Unlocking the Secrets of Successful Musical Theater Productions

Unlocking the Secrets of Successful Musical Theater Productions

The Joys and Challenges of Teaching Theater

As I reminisce about my first job as an English teacher in a junior high school, I can’t help but chuckle. You see, I was certified to teach English, but had never actually experienced it as a student teacher. My real passion and expertise lay in theater, which was a rarity in the Midwest during the 1970s.

When I started, they handed me this massive book filled with educational jargon and benchmarks I was supposed to reach. It was like learning a whole new language! But eventually, I got the hang of it. Years later, when I began teaching middle school theater in the mid-90s, I faced a different challenge – no one seemed to have a clear idea of what I was supposed to cover.

Luckily, I had over 20 years of teaching and directing experience under my belt, so I knew exactly what to do. It was during this time that my family and I made the dream move to Estes Park, Colorado. There, I had the opportunity to teach creative dramatics to second through fifth-grade students in a home school enrichment program.

Being the only theater teacher in a school can have its perks and pitfalls. The freedom to make my own curricular decisions was a major perk. But the isolation of not having anyone to bounce ideas off of who truly understood the subject matter was a challenge, especially for those just starting out. I know what that feels like – I’ve been there myself, and it can be so overwhelming.

That’s why I’m excited to share some of the secrets I’ve learned over my 38-year teaching career. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a newbie, I hope these insights will help you unlock the path to successful musical theater productions in your own classroom or program.

Ala Carte Curriculum: The Key to Engaging Theater Education

One of the biggest mistakes I see in elementary theater education is the overemphasis on the wrong aspects of the art form. There’s often too much focus on things like costume design, set construction, and other technical elements. While these are important, I believe the real secret lies in going straight to the “ala carte” approach.

When I taught my creative dramatics lessons, I always started with the easiest concepts and gradually progressed to the more challenging ones. This sequential approach, combined with a pass/fail grading system and daily participation grades, helped my students stay engaged and motivated.

So, what are the key concepts that elementary theater students really need to study? Here’s my list:

Dramamommaspeaks Theater Teacher Resources

By focusing on these foundational elements, you can create a solid, engaging curriculum that sets your students up for success. And if you need help defending your lesson plans, be sure to check out the National Core Arts Standards – they’re a great resource.

Cultivating the Habit of Practice

One of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered, both as a teacher and a parent, is helping students develop the habit of regular practice. It’s a universal struggle, but I’ve found that with the right mindset and some high-leverage techniques, you can make a dramatic difference.

The first step is to establish a designated practice time each day, even if it’s just 10 minutes. By creating this routine, the practice time becomes a habit, much like brushing your teeth. Of course, life happens, and that routine can sometimes get disrupted, but the key is to jump right back into it as soon as possible.

Another important factor is the physical placement of the instrument or props. I’ve noticed that when parents tuck the piano or guitar away in a “practice dungeon” corner of the house, it sends the message that this activity is not a priority. Instead, keep the instrument front and center, in the main living area. This simple change can have a big impact on how the child perceives the importance of their practice.

But what about the dreaded “it sounds bad” argument? I’ve heard it time and time again from parents who are tired or just don’t want to hear the constant noise. The problem with this mindset is that it communicates to the child that their efforts are not worthy of attention or love. Instead, try to embrace the imperfections and celebrate the small wins, like how smooth a particular section was or how bouncy the rhythm sounded.

Ultimately, developing the habit of practice is all about cultivating grit – the courage, strength, and resilience to keep trying, even in the face of setbacks. As Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth’s research has shown, grit is a key predictor of success, both in academics and in life. And what better way to build grit than through the challenging, yet rewarding, pursuit of musical theater?

The Power of Celebrating Small Wins

One of the secrets I’ve learned over the years is the transformative power of celebrating small wins, both for students and for myself. It’s so easy to get caught up in the big picture, the distant mountain top that seems forever out of reach. But when you take the time to turn around and look at the ground you’ve already covered, the progress you’ve made becomes clear.

I like to use the analogy of a long trek, where the destination is a distant mountain. Each day, you trudge along, covering 20 miles, then 15, then 18. And every morning, when you look at the mountain, it still seems just as far away. It’s so easy to get discouraged in those moments.

But if you take the time to turn around and look at the horizon behind you, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come. Those footprints stretch out, disappearing into the distance, a testament to the hard work and perseverance you’ve already put in.

I apply this same principle to my students’ musical theater journey. When they’re banging their heads against the wall, ready to give up, I stop them and have them add the word “yet” to their lament: “I can’t do it… yet.” Then, I turn them around and show them the progress they’ve made, whether it’s through written lesson notes or video recordings of their previous performances.

Seeing how far they’ve come can be a game-changer, reigniting their motivation and reminding them of their own grit and determination. It’s the same approach that elite programs like the Navy SEALs use to help their trainees push through the toughest challenges.

And just like Jerry Seinfeld’s infamous “don’t break the chain” method for improving his comedy, I encourage my students to create their own practice chains, using a wall calendar and a big red marker. Every day they practice, they get to add another X to the chain, building momentum and a sense of pride with each passing day.

Bringing It All Together at the Recital

As the biannual recital approaches, I can see the emotional highs and lows of my students’ journey playing out in real-time. The recital is a powerful motivating factor, but it’s all about how you handle it. When done right, it can be a truly positive growth experience.

In the final weeks leading up to the big event, I make sure to keep the focus on the small wins, the incremental progress that’s often overshadowed by the looming performance. I praise the specific details that demonstrate their grit and determination, like the smooth transitions or the bouncy rhythms.

By celebrating these small milestones, I’m not only building their confidence, but I’m also strengthening their psychological resilience. Just like the Navy SEALs, my students need that extra boost of morale to push through the challenges and deliver their best performance.

And when the recital finally arrives, I make sure to turn the spotlight on their journey, not just the final product. I want them to see how far they’ve come, to feel the pride and sense of accomplishment that comes from overcoming obstacles and honing their craft.

Because at the end of the day, the true secret to successful musical theater productions isn’t just about the final performance. It’s about the grit, the resilience, and the joy of the entire process – from the first tentative steps to the triumphant final bow. And that’s a lesson I’m honored to share with every student who walks through the doors of The Musical Theater Center.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top