High School Musicals: What I did for love
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
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.
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.
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
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
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!