When I joined my son's family last night to go see their daughter's high school musical, we didn't know if we would need MASKS or not. Our state has withdrawn the mask mandate, but not for all situations, especially not for indoor gatherings of more than 50. We fully expected the students in the show to be wearing masks as well. When we entered the auditorium, everyone was wearing their masks. But when the show started, lo and behold, the actors were mask-less! YAY! We had the hope of hearing their voices and watching their facial expressions! We could pick out my granddaughter in the crowd, too!
The students gave wonderful, high energy performances. The sets and costumes were whimsical and so colorful, right out of the Dr. Seuss books. I was blown away by the calibre of the voices. The director, Mr. Brown, told the audience that "Seussical" had never been a show that he intended to ever do at the high school. But, he had seen a performance last year at a local community theater that changed his mind. After his hard work of studying to find the deeper concepts and cultures represented in the show, he was able to direct the kids in a very entertaining, meaningful show.
The first time I saw "Seussical" was many years ago at a community college. It was presented by a cast of adults. I had always thought that this show was written for adult actors to perform for young audiences --- NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND! Unfortunately through the years, I have gone to see way too many elementary and middle school versions of this show and have been completely underwhelmed. And no wonder, the show is comprised almost entirely of singing and dancing. The young actors (10-13 year olds) just did not have the experience, stage presence, and maturity to carry off such demanding roles.
Fortunately, the vocal and dancing talent of the Skyridge High School in Lehi, Utah was up to the challenge of these demanding roles. I was so glad not to have to just endure another trying performance. I was pleasantly surprised and so happy to ACTUALLY SEE THE KIDS FACES. That alone was worth the price of admission!
Before the Disney machine began offering Junior versions of their Broadway plays taken from their mega-hit movies with all of their marketing hype and merchandizing, the choices for Children's Theater productions were pretty lean.
Back then, little plays in the 10-20 minute time frame for 6-10 year-olds were usually not very exciting. It seemed that what was offered for schools and small time community theater groups came in two varieties:
1. Stories told by a Narrator with a handful of lead characters (who could share the one stand up microphone in the center of the stage) and a chorus of extras (who helped sing songs but did not say lines) OR 2. Stories that could be acted out by a very small cast in a small space without being aided by microphones and sound engineers.
The songs tended to be VERY short, unsophisticated and frankly uninteresting. Many of the songs had forgettable tunes written for children with limited ranges (and pianists with limited skills).
Elementary school teachers who wanted their students to have some sort of theatrical experience appreciated not having complicated productions. Many teachers did the same little play year after year as part of their curriculum. These chosen materials were deemed AGE-APPROPRIATE.
I remember doing some of these kinds of productions in my youth and hating them. The songs and lines were dumbed down so much it made us kids feel like we were still babies. But, does that mean that a show will automatically be more successful if it uses plots, lines and songs that were clearly written for adult actors?
Nowadays, most school and community children's theater directors go straight for the big name shows that are popular. But they are NOT always the best options for young casts. These shows tend to be pricey to mount, need lots of technical support, and have songs that usually call for actors who have wide, developed vocal ranges. (Not necessarily AGE-APPROPRIATE) Unless the groups have really talented kids, these shows can fall flat.
I have been to some really bad Children's Theater productions over the years. I felt terrible that the direction and technical support failed the kids so miserably. I came away wishing that the directors had chosen material that would suit the developing talents of their kids better and allow them to really shine.
There needs to be a balance between POPULAR and AGE APPROPRIATE.
(Can be done, but it takes good research to find those vehicles!)
I don't care how popular the show is or how talented the costumers and set designers are, if the singing and dancing and acting cannot be delivered well, you will just have a big flop. I always feel sorry for the poor audiences of grandparents that dutifully come and have to endure such awful performances!
My name is Betsy Bailey. I have sung, written and taught music all of my life. I enjoy writing and directing Children's Theater shows. This blog will be directed to topics on creating the magic of Children's Theater. I would love to hear your comments!