The Newest Audience
I teach children’s theatre.
At least, that’s what I tell people.
I’ll also toss choreographer, conductor, artistic director, prompter, stage manager, director, coach, psychic, eternal optimist, and president and founder of the “I’m Sorry Guys, but We’re Not Performing Frozen Today” Club. Teachers, I tip all my hats to you fellow masters of multi-tasking!
When I’m planning lessons, I try to incorporate material that is going to pack an equally strong and subtle multitasking punch. If there is a moment where I can add music to my teaching, I’m all for it.
Music makes class warm-ups more fun and serves as inspiration for improvisation exercises and theatre games. Incorporating music at this stage is also a fun way to introduce students to material they may be unfamiliar with, without the formality of a sit-down theatre history lecture.
When I asked a class of first and second graders to list all the musicals they knew, they exhausted the list of Disney animated musicals and knew a few of the classics such as The Sound of Music, The Music Man, Annie, etc. While it was certainly a solid start, I knew it was time to introduce some new “old” friends.
There is a popular “old is new again” theme running through musical theatre these days, especially when it comes to material that concerns kids. We see it when movies and books are turned into stage musicals à la A Christmas Story: The Musical, Matilda, Shrek: The Musical, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
We see it when movie studios revamp classics from the stage such as Annie from Columbia Pictures and Into the Woods from Disney. Even television is borrowing from Broadway again. NBC’s Peter Pan Live!, airing in December, has been buzzed about for months.
It’s a booming trend that seeks to make theatre accessible to audiences both young and old. Newbies to musical theatre may not know much about Pasek and Paul, but they may very well know of A Christmas Story because they grew up with the film. Once they make a connection with that piece, a whole new genre of contemporary theatre is opened up to them. Tricky or genius? I’ll let you decide.
There’s something innately comforting that comes with introducing music to an audience that they feel like they may already know, even if they’ve never heard it before. I find this to be especially true when it comes to children’s theatre. There is a sense of automatic joy that comes with meeting familiar characters in new places. If the audience feels like insiders, they’re already on your side.
My first and second grade students were thrilled to learn about the musical Matilda, a story they all knew and loved. The big ensemble number “When I Grow Up” was such a hit with them, I now bring it to other classes to use as an example.
I’m looking forward to hearing what my students think of the new Annie when it returns to the big screen in a contemporary retelling starring Quvenzhané Wallis in the title role this December. Could “Tomorrow” be the new “Let It Go?” Who knows, but Ms. Lauren’s class will probably be listening to it.