Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Completely Original Musical in Four Weeks

The day begins at 9 a.m.

Twenty-five students begin warming up their bodies, voices, and imaginations by playing theatre games like Tree Chop. One student raises his arms up, making himself tall like a tree, while letting out a guttural “hah.” Two students on either side of him echo the sound while making a chopping motion. This action is repeated as it is passed across and around the circle. It’s simple, fast-paced and a lot of fun.

After these high-energy warm-ups, students dive headfirst into their work: creating, rehearsing, designing, and performing an original musical in only four weeks. This is the inherently ambitious and seemingly impossible task of Young M Company,
George Street Playhouse Summer Theatre Academy’s four-week class for teens.

Every year, this creation and development process begins with introducing studentsto source material, which serves as the springboard for their script. This year, they

are using poems from Shel Silverstein’s book of poetry, Where the Sidewalk Ends.Giant sheets of white paper line a wall of the rehearsal space. One sheet is titled“The Editing Room Floor” and it is covered in different colored sticky notes, each one an idea for an element of the play. Another sheet is focused on the process of musical theater creation, and it has three questions written on it: “How can music

help us tell this story?” “What are all the various ways we can use music?” and“What can music help us achieve that we couldn’t achieve otherwise?” The students have worked on their own, in small groups, and as an ensemble to turn the ideas they’ve generated into a foundational outline for their story.

Today, Milo, Eowyn, Diane, and Richard are on their feet, embodying characters and improvising actions and dialogue. This small group is expanding what was written earlier in the week into a cohesive scene. They stop only for a moment to write it all down and review what they have produced so far. Rachel and Kayla, two longtime Academy students, sit in the corner together poring over their work. Rachel is diligently writing and rewriting lyrics as Kayla plays her guitar, plucking her way to the perfect melody. Every few minutes you can hear them singing quietly together, trying out the new lyrics and finding harmonies. Everyone is devoting all of their energy to the telling of their original story: the tale of one girl, her notebook, and the

Just before they break for lunch, each small group presents what they have been working on to the ensemble. New characters and scenes are shared, and Rachel and Kayla introduce their song. The song is met with thunderous applause. There is an instant and collective understanding that it will be a highlight of the play. While the students know there will be much more to do after lunch, the room is buzzing with excitement. The play is finally taking shape.

Over the next few weeks, the new scenes will be staged, the songs will be fine tuned, and everything will be rehearsed. Students will also meet with the design team to discuss lighting, sets, costumes, and props. In one of the writing groups, students have been working on a scene involving a mythical creature. Eowyn is sure that this creature must to be a puppet, but what it looks like and how it operates is still under great debate. The design meetings will be the time to solve this problem. The entire process - creation, rehearsal, design, and performance - is founded in collaboration, compromise, and communication. These young artists not only learn to work and create together, but to support and respect one another, and build their greater
collective imagination.

On the last day of Summer Theatre Academy, family and friends stream into the theater to watch the culmination of the students’ hard work and dedication. The lights dim and a hush falls over the crowd as the ensemble anxiously waits backstage for their cue. The moment everyone has been working toward is here...
lights up on Girl With Epic Notebook.

posted by Christa Cillaroto, Manager of School Based Programs

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