Last year, I had to cancel my usual backyard Summer Theater Camp because my husband was so sick. After his passing last week, I decided that he would want me to continue to do summer camps. After all, he built me a beautiful shed to house all of my props and scenery and helped me create all sorts of set pieces for the shows. He would want me to get busy doing the things I love. Besides, our grandchildren who have been living with us just may want to be in the show.
The Musical I intend to do is "Never Cry Wolf" a retelling of the Aesop fable "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." This show can accommodate many children of differing heights to depict various populations, but my patio "stage" is limited. I know 30-35 children fill the space to capacity, and having more can get crowded. But then again, with this show, not everyone needs to be on the stage at the same time, so I might be able to expand the cast to 40-45. I have done this show with 40 kids and 50 kids and even 75 kids. But those times, I had more space and more helpers.
Whenever I choose a show, I need to have an idea of just who might sign up to be in the cast. Sure, I know that I'll get a bunch of little 5-7 year olds, and I have parts for them, but they can't carry a show. Even the 8-9 year olds are not mature enough to carry an entire show like this. I need to plan our camp schedule around the older kids who I know have the talent and capacity to learn the lines, songs and dances quickly and CAN carry the show. So, I end up doing a little investigating. I find out when school ends, when Scout trips are scheduled, and who might be on the swim teams, etc. Not that I will pre-cast the lead parts before I see the children, but it is good to have choices. I will be accepting children ages 5 - 14 years old.
I am still working out the exact dates. The Summer Theater Camp will likely be May 27th - June 7th (9am - Noon Mon-Fri) with a performance on Saturday June 8th at 10:00 am.
I love this show because the moral values taught are so important -- Sincerity and Work.
Contact me if you live in the Provo Utah area and have kids that would be interested.
FORGOT about Memorial Day on May 27th. So we will probably have to work around that day. Possibly add an extra 1/2 hour onto our days or add a Saturday. I will post soon what we decide.
Just spent the morning locating lost files from the show "The Tale of Chicken Licken." I really do try to keep things organized, but my worst problem is that I don't remember the exact names of the files or the names of the folders I put them in. Somehow I get many extra copies of files that I do not intend to save and cannot find the one file that somehow is missing. Clearly, keeping files organized and accounted for is not my super power!
While hunting through the audio files, I had to listen to many over and over to find the best recordings. This brought back so many fun memories. I had to think long and hard to remember why I even wrote this show. Turns out that this story was one of five that I was asked to write a couple of companion songs for. My Taiwanese friend's business is to provide easy reader stories to help teach English as a foreign language to children in Asia. I wrote the 10 songs and did simple recordings for him to go with the Reader's Theater scripts at the end of each picture book. The songs were for "Chicken Licken," "Dick Whittington and His Cat," "The Three Billy Goats Gruff," "The Musicians of Bremen," and "The Country Mouse and the City Mouse." He gave me permission to retain the copyrights to the songs and use them however.
At the time, I was directing the school musicals for a local Elementary School. Then, at the end of the Spring Show for the 4th-6th graders, the principal asked me to direct a Fall Musical for the younger grades. I had already written two songs for "Chicken Licken," so why not use that story to create a show for the 1st-3rd graders?
I quickly wrote a script and several more songs and decided to try it out as a Summer Theater Camp show. One of the parents made a video of this little production. So, the show needed a little more polish, but the kids had a lot of fun putting all together. It was a good run-through before I directed it again for the Elementary School. We had a lot more time to practice and solidify the lines and songs. The Fall Show was very well received. The entire school came to see it and really enjoyed themselves. Too bad we did not get any pictures or video.
As I remembered back on writing this show, I reflected on how brave I was at beginning to really orchestrate my scores. I had such fun amazing myself at what I could do with the sounds on my computer and adding layers with my keyboard. The sound was much better at the Elementary School production because we could use body microphones for the main actors. That helped a lot! The audience said that the balance of the sound was pretty good, and they really liked the songs. That made me so happy!
All in all, a nice walk down memory lane!
During June, my daughter Cami directed two of my Children's Theater productions at Red Butte Gardens in Salt Lake City. The camps are each just one week long, so the material had to be short and manageable. She did "Stone Soup" with a group of 7-10 year olds and "The Ants and the Grasshopper" with 4-6 year olds. As you can see, the living wall in the "Orangerie" was a beautiful backdrop for the show.
The children provided their own costumes and helped create their own props and scenery. Here the Ants march in carrying their enormous corn kernels.
Each show needed to tie in with nature because the camps are associated with the Gardens. So of course, the instructors wove learning about "nature" as the children learned their songs, dances, and lines. It was a lot to master in just 5 days! They also colored giant autumn leaves and glittered huge snowflakes!
I actually got to watch the second show. The little children were delightful. They sang and danced and delivered their lines amazingly well for having so few actual hours of practice time.
The message of the story is to plan ahead like the Ants do in gathering food all summer so that they have enough stored for the winter. The Ant Queen tells the shivering Grasshopper (who desperately wants a place to stay during the winter) that "You can either play now and pay later, or pay now and play later. Either way you'll have to pay!" (John Maxwell quote) The Ants invite the Grasshopper to entertain them while they dance and play all winter. He learns that the Ants drive a hard bargain! After playing the ukulele for them all winter, he decides that he will make sure he always plans for the future!
Kudos to the kids! They did a great job!
Eight years ago we moved to Utah. For several weeks, we lived with relatives while searching for a house to buy. When we finally got to look at the house we ultimately bought, there were two big drawing features -- a large studio in the basement and a wide patio in the back yard.
My daughter and I both decided at first glance that the patio would make a perfect stage. In fact, she produced the first show on our backyard "stage" even before we had finished renovations on the house. This summer 2017 marks the seventh consecutive year of producing children's musicals on our backyard patio stage.
So, how do you turn a patio into a stage?
First, it helps to have good bones. Our yard is pie shaped, meaning that the back yard is much wider than the front yard. Our cement patio runs almost the entire length of the house and it is several feet higher than the lawn area. This makes it a perfect viewing venue. Over the years, we have added several other features to the patio area: an outdoor kitchen with barbecue, smoker, pizza oven, and a sink as well as awnings to cover the wide open space across the patio. My husband rigged up light-weight poles to hang clips for holding the background drapes all along the length of the roof eaves.
The covered area of the outdoor kitchen provides a protected "back stage" launching area. It even has electrical outlets and countertops handy for running the sound system.
We use practically the entire house getting ready for these shows. Rehearsal spaces are in the family rooms on the main floor and basement, the music studio, the basketball court and patio stage. The dressing rooms are nearly all of the rooms on the main floor. Entrances to and from the house are through the kitchen dining area. We even use the stone steps leading down to the garden as fair game for blocking and choreography.
After two weeks of rehearsals, we invite parents and interested others to join us for the performance. We set up as many chairs as we can muster, and invite the audience (mostly neighbors) to bring their own camp chairs and blankets to augment the seating. Seems to work well. We've have audiences of up to 200 people come to these shows and everybody says how delighted they are at the performances. With the addition of added shade canopies this year, we also had people say how comfortable they were, too. Doing these Summer Theater Camps for the neighborhood kids has become a tradition now. Families are already signing up for next year!
Each summer as we contemplate the logistics of holding a Theater Camp in our backyard, the #1 concern is providing enough SHADE. June weather can be erratic with rain, wind and cold to sun, scorching heat and bone dry conditions! This year, we came up with what we thought was a brilliant solution -- why not set up a parachute shade canopy over our basketball court? That way, we would have another shaded area to practice blocking and choreography and a nice shaded space for audience seating.
Well, the idea was brilliant in theory, but did not remain so through execution! Just how do you suspend a parachute over a large play space? The research we found suggested that it was helpful to have large trees in a forest to hang the parachute from. Oh -- or a crane. Since, we had neither, my engineer husband came up with a different solution. Why not build a large hoop out of electrical conduit with supports of rope to create a light-weight platform to gently set the the parachute on? Then attach the parachute with zip-ties at the edges so that it would stay aloft.
So we got to work. I cut apart the gathered darts in the parachute and sewed channels for the tubing. My husband bought 72 feet of tent support tubes connected with bungee cording. We threaded the tubing through the channels and connected all the pieces to support the circular shape of the parachute. After my son and husband attached the electrical conduit hoop, or as my neighbor dubbed it "The World's Largest Dream Catcher," to the basketball standard, the apex of the covered patio roof and the neighbor's trees, we slid the parachute up on top. It took extra help from the neighbor boys to get it done, but we got it up there!
But it could not stay there for long. The first few days of camp had ferocious winds that nearly blew the parachute to Timbuktu! So, we quickly had to cut it away from the hoop before the metal was wrenched out of shape. And unfortunately, we lost having the nice shade for a couple of days. When the forecast looked like the winds would be gone, we put the parachute up again. This time it took all of our dinner guests to help us. (Seems we always put our guests to work!)
Anyway, after having glorious shade for a couple of days, the wind suddenly came up again. We raced to get the parachute down just in time! So, once again we were without shade. But I was determined to at least have shade for the audience during the performance. Early Saturday morning, we arranged for the strapping lads from across the street to come help us yet again to raise the parachute canopy as well as set up four other canopies plus all of the chairs we could rustle. (What will we do without those boys when they grow up and leave the neighborhood?) I think our audience really appreciated the shade on that very hot day!
It was a Herculean effort to engineer, produce, attach, and suspend -- and take down and put up two more times--- but in the end, I think our World's Largest Dream Catcher was a brilliant success!
Does anyone have a bunch of very large feathers we can borrow for our picture to send into the Guinness Book of World Records?
The Summer Theater Camp 2016 experience turned out amazingly well for our 30 intrepid troopers. Usually, the month of June in Utah County has simply splendid weather -- not too cold and not yet the hot temperatures of summer and no fierce winds to contend with. But not this year. Most of our two weeks of camp, we experienced an unusual heat spell of temperatures above 95 degrees and some mighty winds! 95 degrees plus is hot by any standards.
But our kids stuck it out and put in the effort to make a fun show. They learned their lines and their moves and pulled it all together for an appreciative audience of parents and neighborhood friends in just two weeks!
We started out with both casts together singing "You Can Learn a Lot" which introduced the two Aesop Fables. Then the younger cast took their places for "The Ants and the Grasshopper." Here is the set for the Ant Hill.
After the Ants' last song "Pay Now and Play Later" and bows, on came the Country Mice to "sleep" in front of their big oak tree in the country. The Country Mouse sings "What Is It Like" as she dreams about the Big City.
Partway through the story of "The Country Mouse and the City Mouse," the location changed to the City Mouse's town home. There they were joined by the French Maid and some neighbors to sing "As the French Say" as they contemplated a night of feasting in the pantry.
When the City Mouse takes the Country Mouse to the pantry to taste cheese and other tasty delights, the mice have to sneak along a brick wall past the sleeping cat.
Unfortunately the Cat wakes up and chases them all over the stage and back behind the wall. The Country Mouse decides that she doesn't care about tasting cheese that much. She wants to go back to the country where she knows what to expect.
The Country Mice sing their last song "A Country Mouse" doing a hoe down dance and are joined by the Narrators and the City Mouse for the Finale and Bows.
Then, the Ants and Grasshopper came onto the stage and sang a Reprise of "You Can Learn a Lot" for the final bows.
Thank goodness we scheduled a morning show -- before the winds came up to blow our sets away! Yay!
So, I have been channeling my energy into writing music for a new Children's Musical instead of moaning over the fact that I am not touring this summer in Europe with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. In my research for a song for the character of the French maid, I studied some common French phrases. "La joie de vivre!" and "Bien manger!" were two that were irresistible to build a song around. In the play, the maid manages to convince the guest how wonderful the sights and sounds and flavors of the City really are. She says that the French have a saying that "you do not live unless you live joyously." And then later she follows up with "and it is not enough to live joyously, mais non, it's not just how you live, but how you EAT!"
While in Paris, I hope you sample "La joie de vivre!" and "Bien manger!"
This is an early DEMO recording of "As the French Say" from the new Children's Musical "The Country Mouse and the City Mouse." You'll need to imagine the City Mouse and her French maid trying to convince the Country Mouse that the City has oh so much to offer --- lights, music, excitement and most of all access to the Pantry and CHEESE! Throughout the song, other City Mice join in to create an exuberant production number "a la Can-Can." The costumes are "1950's" inspired in bright colors, flared skirts, fancy hats and a lot of polka dots!
While MoTab is on tour, our Summer Theater Production will show off its own "Joie de vivre!" and "Bien manger!"
As I was pondering what to do for the Summer Theater Camp this year, I wondered if I should recycle one of the previous shows, pick a show from another catalogue, or write a new one. Then I had a thought that perhaps we might do two of my shorter shows under the same umbrella. Last Fall, we did classroom recital performances of "The Ants and the Grasshopper" with 1st and 2nd Graders and "The Tale of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse" for 3-6th Graders. The more I thought about this idea, the more convinced I became that this could be a fun approach. We would divide the group into two casts. The younger cast would act out "The Ants and the Grasshopper," and the older kids would act out "The Tale of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse."
But, as I was pondering, it occurred to me that the show for the older kids needed to be expanded to showcase some of the excellent singers coming to the Camp. So yet again, here I am writing new songs for the show. The first song I felt needed to be written, was a song uniting the two shows under the same umbrella. An idea quickly came to mind -- the ants, the grasshopper and the mice are all very small creatures and yet Aesop used them to teach valuable lessons. So, in pretty short order, the Opening Number for the entire cast "You Can Learn a Lot" was born. It talks about how Aesop used the animals and things from nature to scold and criticize his listeners in a way that entertained but did not offend. The line that ties both shows together is:
You can learn a lot from the smallest of the small,
From the mice and ants and other things that crawl.
You can learn a lot from the creatures you've forgot...
You can learn a lot!
Next, I needed a song to explore the Country Mouse's curiosity about the City and to explain her determination to go there. This song also needed to explore her sibling's utter amazement that she would ever have those types of thoughts and show how incredulous they thought her plans were. So in the ballad "What Is It Like?" sung by the Country Mouse, she wonders:
What is it like---to see tall buildings sweep the sky?
What is it like---to hear new sounds come whizzing by?
I’m sure you think I’m crazy for believing---
That this Country life I might consider leaving!
But wouldn’t you agree
There’s so much more to see
Than just what’s here beneath this old oak tree? (spoken) Well?
I want to go and do and taste and see and be------ In the Big City!
And then, I thought that I needed a production number while the Mice were in the big City. In my version of the story, the City Mouse already has a French maid....So why not let that character the impetus for a song about the French saying "La joie de vivre!" or the art of living joyously? And then in my research, I discovered that the French have other sayings that explain what living well really means. They say that it's not just how you live, but how you eat! They say "Bien mangez" or "Good Eating" as an admonition to "Have a good time out on the town!" So in the song, "As the French Say," the City Mouse and her French Maid sing about living joyously and eating well:
La joie de vivre! You’ll never ever want to leave.
You’ll find your city fling to be a holiday most tres jolie!
La joie de vivre! Your friends at home will not believe
The stories you will tell them of how joyously you learned to live!
You’ll toss away the old cliché in your new savoire faire!
And heads will turn as you display your city flare so debonaire.
Pour moi, pour vous, Pour en-tres nous,
Then you’ll say what the French say, too!
Should be a fun adventure!
Outdoor Summer Theater Camp programs are always a bit risky...even in an arid climate. When we moved from Maryland to Utah a few years ago, I fell in love with a house that had a wide cement patio in the back that I envisioned would be perfect for outdoor theatrical performances. I had been doing Children's Theater for years and had given performances in utilitarian school rooms, church halls, and on the oddest stages imaginable. Here was a house that had a perfect stage area and a nice grassy area for the audience to sit. So, we bought the house.
The first show we did was actually produced and directed by my daughter and her friends, "Never Cry Wolf." I helped with costumes and sets. They had pretty good weather...up until showtime in the evening, that is. A big wind came up and started to blow the drapes and set pieces away. Some of us helpers jumped into action and grabbed the drapes and set pieces from behind and held on for dear life! That was a very long 45 minutes, but we kept the show from blowing away! (Lesson #1 - Winds tend to come in by late afternoon.)
The next summer, my daughter and her friends produced another show, "A Successor to the Throne." This time the monsoon rains came mid-week and flooded the house and threatened the set pieces and drapes we were starting to hang. But by showtime, the weather cooperated and the performance went smoothly. (Lesson #2 - Beware of monsoon rains in Utah.)
The first show I produced in the backyard was "Stone Soup." During the two weeks of rehearsals we could not have asked for better weather. Sunshine and cool in the mornings. What I did not anticipate was how hot the cement patio could be by the evening of a 100 degree day. The children were going barefoot and really had a hard time. The day before had been a perfect 75 degree day! They were real troupers, but it was tough. (Lesson #3 - Evening performances can be brutal in hot weather!)
The next production I did in the backyard was "The Tale of Chicken Licken." I figured that I would benefit from lessons learned in the past and have the performance in the cool of the morning. We encountered rain mid-week, but by the showtime on Saturday morning, conditions were good. By all accounts, the audience and performers were not in discomfort during the show. All went well. (Lesson #4 - That was a June performance.)
This year, because of Mormon Tabernacle Choir Tour in late June/early July, I elected to schedule the Summer Theater Camp performance for August 8th. I had been told that the monsoon rains usually did not come until late August/early September. Well, this year 2015 has been a very odd weather year. We had a mild winter with barely any snowfall, a wet spring, an incredibly hot and dry June, and monsoon rains in early August. I watched the weather forecasts like a hawk and hoped and prayed for good weather---at least for the show. We had rain storms that pulled our rehearsals inside during the mid-weeks, but fortunately my house could absorb the activity of the 27 kids. But big thunderstorms with lightning, fierce winds and drenching rains were in the forecast for the weekend. As showtime approached, we did not dare put up any of the drapes or set pieces until the danger of the storms had passed.
By midnight Friday the forecast changed and predicted sunshine and clear skies by showtime Saturday morning. My husband and I got up at 4:00 am and began arranging the drapes and sets. At 7:00 am my nephew came over and helped set up chairs and shade canopies for the audience. It was a lot of work, but we got everything set up in time for the audience to start coming at 9:00 am. The agreement I stated up front was that we would set up a few chairs but everybody else would need to bring their own or sit on blankets on the grass. It was so wet, though, that we laid out all the tarps we had.
We live in the shadow of the mountain. The sun did not shine over the mountain until 8:49 am. Fortunately it did its work and dried things out on the stage sufficiently by 10:00 am that we could set up the sound system just in the nick of time. The 110+ audience members took their places and the show went on. "Momotaro, A Tale of Bravery" The kids did their parts as if there had been no worries at all. Whew! It was a miracle!
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!