Middle school musical provides unique experience for cast, crew
Middle school musical provides unique experience for cast, crew
Posted on 09/25/2018
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Middle school musical participants practice in August

For the past 11 years, Northwest ISD has presented a middle school musical, combining fine arts talents across the district’s 234 square miles. While continued growth has made managing the performances more difficult, the rewards have never been more clear.

Each year, students involved with the musical travel to the host high school campus – Byron Nelson High School for the past two years – and spend weeks getting to know one another and learning their roles. The most obvious benefit for participants – actors and technicians alike – is preparation for high school. Byron Nelson High School’s Wendy Bramlett and Katherine Engle have teamed up for the past two years to lead the musical, giving middle school students a taste of high school instruction.

But preparing for high school isn’t the only benefit, the students say – it’s also about challenging their own abilities by performing alongside the best in the district.

While taking part in the musical does help prepare students for high school fine arts classes, perhaps the biggest benefit is offering a true enrichment experience. Middle school students committed to going above and beyond their traditional curriculum have the opportunity to learn more about their passion. Not only do they act on stage, but they build large-scale sets, and they work with state-of-the-art light and sound equipment. Simply put, it gives eager middle school students the ability to further enhance what they learn at their home campuses.

Casting for the musical takes place over the summer, with a large amount of students competing for the chance to perform. Those that make it then spend part of their summer and about a month of the school year working together to create group cohesion.

“When I talk to other theatre teachers [in other districts], they're captivated by the fact that we even attempt something like this.”

“We really create a family – that’s the reason I want to come out here each year,” said Kameryn Vucina, an eighth-grader from Wilson Middle School. “All the kids, the teachers and the high schoolers who help out, we really create a bond. I know I can come here, learn from people at different schools and know everyone here loves me.”

Historically, the show has been designed with a family-friendly aspect in mind, with several recent years’ productions based off of Disney stories. This year, students performed Disney and Cameron Makintosh’s “Mary Poppins Jr.,” with Kameryn serving in the title role. She and dozens of students representing every other middle school across the district competed in May for parts, going through an initial audition and a callback before the cast list was decided.

The students started practicing together during the first full week of August, beginning with a dance camp before transitioning into vocal practices. After performers laid their dance and vocal groundwork, they began acting and scene practice.

Ms. Bramlett, the director of this year’s musical, said the show is a unique event that few school districts would even consider undertaking.

“When I talk to other theatre teachers, they’re captivated by the fact that we even attempt something like this,” Ms. Bramlett said. “I think it’s brilliant for a multitude of reasons. One of the most important is that these kids get to build working relationships with other like-minded kids in the district. It creates this knowledgebase from kids they may not go to high school with that they can use and build off of.”

The costumes for Bert and Mary Poppins

Ms. Engle agreed, saying she’s not aware of another district that offers a musical of this size for middle school students.

“I’ve had people contact me after seeing our middle school musical and ask me how we do it – what the components are,” she said. “I think this is something really special about Northwest ISD. I’d be happy to put this [musical] up against some high school productions – these kids put so much energy and effort into it. Never have I heard of another district doing a districtwide middle school musical.”

Once Northwest ISD’s middle school musical performances take place each year, the audience is consistently impressed, the Byron Nelson teachers said. That occasionally makes it hard for them to say goodbye to middle school students who will attend a different high school in the future, but they added that the overall quality of talent is diverse across the high school zones.

Kai Diamond, a Tidwell eighth-grader who performed in the musical’s chorus, said audience members often comment that the show has the quality of a high school production, which is evidence of the effort given by the cast and crew.

“It’s a lot of hard work and cooperation, but the end result is always amazing,” he said. “It comes together after a lot of practice – singing, learning the harmonies, dancing – but we work hard every day to make the show as great as possible. And the positive audience feedback shows it pays off.”

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2018-19 issue of Northwest Navigator magazine.