Parkers 8th Grade Musical! NEWSIES!

Project work at Parker is integral to our model of learning and woven into the fabric of our community. Successful project work facilitates our mission of engaging each student in a thoughtful and challenging learning process that inspires curiosity and achievement, nurtures confidence, and cultivates purposeful action. This week, we have the opportunity to dive deeply into a current project as we share the culminating performance of our 8th grade musical.
Our 8th grade musical is a wonderful example of a collaborative project that builds community while engaging our students in meaningful learning with a tangible outcome. It takes a lot of time and effort to stage a musical, and our entire 8th grade and many of our 7th graders are involved and invested in at least one aspect of this student-led production. As Parker music director Sara Feltes explains, “Part of what makes this experience so important for all students is that it shows students how many different roles that can exist in theater aside from the acting. They have an opportunity to be involved first-hand in learning skills such as sound engineering, lighting, or stage management. There are so many “roles” in addition to acting that can open doors (and their minds) to different career paths. Having students involved in every aspect also allows them to take ownership in the production. It’s not MY moment or Parker’s moment – it’s THEIR moment.”
What a moment it has been. For the past 10 weeks, our middle schoolers have constructed and painted scenery, sculpted props, wired the sound board, and curated costumes. Students working stage crew perfected scene changes, facilitated quick costume swaps, and learned their cues for sound and lights.
Our 8th graders, meanwhile, have been immersed in every aspect of on-stage production. They have memorized lines, choreography, music and blocking, developed their characters, and even become skilled in applying their own stage make-up. Most importantly, however, they have learned how to support each other. They’ve gone from yelling at each other for missed lines to deftly stepping in and covering up mistakes, cheering each other on each step of the way. They have come together not only as a cast, but as a graduating class, celebrating this momentous achievement of risk-taking and teamwork in their final months together as a community.
As 8th grader Evan Meunch reflected, “I love getting to see my class grow through this experience. I’ve done musical theater before, but for many of them, this is their first musical ever. It is really fun seeing my classmates try out new things that they wouldn’t have done otherwise. I also happen to be writing my 8th grade thesis on the benefits of musical theater in secondary schools. From that perspective, it has been amazing to see my thesis come alive.” Vera Love, another 8th grader, shared, “I love seeing everybody try things that they normally wouldn’t. It’s just great to see my classmates enjoy something that they were originally nervous and timid about. It definitely takes some time for us to figure things out, but when it eventually works, it’s an awesome experience.” 8th grader Charlie Fine added, “In the middle of songs that we’re doing pretty well with, I will just be smiling because I look around and see everyone doing so well. It makes me so happy.”
Sara, as their teacher, offers a wider view: “Participating in a musical is one of those experiences that is important to live once. Even if you never do it again, the skills that these kids will take away from this experience are invaluable. Feeling the excitement and nervousness of being on stage, in a different way than just being yourself on stage, is important for you to feel at least once in your life. My greatest hope for these kids is that they will look back on this show and be able to say, ‘I did it. That is an experience that I may never do again – and that’s totally okay – but I know that I was able to do it. When I see a musical now, I know how that happens. And I know how much work goes into it.’”
As for what our 8th graders have learned, it’s safe to say the lessons have been plentiful. From simple things like learning to secure a wig and standards of dress in 1899 (no untucked shirts!) to more nuanced lifelong lessons such as collaboration and confidence. Our 8th graders say it best:
“I found out that I’m not actually scared to have a lot of lines. I thought I would be more nervous, but I’m not.”  ~Charlie, 8th grade
“I used to be terrified of being on stage, but I’m honestly getting a lot more comfortable with it now.” ~Ray, 8th grade
“It really helps with your confidence, and playing a different character also helps to build empathy. You have to put yourself in that character’s shoes and understand what they are going through.” ~Evan, 8th grade
“I think this experience has really helped our class bond. When you are on stage with somebody, you are working with them to create this scene. You’re depending on them, and they’re depending on you. It really feels great to see everybody putting in the effort to help you, and also to be doing the work yourself to help everyone else.” ~Vera, 8th grade*