Monday, November 26, 2012

Backdrop SOS - one idea that worked!

I've not had the time to blog as much as usual because our biggest student performance of the year was on the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving, so I'm just now recovering.  I'm also sad to say that we also had a death in our family so in the midst of my craziest season at work, I had the chance to help my family celebrate the life of my uncle who passed away from cancer two weeks ago. Believe me when I say that I missed blogging and looked forward to when I could get back to it.  I'm hoping that now that things have settled down a bit I can put together some meaningful posts that will be both encouraging and helpful.

This year I had a GREAT idea!

Why don't I have 5th grade students sign up to be in "theater tech".  The students in "theater tech" can meet after school as part of our grant funded after school program which provides both academic tutoring and enrichment.  

It really was a great idea.  My theater crew designed and created a beautiful backdrop.  They created and organized all of the show props.  They ran the sound for the show and created the program. What a great idea right?  I was hoping that my 5th graders would be a good help and not extra work for me.  I was not at all disappointed.  They did good careful work, they cooperated and accomplished as much in one hour a week as I would have accomplished in 12 hours a week. The hardest part was making sure that I actually had enough work to keep them busy.

My theater crew created a truly beautiful backdrop and were so proud of their work that I couldn't wait to show it off.  They decided to create buildings out of poster board so that we could fold up the pieces and easily store them without having to deal with them being in the way.  Each week the buildings were taken out and the students would add details.  Putting them away and getting them out caused them to be a little bit bent and roughed up, but I kept telling the students that no one would notice since the backdrop would be on the stage..... Little did I know how things would work out.....

My 5th grader tech crew was well on their way to creating a beautiful backdrop when I ran into a real and unexpected roadblock.  The cafeteria where my students perform is fairly narrow and as we got closer to the time of performance my co-teacher and I decided that we would change the configuration of where everyone was standing so that we would be less spread out.  Basically, the entire 5th grade would be on risers or steps on the stage. With this huge wall of students there was no room to hang the backdrop!  Until this year, not having space for a backdrop would have been a relief to me.  Last year I would have been thrilled because I would have just made the decision not to have a backdrop at all.  But here I was with a new plan to improve student performance AND a student created backdrop that my students were excited to share! Oh yeah..... and because I was dealing with a family crisis I was REALLY REALLY crunched for time.....even more than usual....  SO here is what we did.

 I hung the backdrop on the very inhospitable wall made of cinder block and acoustic panels next to the stage.  On the stage I have the option of using canvas, a track and hooks, or I can use butcher paper and a stapler.  But on this wall..... I had to get super creative.

Originally, since our cafeteria has been recently painted, I thought about using fishing line and an upholstery needle to sew the backdrop pieces to the acoustic panels.... but I thought that would take too much time and I had to get out of town in a hurry.

3M hooks were the pricey but necessary hero of the day.  Although 3M hooks and re-stick-able adhesive strips are a little steep, they are also reusable and you can find replacement strips for the hooks on

The day that we hung the backdrop, my co-teacher and tech crew did a whole bunch of problem solving and after an hour of guess work and figuring out, we knew what to do, but it was time for the kids to go home.

I was able to take what they had figured out and starting at 5:30, I was completely finished hanging everything by 7:00 even though I was working alone.  The backdrop was hung on a Thursday evening, survived the breakfast trash line, a Thanksgiving feast, a really cold cafeteria, a really hot cafeteria and a weekend and I only had one sign fall down.  Everything was ready for our Monday morning performance and didn't come down until Tuesday afternoon when we took it down. The backdrop took about 30 minutes to take down and I've got all of those hooks and strips for next years backdrop if I need them.

Each building was attached to the wall by two 3M hooks.  On the back of each building I built tape "hangers".  A folded piece of tape held down by two other pieces of tape created "pockets" for the hooks to hang on to. 

The musical marquees and anything else that didn't have a piece of wall to hang on were attached to the backdrop with the clear adhesive strips and packing tape.  

A little worse for wear, but overall the end result was nice.  Those were REALLY proud kiddos! 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Performance check-list - how this music teacher plans performances

Whether you are managing several small performances or one big performance there are always logistics that need attention, so here is my "to do" list for one big-ish performance.....If I do this then I'm on track and not panic-y.... This year I had a few interruptions but because I had this basic timeline in my head, I was able to make up some time and will have my students ready to perform on November 19th and 20th.... I'm VERY interested about what things you do to ensure that you can accomplish your performances in time.... 

6 - 9 months out

  • Get projected performances on the school calender.... (this may need to happen as much as 12 months in advance)..... the sooner your programs are on the calender the better! 
  • Choose music (the earlier you choose the music, the easier it is to get it in and start making detailed plans of what needs to be done)  Will you provide music for your students or will they buy their own? As you choose your music, is it the type that you can purchase the rights to copy for your classroom? 
  • Consider wardrobe - At what level will your students be costumed?  How much do you already have?  What needs to be acquired, borrowed or created?  Make a plan
6 - 3 months out
  • Begin advertising - In an ideal world where your performances are on the calender  you can begin telling students to expect a performance
  • Start teaching the discreet skills that your students will need in order to perform well.... Decide which songs you want to teach while developing your students music literacy and which songs you want to teach by route..... Some songs are a better fit than others and IF you are going to use the performance material for music literacy instruction you want to make sure they are ready for it..... 
    • example 1 : - IF you want to do a Veteran's Day program with 3rd graders it might be a good idea to at least give your 2nd graders a good solid look at patriotic music in May......
    • example 2: - IF you want your recorders to play Jingle Bells as part of a Christmas program they need to be well on their way to playing BAG, C and D by Thanksgiving. 
  • My school has to order air conditioning for special events, my campus also has to order seating and sound equipment - The sooner you order it, the sooner you get dibs on anything you share with other campuses.  Do you have enough risers? Where can you borrow them from? 
  • Wardrobe/ Costumes/ props - acquire, order, borrow, create items that are needed. 
    • example 1: - I prefer that my 5th graders wear "show shirts" for their annual November performance.... This implies that I have designed a T-shirt, found a vendor and ordered the shirts.... I also want my students to have the opportunity to pay for the shirts.
    • example 2 - Do you need kazoos? Kazoos are typically disposable, because who would want to play a used kazoo.... order them now!  
12 weeks out
  • Rehearsal CDs - I literally record myself singing  each song a capella and - boring but effective
  • ADVERTISE - newsletters, flyers, save the date notes - MAKE SURE that you get administrative approval.... this means that you've double and triple checked the dates and times with your administration.... sometimes things change that are beyond anyone's make sure you've got the right info on your flyers! 
  • Get flyers translated! - this is a necessary step if you have a strong 2nd language learner population
  • auditions - either after school or during class - This year we recorded our solo auditions - GREAT idea! 
  • special practices - I meet once a week with speaking parts after school
  • sets - This year I had my students sign up for an after school class to create the sets.... THIS has been the best idea I've ever had!  So far, this idea has saved me HOURS of work! 
  • figure out performance groups..... Which students will do what.... no sense in teaching them the choreography of a song that they are only going to be singing.... 
  • Begin auditioning solos 
  • Remember to teach your other stuff.... You don't want your students who are doing a program to only have learned "the program"....We all know that too much program wears thin very quickly... Your calender is your friend..... anticipate surprises, don't create them.... 
  • Decide if you want to do any fund raising and recruit the help needed to make it happen.... after all you've got a show and cast  to manage... so this will have to be something that can be taken on by someone who loves you enough to do it for you.... 
6-9 weeks out
  • Rehearse Rehearse Rehearse! Depending on the complexity of the music, the abilities of your group and what other curricular goals and how often you see your students....THIS is the prime time to do the bulk of your music learning and dance learning... you want your students to peak out on performance night....Some of my students have two music classes every six days and some have music once a week so these decisions are made depending on which grade level(s) are involved. 
  • Clear the deck for full rehearsals..... I have to share the performance area with breakfast and lunch and the after school program.... so I have to be a team player, but I also have to make sure that everyone understands that there are days when we NEED the cafeteria to ourselves.... SOMETIMES this means adjusting the schedule to allow for an entire grade level to rehearse together... Do you best not to abuse this privilege or your colleagues and administration won't be so willing and accommodating next time.  
  • Start recruiting staff to help during before, during and after full rehearsals.... This may mean working closely with your other specialists (art and PE) OR homeroom teachers.... The idea is to ensure that you are not left in an empty cafeteria with 125 students all by yourself while everyone else has a coffee break..... I have always been blessed with teammates and homeroom teachers who are the very best kind of team players, but I've heard horror stories of music teachers having double rehearsals and being the only adult in the room.... that is NOT COOL!  nor is it safe! Make sure your rehearsals will be attended by the adults who should be there. 
  • ORGANIZE wardrobe - These are the students who most likely will be in the performance so make sure that you have enough of what you need.... No one wants to have one child without a sailor hat because little Johnny moved to town last week and you only bought 25 hats so always have extra on hand.  
    • Ziploc bags - my district warehouse has these AWESOME no brand ziploc bags that are the perfect size for an 8.5x11 sheet of paper.  For each and every child I create a bag.  Inside the bag I have a paper that has their name, their teacher name and if needed their group or part written on the bag.  Sometimes I poke a hole in these bags and hang them on the costume when it is on a clothes hanger.... Sometimes I put their shirts and props inside the bag.... I've been using those bags and papers to organize costumes for over 10 years and I LOVE it! 
3 weeks out
  • Music should be off book! - Memorize Memorize Memorize! 
  • Check on the status of things you have requested....for me this means:
    • Check on the air work order
    • Check on the chair work order
    • Check on the sound equipment work order
    • Check on the flip form work order
  • Have a "heart to heart" with your custodian
    • They can only help you if they know what you need.  I provide a schedule of rehersals and a map of how things should be set up each day...
  • Assign kids/parents/ or teachers jobs
    • If you need someone to run sound.... THIS is the time to train them.... not during the first full rehearsal or night of the performance
    • If you are going to have a stage manager - meet with them
    • Lights? - 
  • Copy a bunch of the scripts - whether you write your own or not.... If you are giving your students something to memorize they need to have access to a backup in case they loose their copy. .... your students with speaking parts will thank you
  • Lyrics - You know the trouble spots now... the spots that students still stumble over - 
    • you may want to make large posters of key words that you can refer to during the performance
    • create codes - "when I put my hands over my heart, you should remember the word love"
  • Risers - The sooner students grow accustomed to being on risers the better.... We move 3 risers into our room so that we can practice getting on and off, sitting and standing and being safely on the risers.  
  • Program - make sure and include a section thanking all of the folks who helped! 
  • Lesson plans for the next month for all of your other grade levels.... You want to continue quality instruction while you are "programming" and it's not a bad idea to take care of that chore ahead of the crazy
2 weeks out
  • After school arrangements
    • Assist students in making arrangements to attend the evening performance - this may include calling individual parents, coordinating care with the after school coordinator, and pizza.... My students who stay for the after school program can't possibly ride the bus home and come back in time for the performance... so I make arrangements for them to stay with me until after the performance
  • Spell Check the program - Have other eyes look at your program.... Ask homeroom teachers to make sure that all of their students are listed.... Spell everyone's name correctly! 
  • Double check with administrators to make sure that you don't have a performance at the same time you are supposed to be teaching.... you don't know how to clone yet :) If necessary hire a sub for the day of the performance, especially if you have two performances in one day - In my opinion it's worth the cost. 
  • Plan on getting sick - For the last three years I've gotten sick within two weeks of my biggest show of the year....  You may have to adjust your time line accordingly.... I've missed Tuesday and Wednesday of this week due to an upper respiratory infection and laryngitis.... So make good sub plans 
6 days out 

  •  help the custodian every day if your teaching schedule allows
  • Communicate with your helpers, colleagues and students the procedures for costumes and props
  • Copy multiple copies of flyers, reminders, and call any parents with questions 
  • Make sure that the office crew has ALL the information that you have sent parents - they can field questions for you IF they have the answers! 
  • Advertise within the school - make sure each grad level knows when to attend....
  • Depending on the show it might be helpful to do a lesson on auidence ettiquete... Also, if your show is historical, consider doing lessons with your student audience about the characters. 
  • Friday before (1st full cast rehearsal) - objective - Get students in their places - practice getting from point a to point b, probably no singing this day, just good habits
  • Monday 2nd  full rehearsal - objective - Sing ALL the songs moving groups from point A to point B with props
  • Tuesday 3rd full rehearsal - objective - Add in Speaking parts ( may only get through 1st half) 
  • Wednesday 4th full rehearsal - objective - Add in Speaking parts ( may only get through 2nd half)
  • Thursday 5th full rehearsal - objective - run through
  • Friday 6th full rehearsal - objective - run through - remind students of costume and prop procedures

  • Thursday after school - After school theater tech crew put up the backdrop 
  • Friday after school - finish backdrop set up 

Performance day! 
  • Monday morning performance 1 - in front of an audience (dress rehearsal)
  • Monday night performance 2 - in front of an audience
  • Tuesday morning performance 3 - in front of audience

Day after the show - 
  • Meet with colleagues to critique the show - adjust the plan for next year.
  • Utilize the volunteers or students you've recruited to help dismantle the backdrop and put away the props. - Get it done as soon as possible so that it's all the way done.