In reference to the new television program Glee, Miley Cyrus was quoted as saying: "Honestly, musicals? I just can't. What if this was real life and I was just walking down the street on Rodeo Drive and all of a sudden I just burst into song about how much I love shoes?"
Not only has she insulted my favourite television program, but now that musical theatre is a part of my teaching assignment, she's insulted my profession too. I don't want to give the impression that I lie awake at night cursing sugar-coated, factory-produced child superstars with grotesque feelings of entitlement, but still...
I was a little miffed with this whipper-snapper--who is likely about to be turfed from the Disney machine for...gasp...growing up--but, I also cringe because this is how I once felt.
I must confess that I struggled with musicals. I also can be quoted by former students as saying that I didn't like when people broke into song randomly. Sound familiar?
But really, if I'm honest, it's because I didn't understand the art form and I didn't understand that whether a musical is dramatic or comedic, it's fun and actually quite meaningful to break into song.
And it's my students who've taught me this. Over the years, I've known students who's enthusiasm for musical theatre is, shall we say, profound. I watched these former students in St. Lawrence Musical Theatre Program productions and started to think there was something to this whole musical business.
I attended a high school that didn't put on musicals so I never had the High School Musical experience. Unless I count my role as Flower in an elementary production of Bambi, I've never been in a musical myself. Yes, you remember correctly. Flower was a skunk. So, essentially, my only musical theatre performance really stunk.
But this semester, I've had the honour of helping to direct a musical theatre production, along with two colleagues and several community volunteers. Now, I get it. I really get it.
Between June 2-5, the new Musical Theatre Program at St. Mary Catholic High School gave six performances of the full-length musical "Back to the 80s." We worked with forty-four students from grades nine to twelve towards a collective goal. We had a great time selecting costumes, re-discovering relics from that decade, and researching the nuances of the time. I can only imagine the dinner-table reminiscing that occurred in my students' homes.
When I watched their debut performance, I was choked most of the time. Yes, of course, my emotions are a little closer to the surface, but it was amazing to see the final result. I've said this before. I've been teaching for just over a decade now and as far as I'm concerned, multi-grade, cross-curricular collective projects are education at its best.
Never mind that pulling a performance together requires artistic, organizational, analytical, and technical skill, it builds community. When I see students, who might not otherwise know each other, bonding over a shared experience, I realize why people love this so much.
When I was asked to team-teach this course last year, I felt a little sceptical. I worried about my lack of experience. But I quickly learned that there's lots of people in the world with passion for theatre who are willing to help. I think I speak for my colleagues as well when I say we are grateful to them.
I can honestly say that now I'm hooked. I know this because I'm not fleeing the room when inundated by the same question over and over from excited students.
"What show are we doing next year?"