Theatre Thursday

Rocking the House with Schoolhouse Rock JR

Our spring Production Workshop project was Schoolhouse Rock Live JR. I love the spring production because students are involved from the beginning of the production process to the end of the process. Students are designers and decision makers from beginning to end. This was the first production we attempted having a student choreographer. She was able to choreograph half of the musical number, while I did the other half. She did a fantastic job creating fun dance moves that everyone felt comfortable doing. The students and the directing team were able to find a great rhythm of working together, trading ideas and combining our visions for the staging of the production. This is what real theatre education is all about!

I usually spend months with a project well before the rehearsal process begins. I read the play two or three times before I search for images, songs, and stories to fuel my imagination and helps me to form an overall concept for a piece. In this class I am able to bring the students along for the ride. Once we had a bunch of ideas floating around we chatted as director, set, lighting, costume and sound design teams. I love hearing the ideas these student design teams come up with through their research. They inspire me to be a better director and teacher. It is becoming my favorite part of the process… watching young minds discover and expand; melding the best ideas in the room into one cohesive whole. It’s amazing how it all comes together.

This particular group of kids rock the house! So much talent, discipline, and excitement for the art filled every class time. Most important, these kids are genuine and kind human beings. They were a unit, collaborating as if they had been working together as professionals forever. They came up with amazing ideas to contribute to the production process on a daily basis. I found myself looking forward to our time together every day.

We are teaching our students that theatre is not only about entertainment. It is a vehicle for change, for discussion, and for learning. We picked Schoolhouse Rock to give back to our community (it was too bad that the elementary schools opted out of coming to the production for free). The songs in the show reinforce some of the lessons learned in school and put a spring in everyone’s step. Seriously. Every song is a virtual Trojan horse of learning: entertaining, infectious; packed with information about lessons of word usage (“Conjunction Junction”), America’s expansion (“Elbow Room”), health (“Circulation”), the solar system (“Interplanet Janet”), and much more. Admit it. To this day, when someone mentions the preamble of the Constitution, you naturally begin singing “We the people…” “The Great American Melting Pot” explains how two ingredients – liberty and immigrants – made out country what it is today. Schoolhouse Rock made learning fun and effortless. This production was to be a gift to the community that had supported the learning of students for the past 12 years (many of them would soon be graduating seniors).

Simple concepts that are often glass over are easily taught in the catchy songs of Schoolhouse Rock. In the classic “Conjunction Junction,” we learn how conjunctions connect sentences together. But that is not the only lesson in this song. We learned how things go together such as mountains go up and seas go down; you should always say “thank you” and “please”; and one of the most important lessons in life – gratitude and kindness.

Let’s face it. The complications of the inner workings of legislation can confuse the smartest among us. Thanks goodness for “I’m Just a Bill,” a song that lays it out simply for us. The Bill teaches the student that it takes a lot of perseverance, patience, and even courage to accomplish anything of value. What a great lesson! The same can be said for our production process.

One of our favorites songs was “Interplanet Janet.” Our super fun Interplanet Janet (also our choreographer) zoomed around the solar system on her roller blades, teaching about the sun and the planets orbiting it. The song may have looked like a song about science – the sun is a ball of gas, Mars is red and Jupiter is big, but there is also a great lesson for young students regarding the future. Janet teaches young students that they can do anything they set their mind to. They can go as far as their curiosity and hard work will take them.

I loved working on this show. I love the kids involved. Each one of them grew as people and as performers. My only regret is that many people missed the opportunity to learn and to support the arts. They missed out on this gift, this “thank you” from students who are grateful for those who have taught them to love learning.

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