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- May 31, 2010 at 11:10 am #257717Christopher BorgesParticipantHi Everyone-If your choir is also involved in the school musical, I’m looking for some feedback.Our choir will be learning all of the chorus parts to next spring’s school musical (“Once on This Island”) and I am looking for feedback from those of you who also do this. We plan to learn the music in class for a month or two, and then are doing 1 day a week after school with our choreographer. Leads will be doing work with our drama teacher as well.The main questions are:1. How do you handle chorus parts for students who are NOT in your choir (in order to open up the show to other students)? Auditions/rehearsals, etc.2. How do you organize your involvement in your school musical, time-wise (after-school only, after-school and in-school, all in-school, etc.)?3. How do you work with the drama teacher in auditions (deciding factors, how to settle disagreements in casting, etc.)?4. Any other valuble feedback you have.Thanks everyone!Christopher BorgesMay 31, 2010 at 12:54 pm #257741Hi,, Christopher. My last involvement in SCHOOL musicals was about 60 years ago when *I* was in high school (my father was the first director to put on a Broadway musical in the Pacific Northwest), so I can’t answer several of your questions, but I have been involved with community musical theater for the past 19 years.Working with the Stage Director (aka your drama teacher) in auditions: I have always considered our Stage Directors to be the “boss,” since it is their concept that we work together to bring to life. That means that those of us on the music side serve as advisors and use our own expertise to help and support the Director. That’s ESPECIALLY important in the audition process, because the voices have to be picked to fit pre-existing roles and songs and ranges, and because some songs require greater musicianship than others. Those are facts of life that SOME stage directors simply don’t understand. But those roles also require good actors, and SOMETIMES good dancers, and those are factors that a choral director might not always understand. So the bottom line is that if you and the Stage Director are on the same page, working together should be no problem, but if you are not then you’re in for trouble! And a triumvirate of Director, Musical Director, and Choreographer can be very rocky unless all three have a professional attitude and keep in mind that it isn’t competing for territory, it’s putting on the best possible show.One thing I have learned is that no matter how strongly a role is associated with a famous actor, that role can be re-created with someone who neither looks nor sounds like the original. I know theater people know that, but musicians don’t always. When my college show group did a “Grease” Medley I cast a boy who looked nothing like the guy in the movie, and the kids in the ensemble thought I was nuts, but he did a fine job because he was a good actor.I don’t know this show, so I don’t know how demanding the chorus parts are, but in general I find that this applies to ALL amateurs, young or old. Teach them their parts with absolute accuracy. (Theater people tend to be VERY haphazard about this–“just pick out a note that fits”!) Then, while they learn their movement/choreography/dancing they will FORGET their parts! That’s quite normal, so don’t worry about it. But THEN there’s a 3rd stage, during which they have to RELEARN their music in conjunction with their movement. And that is also quite normal, so plan enough rehearsal time in advance for it. And make sure your choreographer understands (a) that your singers have to be facing front as they sing so the audience can hear them, and (b) that there are specific places where they have to be facing front to follow your conducting.How to integrate additional chorus members who are not in your choir? I wouldn’t even try! If you are going to have rehearsals during choir period, and the other kids can’t come then, there’s no way they can learn the music. You simply have to make a decision, one way or the other. If your choir is the chorus for the show, then that’s it. If it isn’t, you’ll have to have extra-curricular rehearsals.Some will disagree with this, but if your Spring Musical is your choir’s major effort, then MAKE it your major effort that semester. You can’t do everything and do everything well. The analogy would be with a school that has only one band, which marches during football season and then becomes a concert band. But if that’s the case, and if you have input into the selection of a show, try to pick shows in which the chorus is a really important element. “Sound of Music,” for example, is not (although in my wife’s high school production they used the entire 5th period Girls Choir as nuns, and they sounded GREAT!).All the best, and break a leg!JohnJune 1, 2010 at 7:08 am #257818Aubrey ConnellyParticipantGood morning!First let me tell you that I love Once On This Island. It was our school musical in 2005 and it was a joy to produce. That year I made it mandatory for all of the choir members to be in the show. (This changes from year to year depending if the show needs a big chorus or not.) What I found was that the kids loved the experience and the following year my regular choir grew because the “drama” kids had such a good experience singing.I always see myself as the assistant to the drama director. I make suggestions and give recomendations but it is ultimately his call in casting and all other decisions…even if I don’t agree.I rehearsed the choir during our regular class time and it did not monoplolize all of my instruction. In a musical of perhaps 20 songs at most, only about 5 of them are chorus numbers. I was still able to prepare my students for the MPA and our own spring concert. As for the students in the show who were not in chorus, we had regular music rehearsals after school. I donated my time and never regreted it.When I was a kind in high school in the 1980’s, the musical was the highlight of our choral class. I will always remember when we did the Sound of Music with 200 girls dressed as nuns singing the opening chorus and the wedding scene. That’s something only the choir teacher can accomplish!June 1, 2010 at 3:32 pm #257883Tom CouncilParticipantHi Christopher: Most HS around here (Texas) these days handle HS Musicals as part of the “Fine Arts Dept. Persents…………….” That takes most or all of the rehearsals out of your choir period.However back in the middle 60’s in Dallas, it was “The Concert Choir Presents……..” A lot of the HS around here just closed up choir for 6 to 8 weeks and worked on a musical. When I came into HS in the 70’s, I still wanted a choir period since the main Spring choir activity for me was the Concert and Sight Reading Contest held in each reagion in the State of Texas.So, about 98% of the activity for the musical was after school. You need to decide what is important to you.If you are going to involved kids not in choir, (I always did), then musical rehearsals are going to have to be after school. My main choir was never all involved with the musical. As I said above, many schools in Dallas involved the entire choir. You can get a really great choral sound that way.The first drama teacher I worked with only worked with the straight drama scenes and left the musical munbers staging up to me. But, that was something I could do and enjoyed doing that. You just need to find out how they want to work. Ours was a team effort. Other drama teachers worked a little different. Some took most of the load in staging all of the musical except for the dance numbers. But, it was a working together that made the whole experience worth while.In both HS where I presented musicals, we had an audition team to handle the auditions. In most cases it was the drama teacher, the choral director, sometimes choreographer and one or two members of the faculty who we could trust to evaluate the kids. In most cases the final say was the drama teacher and me.Most important, it must be a team effort. No one person can or should direct a musical alone. Like I would always tell the kids, there are folks out there who make their living producing musicals and here we are producting one after all of the normal school activites are done. We must be crazy!!Hope this has been helpful. Please feel free to call and talk. It’s a BIG, but worth while project.Tom CouncilJune 2, 2010 at 8:23 pm #257985Sally DenkertParticipantHi Christopher,Before a production begins, it’s important for the people involved to understand their roles. Since we are specifically talking about a MUSICAL, the Musical Director’s job is vitally important. If the music weren’t so important, there would be no need for a musical director! I think most people on this website would agree with me that the most important aspect of the audition is the singing. If the person auditioning can’t sing well, or can’t stay on pitch, then he or she shouldn’t be considered for the role.I only bring this up, because during our auditions this past fall, we had a bit of a “battle” between the drama people and me. We were putting together a girls’ trio, and the girls needed to sing in 3 part harmony, solidly holding their pitches. I had 3 students that could do it, but they weren’t the strongest actors. The strongest actors were all over the place on pitch. I said that if my name was going to be associated with the musical, I would choose the people to sing/act.My reason for sharing this is that it caused a rift in the production staff. It’s so important to have a united front within the production staff, otherwise it will show in the final performances. Please don’t let this happen to you! As I said at the beginning, make sure you understand each other’s roles before you begin!All of our rehearsals are held in the evening after sports practices. Since we are a relatively small school, all of the kids are involved in all aspects of school life, and athletes are also singers and actors. So, rather than fight the coaches, we just have our practices after all of the sports and other extra-curricular activities.We don’t require all choir members to be part of the musical. This would be unrealistic for us. Instead, we open the auditions up to all students, and then all rehearsals are held in the evenings.All faculty members that are part of the production staff are paid a stipend for their extra hours. Needless to say, we put in many more hours that we’re paid for, but in the end it is worth it.I hope this is helpful.SallyJune 2, 2010 at 10:15 pm #257995Hi, Sally. You’re correct that each member of the creative staff must understand their roles. But I cannot agree with you that “the most important aspect of the audition is the singing.”If only life were that simple! But it isn’t, and the compromises we have to make in selecting our ensembles fade into insignificance when you come up against the MULTIPLE aspects of musical theater, each of which is important, and the degree of importance depends on the show and the role. The main reason opera has such a bad name with the general public is that “the most important aspect is the singing.” I’ve always maintained that every actor should study voice more seriously, and every singer should study acting more seriously.In casting the university show ensemble I directed for 14 years, my choreographer (who doubled as my stage director) and I had to balance a variety of aspects, including voice quality, musicianship, stage presence, movement, attitude, and yes, appearance. Casting for musical theater adds to those aspects acting ability and the spoken word. (And casting for the Disney shows I did the auditions for had to consider ALL the same aspects, but with standards considerably higher.)The ideal musical theater performer can sing like an angel, move like a ballet dancer, mesmerize the audience by sheer force of stage presence, and slip easily and convincingly into a character, while projecting all of the above to the back row. And if that’s what you’re hoping to find, lotsa luck!!!! They’re few and far between, but BOY, is it wonderful to find one!All the best,JohnJune 3, 2010 at 10:11 pm #258059Sally DenkertParticipantHi John,You are correct! I guess in my high school directing experience, the singing is just as, or more important, than the acting. I’m in a very small high school, and the talent base is limited. When I had three girls who could solidly carry three individual parts without faltering in pitch, and were adequete in their acting ability, I felt we had a winner! Yes, I would have been thrilled to find the “ideal musical theater performer”, but she wasn’t there (x3). So, as the musical director, I felt it was my job to make sure that the musical portion, for which I was responsible, was the best quality I could produce. If I had been forced to “settle” for the three girls that were better actors, the music would have suffered greatly.Perhaps someday our school will be large enough that the talent base we have to choose from will allow me to have the best of both worlds, but until that time, I’m going with the students that have adequete acting skills and superior vocal skills. I’m not as concerned about how it impacts my reputation, but I need to make sure the kids feel good about their performance, and that family members, friends and audience members are sincere in their praise.So, while I agree with you John, I have to beg to differ “in my situation”. Hopefully someday I’ll be at the point where I can have the “best of both worlds”!SallyJuly 18, 2010 at 11:01 pm #261289Robert JudgeParticipantHi Chris,I have been music director for a high school drama program for five years that has a fantastic choral program and director. Our drama program is set up separately from the choral program, and auditions for the musical are open school-wide. Since all of our rehearsals take place after-school, I do accept students into the chorus who are not a part of the choral program, but have previous musical experience. Auditions are structured in such a way that students have two weeks to learn and prepare. a 16-bar excerpt from the musical that I have selected. I try to pick something that fits all voice ranges, and has some challenging interval patterns. This allows me to hear their voice, understand what their ear is like, and most importantly tells me their work ethic.I have worked w/ two drama directors– one not so easy to work w/ and the other is very pleasant. Regardless, there is always going to be ups and downs in the process. The drama director I currently work w/ is usually on the same page as I am. My advice is if you know someone’s voice and/or musicianship is not appropriate for the part they see that student in, stick to your guns. They will eventually understand where you are coming from, and appreciate your honest feedback.Good luck!Robert JudgeJuly 19, 2010 at 11:59 am #261321Hi, Robert, and thanks for your good comments. There’s only one thing I would take issue with, out of my own experience. When you say “a 16-bar excerpt from the musical,” I assume that you mean a melodic excerpt, and that will NOT tell you one of the most important things: whether or not they can learn, retain, and sing a harmony part.The first year I directed The All American College Singers show at Disneyland, every kid in the cast had passed a “music reading check” of some kind during their audition. But once rehearsals started it was obvious that half of them could not read music, and one young man could NOT sing a harmony part, always migrating to the melody. The second year I handled the audition tour, and specifically tested for that important quality. (The Disney arrangements were NOT all unison with chords only for a big finish, as so many Broadway musicals are!) And it was the kids with the most theater credits but the least choral experience who flunked my test.Other than that, though, I very much agree with your comments and your approach, and if the 16-bar method works for you, that’s great!JohnJuly 19, 2010 at 2:59 pm #261344Robert JudgeParticipantYikes! Thanks for the heads up on the situation. I am very fortunate to work at a school w/ an excellent choral program, so I have not yet run into a situation like this. I have at times included pitch memory and asking for them to sing the middle note in a block triad– but have not done so consistently. Your advice is a great reminder on why it’s important. Thanks!
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