Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

High School Musicals: Low Cost, High Energy Theater

Spring is just bursting with first-rate theater around town, but you might be missing a fabulous option right in your own neighborhood – school spring performances.

There are many good reasons to take the kids to a student show: it's inexpensive, kids love to watch – and get inspired by – other young people performing on stage, and it's a great way to support a public school theater program (and let your little one see what the inside of a "big" school looks like!) And, let's face it, if your kid doesn't love the show, you can scoot out without feeling you've invested too much in parking and ticket costs.

Local theater professionals, talented teachers and the students devote a significant amount of time and energy to these shows. In turn, they put on some classic productions. To offer a snapshot: plays on the docket in May alone include South Pacific, Footloose, Our Town, Clue and Beauty and the Beast.

"Kids at our productions get a full theatrical experience," says Ruben VanKempen, director of theater at Roosevelt High School, where students are gearing up to perform the musical No, No, Nannette. Roosevelt offers the only full-time drama program in the Seattle School District, with seven periods of drama each day in various aspects of theater.

"Kids get inspired by seeing other talented youth perform at a high level," says VanKempen. "No, No, Nannette is a classic old-style Broadway musical and will be fun for local families. The tap dancing and famous songs will be brought to life with stellar vocals and committed acting, truly high school theater at its best."

Stewart Hawk, theater department chair at Garfield High School, says student shows are especially great for children who haven't been to a theater production before. "It exposes kids to a whole new world of entertainment," he says. "They've watched movies and played video games, but the direct connection and interaction between performers and audience is totally unique to theater. And parents, your entertainment dollars can stretch a lot farther."

At Garfield High School, the students are preparing for an ambitious production of Hairspray, which Hawk calls "a microcosm of the populations we have here at Garfield." The diversity of the large, mixed-race cast (53 actors) lends itself to the play's themes of racial injustice and intolerance. And families coming to see the production will appreciate the play's moral message that working together, anything is possible.

Since the beginning of February, both Roosevelt and Garfield High School students have taken drama courses to work on their productions. Several experts, including voice teachers and choreographers, collaborate with the students. After-class rehearsals were added in the early spring, not to mention the time and training for set building, costume construction, music (both operate with an orchestra) and even fundraising.

Theater is more to these students than just showboating up on stage. It's a chance to work together and be creative, a form of self-expression. It's also a chance for kids in the audience to relate to or feel empathy for the characters portrayed in the play. The youth acting, singing and dancing on stage can act as role models, showing the youngest set what potential is possible.

"At our school, it isn't arts just for the sake of arts," says Seattle Academy's Director of Admission Jim Rupp. His school is mounting a production of Romeo and Juliet in May. "It's the skills we are trying to instill into each child – the ability to think on your feet, to deal with ambiguity, to veer from the script without getting flustered, to perform under pressure and in front of a crowd. Those are life skills, not just arts skills."

Maybe seeing one of these spring productions will inspire your child to give theater a try. Or perhaps you will just have a fun night out together, enjoy some exemplary theater and get excited about seeing more performances on any stage.

For a list of high school musicals and other youth theater playing in the month of may, click here: May High School Musicals