Of all of the theater experiences I work to create throughout the year, there is none so exhausting, frustrated and sacred to me as the middle school musical. Quality-wise...it's never tops. Talent wise? Well, I sometimes have some very skilled up-and-comers, but frankly, that part is pretty irrelevant for me. It's about connection, experience, and building a little positive energy. It's not "Broadway," but I know that for many of them, they feel like it is. And that's all that matters.
Middle School kids make me work for it. They squirrel away the energy, the enthusiasm, and their knoweldge of their lines and lyrics until the very last second, and then they shine. No matter what shape the show is in on Monday, when they open on Thursday, they shine. I beg, cajole, use every form of humor and charm I can find inside me to get them to SING OUT! PROJECT! ENUNCIATE! But they won't until they have to. Mrs. Pepe, my flittering, smiling, cheerleader of a guardian angel will hold up signs that say QUIET, PLEASE! PLACES! and random snippets of lyrics like HIT THE COUNTERPOINT that only make sense in context. They will mostly ignore us, and I'll leave exhausted every afternoon, but still, come Thursday, they'll shine. I have to trust. And never, ever yell, because I remember from my own fragile seventh-grade self how deflating that is.
I'll have some sleepless nights this week, no doubt. I'll lament the too-short rehearsals in the too-short time period, and I'll come up with a hundred and one ways I could make the show better "if only..." But in the end, it won't matter. In the end, they will sing for their seventh-and-eighth grade peers, (and I challenge you to find something scarier than singing showtunes in front of seventh graders), and their parents, and they will feel spectacular about it all, and they'll cry when it's over, and hug each other, and I will go home and drink Trailer Park Punch on my back porch, smiling at the four months of only one-job-at-a-time that lie ahead of me.