Monday, January 14, 2013

How to make a musical in ten days

In December my wife, Helen Adam, and I were lucky enough to be hired to run a music and drama workshop during the winter holidays at Vijay International School on the island of Praslin in the Seychelles.

This is what happened.

I say winter, but it was 31°C most of the time and 90% humidity. The word 'winter' does not occur in their vocabulary! There were 16 children and the age range was demanding: from 6 to 15.

All of them spoke English, some of them French, and all of them spoke Creole.

The aim was to create a musical drama from scratch. What we weren't prepared for were the paucity of materials and lack of musical instruments, not to mention the fact that the children had never done anything like this before, nor even seen a theatrical performance.

The expectations of the staff were correspondingly fairly low as to what the children would be able to achieve in just 10 days.

What happened completely surprised everyone. The result was a 45 minute musical, called The Fire in the Forest, which included five songs, which they wrote themselves, displaying the huge talent of these students.
At the start, the happy villagers of Waverley are sharing food and a game.

My job was to guide them through creating the storyline and the script, and Helen's to do the same with the music and songwriting. My friend and the school's headmaster, Martin Kennedy, supported them in creating the masks, props and sets.

... but then the evil Smilekiller comes with his soldiers.
Everyone worked hard, from eight in the morning to three in the afternoon.

In the first week, we explored ideas, plot structure, morals, musical elements, how to collaborate, then wrote the plot, script, lyrics and music.

In the second week we rehearsed and learnt about stagecraft and musical and dramatic performance. Every single one of the students contributed an equal amount to the final work, which is the sum of many small parts.

He makes the blacks turn the whites into slaves.

The process of creating and shaping the work was as important as the final result, to help them learn collaboration and partnership.

It was a truly intense experience; we got to know them all very well and they became our friends.

How was this possible in just nine days?

We were completely surprised ourselves. After some introduction to the four basic plots, and story structure, the children decided on the themes, which were spirit animals and equality/discrimination.

Helen put them in a trance and guided them to find their own spirit animals.

 By transforming into their spirit animals they are able to free themselves of this spell...

They split into four groups to each come up with characters and a story. Each group then pitched their story to the rest.

I then combined all four stories into one story, and gave it to them for their approval.

We then split the story into 11 scenes. The group divided into pairs or individuals, who each then wrote a scene. I typed them up into the script.

 Meanwhile, it is up to the villagers' three pets to save the world by putting out the fire in the forest created by Smilekiller....
... With the help of a Mad Monkey!

The songs were written in a similar way. A theme or subject was decided upon for that point in the narrative. Each child then wrote a single line. They then ordered the lines into verses and chorus. Helen helped them come up with the tunes.

So, by the end of the fourth day we had a script! We also had four of the five songs. This was a stage we hadn't expected to reach until the beginning of week two. On the fifth day we had a read-through and cast the parts.

They spent the weekend learning their lines. The first four days of week two were spent rehearsing and creating their masks for their spirit animals.

The final performance was on the afternoon of the 10th day. All of the parents, some teachers and school governors attended.
 They manage to put out the fire.

Everyone was completely amazed at what these children had achieved, ourselves included.

It was so successful that we were immediately invited back for the following year, except that the next time the outcome will be a short film instead of a performance.

But one of them dies. How sad.... (Cue a lament!)

For Helen and I, it shows what children are capable of when given the chance.

In their feedback, most of the children commented on how much the experience had increased their self-confidence and spirit of cooperation, which is surely the point. Some of them now want to learn musical instruments, which is difficult as there are no music teachers on the island of Praslin.

Their parents remarked on how, unlike on school days when they had to be dragged out of bed, they were up in plenty of time to get to school!

Helen and I cannot wait to go back next year.

 Back in the village, the spirit animals fight the spirit animal of Smilekiller, but are thrown into gaol.

The Story

This is the story they came up with:

The sleepy village of Waverley guards the Peace Forest, on which all other forests of the world depend. It is led by two wizards, Ricky and Jack, and blacks and whites live together equally.

Then, the evil Smilekiller and his soldiers come. With magic claws he puts the villagers under a spell, where the blacks must dominate the whites. Then he uses a magic crystal to burn the forest.

 The Dove manages to escape.

Only the villagers’ three pets can save the forest, but first they must get magic fan leaves from a tree guarded by a werewolf, to put out the fire in the crystal.
 She finds a way to charm Smilekiller.

The villagers manage to transform into their spirit animals, when they are free from the spell. They challenge Smilekiller, who changes into his own spirit animal, the king of the beasts. They win the struggle, but the tyrant’s soldiers put the villagers in gaol.

The three pets succeed in putting out the fire, but one of them, the toucan Findicesa, dies.

Victoria, whose spirit animal is a dove, can escape, however. She overhears that Smilekiller is evil because he was bullied. She sings a song that charms and calms his heart.
... who releases the villagers from his spell by giving them each one of her magic claws.

Smilekiller relents and releases the villagers. The surviving pets return with the crystal, which Smilekiller agrees to throw away because it is too dangerous for anyone to own. The villagers celebrate victory with a song: We Are Proud.

We Are Proud!

The Cast

Waverley Village inhabitants
Charlotte Vanacore, a Wizard, Jack
Rasiki Devi Pillay, a Wizard, Ricky
Linnea Huechenne, a villager, Bella
Phin Phinehas, a villager, Johnny
Aliette Vidot, a villager, Victoria
Hlo Moyo, a villager, Brendan
Vanilla-Lou Labiche, a villager, Jacob
Alysa Payet, a pet dog, Miki
ChloƩ Verlaque, a pet cat, Carlisle
Candice Harter, a pet toucan, Findicesa

Brigitte De Charmozhadlache – Smilekiller
Perry Pointe – Smilekiller’s soldier
Wendy Danielle – Smilekiller’s soldier
Simon Allisop, a mad monkey
Ishah Figaro, a werewolf


I Am Who I Am
Animal Rap
No One (Lament for Findicesa)
Time To Change Your Heart
We Are Proud

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