High School Musicals: What I did for love

South Shore High School Chicago, Illinois
South Shore High School Chicago, Illinois
High School dance students
High School dance students
Stage presentation
Stage presentation
Ballet
Ballet
Jazz
Jazz
Modern Dance
Modern Dance
African Dance
African Dance

Note: Part of the title of this hub is the title of one of the songs from A Chorus line

When I went to work for South Shore High School in Chicago, years and years ago, I was assigned to teach general music, conduct two choruses, and put on musical productions. The principal and his wife were very much into the performing arts and great supporters of dance, music, and theater. I was being paid as a music teacher/choral director, but putting on musical productions came under the heading of "extra curricular activities", which of course, as teachers, we had to be involved in. I had had a lot of experience with theater, music and dance, so I was okay with it. However, I knew from past experience that it would be time consuming and exhausting.

Time consuming and exhausting it was. I was given no extra pay, but was expected to "whip up" a musical or other type of musical production every month. In order to have a pool of dancers to pull from, I started a two-hour dance class, which the students took in lieu of gym. Chicago High school teachers were expected to teach five classes and have a prep period and a lunch period. The extra curricular activities were to be carried on during any extra time left over, and after school. Since I would be teaching a two hour dance class, that would mean that I had seven class periods. I was told there was no way the administration could reduce my regular load.

And so, because I loved my work, and you all know what a work-a-holic and perfectionist I am; at least those of you who read my hubs, I threw myself into putting on the best musicals South Shore High school had ever known. I enlisted the help of the art department, the English department, the industrial arts, and the drama/theater departments, and a teacher in the special education department, who was a professional dancer.

We taught the kids ballet, jazz, modern, and African dance techniques. I knew many teachers and artistic directors in the dance community, so I worked out a deal where we could take the kids for lessons at the various dance studios for free. Occasionally, they would come to our school and present workshops and give lessons there. It was great! We contacted parents to help with costume making, ticket sales and publicity.

Voila! We had a nice little musical theater going on, which was bringing in money for more costumes, props, lighting and scenery. It was amazing. Besides running the show, my part was extended to costume making, among other things. One night I had 5 girls spend the night at my house so we could make the costumes for A Chorus Line. We sewed practically all night long. They were so tired, a couple of them fell asleep at the sewing machines. I felt a little guilty and kept thinking about those factories in India or China where they hired kids for a pittance to sew for 12 hours a day. But the kids loved it and they were really invested in all of our productions.

I continued working at South Shore High until I transferred to another High School.. During that time, we put on many many musical productions, but the ones I remember the most were the ones that were the most fun or the most successful. There were 4000 students attending at that time, so I had my pick of some really talented kids. We had also built up a large group of teachers and parents to support us, so attendance at performances was always good and some of our shows ran all week-end: Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon.


Our favorite musicals

The Wiz: Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow
The Wiz: Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow
The Wiz: the movie
The Wiz: the movie
Anita (played by Rita Moreno in the movie) in West Side Story, singing and dancing to "America"
Anita (played by Rita Moreno in the movie) in West Side Story, singing and dancing to "America"
West Side Story: the Jets gang
West Side Story: the Jets gang
West Side Story: The Sharks gang
West Side Story: The Sharks gang
Bye Bye Birdie: main character, Conrad Birdie, rock star
Bye Bye Birdie: main character, Conrad Birdie, rock star
Bye Bye Birdie: clever and charming "Telephone Hour" production number
Bye Bye Birdie: clever and charming "Telephone Hour" production number
A Chorus Line: Final number
A Chorus Line: Final number

Note: None of the pictures here are of the students at South Shore, where I was teaching. Unfortunately, most of them were lost during the move from Chicago to Louisville. However, I included these to give you an idea of the costumes and the dance styles we incorporated into our productions.

The Wiz
This was so much fun. I made Dorothy's dress out of shiny blue satin, with a white pinafore trimmed in bright yellow. It looked great on stage. The tenth grader who had the role had been in my dance classes, She did a great job of "easing on down the road". One of the mother's made the Tin Man's costume, another made the scarecrow's outfit and I made the lion's. The students did all the lighting and took care of the music (we used tapes) and the singing was done by students in advanced chorus.

West side Story
This one turned out great. The two leads were good, but the girl who played Anita was amazing. She was a junior and had a sophistication and beauty beyond her years. Anita was the girlfriend of the leader of one of the two gangs, the Sharks. Rita Moreno played Anita in the movie. Luckily I had all the girls who sang "America" in my chorus, because it required a great deal of practice. It was syncopated and not easy to sing.

Written by Leonard Bernstein in 1957, the music to West Side Story is brilliant and some of the songs are beautiful (eg. "Maria") It was pretty "cutting edge" at the time. Although it was a little difficult, we had a great time with the choreography. Jerome Robbins choreographed the original and we did our best to copy the various dances. Again we made all the costumes, sets, scenery. We rented the professional book and scores, as we did for each musical.

Bernstein was a New Yorker and was concerned about the street gangs in his city. The story revolves around two west side gangs; one called the Jets, mostly white middle class kids; the other, Hispanics called the Sharks. Large production numbers incorporated fast moving dance moves and fight scenes among the two gangs. Their differences were resolved in the end, but not without several tragic events taking place.

Bye Bye Birdie
The kids loved this musical. I found an uninhibited senior to play the main character. He was a little on the short side, but he had personality enough for two people. His mother made him a shiny silver jumpsuit, in the style of costumes worn by Elvis Presley. The story takes place in 1960 and the main character, Conrad Birdie, is a hip-thrusting rock and roll superstar like Elvis Presley was.

Our female lead, a part played by Ann Margret in the movie, was extremely talented. By the time we did this musical, we had collected a large room full of costumes and props, made or contributed by teachers, students and parents. The administration had updated the overhead lighting, and students were clamoring to come to auditions for a chance to be in our musicals. I was losing weight (a good thing) and becoming exhausted ( a not-so good thing)

A Chorus Line
This is the last musical I did, before I gave up teaching music and switched to English and Special Education. We, again made all the costumes. We constructed shiny, metallic black and silver striped vests, sprayed character shoes, top hats and canes with silver paint (actually, in the musical, everything is gold, not silver), and made white lace ascots to wear under the vests. These were worn over black leotards and tights....not the same as the Broadway version, but we thought they looked great.

That was my farewell to the world of High School musicals. I never put on another musical after that. I was all musicaled out!

**note: If you don't have much time, and can only watch one video, watch The Telephone Hour" from Bye Bye Birdie. It is so 1950s and so hilarious; that is, if you think teen-agers are funny!

"America" from West Side Story (Anita is in purple dress)

"Telephone Hour" from Bye Bye Birdie

A Chorus Line

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Comments 35 comments

judydianne profile image

judydianne 7 years ago from Palm Harbor, FL

Wow! I admire you! I am a costumer and I know how much time is put into it and how important the deadlines are! I was usually stitching and sewing as they hit the stage.

I can remember one time making a hand sewn cape in the van on the way to the venue. I loved those days and can't wait for Halloween, to start costuming again!


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

@ Judydianne: Ah yes...I remember this: "I was usually stitching and sewing as they hit the stage."

Thank for the comments


fastfreta profile image

fastfreta 7 years ago from Southern California

My goodness alehouse, you are a workaholic. To make all those costumes, put the plays on, and teach too, it's no wonder you got out of doing plays, lots of hard work. The YouTube videos were nice too. I can see the telephone hour video being done with cell phones today. You are good. Very good hub.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Gosh, Freta, thanks for all the nice remarks. I actually loved what I was doing...did it for almost 20 years. Tiring, yes, but it really kept my weight down.


trooper22 profile image

trooper22 7 years ago from Chicago

Thank you for sharing this great story Alek, I only wish that you were at my old school when I was there. I attended Chicago public as well, but on the North Side and in what was then a lower middle class area. I didn't do so well there, I was to mixed up for to many reasons and dropped out for the army. If I only knew then what I know now.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Hey trooper, I knew you lived in Chicago. I lived there nearly 40 years. I actually lived on the north side near Lincoln Park....moved to Louisville, KY 15 years ago, after retiring from teaching. Thanks for reading my hub and commenting.


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

You must have wonderful, fantastic memories of high school! Wow! I got the chance to be part of The Wiz (when I was no longer in High School) and played the part of Addaperle, the good witch of the north. hehe Being in a musical theater is a fun experience. I enjoyed it a lot. :)


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks for checking out my hub and the nice comments. Yeah, musical theater is a lot of fun...a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. I performed a bit when I was younger, but I really enjoyed producing and directing more. It's great comraderie.


Princessa profile image

Princessa 7 years ago from France

South Shore High school was lucky to have you!

I just realized that I have never been to a musical before, I think it is time for me to make my first visit.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Princessa, Yes you really should go sometime. There are a lot of good ones from New York traveling around the country right now. Thanks for commenting


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA

That is really neat you put on so many musicals. Of course I can tell you are a very talented lady. Our school never put on very many musicals, so it is nice to see some schools do that.

Bye Bye Birdie is definitely a classic, and telephone hour is so much fun. Today kids would go nuts if they had to wait until they had to get home to call their friends.


Am I dead, yet? 7 years ago

I enjoyed reading this while I were in class yesterday and I did not click on the videos until I got home, such a beautiful hub. I enjoyed this so very much. Dance is another art form and it is as brilliant in expressions as the words you used to write about it. Fabulous!


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

SP: Thanks for the nice comments. Too bad yopu missed out on the "musical" experience in HS. It got everybody involved, teachers, admin., parents and kids. It really promoted comraderie.

And you are so right about the phone situation. Kids today really have no idea what technology was like then...very different.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

@AIDY: Wow, thank you so much for the nice comments. Really glad you enjoyed the hub.

The last video, A Chorus Line, is the final dance. This is one of my very favorite musicals, because it's about dancers. It's coming to Louisville, where I live, this fall...I'm definitely going to see it again. I actually saw the very first production in New York and it was amazing.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

Thanks for sharing this story. I just wish I had had a teacher like you when I was at school! I admire your energy and creativity.

Love and peace

Tony


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks, Tony...appreciate the comments...I think we have a mutual admiration thing going here. lol


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

This Hub brought back so many memories of my student experiences in musical productions...Carousel, The Mikado, The Student Prince, so many more. I was the student, not the teacher/director/producer/dance teacher. You've given me a whole new appreciation for the dedication of those teachers who gave their all for a bunch of kids to learn about life through the magic of the stage.

Musicals are on my mind today, so your Hub was a perfect segue. Have you seen the news on the first Broadway production of Bye Bye Birdie since 1960?

Thanks for a wonderful, wonderful read!


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks for the nice comments, Sally, glad you enjoyed the hub. Haven't seen anything on Bye Bye Birdie....But I saw the auditions quite a while ago; last year some time. Curious about the show.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis

Hi Alek: Sally's Trove wrote to me to tell me about this article, so I hustled on over. This brought back a lot of memories for me as I was heavily involved in theatre, and subsequently went on to study at Webster Conservatory of the Theatre Arts and The National Shakespeare Conservatory. Fortunately, my high school also had a great theatre program which I was thankful for, and as Princessa said, your students were lucky to have you. I know well what work and hours are involved.

Unfortunately, the arts are one of the first programs to be cut from school budgets while sports are kept and glorified (not that I have anything against sports - I did that too). While most people don't realize it, theatre arts teach a person more skills than all the sports combined. It's frustrating to me. The guy who heads the NEA said, "A great country deserves great art." Well, where is it going to come from if not from schools?

I congratulate you on your dedication to the students and this most important but often overlooked pursuit. Plus it's a lot of fun!


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks, Christoph, for the great comments. Sounds like you were pretty well entrenched in theater. Are you doing anything with it now? a little Shakespeare now and then, perhaps?

I tried acting, mostly improvisational with Second City in Chicago, but my strengths were in music and dance. Don't do much any more though, since I opened the bed and breakfast.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis

Alek: I earned a living from "show business" for the 20 years following school; regional theatre, summer stock, voice overs, commercials, etc., but not very often anymore. I mostly write and many of my projects are industrial films which I also narrate. I am currently shooting a movie which I am producing and acting in (which unfortunately is postponed due to an accident, namely MY accident.) Anyway, like you, not so much anymore, but when I do I am very happy. Thanks for asking.

I have enjoyed your B&B articles very much.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Again, thanks for the comments Chris. Yeah, I guess once you're hooked on theater and related projects, it never goes away. I used to do industrial films in Chicago years and years ago. Made some pretty good money, which I spent mostly on wardrobe.


Green Lotus profile image

Green Lotus 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

I really enjoyed your story Alek and commend you for the many hours - years of giving yourself wholeheartedly and so generously to your students. I am who I am today because of my high school theatrical experience and the amazing teacher who headed up all the dramatic extra-curricular activities. Those programs have been slashed and it's the students who pay the price.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

So glad you enjoyed the hub. So many people who have had positive theater and music experiences in school remember them the rest of their lives. Too bad the slashing of those kinds of programs continues.


poetlorraine 6 years ago

lovely just nominated this on the forums ,,,,,


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Wow! Thanks, Lorraine.....appreciate it


poetlorraine 6 years ago

you deserve it , it was a lovely hub, it is always so nice to see you on my hubs, going to try to get my work published now, did you see the talk ab out someone getting one done already from a fellow hubber


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

"...did you see the talk ab out someone getting one done already from a fellow hubber..."

I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about.


jj200 profile image

jj200 6 years ago from My Bedroom

Bravo, that was such a great story. Your commitment to teaching and education is so commendable. What a great experience that must have been. Teaching alone is tiring, but the "extra" stuff that's not actually extra that you're required to do just makes your life that much crazier.

I understand what you mean about being a perfectionist and workaholic. That's why I got out of education: I felt like I couldn't to it as well as I wanted to and didn't want to give the kids sub-par education. Maybe some day...

The arts are so important, it's so great that you did this and put your heart and soul into it. You're an excellent role model for teachers and non-teachers alike.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

JJ...Such nice comments. Thank you so much. I actually miss what I was doing at that time. It really tapped into all my interests and my creative juices.

I guess that's why I enjoy writing so much now. I can get back to all that good stuff I felt when I was so involved. Yes, it was tiring, but I love challenges and solving problems and my life was full of them then.

And that part really hasn't changed much. The challenges and problem solving are still there, filling up my life, but they are different. Packing up and moving from Louisville to Texas and selling my business of 16 years is a biggy...but I know it wont overwhelm me...it never does. :-)


jj200 profile image

jj200 6 years ago from My Bedroom

Glad to hear you've found a suitable outlet in writing, though I'd assume nothing can top the feeling of running the show like you did.

Life is a series of challenges, so you might as well accept and embrace them. It seems that maybe we feel most at connected to life amongst the ebb and flow of comfort and invigoration. Moving is a great example, I hope all is well with your moving. If you will be inn-keeping, I'll be visiting a dear friend in Austin within the next year, and will need lodging. B+Bs are the best, I hope you won't be missing yours in KY too much. It looks like such a charming place.

Though our paths will twist and turn/We often take a sweet glance back/Our travels are the way we learn/And make those memories that last.


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 5 years ago from Massachusetts

My children's high school had a nice music and theatre program, and they also brought in a Shakespeare company to do a play each year. So many people enjoyed all the performances, whether or not they had kids involved.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Most kids and their parents do enjoy music and theater programs and it's a great way for kids to learn to work together as a community.


jsundvall 5 years ago

Really interested in what the Tin Man costume was made out of. I need to make one for my son's production. That costume was awesome and if I could some how replicate it that would be great....please advise


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

I think we made the tin man's costume out of a heavy oil cloth. You might go to a fabric store and see what they suggest. If I remember right, we used a large funnel on his head. Just let your creative juices flow...I'm sure you can come up with something. Good luck.

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