Sunday, January 11, 2009

Musical theatre unit

Last year I directed my first musical (Annie Jr.). It was more fun than I thought, and not quite as hard as I dreaded. Also, choreographing the dances was relatively painless, and fun in an I'm-working-outside-my-normal-sphere-of-creativity kind of way.

So now I'm thinking of doing a musical theatre unit in my class, and I'd like some input. I'd like to start in the first week of February, and spend three to five weeks on it. Since my classes are 48 minutes long, and we'd have to take time at the beginning of class to strike the desks and at the end of class to reset the desks, I figure we'll have about 30 good minutes of working time a day, which leads me to believe we can stumble through one song each week.

I imagine I'll start with some numbers from Annie Jr., since I'm confident with them. I'll likely start with "NYC," since the choreography we used largely entails tableaus, and not that much "real" dancing. Then I might do "Hard Knock Life" or "Never Fully Dressed," but I'm worried that the boys might bristle at being forced to do "girl songs."

I'd like to give the kids the opportunity to work in small groups to choreograph their own numbers, but there are several challenges to this idea. First, what songs? I can't allow them to have free reign, or it'll just be a lot of grinding to Solja Boy. I also thought of teaching them a dance from a movie, but most are just way too hard (my wife suggested the dance from the end of Napoleon Dynamite, and I think that's a pretty good choice). I figure I'll need to give them a list of songs to choose from. Then, what about the noise? If there are four groups in the class, that's four CD players blaring, and four groups bumping into each other. I have a large room, but still. It sounds pretty tough.

I'd like to end the unit by teaching kids a number fron this year's musical. We're doing Willy Wonka Jr., and auditions are right after Spring Break, so we'll need to be done by then.

Have any of you ever done a musical theatre unit before? How do you combat all the "this is gay" and "I didn't sign up for a dance class" stuff? How do you let the kids be creative and set their own choreography, but not lose control of your class?


At 10:41 PM, Blogger chitarita said...

I did a musical theater unit with a few of my classes. I took it from a history of musical theatre scope (which, by the way, is covered really well by PBS in a documentary called, creatively enough, "Broadway").

I made a list of significant musicals, then split that list into 3 sections (basically R&H, The Flashy Big Shows, and Modern Day). The students had a name-that-song-and-show listening test over key songs from those shows. I also had the students "produce a show" in small groups - they had to fill out a worksheet on the history and plot of the show, design costumes, design a set for one scene, and create a program for a production of the show, including a cast list (either celebrities or members of the class - their choice). That was all done in groups of 3-ish, by the way. They also had to create a presentation for the class - could be a choreographed song, a commercial for the show, a scene from the show, etc.

I designed this unit to 1) get the students familiar with the shows they should know as thespians, 2) review what we had studied technically, and 3) yay group work and presenting and such. It certainly didn't have as much emphasis on dancing as yours. I never had any of the guys in the class object. I think the lack of emphasis on dancing was a part of that (designing a set is pretty non-gendered). I never did this with my Drama 1 classes, though, only my Advanced Drama and, of course, in the Musical Theater course (which I created after trying out this unit the first time).

Boy, this is a really long comment. I guess the short of it is - give the students choices/variety in how they interact with shows, email me if you want any more info, and good for you for promoting this!

P.S. Oh, also, I showed a lot of clips of musicals - nothing like letting them see it. If you can, Tony performances are really good since they often include an introduction to the show, too. 'K, I'm done now.

At 10:00 PM, Blogger Meg said...

I've never taught a musical theater unit in a class, so take that into account before reading the rest of this.

Didn't Jay-Z sample "Hard Knock Life"? Might that help the boys with some buy-in? Plus, aren't YOU proof enough that this is a manly activity? Failing that, find the DVD of Hugh Jackman in "Oklahoma" and refer to him repeatedly and only as "Wolverine."

As a director/choreographer, my plea is to focus on "dance as story telling:" characters talk until they are so full of emotion that they can only continue by singing, and they sing until they are so full of emotion that they can only continue by dancing. It matters more to be able to tell a story and communicate it to the audience than it does to be highly skilled in dance at the middle/high school level. The crapshooter's dance in "Guys and Dolls" is pretty good for storytelling, but there are a lot of others.

Amanda's ideas sound great, and if you end up creating a multi-part project like that, it might alleviate some of your space and blaring music issues to have different groups rotating through different stations on different days.

No matter what, it'll be great and the kids will have a blast and learn!

At 8:13 PM, Blogger Emily said...

Don't tell the boys it's a "girls'" song. Show the movie AFTER they learn the songs.

I have had my kids choreograph before, but given them music and a specific scenario. It's a little off topic, but creating rituals worked really well. They had to choose a BIG life moment and create and perform a ritual dance/song to commemorate it. I do that when I'm doing my "roots of theatre" unit.


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