Our school musical is an annual event and open to all the students from years 5 - 12. This year we had 72 in the cast and a further 10 working behind the scenes. It's a massive undertaking that starts in the planning stages for the following year about two days after the last show of this year ends. There are four teachers involved with directing and producing the performance from the beginning and another couple majorly involved with the production season and the theatre restaurant catering, but the maestro of the entire thing is our Producer & Director, Lyle Russell. Where she gets her energy from I do not know but this amazing woman designs and makes most of the costumes and props, casts and directs the actors, manages the music, the sets, the lighting, the sound and a million and one other things in order for almost half our senior school population to get up on the stage and star. Amidst all this she continues to teach a full load and fulfil her role as a middle school co ordinator. Even after working alongside her for the last 8 years, I am still in awe of her ability not only to multi task but to remain calm and in control.
On our opening night this year, the sound boys thought they would get a jump on the workload by hacking Lyle's computer to get the sound track going. After three unsuccessful attempts the computer locked down and no one could access the music. While the rest of us ran around like headless chooks, Lyle quietly consulted the computer tech on the phone, tried every solution suggested, still couldn't access her files and so improvised with a compilation of un named tracks on a cd !
Our company is unique among Australian schools in that our cast is made up of almost 50% boys. While most schools struggle to find males to fill the main roles, we have a magnificent plethora of them. The boys who play this year's knights of the round table have been performing for a number of years and have set a precedent of inclusion in the performing arts. At our school, the 'cool kids' are performers, or if they choose not to perform, they are at the very least supportive of those who do and often take on a job in the support crew. Our school works very hard to make sure our students are encouraged to choose from a wide range of extra curricula pursuits so that their success is never one dimensional. This year's 'King Arthur' is also our school sports captain and a likely candidate to take out the Yr 12 dux award (for academic achievement).Our performing artists all have impressive student curriculum vitaes that include success in academia, sport, leadership and community. We do our part to enable this 'all roundedness' by staging our rehearsals to fit in with football and netball training and making sure there is never an 'either or' choice between performing arts and sport.
To me, the Production is the epitome of what makes a great school because the company and the performance is based on great relationships and mutual respect between teachers and students and students and other students. It is filled with real, rich learning tasks. Kids who have never read well suddenly find a purpose for their learning when a script is the text. Performing Arts provides scope for different learning styles. The kinaesthetic learner thrives, interpersonal and personal skills come to the fore as cast members learn to cope with their own time management and the dependence on team work required to get the show up to speed. As an English teacher I am astounded every year to find a new 'star' who may not speak up in class but given the opportunity to speak in costume or character, suddenly loses their shyness. Leadership skills blossom among the ranks and cross age mentoring and friendships are common place. Most of all though, I think our performing artists learn that it's OK to have a go, it's OK to hear constructive feedback and to work hard to show improvement and achieve excellence.They learn that in real life sometimes things are hard, we get really tired and have to dig deep to keep going and in doing so they know that they are important cogs in the big picture.
Not only does the Production foster relationships between teachers and students, it also provides an avenue for parents to become involved in the school community. At Mortlake College we are blessed to have so many parents helping with sets, costumes, catering and clean ups. For this year's show, one parent sewed us a full sized cow! Another bought hot soup to rehearsals for the entire cast.
This year's final performance was tinged with sadness for us. Our graduating year 12s were the babies of our original company 8 years ago and we have watched them blossom from walk ons as 'lamingtons' and wolves in 'Beauty & the Beast', through chorus roles in 'Oklahoma' and 'Grease' to significant cameos in 'Les Miserables" and 'Cats' to lead roles last year in 'Pirates of Penzance' and now 'Spamalot'. They have grown from pesky 10 yr old chorus fodder to spectacular 17 and 18 yr old leading men, leading ladies and backstage managers. Their confidence and leadership is a wonderful testament to our program and to their persistence and loyalty and we value them not only as past students but now as friends and colleagues.
May they always look on the bright side of life!