up the lights and sound (not an easy task in a building built in the 30's!) and then, finally we get a chance to rehearse with the set. This means all the chorus scenes have to be reblocked because of the logistical nightmare involved in getting 60 + kids onto the stage in an auditorium that has no wings!
Bumping in.

At our last rehearsal we finally get all the way to the last scene and find out how the story ends! The kids move into their 'dressing room', a small, drafty concrete storage room that leaks when it rains (and it always rains!). The space is designed to fit about a dozen but there is little complaint from our 50 who squeeze themselves shoulder to shoulder & keep all their costumes in little boxes under their chairs. During the downtime they keep themselves busy with their iPads, books and card games. The big kids are promoted to the real dressing rooms backstage. These are also ancient and tiny but closer to the stage and with the added bonus of wall hooks!
Dressing room mayhem
Then the real fun begins. We have three night performances and two matinees. The matinees are wall to wall sell outs with kids bussing in from several surrounding schools. The night shows also attract big crowds and the cast rise to the challenge, producing their best work when it matters. Miraculously, they remember all the words, they sing like angels and the set movements go (almost) like clockwork. The chests of the new year 5 kids swell with pride and the main cast take on movie star status , even posing for photos with the audience after the show.

The last night is bittersweet. After so many weeks of rehearsal and nagging and cajoling, everything has come together beautifully and we aren't quite ready to leave Oz. And there's also the realisation that this will be the last show for our Yr 12 student, Charmarelle. The Production company is like a family and the kids who spend 8 years in it with us are very special. It's hard to say goodbye and tears are inevitable!
Charmie's last show :-(

It would be nice to run the show another week but I doubt the kids or the staff would have the energy. The teachers who work on the show put in 12 hr days for every rehearsal, 15 hrs on show nights. On top of that is the setting up, the packing up, the costumes, communication with parents and other staff at school, all while managing full time teaching duties and mid year reports. We're lucky to have an ever growing team of great parent helpers but nevertheless, the show takes a toll and we're ready for a holiday. For Lyle there will still be several more long days, returning everything to it's rightful place and washing and sorting costumes. As much work as the rest of us do, she does triple. She is the creative and driving force behind the show and we worry that one day she will retire!

So, what is it that keeps us coming back each year to produce our blockbuster musicals?
It's simple. We've been at it for quite some time now and we've seen the results of the children who are exposed to dramatic arts on a consistent basis. Almost without exception the production kids exceed their own potential in all sorts of areas, especially academic ones. Not only do we observe this, we can prove it by comparing their VCE scores with their externally assessed GAT (General Achievement Test) scores. And international research says the same thing, like this study by UCLA that found that kids involved in the arts do better academically. 
Why is that? What are the students learning by doing the play that helps them to achieve great things academically? What does their drama work add to their ability to become leaders?

Here's just a few that I've noticed;

Self- Confidence - Standing up on stage singing your heart out to an audience requires bravery and teaches kids to trust themselves. The confidence gained by doing this applies to school, career and life. This is especially true for boys. Singing and dancing isn't stereotypically encouraged amongst boys in the country but when they are supported to be involved then they often reap twice the benefits that the girls do. Our performing art's boys grow up to be self assured, confident, articulate and charming young men.

Cooperation & Collaboration - A successful performance can only be achieved through team work. In our company, kids from age 10 - 18 work together to produce something amazing. This has a great spill over into normal school life where these kids continue to ignore age and year group barriers.

Concentration - Learning lines and dance steps, practising and performing develops a balanced focus of mind, body and voice. I've seen non readers learn to read by having to learn a script. ADHD kids (while a nightmare in the warm up room!), often find strategies for self control that transfer to the classroom later on.

Communication Skills - Drama enhances verbal and non verbal communication. It improves articulation of words, projection, persuasive speech and fluency of language. It promotes listening skills and the ability to improvise. The graduates from our company can get up and speak anywhere, anytime, to anyone - in class, to their footy team, when accepting awards, running assemblies, making speeches at birthdays and funerals and presentations in the work place.

Physical Fitness - Movement improves flexibility, coordination, balance and control.

Resilience - Not everyone can have the lead role so auditioning is risky and requires kids to overcome their fear of failure. And once you've twirled around the stage in a white cape pretending to be a snowflake, you can do anything!

Perseverance - Learning lines is hard. Rehearsing can be boring. There's a lot of waiting your turn and putting up with other people forgetting their lines. You have to commit and turn up every week. There are no quitters in our team.

Memory- Memory is like a muscle, it improves with practice.

Emotional & social outlet - So many social situations can be learnt through Drama. Aggression and tension can be released through 'play acting' in a safe and controlled environment. We have several children on the Autism spectrum in our company. They are super stars on stage.

Imagination - Today's world needs graduates who can imagine and create. Drama feeds imagination.

Relationships - Working together to achieve a common goal builds relationships between staff and students, students and students, parents and staff. The production gives teachers a chance to see kids in a different space than the classroom. It gives kids the chance to know their teachers as people and team mates rather than opposition. Members of this company are friends and mentors for life. Those who stick with the company until year 12 are inducted into our Hall of Fame and these students often return to support the show and are always available as mentors for our younger students.
A backstage visit from some 'Hall of Famers'.

We put the show on 6 weeks early this year because some of our kids are going to Leadership School and on exchange next semester. It was a good plan because we seem to have avoided the annual production plague that often decimates the chorus during show week! It was also a special production for our family, because after 10 years of going to every rehearsal and learning every line, Taine is in year 5 and old enough to get up on the stage. He was an awesome munchkin/crow/ozian/winkie ;-)

Taine's first show!
So, that's the story of our little (grand) school production and some of the reasons why we're passionate about it. We're very proud of our show. For a school of just 250 kids, with no funding and no facilities, we do an awesome job and the payback is well worth all the hard work. 

If you've got kids, get them into performing arts.

Cast and crew of 'Oz'.

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