Imagine, you're a gym teacher or a science teacher and you've just been tasked with taking on the adviser's role for your high school's theater club. You're bright, willing, enthusiastic and you don't have a clue.
A group of students from Houston just dedicated their spring break (well and future careers) to you as they sang and danced their hearts out so that the Humphreys School of Musical Theatre (the education arm of Theatre Under the Stars) working in conjunction with iTheatrics, a New York City-based company, to produce another four DVDs in the Music Theatre International Broadway Junior Collection of musicals.
"Every show has its own can of worms and problem solving that we try to give those teachers. A lot of our customers are inexperienced and first time directors and choreographers," says Steven G. Kennedy, the resident choreographer for the Broadway Junior collection who's been spending time with the students in Zilka Hall at the Hobby Center this week rehearsing and recording the instructional videos designed to help a director and cast figure out where everybody needs to be on stage when they undertake a high school musical.
In Seussical KIDS for instance, Kennedy says, "we chose four of the more difficult sequences to tackle and problem solve for the teachers." Teachers can either follow it exactly, use it for inspiration or use their own designs and when they get stuck, refer to what he did, Kennedy says. Other CDs they worked on this time were Pirates of Penzance JR, Bugsy Malone JR and Meredith Wilson's The Music Man JR.
Thirteen-year-old Savannah May called the experience an "awesome" one as well as being both like and different from her normal theater duties.
"In normal theater you get to do it one time," the eighth-grader says. "With filming you get to do it over and over again. We do that so we can always get it even better than we did."
Ashton Lambert, 14, is a veteran of recorded choreography tips at this point. He got to go to New York City last summer with iTheatrics to do filming there, where he recorded Godspell, Shrek and The Sound of Music among others.
"It's a way for teachers to teach kids We show them the basics even if we only do a few numbers and then they're able to choregraph a whole show. It's really interesting; we're not doing theater but we're doing theater. You keep starting and stopping. You can do different things; you can have different takes."
Kennedy who was a dancer on Broadway and in touring shows, as well as a singer on several cast recordings, made the move to teaching and choreography with Music Theatre International. The company has put out a series of instructional DVDs adding new ones each year as well as refreshing ones they've already done.
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But the package they send out doesn't stop with DVDs. "Along with it comes the piano/vocal guide, orchestral CDs, and a directors' guide" meaning that it can take as long a year after a DVD is recorded for it to be released, Kennedy says.
Back in New York we take every brand new title and we workshop it," Kennedy says. "We test out our edits, we test out the keys for the kids to sing so we can alter those keys, we'll flesh out the basic staging and every time we get a little bit stuck we know that that's a part that with need to help teachers with."
"With the Humphreys School they have such a great technical program. Coming down to Houston I find it's the easiest thing in the world to work with because the kids are almost all triple threats [they sing, they dance, they act]," Kennedy says.