Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Beware the Hula Dancing Kangaroos

 For a number of weeks the kids cast in an upcoming show at the children's theatre have been trying to learn their musical numbers with me.  One particular piece has a rhythm that's proven tricky for the wee actors, and I have tried all sorts of things to get them to grasp the counting.  Repetition is the biggest key, and so we repeat and clap and tap and snap our fingers and rap and even do a little beat boxing to practice the section in question.  We swayed our hips a lot while learning this piece.  I want it to be fun.  If it is fun, they will master it more quickly and won't feel like we are belaboring that musical piece.

I line them up at one end of the room and let them jump forward one jump on count one of each measure while they sing their parts.  This helps them learn the count and find the downbeat and allows them to hear the other vocal parts (soprano, alto, etc.) that move at different times.  It takes them the whole song to make it all the way across the room, then I have them turn around and sing/hop their way back.  It's interesting to stand before them as they do this, because it feels like they're musical kangaroos on the warpath and advancing on me quickly.  I learned to only allow this in the basement after doing it in the lobby caused a number of ceiling tiles to fall down in the lower offices.  Oopsies.  I also learned to keep ice packs in the staff freezer after Wyatt walloped Reagan in the eye while swinging his arms in huge circles as he jumped. 

They seem to have finally gotten it, which thrills me.  I hear them humming and tapping it while being fitted and measured by wardrobe, while waiting backstage for their cues, and while munching away on apple slices in the green room. For a few weeks the problem rhythm has been the pulse of the theatre, I even noticed some of the office workers humming it after they'd heard the children practicing in the parking lot with me.  Yes, we practice in the parking lot. With sidewalk chalk. We draw huge musical staves and use the chalk for all sorts of things that truly pertain to what we're doing. 

Sometimes I wonder if I'm regarded a bit like Maria in the Sound of Music, because my teaching techniques get some weird looks and amused comments.  I often get the kids last, after they've beaten a scene to death upstairs. They spend hours having to be still and watch each other repeat the same lines over and over until the head director is happy with the angles of their bodies, the expression in their voices, and the look on their faces.  They're told to do it again.  And again.  Now do it again.  Don't slouch.  Stop whining.  Do it again.  One more time.  So close, let's try again. 

By the time I get the kids they're hungry, fatigued, and sick of being told to keep still.  I keep water and simple snacks on hand.  I give them wiggle time and an occasional minute or two to chat with their friends.  If everyone looks especially downtrodden that day, we often take a minute to groan as loudly and pathetically as we can.  Eye rolling and foot stomping are optional, but always encouraged.  I'm told by other adults who work for the theatre that the woman who worked with the children before me kept them seated in chairs in the rehearsal room for the entirety of each practice.  I'm told by the children that she "was the meanest ever" and "yelled a lot."  I bet!  I'd yell a lot too if I had to keep them corralled like that.  Initially we're very much tied to the piano, but once they really know most of their parts, we can branch out. 

Last weekend I watched the kids perform the tricky song on stage and I have to say, it was excellent.  They've got the rhythm.  However, some of them bounce a bit on the first count of some measures.  There is also one particular section where the children all sway their hips in unision, just slightly, but it looks as if they're bursting into an impromptu hula dance.  Pierre, who works with the adults on music, grinned when he heard me murmur "Oh dear," under my breath as the unanticipated hula dance began.  He sees more of my teaching antics techniques than anyone else as he's often in the rehearsal room too.  I'm not worried about these little hang ups, we've got more than enough time to right them before opening night.  Until then, beware of the hula dancing kangaroos.

1 comment:

  1. My daughter's HS did The Sound of Music last year and Godspell this year. Ive seen the way they get easily distracted and fidgety I can only imagine how the younger children would be.