It was so exciting to have an actual, LIVE performance of If You Could Dance in My Shoes this summer. We rehearsed with masks, took precautions, but performed the debut show with smiles visible! Of course, now we're back to square one and wondering when we'll perform live again, but I'm so glad, for the kids' sakes that they had that opportunity.
Our Musicals for Change Theatre Arts Camp was the first time I've produced a new summer camp show with kids. Generally, I've rehearsed musicals over a 10-week period during the school year. However, as a former camp director, I've always believed in the power of the camp experience. There is something about that daily, intense interaction that creates a special bond. This is exactly what happened during theatre arts camp, and I have to say that the closeness our students developed created moments I never could have anticipated.
First of all, if you haven't looked at the preview scripts, video highlights, and listened to the music of If You Could Dance in My Shoes, you should! This show was several years in the making and only got better with extra pandemic editing time. Secondly, the message of the show - empathy and understanding - was not simply acted but powerfully lived out during camp in ways I didn't expect. Our students, ages 10-15, came from several different schools. Some knew each other, others had never met. We did team building activities in the morning and had a policy of "no one eats alone" at lunch. Our choreography included a lot of partner dances, and the students had time to talk during scenery painting and shoe decorating. They also played some wild games of 4-square after lunch each day! Several times I used the Conversation Starters in the Director's Guide to talk about the message of the show: Have you ever worn shoes that hurt your feet? Did you have to wear them? Have you ever been without a home? Where did you live? Do you have someone you could talk to if you were worried? We had some very thoughtful discussions..
The last morning of camp we ran our dress rehearsal in preparation for the evening's show. The kids did well but we had a few tech issues which slowed us down. It was important that we run the show again after lunch; however, we all needed a break and went outside to eat in the sunshine. Before returning to the stage I decided we should gather as a group one more time. I wanted to be sure that, in the craziness of our 2-week drive to the performance, the message of the show had not been lost. The refrain of the song Kick It Up! says "Together, we're better. Have you ever judged or been misjudged? Everyone needs love! Love, love, love, love..." I wondered if the kids had actually absorbed these words. Or did they just perform them?
So, we sat as a group in the shade of the school playground and I asked each student to share one thing about themselves. It could be small (number of pets?) or big. I started, briefly telling them about my time living in another country where I didn't speak the language. Many people there were kind to me, but it was difficult to fit in. This wasn't a very deep story, but it was an opening to what turned out to be a flood gate of the kids' deepest difficulties and challenges. I was completely floored by their honesty, the depth of their feelings, and the empathy and care they showed for each other. There were tears and hugs, but we had to nix the group hug (Covid, after all) and instead circled up with our hands in the middle for a loud "Let's shine!" before heading back to the stage.
The performance was wonderful! The kids really knocked it out of the park, but the highlight of Theatre Arts Camp for me was that afternoon in a circle under the trees, listening to each others' stories. I know it was powerful for the kids too, and a little overwhelming. However, I thanked them for their honesty and reminded them that "what happens at theatre camp, stays at theatre camp." It was a very personal time that I hope they treasure like I do.
What I am finding as I write these musicals is that kids have a lot to share. That seems obvious, but when you allow them to confront difficult subjects - grief, loss, judgment, self-worth - they grow. I grow. It would be easier to write fluff and never have to deal with hard topics, but what is the gain? Kids want fun shows but they also need honesty and a greater purpose, just as we all do. The reward is so worth it! I am grateful to my students for affirming this belief and hope I can continue to write shows that speak to their deepest emotions, whether it be grief, or the joy of being onstage, singing and dancing with friends.
Musicals for Change
Musicals for Change produces children's musicals which raise awareness and funds for worthy causes.
How to Purchase
All Musical for Change products are sold as digital downloads. Unlimited copies of scripts and rehearsal MP3's may be made and projected for your students to learn. No more lost music!