Man is so made that when anything fires his soul, impossibilities vanish.
During my working career, I was confronted as many teachers were, with finding ways to engage our students.
During a ten-year period in a very working-class part of town, my fellow teachers and I staged a number of musical programs to stimulate and engage our students.
I was fortunate to have an excellent drama teacher to work with in the late 1980s.
In 1987 we performed a musical I had written when teaching at a bush school and it went well. In 1989 we decided to get ambitious and write a new show that would explore a range of emotions and scenarios. Doing a show each year had become the expectation within the school and writing a show from scratch was considered ambitious, to say the least, considering our musical ability was somewhat limited.
But we were never going to write a Gilbert and Sullivan, or a traditional musical, rather as our students were not into that we set out to write a piece that fell more into the rock musical range.
Over the space of a year, I composed a show that was to leave its mark on the school and community.
My Drama teacher companion would hate coming into school to hear me say: “What do you think of this?” It usually meant an idea I had the previous day I had worked on further and a re-write was in progress.
I also had a group of students I tried things out on, to see if they liked the idea and if it worked as performance. The involvement of students has always left me amazed as how involved they became. One girl came to me one day and although not in the cast asked if she could manuscript the songs for the show. I was grateful for her help, and she did a fabulous job.
The end result was a performance over a number of days in the performance week that left its mark on the many students involved.
We dared to do things we thought would evoke emotion, that would take the audience by surprise leaving them challenged at times and joining in the energy of the performance.
We used a combination of country and rock music, we explored bullying, we dealt with relationships, we challenged our performers and audience to accept the death of the leading man.
I gave my performers the license to explore their characters and take ownership of them.
The result was a performance that had so many benefits for the students and the school as a whole.
We were faced at times with plenty of naysayers, we were challenged with the fate of the show when two students at the school were killed in a tragic fire but we argued the work that had been done to that point meant we had to put it on even when it included the sister of one of the boys who died. (In more recent times the student, now a grown woman, admitted to me she was glad she was part of the show as it helped her deal with her grief at the time.)
It was a tough school to work in, but as our Principal said at the time, the school musical was the only time in the year when the school came together.