School Musicals CAN Be All Inclusive
When it comes to roles in school musicals, children aren't fools; they know there can only be one Matilda, one Peter Pan, one Tinkerbell, one Doctor Dolittle. They desperately try for these parts, but they accept that they are unlikely to get them.
But that doesn’t mean that children not cast as main roles should instantly become anonymous, characterless members of the ensemble, to be positioned somewhere near the back of the stage whenever a song kicks in. Or third nameless pirate from the right, whose sole contribution is to wear an amusing headscarf.
There are, in fact, all manner of ways of helping all children, not just the leads, to feel fully involved throughout the process.
Choose The Right Musical
Clearly it all begins with the musical that you select. If it is dominated by just a handful of characters who monopolise the lines and the scenes, then don’t do it. Not only will it put the leads under immense pressure, it will also marginalise everybody else from the outset. The right musical will provide a wide array of different parts, all of which fulfil a definite purpose through the course of the story.
See our blog on Choosing The Right School Musical for further guidance.
Ensure Everybody Has A Named Part
This is relatively simple to do and a sure-fire way to make children feel better about the part they have been given. If it hasn’t already been done in the script (rather an oversight on the part of the writers!), then come up with the names yourself and have some fun with it: Biceps Jim makes a great pirate, Macchiato a great cat, and Constable Stool a great police officer.
In terms of our own school musicals, each of our books provides plenty of additional names from which to choose, should you need to increase the size of the already-named cast.
Clearly a lot of the lines will need to be spoken by specific individuals, but it is surprising how often lines can be redistributed to other characters without having any negative impact on the action or the meaning of what is being said. If possible, ask for an editable electronic version of the script (e.g. in WORD format). The School Musicals Company certainly will gladly send one to you immediately (though we do hope we have envisaged the majority of likely edits in our original conception and writing of the script!).
Having a few individual lines, alongside a named part and involvement in a number of scenes, will help a child to feel of much greater value within the production, and therefore much more likely to commit fully to its success.
Vary Positions On Stage
With careful planning, it is very easy to ensure that someone doesn’t end up in the same position every time they take to the stage. Divide the ensemble into groups, number or letter them, split the stage into the same number of areas and rotate for all the songs. If you have some particularly tall children, try sitting them at the front of the stage, or on steps or platforms at the side, rather than putting them at the back each time.
Develop Backstories And Objectives For Characters
From a very early age, most children love making up stories and developing characters: doctors, nurses, princes and princesses, cooks, waiters, teachers, builders, grocers and train drivers. Regardless of how many lines a character has, each scene in which they are involved should provide an opportunity for the development of their own story, a reason for their participation and an investment either in the action of the leads or in a sub-plot of their own. Children will run with this idea if they are given guidelines and suggestions. It makes the whole process so much more fun for all involved.
Don’t forget how fun it can be to design posters, make tickets, create props, help backstage, help front of house. Some children simply don’t enjoy performing, but can gain immeasurably by being given meaningful opportunities in other areas.
Ready to get going? Have a read of our blogs “Springtime For School Musicals” and “Stress-Free Suggestions For Staging Successful School Musicals” and discover why now is a great time to put on a show.